The Sarah Vaughn Dress: A Phoenix Rising
One day a Sarah Vaughn Dress appeared in the mail from a woman whom I've never met. She had been on a Grand Canyon river trip with one of my friends who connected us. We've exchanged corrospondence now for almost three years. She helps raise awareness and supports the arts aligning herself with the Bay Area's , Bayview Opera House that helps low income African Americans in the community to develop a relationship to music,art and their African Heritage with students participating in an exchange programs in Senegal and Paris. Her collection of Sarah Vaughn dresses helps contribute to this inspiring endeavor.
I was unfamiliar with the music and art of Sarah Vaughn until her dress appeared miraculously in my life. How many days have I looked and admired and felt these dresses? the lingering scent of her perfume; I have envisioned many times how I would photograph them, and who would be my model... they've hung waiting for almost as long as I've had them until Monday night.
My new friend Phylis was on a Grand Canyon River trip through NAU OUtdoors. A trip that changed her life. Our mutual friend, Amber connected us. Without knowing each other we made a plan to do a shoot. It was a very moving experience and when she put on the dress and saw herself as a beautiful and radiant woman tears well up in both our eyes...she at seeing herself as beautiful; our shared stories of overcoming hardships, abuse; She is a single mother of four putting herself through school, a political activist; we talk about being women who have survived sexual abuse, and the act of loving the parts of ourselves that have been hidden in the dark; Photography is a way of loving, it is holding a mirror up to see what parts of ourselves rise to the surface; we explore facets; it is her portrait as well as my own...She tells me after we look at the images she sees her saddness; because I too have felt this I say, "this is the part of ourselves that need to be loved." There is no greater gift then to see someone see themselves as if for the first time.
I see before me a Phoenix rising in splendid color,exploring the world, encouraged by her kids to seize life. To overcome, to rise, illuminate; I ask if she would model for the poem series; She is brown and beautiful. Black,Native American, and more...
I see her personify the Earth Mother Goddess....The blue mantle of the Sacred Mary's becomes the sea upon which her body is
the earth floating,brown on blue. This body has given birth...she has saddness in her eyes yet laughs outloud with bravado, she looks like a queen. We both have the same forehead. I wonder if we share common African ancestors; I wonder if Sarah Vaughn was sad in her later life....I have never known birth except through the experience of the camera. I marvel and am in awe. I also want to make sure she is warm, and feels safe. A woman should be able to feel safe, to be able to be to shine bright, her body celebrated, revered. No matter what age, what form, shape or size. We come from women...we carry the lineage; we are often subjected to abuse but sometimes something larger than ourselves and all of those who love us make us regather our parts to rise up. I celebrate WOMAN in these portraits. The dark journey of the soul, illuminated by the fires of light, creativity, Nature. I make a new friend, a sister mama....a Woman who knows and still is unfolding before my very eyes.
Grand Canyon Connects us. Sarah Vaughn connects us. The love of friends I've lost and have yet to meet, the words of the poet, and some sweet melancholy that propels us to listen and share our stories. This is the power and gift of photography.
I love that I can say, "SEE how beautiful you are." I learn so much from the stories.