LIGHTEN UP (December 2016)

In 2015, I was living in New York and deeply depressed after a breakup. It felt like there was a heavy weight pulling my limbs to the ground whenever I ate, walked, went on social media or pretended to read smart books in order to better myself. Everything I did was difficult. Everyday I publicly cried.

Then one day my friend Julia called me and told me we needed to let go of the things that were holding us back. We were going to be birds. We were going to fly. We weren’t going to full-body cry in the subway anymore!

So we bought a pack of balloons, went to her apartment and wrote the things we wanted to let go of on tiny bits of paper. Then we stuffed those papers into the deflated balloons and blew them up. “Blow with intention,” Julia said. I blew with as much focus as I could.

When the balloons were full we took them to a set of train tracks near her house and let them go. It was only after I saw the first few tumble that I thought about how bad this was for the environment and how karma was probably going to get us both for casting our shit out into the world via literal garbage. But it felt fucking good. I was free from the sad obsessive thoughts that had weighed on me for months. I was light as those balloons rolling along the tracks.

In December 2016, I wanted to recreate that experience of letting go of emotional baggage for strangers during a Long Winter Exhibit at the Gladstone. I set up a “photobooth”, put out some deflated balloons and papers and encouraged people to write down the things they wanted to let go of in their lives. Then I asked them to put the papers inside the balloons and blow them up. “Blow with intention, I said. They did.

These photos document strangers during that special moment of therapeutic focus and release. They also showcase the things these people worked to let go of as they blew into those rubbery sacks: fear, self doubt, jealousy, toxic relationships. One person just wanted a Poppa Roach song out of their head.

Months after the event, I popped the balloons and photographed these papers alone in my home. What I found was touching, funny and relatable. I now keep those scribbled burdens bottled up where they can’t hurt anyone – in my living room, in a tightly fastened mason jar. Everyday it’s a reminder of the small pains we all share and the power this pain loses when we acknowledge and share it with others.