Safelights, Magic, and Jazz

Hailey NiswangerI picked up a camera when my heart was breaking. When I couldn’t figure out what to do with my life anymore. This time, I decided to make a career out of something I’d been playing with since childhood. Something I learned from my dad when he was printing in the darkroom he’d built when I was a kid. I learned to shoot with his Olympus OM2, a camera I still revere but do not own. I learned to watch images appear slowly in the warm glow from the Safelight, enthralled by this apparent magic.

Later, when I decided to go to school to hone my craft, I found myself intoxicated by the smell of developer and fixer, regardless of the poisoness fumes. I was still smitten with the “magic,”” even though I was knowledgeable of the truth. At this point, my photography became my voice. My means of communicating with the world from which I often felt detached. The truth is, my memories of my dad are antiquated and fading fast. The positive relationship I remember truly ended when I was 7 and has been spotty and dysfunctional ever since. With him, there is hope, as he and I both are trying to mend this relationship. Still, both parents left me feeling orphaned and isolated, making my writing and photography the only true means of honest connection.

When I shoot now, I shoot with my heart wide open, hoping to create a real connection with those I photograph. I’ve built a remarkable family though via my marriage to Joseph and my friends, who have supported me and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. I’m beyond grateful.

Recently, while working with Janice Littlejohn during the jazz clinic and benefit for her documentary But Can She Play, I was shown the power of determination stemming from the desire to follow dreams. Janice is a true force of nature, highlighting women in the arts, supporting women in the arts, as a woman in the arts. Hello, sisterhood! I learned a lot during those two days, particularly regarding dreams.
We all have them; we all need to honor them; we all can play. And most of all: We can’t ever give up. There’s just no room for that.

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One thought on “Safelights, Magic, and Jazz

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