In October of 2016 while drawing a mural in Upton Hall, a young college student Nick Butler approached me with a camera in his hands to document my progress for the school’s records. I was invited to create this mural and encouraged to engage with the students. It is a natural process for me. The work can take half the time but I am often questioned about the work. Nick asked me what the inspiration was for my abstract forms. I’ve told my story of being burn survivor and how deformity and beauty is my influence. I have told my story thousands of times. I can quickly read with a high percentage of accuracy if someone is genuinely interested, sorry they even asked or can’t wait for me to stop talking so that they can tell me their story. But I could not read the reaction in this young man’s face. I had never seen it before.
The mural was long completed in February and I was back drawing in the coffee shop. I took a break with The Public and found Nick Butler as the featured artist. I went to his website and was instantly consumed with his work. He photographs bodies that are not ideal. I have many photos of my scars taken by medical photographers. I am not in those photos. For as long as I can remember I wanted to belong to my scars. I found him. His work was so sensitive. So respectful and dignified. I contacted him and asked if he’d photograph me with my scars. He accepted. I had no way of knowing he had every reason to say “No” but he didn’t. In the studio Nick asked me what I wanted the photo to say. I told him I knew what I didn’t want it to say. I didn’t want it to be sexual. I didn’t want my face in the image, I think we read too much into them. I wanted my hands in the image and I wanted the scars to look as painful as they feel. He photographed me for just about 3 hours.
Exhausted and hungry we went to dinner. He then looked at me and said, “Now I’m going to tell you my story.” When Nick was a teenager his mother died in a fire. Since that day, he has removed himself from anything having to do with fire, burns and scars. He has tried to commit suicide. He told me I am the age his mother would have been and when I asked him to photograph my burns, he understood this as a message from his mother that it was time to start healing, he has a purpose, he belongs here and he has work to do. I was instantly aware of the bravery we shared in the studio that day. How difficult it must have been to be that close to me as he painted with light. As I looked at the photo he chose out of the hundreds, I told him he gave me my dignity back.