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T1D Exchange asked me to do a photo series portraying diversity within the diabetes community, highlighting people and their devices. My journey began by speaking to people within my network who knew of other Black people and People of Color that I could ask to photograph. After several posts on my social media and message exchanges, I had found 12 volunteers who trusted me enough to meet with me and my camera.
It had been a while since I met with people in person for my photography work, and I was honestly eager to focus on returning to my love of portraiture and creating beautiful art. After this latest photographic commission, I got a collection of memories and experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime.
On a trip to the East coast to visit my family for the holidays, I was blessed to set up a photoshoot with Shontelle Dixon, who wore a Tandem pump and Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM) like me. Her red lipstick and vibrant wardrobe immediately caught my eye. I had arranged to meet at the sculpture gardens in Washington D.C., and I felt like my pre-rehearsed list of questions was no longer necessary. I listened to Shontelle share with me about the scars that T1D had left on her body and how she experienced life working, taking care of herself, her romantic partner, and her family while living with diabetes. Our chats brought an understanding and comfort that I recognized I had been craving.
We both were happy with our—socially distanced—photoshoot in the sculpture garden, and I enjoyed focusing on her devices and their effects on her skin. After giving Shontelle a masked hug and thanking her for her vulnerability, I sat with what was shared with me. The whole process of this photo series allowed me to have the space for sitting with my own memories and even acknowledging future fears for things I may experience.
The journey of exploring life from diagnosis to the present day has stages that each of us will experience. Not all experiences are the same, but there is this baseline understanding that we have type 1 diabetes with us at all times as we grow. I was diagnosed as a child, so when Nene Weaver approached me, the mom of Landon Weaver, I was excited to include them in this series. Landon is 13 years old and was diagnosed at 11. He lives an active life while also recognizing that his body changes with this condition.
Before our shoot on a private beach in Southern California, I talked about how this diagnosis changed their lives with him and his mom. I began to cry during our chats when I saw Nene’s tears as she processed the emotional overwhelm of what her son and family have lived through: The highs, the lows, the forever nature of it all. I wondered if Landon felt uncomfortable with the waterworks, but he held space for all of us and spoke on how he has these moments of high emotions, too, when thinking of all that comes with diabetes. Tears were definitely a backdrop to many of my shoots for this series! I felt safe expressing the pain of ‘why me??’ and ‘we did not deserve this!!’ in the company of others who utterly understood.
Those tears were also moments of happiness that could only truly be released with wet eyes, smiles, and runny noses. I met women who are moms living with T1D, who are physically disabled, business owners, influencers, activists, models, former teachers, and game-changers in so many other ways. Sometimes these tears were from just finding each other. After each of my meetings, I felt a spiritual connection as if we all were holding each other up with our stories, personalities, and perseverance.
I met with three Latino women, Mary, Lucero, and Jen, in a park to pose for a shoot for one of my sessions. We had an absolute blast posing, laughing, and showing off our bodies for my camera. This shoot was particularly fun because I got to step in and show my Dexcom CGM and Tandem pump too. It was very reminiscent of a female T1D superhero squad!
Between managing my diabetes, getting ready for the upcoming holidays, and carrying my daily stressors, I was given the opportunity to wake up with a purpose and curiosity for what would transpire. I woke up in the morning of my shoots and checked in with my Dexcom sensor to see how I was trending. I started with water, stretching, journaling, and setting my intentions for each journey ahead. I packed my car with low snacks like Capri Sun, fruit, and Kind bars. I packed my camera equipment and journal with such a purpose. I love assignments like this, where you know these stories and visuals will resonate with the collective while also feeding my soul.
After I submitted the project, these people became friends and a huge part of my support team. We stay in contact frequently on our social media platforms, share events, donate to each other’s causes, check-in, and even send mail to lift each other’s moods. Our health and well-being are always on our minds, and this project allowed me to share my skills with others who–in turn–shared such kindness and compassion towards me. I have been so thankful for T1D Exchange and how they have facilitated so many connections like these within the diverse type 1 diabetes community worldwide.
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