Before - Jay Sullivan
Before

Pinhole Camera Photograhy

During the summer of 2015, I decided I wanted to be 14 years old again; that magic age where I explored the suburban woods, played baseball with my friends and made things with my hands.  It was a time filled tree houses, go-carts, sulfur burning science experiments, and B&W prints created in my basement darkroom.

I began my journey back to my youth by making a pinhole camera. Next, I decided to photograph the places in my current neighborhood where a 14-year-old might have spent his summer in the early 70’s;  the outdoor basketball courts, the baseball field, the railway tracks. I had expected the pinhole images to be upbeat and filled with the joy of boyhood, but surprisingly they were filled with a sense of loss and abandonment.  An image of an empty basketball court was anxiety provoking and disturbing. Was this anxiety always going to surface when I embarked on a new project that was based on my memories? What were the alternatives? Stop this photographic self-exploration? Photograph sunsets and seagulls?

As I thought about this I realized a sense of isolation and separateness had long been a part of my life. It had become less over the years as the result of personal introspection and various therapeutic processes, but here it was again in full force as I photographed images related to my early adolescence. Was there ever a time I didn’t feel this way? Well…yes. Before. Before my father’s problems began. Before my world changed. Before age 6.

Before - Jay Sullivan
Before - Jay Sullivan

I started to photograph images based on memories from my backyard when I was a small child: the lawn sprinkler, my father’s movie camera, rubber ducks in the wading pool. The images were bright, happy, and fun. The anxiety cleared. Long buried feelings started to resurface — feelings of safety, family, joy — it was like finding the missing pieces that put me back into some sense of wholeness. The change was dramatic. I  have continued the pinhole camera for 3 summers. The images and I continue to change in unison.

Before - Jay Sullivan
Before - Jay Sullivan

It all came down to awareness and choice. When the anxiety first returned, I could have chosen to continue down my usual, difficult path. I could have chosen to work through it, to take the harder, more emotionally risky road. It would have been successful but exhausting. Instead, I decided to make it easy on myself, to avoid the difficult emotions for the moment and go straight to feelings of happiness, fun and discovery.

This choice has become more than a one-time event. I now recognize that I am faced with these choices daily.  So, sometimes I still look to climb the mountain peaks, other times I take a long leisurely walk in the sun or occasionally I find time to do nothing at all.