What would you do if you knew you would have just enough money to make sure you and your family would be OK for the next four years. I’m not talking buckets of cash, just enough to allow you to think about what really matters, not so much that you get distracted and take your eye off the ball. I asked myself that a year ago and this is how I found myself, post-divorce, with my two daughters in Southeast Asia, happier than I had been in years.
My daughters were raised in Zurich, Switzerland and at the ages of nine and 11, after their father and I divorced, we moved to where I grew up, the resort town of Banff in the Canadian Rockies. Sadie and Jemima are not naive to cultural differences. That said, they are used to the pristine playgrounds they’ve called home.
Research for a book I’m working on took my two daughters and me to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photojournalists whom I had to interview were teaching at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop and my girls were invited to join. They were the youngest to have ever taken the course and were asked to pursue a subject for the week and come up with a few strong shots.
puppies credit: Sadie Maycock
Sadie chose street dogs and Jemima, orphanages. As most of the course was outside the classroom, unsupervised, the girls needed my hands-on support. I wasn’t about to turn them loose, on their own, on the streets of Chiang Mai so I ended up jumping taxis with them to orphanages, dog shelters and markets where puppies were being sold like souvenirs. Most of the time, I had my old camera bag (same one I used in South Africa when I worked as a photojournalist some 18 years ago) slung over my shoulder, thinking I may take a shot or two.
Had I known the amount of my own time that would be taken up by their course when it was suggested they enroll, I probably would have said no. Added to their individual work, their instructor chose a group assignment of monks. My interviews readily took secondary status as the girls’ assignments took shape.
“I was up at 5:30 with my kids this morning photographing monks taking alms,” I told my first interview, Andrea Bruce, over coffee at her hotel.
credit: Jemima Maycock
I had forgotten what it felt like, to be plugged into everything around me, camera in hand, completely in the moment. I was having so much fun…and there, in my lens were my kids, shooting away too. It was amazing.
Several times during that week in Northern Thailand, emotions arose that mimicked those I felt when I worked as a photojournalist before having children. I was reminded how invigorating it is to learn about another country, its story and its people. It wasn’t about me, but something so much larger. Back then, I ached to return home changed in some way, big or small, altered by being exposed to completely different people and events. I wanted this for my children. Yet somehow I forgot, until my daughters helped me to remember.
“I love the world so much more now because I’m taking pictures,” Sadie, my then 14-year-old told me, as we sat waiting for our lunch one day.
Following the workshop, we left Thailand for Myanmar—a land seemingly lost in time but on the precipice of change. Literally everywhere we looked, was a photo. My kids weren’t simply walking through it, they were framing it; most importantly they were noticing beauty, irony and neglect. Essentially, my daughters were understanding another country for what it was. As a result, their lives were enriched.
I made the decision to remove them from their comfort zone, not in a shocking or traumatic way but with a camera in hand, emboldened by the communicative tool it can be. Through the incredible opportunity of connecting to the world in a creative way, they’ll forever be seeing people and cultures in a more intimate light, no matter what they end up doing in life.
credit: Kendall Hunter
When I was younger and imagined having children, I didn’t picture myself replacing a camera bag for a diaper bag. Instead, I envisioned them on my back as I held the small black box to the world allowing it to guide and teach us. This education has come later in life, perhaps at a time my daughters can fully appreciate its gift. Most importantly, I have given them the gift to increasingly fall in love with the intriguing world in which we live.