Newsletter Blog

How Ginny Came To Be A Photographer

March 15, 2016

In THE MEMORY OF FLIGHT, Ginny’s obsession with photography grows after she takes her father’s old Brownie Camera to take pictures of chickens flying. Soon she is taking the camera with her everywhere, wrapped in a towel inside a too-big-for-a-young-girl straw bag. She is mesmerized by raw emotional moments in others, chiefly due to her own feelings of emotional isolation, and often slips her hand into the bag for the camera when her eye catches any detail that marks the start of an emotional moment. Often unnoticed until the camera is in hand and she is shooting, Ginny has a willingness to face the wrath of angry subjects if necessary. Very brave for a young girl with little self-esteem, yet she doesn’t understand much about why the photographs are so important to her.

In developing this characteristic of Ginny, I was first led by my own interest and experience in photography that began as a young girl and my many subsequent studies in both photography and videography later in life. This gave me enough insight to mimic my childhood tinkering with photography in Ginny’s character along with the later coursework that made an easy progression to college classes. Incidentally, the University of Alabama did not have a program leading up to a degree in photography in the time frame of the novel – that part was all fiction.

Two other experiences that helped fine tune the story of Ginny and photography includes a relationship with a photographer and a class on documentary photography. We all know how powerful a camera can be as a tool to document lives and movements. A relationship with a photographer also taught me how powerful a tool it can be in defining a photographer and their art - their need and intention. My friend left a career in photography after several hospitalizations for depression. He spoke often about how difficult it had been to stop looking for the angle of the shot, to stop taking pictures and really connect with people. The camera had buffered him from people for years, particularly while shooting human tragedies in the early years of his career..

A second influence was a documentary photography class led by noted photographers Billy Howard and Marilyn Suriani (Futterman) in the late ’80s. A class requirement was to read the biography of Diane Arbus (1923-1971), a talented photographer who is perhaps best known for photographing marginalized people and for having an unusual eye (and approach) in shooting portraits on assignment. Arbus had bouts of depression and tragically ended her life at the age of 48.

Another assignment in the class was to walk around neighborhoods and snap photos of strangers and scenes that appeal to the eye. For a few years afterwards, I carried my camera everywhere. Although I found people generally agreeable if I asked permission to shoot their picture, in the novel I saw Ginny shooting pictures with little thought to getting permission. So I imagined how different people would react if a young girl began shooting pictures of them while they were already in an emotionally-charged moment.

Finally, a dear friend once shared the good news of her younger sister, who got a job traveling out of the country to photograph an archeological dig. I chose to use this for Ginny in the story and chose the location of Costa Rica because I studied there one summer while in college. These became important details in Ginny’s story in THE MEMORY OF FLIGHT.

Debra Bowling