Many people have asked me, “Why do you have this fascination with hands, Betsy?”
When did hands become such a big part of my life, not just in the photographic images I select behind the viewfinder of my camera?
It began in 2003, while I was recovering from a traumatic brain injury. In April of that year, I contracted spinal meningitis with herpes-encephalitis. I came close to dying and ended up with debilitating chronic pain. The trauma to my brain caused considerable memory loss, and I had to relearn basic skills from scratch - walking, reading a clock, reciting the alphabet, and adding one plus one to make two.
I could no longer pursue my health care career, which I loved. I had started out as a street paramedic and then become an ER nurse. I also owned a training business, called Live Saving Maneuvers, where I taught EMS and medical professionals at all levels, nationally and internationally. I especially loved working with fire departments in northeastern Massachusetts.
Photography was how I nurtured my creative side. It was an expression of what I saw in my surroundings. Taking pictures came naturally to me. I would concentrate on things that touched me deeply, frame an image in my mind, and then capture it with my camera. In those days, I preferred to work in black and white. I hardly ever shot in color.
During my convalescence, I picked up my digital camera as soon as I could. Apparently, I became a bit obsessive snapping photos of everyone and annoyed the hospital staff to no end. My sister still tells me stories about that and they always make me smile.
While using the camera, I forgot to change the setting to black and white and started to take color photographs. At first, I didn’t realize it, and by the time I did, I liked it. Now, I do both, compare the results, and decide which image I like best.
In the meantime, things got more and more difficult for me. It was devastating having to give up the work I loved and feeling I no longer could do all the things I used to before. I became severely depressed. It was more than I could handle on my own. But over time, and with the help of professionals, I learned to cope, regain my mental strength and reclaim my positive spirit.
It is not easy. The debilitating brain injury continues to affect me - in way most people never see or are aware of - and it often leaves me feeling angry, empty and resentful; unhappy about all I have lost.
I still wanted to take pictures, though, and prove to myself that I could have a full life. I became a traveler and went on lots of trips, visiting Romania, Bhutan, India, Cuba, Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia - always with my camera in tow.
"For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture." Diane Arbus
Copyright 2017. Betsy Gertz. All rights reserved.
Through Betsy's Lens