Jesse and I recently set up Google Photos albums for each other. One is called “Jesse”, which automatically sucks in any photos of him from both our libraries. The other album is called “Erica”, which does the same thing, but with photos of me.
After a couple of days, I scrolled through the “Erica” album. And there’s so many photos of me. So, so many. More than I thought could ever exist.
There are pictures of me eating, sleeping, laughing, posing, not posing, smoking, drinking, dancing. There are pictures of me that I never knew existed before, during moments that I remember vividly. There are just so many.
It reminded me of what someone told me once: To discover what someone loves, look at what they photograph. And Jesse photographs me a lot. Looking at all of these pictures made his love for me even more obvious, more corporeal. I felt it. I saw, for a moment, myself – but the way he sees me.
Being photographed is always a compliment. Being painted, however, was something I never thought I’d experience. When I see paintings of other people, I always make assumptions about that person: they must have been so interesting, or beautiful, or influential. Someone put an incredible amount of time and effort into creating art in their likeness. (Or maybe they were just super rich and wanted an old-fashioned selfie for their parlor wall. No judgement here.)
Either way, being the subject of a painting seemed out of reach. I can’t afford to commission a painting of myself, and who would find me interesting enough to paint for art, or for fun?
So, when Jesse and I found ourselves in Joshua Tree last summer, climbing boulders and frolicking at sunset, and our friend said she needed a photo of us, and she needed Jesse to put two small tiny rubber hands on each index finger, and smoosh them into my face for a photo, we obliged. I remember her saying it was a reference photo for a painting, but I truly didn’t think anything would come of it. We laughed as Jesse rubbed miniature hands on my face. We spent about 30 seconds doing this, and then forgot about it and moved on to the rest of our adventure.
And yet, after the trip to Joshua Tree, this immense force of a woman – a wild, untamed, creative soul, who I can only ever picture with her long red-brown hair flying in the wind, wrapped in brightly colored African printed fabrics, barefoot, making the desert her home – she painted us.
And just like that, someone saw something in us that was worthy of their time, and delicate effort, and paint, and a canvas. She created something that feels almost immortal. It feels timeless and unreal. And I’m part of it, and that feeling is hard to describe.
Thank you, Leanne.