AND WILDERNESS PROJECT
The Women and Wilderness project is a fine art photography series.
It's about women, their connection to nature, healing and community.
HOW THE PROJECT CAME TO BE
**disclaimer: this article discusses domestic violence and PTSD.
The 'Women and Wilderness' project officially began on a cold winter day in February 2019, with two friends in the woods surrounding Hamilton Ontario, but the true reason for this project’s existence goes much deeper.
It was created within a moment of vulnerability, of healing, thanks to two wonderful women.
On a crisp February day in 2019 two of my closest friends came to visit so we could all mourn different things together. The loss of a relationship, a dysfunctional job for which one friend had moved thousands of kilometres, and my little family. We came together in a moment of profound vulnerability, each reflecting on our histories and the events that led us to that moment. We were in the woods, doing a photoshoot in the midsts of a cold, Canadian winter. The pictures were a time capsule of sorts, so we could document and commemorate our losses, but also to capture this moment of love for each other, and the healing peacefulness of our surroundings. Without hesitation, both women stripped to their sweaters and stepped into the shelter of a large conifer. With fingers numb, I pressed the shutter button and the Women and Wilderness project was born.
I grew up in a volatile home. My family was controlling and violent, interspersed with moments of deep love and generosity. That love buffered the raw cognitive dissonance required to maintain these kinds of dynamics.
I would live in the hope that things would improve, that I would be able to ‘fix things’. However, peace rarely lasted. This yoyo formed the foundation of my female relationships, leading to a guardianship of my feelings and a mistrust of female connection. I was very guarded of my selfhood and my own femininity.
I was incredibly lucky however to meet some truly determined and wonderful women. The offered friendships that did dismantle at least some of my armour, and help to carry me through the harder times.
These very friendships would help guide me back, when in early 2019, my grandmother passed from dementia, she had a difficult passing. I spent a month in the hospital with her and another family member, with whom I also had a very complicated relationship.
When I came back home that January, I was broken. I was diagnosed with severe PTSD. A doctor explained that after years of trauma, my body and mind were no longer able to sustain its weight. I had bottled so much for so long that there was no more space for me to absorb it all. Nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks, along with an inability to process any new information kept me motionless.
I started therapy. It helped, but slowly so decided to try Krav Maga. Loud noises would have me drop to the floor. I couldn’t have anyone stand between me and an exit without panicking.
I needed something shake me out this slump.
During my fist class, I was paired with a female partner. She asked me to throw a punch, and I had a complete meltdown. The head of the gym sat with me until I calmed down, and told me that I was not broken, and asked me about my relationship with women. It was only then that I truly recognized how guarded I was in female spaces. I had taken it for granted. We worked together to move through the fear, though the anger, and into grief.
My grandmother and I weren't close, but she was one of the only two remaining family members that I had. We were a tiny family, and our dynamic was such, that when my grandma passed away, I knew that as far as my biological family was concerned, I would be alone.
There is however, one thing that did tie us all together, and that was our love for the outdoors.
I remember being a child at the beach and watching my grandmother's head disappear on the horizon of the cold Polish Baltic sea. She would swim far offshore, and, I believe, in those moments find some peace.
My childhood, when I stayed in Canada for the summer, it was always very woodsy. One of my fondest memories is of when one evening we drove to some sand-dunes. My mother packed only the essentials, and we, and our big German Shepherd mix, slept under the stars. We would go canoeing every summer, and we rented a little cabin that we would go to every Friday after I was done school, coming back early on Monday morning to start class again. I would spend hours up in the treetops, swaying in the wind, my favourite place. I would make secret forts in the undergrowth out of old branches, bringing with me some trinkets to keep me company for the day.
Wilderness was and remains a sanctuary. So it was only natural, that when my friends came down to hold space for our collective grief, we turned to the outdoors.
When I released these portraits, other women began to ask about having theirs taken. At first, I was cautious. I photographed women I knew. Spending time with them helped to create a space for connection, for growth. I no longer felt alone. Finally, a year later, I put a call out on Facebook, and overnight my inbox was full of messages from women, wanting to share their own relationships of the wild, and what it had brought to their lives.
In looking for other women who love the outdoors, I inadvertently entered a safe space for myself and others. We find solace and regeneration in nature, and I have found light, connection and trust.
The Women and Wilderness Project is entirely self funded. If you would like to help support the project, click the button below. Donations help to offset the cost of travel to remote shoot locations.
SPECIAL THANKS TO
Not all donations have been financial.
Many have donated time, resources and even flights.
This incredible generosity has made
Last updated January 16, 2020
The Women and Wilderness Project is open to all womenx who love adventures in the great outdoors. To get in touch, just shoot me a message by clicking the button below.
Coming to the Maritimes - spring/summer 2021
*please note, dates may change as there may be travel and health restrictions/regulations due to the pandemic.
All shoots are done outdoors, and at a safe distance.
A quick note: As many of you are aware, this project is self funded, and by donation. To help ease travel costs, I've received many kind offers for accommodation in private homes. Regretfully I cannot accept invitations for accommodation at this time. My priority is everyone's health and well being.