5th Grade Dreams: 5 years in

In 2017, I was struck by the idea to reconnect with all the classmates from 5th grade and photograph them. At the time I was working a brutal internship here in LA with zero opportunity for creative expression, and the idea of pursuing my own project instantly brought me back to life. I think I was also kind of homesick for my roots.

The following day, I started reaching out to my classmates on Facebook and planning a trip to photograph them for the first time. I was brimming with excitement and when I started sharing this idea with others (prematurely, might I add), most people greeted the idea with well-meaning questions.

“Why 5th grade?”
“How are you going to include yourself in the project?”
“What is the reason for using film instead of digital?”
“What exactly are you trying to say?” 

Before and after: Geno, Donna, Lauren H.

From the jump, I felt pressure to try and “make sense” of the work and put it in a neat box so I could pitch it for publication, apply for grant money, and use the project as some sort of evidence that I was a clever photographer. 

Surprise! — Nothing worked out.  The publication that wanted the project ghosted me after two years, I was never awarded a dime in grant money, and the I was altogether drained of my gusto. My intentions were misplaced, the work was in its nascent phase.

Brady, fka Brandi, photographed with Frankenstein, the truck. 2018.

Brady and girlfriend Kat, 2020.

Brady, Kat, and baby Stevie Ray. 2021.

Only by taking a fat break from photography (still keeping my distance, actually) have I found the time to reflect upon where I went wrong. 

When I started this project, I felt the pressure to make some big point about inequality in the American public education system; however, I now know that my intention was really naive (I will always have compassion for my 25-year-old self who had the chutzpah to undertake this project, however).

Tae’tianna and Nuk at home, 2018.

Tot and Nuk photographed in 2019.

Tot and. Nuk are getting married this November.

Five years in, I have come believe photography makes a better tool for exploration than it does for explanation. For the first few years, I was trying to answer people’s critiques instead of just letting the project unfold organically. I’ve come to know this quality as people pleasing. If you’re an artist, you can’t be a people pleaser.

Nesa and her son Justus, January 2018.

Nesa posing as a symbol for her spiritual awakening, 2020.

A person’s true essence is only something that can be experienced in the present. All photographs, by nature, depict the past. The past is not where I wish to create from, and this conviction presents 5th Grade Dreams in a complex light — WHY do I keep doing it?

Kelsey marries her husband. Aaron, in summer 2019.

Kelsey and Aaron photographed outside of their new home in Indy, Nov. 2021.

For me, I now know that I find happiness in connection, creation, observation, and learning. I will continue this project as long as my classmates allow, for it epitomized connection, creation, observation, and learning. I’ll continue to work through the project’s shortcomings as I continue to work through the shortcomings of my own. 

Me in 2019, organizing negatives. I am actually sort of disturbed by how much time I used to put into this project.

Me, working on a spirit drawing. Photographed in 2022.

The funniest part of this whole thing is that I wanted to document the changing lives of my classmates without ever considering that my life would be changing too. I think the camera can do that to a lot of dedicated photographers; I think it can remove us from our own lives in a way that is quite dangerous. Since age 21, I was insistent upon being a full-time documentary photographer, even when there were a million red flags along the way. I kept pushing this goal until I was forced to surrender.

I now own my own business as a professional spirit medium. This career is a good fit for me right now because I can now explore the things we cannot see with our eyes — something photography rarely allows. I operate in a world where nothing can be proven. Nothing can be seen as objective. Nothing is really explained. And everything is up to be explored. I like it here— for now.

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