Motherhood with a Camera: Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo

“i put on handcuffs and leg irons
and now i sprint.”

– anna swir


there are years of my life that still make my hands shake. if i told you in person you would hear my jaw tremble as my teeth click together. if you took my hands you would feel them go cold. it is something you cannot see in my pictures. there, there is only the hope left after the fire. my stories during that time are the backdrop to this gritty and mystical love i know in my bones tonight. this love that i call my life now. the back story gave way to grace. without it, there is only the sweet hint of the truth.

i was married, years before i met my husband of beautiful now. he sparkled and seethed at the world. a magnet and a hammer, dancing between the two, moment to moment. he was born a triplet, an enormous baby boy, to a wisp of a woman with a sailor’s tongue, two stillborn siblings with him. when i first heard him tell the story, i felt such sorrow. every time from that point, i saw it as his first act of violence. the pictures from this time would lie straight to your face, without a trace of a blink. protecting the life i wanted to shed took up all the space in me, a biting contradiction that hurt more than the ugly words and white hot flashes of force against my flesh. i lived my life in a box that someone else made for me. every day i sat on a lit fuse. it is impossible to say when it blew, or how many times. survival as a shell. bones cracking, eyes closed, broken doorknobs, black eyes and birthday parties, endless apologies, boots in my back, phones off the hook, a faraway life. i was good at leaving, and speeches in court, and feeling like sisyphus unhinged. nothing ended the last time i did. a new kind of terror uncoiled. but i survived, as a shell, and began to fill it by the drop. there are years of pictures i can feel, if my mind’s eye fails. as cruel as this will always be, it taught me to see from the inside, what was ON the inside. it taught me to feel everything as a blessing, even as it stung my eyes, and pressed up against my spine.

i talked to my dad today, from across the country, and he was able to hold my hand from that distance, as he read me letters i wrote him years ago, from the eye of the storm. and i wanted to talk to myself too, to reach back in time. to hold my own hand. this life will always be a giant reframing. each photograph, just as each ordinary day, gives me that chance. every picture i take is proof of this new world. every breath is taken with a weight and freedom that dance together in a way i could not have known.

we are pieces of stories, woven through time. i am the fabric worn in the darkest times, falling apart, threadbare, like parchment. i am the softest, brightest clothing of childhood, still smelling of love and summer air upon my skin. i am the pieces of clothing i wash together many times a week, all spinning and folded together, a family. i am the dresses i wore on days i could not bear to remember, balled up and boxed and pushed so far inside myself i could almost pretend there were not pictures of me wearing them. and i know i probably pass someone each day who still wears the anger belonging to someone else. i cannot know, but i try to see.

i tell my daughter, “i loved you first.” because the brand of love it took to rise all the ghosts of courage, resigned and hopeless and too tired, in my heart, was revolutionary. it was a prayer and a primal scream. and the love for her was the child of the love i needed for myself. it is a story with a beginning that will never have an end. tonight i am writing this after an accidentally deleted draft, with the echoes of a loud and trying and beautiful and busy day ringing in my ears, with so many tasks and lists and dreams of sleep falling away. i am writing this purely, as a wall of protection, as truth, as healing, as a belief that no one is alone and i am not alone in this. i am writing this because it is the darkness that anchors my light. i am writing as a beginning to the longer story it deserves. the buzz beneath my skin will always start to burn, when i think of the fear that blazed through who i was. that could come back at any moment. but the buzz will sting and turn to static, the static will still and turn to peace. because that is what i guard with every bit of abandon. because the ordinary is a miracle i have earned. it is a stone, cool and smooth and real in my pocket, as my palm finds this moment. i was bleeding inside. but we are all bleeding inside. it is what keeps us alive.

About Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo, based in San Francisco CA:  Website  |  Facebook Contact

  • Life with Kaishon - Oh, Amy. I knew you had a big story the very first time I ever saw an image of yours. Something about it gripped me. I saw the love you had for your little one in that first image, but I saw something more.

    You are brave to share. I am thankful that your light is shining brightly now in a safe place.

    You inspire me.

    Much love,

  • Melissa Gray - As always, so moving. Every time i read your posts tears well up in my eyes. But it’s a good feeling.ReplyCancel

  • Amy Lucy Lockheart - Once again, Amy Grace leaves me speechless. You inspire me more than you’ll know — for your candor, your words, your grace. I am so blessed to know you. xoxoReplyCancel

  • steph - thank you. just thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Debbie Wibowo - I love Amy. The end.ReplyCancel

  • naomi - Amazing, as always. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • carleigh - you will never be alone amy. beautiful words. moving story. wonderful life.ReplyCancel

  • alpana - hugs Amy. We have spoken of this before but to see your words in print leaves me speechless. You are truly amazing to bare your soul and share what might help many other women that have been there and perhaps don’t have the courage to. You are their shinning light. xoxoReplyCancel

