I was just 11 years old when I sprinted barefoot through the neighborhood, waving around my babysitting license after being officiated by a two-week class at the Y. It was my life dream to become a babysitter. I spent my summer days knocking on doors and handing out flyers, letting parents know I was at their service. One mom showed me how to change a diaper and give baths safely. She let me watch her two-year-old while she showered and showed me fun tricks like freezing Go-Gurts to minimize their inevitable messiness. I was running around the neighborhood looking for her.
A year or so later a new set of neighbors moved in two doors down. They had a three-year-old and an infant. I spent every evening at their house “helping” with the girls. Their family adopted me when my home was toxic. Not even a year later my family moved about 30 minutes away. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. The girls’ mom was happy to pick me up and let me stay the weekend. By 13, I was considered old enough to watch the girls for several hours while their parents went to holiday parties. But soon enough they moved from Wisconsin to California, causing my ⅕ life crisis; I was that kid that just wanted to be a mom, but beyond that I struggled to find comfort with my own mother and was wildly comforted by other mothers and how much love they had to offer. These mothers took me in and gave me space to be both motherly and mothered. I felt small and protected, while still seen as capable and useful.
Now, more than ten years later, I’ve found love in so many homes. I’ve been trusted with kids in the enthralls of New York City and the sudden wariness of Wisconsin summers. A family I started sitting for during my junior year of high school has allowed me to take their girls on small adventures every time I visit home. I found them through a Craigslist ad after refusing to work a part time job at McDonald’s with my sister. But this past May I graduated college and experienced a lot of lasts. With my NY kids I did school and camp drop off for the last time. I told the kids how honored I was to be their babysitter and how proud I am to have been accepted by them. I tried every day to give them a voice. I let them rule the city like they were invincible. Onlookers shook their heads with disapproval as the kids scaled the scaffolding and said, “Higher?” to which I replied, “Higher”. I wanted every step they took to be grandiose. I wanted every word they spoke to be not only heard, but received. I failed when I yelled or lost control but was honored with success every time one of the kids showed gratitude or a new learned ability.
I fell in love with film through seeing powerful child performances. I was inspired by the ability to tell the story of childhood as a story of trauma and failure. It was my 8th grade science teacher who told me to make movies. She told me it was important. So I started recording moments of the kids I babysat. I used my iPod, my phone to capture the kids experiencing life, usually in beautiful light. The only thing I was inspired by more than childhood was light. So my passion work started. Upon moving to New York I started focusing on kids fashion photography. I was obsessed with telling an entire story from child to situation to clothing. But with this industry came frustration with a lack of diversity and an accepted exploitation of young faces and bodies. I grew aggravated with the same poses, facial expressions, and even photography style. So I started shooting kids with wonder in their eyes. And fear. And irritation. And boredom. I used light to sculpt dark skin and wild hair. I used grain and motion blur to cover up,maybe highlight, my amateur equipment and skills.
And through the exploration and practice of my craft I found constant inspiration through the kids I was babysitting.
But this is it. I’ve left New York and I’ve left Wisconsin. I’m floating right now, waiting for placement in South Korea, a completely separate adventure.
These photos were taken at a beach house in Wisconsin. I planned to do a couple of shoots there and brought along the girls I always took on adventures. One of the models wasn’t able to show up so Ella stepped in. Ella is the Craigslist kid. Her mom was having a hard time taking care of the baby with Ella needing so much attention. So every day, for my last two years of high school, I would take two buses two towns over to help with two little girls. Now 6 years later, Ella is 8 years old and impresses me more than most. She’s nervous and introverted, yet outgoing and empathetic. She loves like no other and holds so much worry and fear for the future. She makes friends easily, forgives easily, understands easily. This journey started with her. She is the first photo on my Instagram feed.
So I’m mourning summer. I’m mourning Wisconsin and New York and all the kids and parents who got me to where I am today. This photo story is a collaboration of everyone and everything. It’s Lily, a model who had never known my work. It’s me, it’s Ella, it’s Wisconsin.