An Untranslatable World: A Collaboration By Jessii Powers and Anna Cox

We don’t know even know what our story is…how can you capture an unknown story?

Sometimes there are conversations that must be had, things that must be said, and emotions that need to be validated. Recently,Anna and I had one, okay actually a few, such conversations. I love when two hearts and heads collide and somehow, in the end, a subject that had plagued you finds resolution or the start of one.

Anna and I have both recently moved to drastically different locations from our previous addresses. I recently moved back to Seattle after living in India for 2 years and have lost a connection with a people and culture I thrived in so beautifully. Anna moved from rural Kentucky to Houston which happens to be the land of the strip mall and cityscapes. We are both at a loss creatively and have found it hard to capture anything that speaks to us in our new homes.

Together we chatted, grumbled, and grieved over our moves and ultimately decided to write a series together that would explain our struggles, conclusions, and our journey through this period of our lives. Throughout this article will be pieces of our actual first conversation so please forgive the rawness. Our assumption was that if both of us were going through this then others were also. And if that is so, perhaps our conversations will help others and in turn help us.

A: Jessii before we really dig in will you share a little about India and what made it so special to you?

J: India is so raw, so honest and so different from anything else I’ve ever known.  It wasn’t a love at first sight experience, how could it be when I flew into Delhi at midnight and was immediately thrown into a taxi that proceeded to play 8 hours of chicken as my friend and I headed to Rishikesh?  There is a certain surrender that needs to happen if one is to truly embrace India though because if you don’t, if you fight ANYTHING India throws your way, you will get spit out and it will not be pretty.  I met a dear sweet friend from Darjeeling while I was climbing, alone, in the Himalayas about a year ago and he said, “India is an assault on all of your senses” and he couldn’t be more right.  Within a fraction of a second you can go from smelling rotten garbage and poop to the most fantastic, mouth watering food, layered with some ridiculous sandalwood incense and that’s just ONE of your senses getting hammered.  It’s a country of immense contradictions, a country that seems to have calculated inefficiencies to keep more people employed and it’s the country that completely shattered my views on what’s “right” and what’s “wrong.”  Everywhere I looked there was a story, every person I met had some nugget of philosophical wisdom to impart on my soul, people talk of balance in their own state of being, no one complained, EVER, and everyone I met had a loving glow radiating from their eyes.  Ok, well maybe not everyone but a helluva lot of people.  I experienced the most love in my life in that country and also the most terror and I wouldn’t have changed a single experience because it all helped me grow into who I am today.

J: What was it about Kentucky that ignited your creativity?  What drove you?

A: Kentucky for me means home, family, roots. I adore the fact you can drive ten minutes from my door and be in the middle of nowhere. The wide open spaces speak to me. I adore the graceful hills and the rich farming history. It is events like the summer time tobacco cutting contest that make my heart smile. Kentucky is unassuming but at the same time has a unique arts culture with Berea being the epicenter for the art community and a thriving horse industry with Churchill Downs and Keeneland. It has everything from city to country and a little of everything in between.

Our conversation started like any good conversation does – a back and forth, stream of consciousness.

A: Maybe this has to do with a photography niche and how that can be really limiting?

J: Oooo… yeah.  So many people try to aim for a niche and what happens when they can’t capture what they are comfortable with?  So many peeps epitomize their location with their shooting

A: Perhaps the real aim is to be well versed in shooting different things?

J: Maybe not so much shooting different things but like…being open and more accepting of smashing open your genre. Technically, I’d probably be considered a travel photographer and what does a travel photog do when not traveling… And you are the master of picking the beauty in all its forms in rural america so what do you do when you’re surrounded by manufactured urban pretty and concrete? It’s not so much the things as the space. Am I making any sense? I’m not feeling like it

A: Haha! No you are. It’s easy to pigeon hole yourself and you are saying to open yourself creatively to other genres in the event what you normally shoot isn’t available. If you are creative there is a burning need to do just that- create. And what do you do if your personal inspiration is unavailable?