  • Sara T - When truth and light collide. I cannot even imagine a life you just described. What courage, bravery and strength it just took to post this is beyond me. Your healing is your art. It is so refreshing. Noone else can tell or photograph your story like you can. Thank you for sharing it. Let these words and photos be the light for someone who hears your story and has the strength to get out. You are amazing, friend.ReplyCancel

  • krista resnick - Amy you are courage. Your healing and your story are a breath of life into my soul. Honestly is such a beautiful thing. WE learn so much from one another when we bare our souls and choose to not hide any longer. thank you amy-for being the brave woman to bare yours…ReplyCancel

  • Popster - Your candor, insights, and eloquence elevate and heal. So many of us are wounded healers…ReplyCancel

  • Jenna - I knew there was something different about you from the very first image of yours my eyes so luckily were drawn to. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. It’s just remarkable!ReplyCancel

  • Emma Wood - I would tell you how much I loved this, if I wasn’t so busy trying to see through the tears. Please never stop what you do, I need words like yours in my life. <3ReplyCancel

  • Laura - Your courage is spectacular Amy. Anyone who can walk out a door and close it behind them and move on and make their life better deserves to have their story read. Keep telling your story. You will inspire many others. I have shivers down my spine from reading this, like someone is walking directly behind me and blowing Siberian air my way. I think you are amazing. Your words and their story, are fabulous. Your words are stories in themselves, stories about stories about stories, everything wrapped up like an onion. Cutting through the layers you know you are going to cry. xx I only “know” you a short time, but you are amazing and inspiring!ReplyCancel

  • Heather - So beautiful. Thank you for sharing, you give hope in your words and your beautiful images. xoReplyCancel

  • Cherish Bryck - Amy. You continue to inspire me. Your words and images are raw and powerful. You are soul to be reckoned with. Keep shining your light.ReplyCancel

  • jules - my brave beautiful friend. I know what a hard story that was to share. I’m sure there were many tears as you composed this post. I hope that you feel a huge weight off of your shoulders. I’m so proud of you and beyond blessed to call you my friend! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Dawn Shiree - Beauty from ashes… it’s a story many of us have in common and you are a beacon of light for all of us. Thank you, dear friend, for your bravery and honesty and transparency and authenticity… so much to find in one humble soul. You wear it all so very beautifully and I do mean beautifully. xxReplyCancel

  • Rebecca Leimbach - My heart is happy that you found “the love” you deserve so much. It’s interesting to me that when we come from places that most wouldn’t understand, everything seems more bright and shinny once we have emerged. I’m glad you didn’t give up and that life saw fit to give you this voice.ReplyCancel

  • Val Spring - My dear beautiful Amy, how I admire your strength and heart and soul and words. You are an incredible human being and reading about what you’ve been through and seeing the way you choose to heal, always pouring your heart in your amazing art, and being an incredible nurturing mom and wife and making your family a wholesome one. I admire you, you have no idea how much. I wish I could give you a long tight hug right now. I wish you to live a happily ever after life. You deserve laughter and smiles and love, lots and lots of it.ReplyCancel

  • Solene - Thank you Amy …ReplyCancel

  • Gina - instinctively, I knew there was real depth to your words and images the very first time I read and saw them. they continued to draw me in. it is sad and beautiful that the pain one endures can ultimately create such beauty. in the end, we should be thankful for that. you are truly blessed and very brave. by sharing your story, you can not help but give strength to others. I wish you unending peace, joy and love. xxooReplyCancel

  • Stephanie Moore {Tucson AZ Photographer} - I feel like I have so much to say to you but I’m not sure how to say it. I can’t even imagine the life you described it feels me with so many emotions. Anger, sadness, disbelief. You truly are such a strong person. Thanks so much for being so open, I feel like i know you on such a deeper level now. Hugs my friend!!!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - ” and the love for her was the child of the love i needed for myself.” man that just hit me.ReplyCancel

  • yan palmer - what a huge swoosh of incredible you are. your words and your images that are so obviously a reflection of your heart. so few people achieve such an accurate depiction of the latter with the former. as i read i found myself nodding vigorously and wanting to write down your words as quotes in my notebook. “the darkness that anchors my light.” and what a burning light it is. we’re so lucky you share with us, and it is now a life goal of mine to meet you in the flesh. p.s. so excited to follow this project. p.p.s. write a book if you haven’t already! the imagery (i don’t mean the photos) you use to convey such profound insights! wow.ReplyCancel

  • Breanna - chills Amy. You are an amazing soul & so incredibly strong xoxoReplyCancel

  • Brittany - The world is made more beautiful because of what you share. Your love, words and images brings peace and hope. You truly amaze me.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah Mayo - I am speechless at your story and your courage to share it. The way you articulate your heart in words and images is so profound. Your wisdom and raw beauty are evident in every bit—they tell your story. xoReplyCancel

  • Barbara - I have always believed that we photograph to capture the details of our lives and what we see matters. What cannot be seen in a photograph, can often be felt. I am so sorry to hear what you have been through, and I am proud of you for surviving and getting out.ReplyCancel

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