On January 24th, 2020, I bought a house, a cute little 1919 foursquare in Detroit. I’ve owned a home before, but it was a family deal, an opportunity that came about because of already existing relationships, and not necessarily a result of my own hard work. But this house, this house I worked for. I remember feeling proud. I had gone from divorce to home ownership in under 18 months.
NPR would mention this virus that was spreading rapidly from time to time. At first I thought: SARS, MERS, bird flu, swine flu. I’ve heard of things like this before and it always seems to be okay. I kept painting walls and finding furniture on facebook marketplace to fill this house and make it a home. I started thinking about throwing a housewarming party in April, before wedding season was in full swing.
I remember the reports from Italy feeling scary. Sure, I had heard stories of small hospitals in rural parts of our world being overwhelmed during other crises, but it feels a little different when they’re talking about hospitals in Rome, a city I had spent time in when speaking at a photography conference, Way Up North, in 2017. (The intro video before my talk is still one of my favorite things to come out of speaking at conferences.)
March rolled around. Michigan got its first case. Schools closed. The virus started to spread in Detroit. My new house backs up to a major thoroughfare that the fire trucks and ambulance drivers utilize. Was I hearing sirens more frequently? It felt like I was.
On March 12th I sent an email about rescheduling to all my spring and early summer clients. In the span of about a month, 60% of my income for the year disappeared. I cancelled my housewarming party. I went on unemployment to keep up with the mortgage.
It was hard. It was scary. This thing I had built and nurtured for years, this thing that was a deep well of pride for me, a person who sometimes really struggles with feeling proud of herself, was suddenly threatened. I think I held a lot in. I don’t remember having any real intimate conversations about how scared I was with anyone. If someone would ask, I’d say “Yeah, it’s definitely challenging, but I’ll get through it” when deep down, I probably needed to cry to a friend, to be held, to get mad and scream, to grieve. My dogs saw me cry, a lot. Raleigh stayed by my side, a lot. Side-note: my dogs are in this post. I offered up my new house to get ready in to one of my couples, Liz & Ben, when they decided to get married, just the two of them, on a rooftop in Detroit. My dogs made them feel welcome.
I am not going to put some silver lining on a year that killed over 2 million people worldwide, over half a million of them in my country alone, so many of them in my city. They lined Belle Isle with their portraits.
In July I photographed my first wedding of the year and a new normal emerged. I photographed 12 weddings last year. I wore n-95 masks for 10+ hour days, and double masked far before Fauci said I should. Most of the weddings were intimate, and meaningful, and beautiful, and I was so grateful to experience that in a year that took so much from me, from everyone, but even in those moments of gratitude, I feared the virus.
Yesterday I got my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I’ve been waiting on publishing this collection of images, but waking up and feeling that ache in my upper arm that signifies hope, today felt like the day to share them. They’ve been ready for a while, just sitting on my desktop, a little blue folder titled “2020 Best Of”, filled with 93 storyboards with no words to go with them. What words could I possibly write to describe what it was like for me to live through 2020? These don’t even come close. It was agony. I won’t lie to you or myself about what the year was. It was agony, but there was love.
Here’s some of the love.