J: Yes! That! 

A: I mean what would a street photog do if there were suddenly no people?

J: Or an architecture fanatic if there were no big buildings?
It’s not even the stuff or the place, now that I’m pondering this more… it’s the stories we like to tell

A: BRILLIANT! That is exactly it. It’s the things we identify with. The things that speak to us. I could shoot landscapes all day here but they don’t speak to me

J: I have an attachment to India and the stories I was fascinated with there…even just the visual story and I’m not ready to let go of that attachment yet so I’m stunted in the US, creatively, because I’d still rather be shooting something else, somewhere else…and when I finally let go of that attachment, I’ll find what drives me here. I’m getting all philosophical about this! And I shoot the stories around me that fascinate me…usually when I’m open to that story or don’t identify with it but want to explore more

A: Hahaha! I like philosophical. I am more on the emotional side. I shoot what narrates my story or where I am heart wise

J: I got it! You and I have been uprooted from our stories! Now we don’t know even know what our story is…how can ya capture an unknown story?

So that’s our challenge.

How do you capture a story when you don’t know what to look for? And how do you find your meaning in an untranslatable world? So much of the time we are deeply rooted within our location, so much so that we don’t even realize how MUCH we depended on it to fuel our creative drive until it is no longer available.
Anna and I answered our questions in different ways but the core is the same. We are both set, ready, and waiting for our creative muse to come back and visit

How do you capture a story that speaks to you when the world around you seems silent?

A: I’ve been a part of the IG/online community for over three years now. In the beginning, it pushed me and taught me but somewhere in the last year it has begun to be a hinderance. I feel the bar that I set quite high for myself has lowered based on the “need” to post images. This need, of course, is just imagined. No one NEEDS to see my photos. They are supposed to be just for me, right? They are an expression of my creativity, they are personal. Yet there is this imaginary pressure to post or die. To be unknown, unconnected, unseen translates into a sort of creative death. And in the process, my photographs have become lazy, sloppy, and boring. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of going off the grid for awhile. Just leaving all platforms and pursuing my endeavor off line, away from eyes. I feel the need to grow, to redefine, and I feel I need to do this away from the barrage of images and information. So for me, the end of the journey (or perhaps the beginning) starts here. The funny part is that since Jessii and I started this article I moved back to Kentucky but I am still going to follow through with my idea and grow away from the public eye for the most part. The amazing part is that I took photos of people more in Texas than ever before and really enjoyed it so that is definitely something I will pursue further

J: I spent 2 years in India learning all I could about yoga and the core principle behind the entire practice is acceptance; acceptance of reality, acceptance of where we currently are as individuals and to honor that, respect that, and to just observe and watch as everything in this life passes, whether it be the irritability that builds on the yoga mat that brings a flood of tears while you’re balancing in crow pose, to watching the love you made in your own heart and shared with someone else leave to go reside in another part of the world.  What was wonderful about my time in India is that everything I did was practice without the effort.  Nothing felt like work and there was a flow.  The stories I digitally captured and shared just… happened.  It was truly the first time I ever experienced “being” and understood exactly what it meant to “be.”  Any frustrations I have with my photography now is just fighting against something that doesn’t exist and I’m trying to force something that maybe isn’t meant to be, right now.   I have learning to do, I have teaching to do, I have writing to do and I have a new life to figure out and if my eye isn’t drawn to capture any of my surrounding moments, that’s ok.  I knew that wonderful streak wouldn’t last forever, but I also know this uprooted dry spell won’t either.  I’m just going to enjoy being wherever it is I’m pulled to be right now and be patient with myself as my new story unfolds and isn’t that what happens, always, if we let it.  It’s fighting the development of our story that causes us such immense heartache.   Who knows where it will take me, but I’ll be glad to be wherever I am, or at least that’s the practice that lasts a lifetime, or 23,574,234 lifetimes, give or take a few years

What is the answer for you?
How do you capture images when your world is on it’s ear?

Leave us a comment so we can start a conversation and grow with one another.