Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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What a picture is worth

me & my snowcat (photo by vivienne mcmaster)

I adore this photo that my friend Viv took of me last month. I love it because this one little image is packed with reminders of the good things in my life.

See those rings peeking out from the handwarmer on my left hand? My ten-year wedding anniversary is this autumn. There was a time when I didn't know if we'd make it this far. Now, I'm looking forward to the next ten (and beyond), which doesn't seem all that long anymore.

The handwarmers themselves remind me of the ways I've been working to make my outside match my inside. It's not that a new wardrobe or hairstyle makes me any better than I was before, it's just that finding a style that feels authentic and true to me makes me happy, more comfortable in my own skin.

My Diana F+ camera, in the adorable Snowcat edition. For years I wanted an analogue camera, even before Lomo grabbed the world by its sprockets. But I put off buying one, worried that I wouldn't know how to use it and wouldn't take the time to learn. I told myself an old story about how I'm not good with mechanical devices and how I have no patience for learning such things. I worried that I wouldn't be able to get the film developed locally and that I would hate the pictures I took. And then I finally let my desire overcome my doubts and fears. I never did find a good local lab here in the suburbs, so I send out most of my film. It's a minor annoyance. But you know what? I love my Diana photos. For the first time in my life I'm creating art in a medium other than words that I actually like. It feels good.

If you look very closely, you can see the red-striped strap of my Cannon Rebel camera slung around my neck. In about a year I went from being a girl with an old Kodak point-and-shoot to one who carries around a Diana and a DSLR, which I like to call my first "big-girl" camera. I know it's the low-end of DSLRs, but it's all kinds of fancy for me, the girl who thought she didn't have the patience or skill to learn how to use new equipment or take better photos.

I was standing on a cold, winter beach in Manzanita, Oregon, when Viv took this picture. For most of my life, the Pacific Northwest was nothing more than a faraway dream. In the past two years, I've been there four times. I love it even more than I thought I would.

I wasn't planning to take my brown, down-filled winter coat to Manzanita, but I changed my mind when the forecast told of a freak Arctic blast streaking into Oregon. I bought this coat for my winter trip to Vermont, where Arctic-like blasts are the norm. I go to Vermont for school, for my MFA in writing program, a program that is exactly what I needed for my writing and my writing life. I'm so glad I followed my gut and said yes to that big dream. (Graduation is this summer!)

I was in Manzanita to be a mentor at Pen & Paper: A Be Present Retreat, my first time teaching in-person. What a treat to share and learn in that gathering of creative souls. I don't always know what to think of myself in this newish role of teacher, but interactions like the ones in Manzanita (and with my online students), make me feel humble and honored and happy to do this work. 

That this photo exists at all is a reminder of my friends -- my amazing, beautiful, talented friends who are lights along my path, integral parts of my creative journey, companions in all things happy and sad. It's not that I was ever friendless, but I went through a lonely and isolated time as many of my old friendships faded away through time, distance, and the natural cycles of life. Seeing myself through a friend's eyes like this makes me grateful for my friends old and new, near and far.

That's a lot of story tucked into one image. I'm thankful for all of it.

** ** **

Viv knows a thing or two about capturing stories in images. She shares her knowledge and heaps of encouragement in her amazing online classes. Registration is now open for Wading In: Dipping our Toes into Self-Portraiture and You Are Your Own Muse. And her new class, called Swan Dive, is also on the horizon. Viv helps people to find their visual voice and personal beauty through photography and self-portraiture. If you ask me, photos like that are worth more than words can say.

Reader Comments (6)

beautiful photograph. isn't it amazing how much an image can capture? i guess a picture is worth a thousand words.

thanks for sharing!
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael - Innkeeper
"It's not that I was ever friendless, I went through a lonely and isolated time as many of my old friendships faded away through time, distance, and the natural cycles of life."

Thanks for voicing this. It's the feeling/experience that I couldn't quite express that I've been pondering lately. I do have good, sweet, precious friends, but there's been some falling away like you said. I have this wistful desire to find something that feels like it's missing.

Good to know I'm not the only one.

The colours and clarity in that photo are so pretty and I love the softness of the wool. That is one gorgeous photo. Vivienne is magic.
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLelainia Lloyd
gorgeous. every bit.
March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjenica
So, so much story tucked into that one picture. I love how all these details are so authentically you. xo
March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
I love this post Jenna (I've been back to read it a few times). I didn't realize Manzanita was your first teaching in-person experience. You are a natural at it. I remember how talking with you that first evening really put my want-to-be-a-writer heart at ease.
April 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjennifer h
It's a gorgeous image made more so by all the connotations attached. Good on Viv and good on you!

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