how old are you? how old am I?
There was a time when I’d watch her walking around the house, looking like she was moving between worlds. Half woman, half ghost. She was physically here but her mind seemed to be elsewhere. Her mind was making her trail around over her previous steps, circling in the same corners of rooms in her detours from tracing the first floor of the house. I can gently slip my hand into hers, pulling her out of the repetitive steps, guiding her on a walk or sitting her down to rest. Her legs eventually grew tired of this routine. You could see her weight shift, her knees start to bend. My mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s only weeks before she turned 55. My dad told me the story of the two of them sitting in the doctor’s office, hearing the diagnosis and my mom being told she would no longer be allowed to drive. It was the start of so many changes for her, my parents’ marriage and our family. Nature has always been a place where I daydream, and photographing it has always been an escape. But now it’s a place and space of practice where I try to show how I’m feeling. I feel my mom slipping away from this world all the time, but I see her and feel her outside in so many things. I look at everything through a veil of grief now. I feel my memories of her when I’m outside. I feel her presence. And in many ways, I feel my grief and confusion mirrored back to me by nature. I want to believe that this life is about more than just loss. This heartbreak of watching my mother slowly lose her ability to speak, to walk, to swallow food – it’s been the most painful experience of my life. I want to believe that life is about experiencing love and connection. As we find our place in the cosmos, it’s inevitable that we experience hardship. That is the foundation of the human experience. But I want to believe this is not merely for the pain, but rather for being given the tools to show others that our grief can be a powerful emotion that connects us and binds us to this physical world.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kristina Barker studied photojournalism at SF State, but followed her love for rural communities by living and working in the Black Hills of South Dakota for over a decade. Her commercial clients include Google, Samsung, Coca-Cola, and Red Cloud Indian School. Barker has documented news and communities for The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Harper’s, BuzzFeed, and many others. She was the first female staff photographer and the first female photo editor at The Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. While her home is now Portland, Oregon, her favorite photos are often taken on the road across the Interior West. Her work focuses on our natural world, Alzheimer’s, the climate crisis and grief.