Paige Parsons: Connecting Through Photography In This Time Of Pandemic
It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. For Paige Parsons, connecting through photography is the most powerful way to impart emotion, love, and compassion. She joins Karen Pulver and Goddesses to discuss her journey from being a photographer who mostly goes to music festivals and concerts to finding greater fulfillment in doing portraits of people. Paige shares her PPE project in this time of the pandemic, focusing on photographing front liners to feature their human side and let everyone relate to their current hardships. She also talks a bit about her photography secrets, her most memorable coverages, and her life as a dyslexic mom.
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Paige Parsons: Connecting Through Photography In This Time Of Pandemic
Thank you for joining us on Grateful Goddesses. A picture says a thousand words. I decided that one of the things that I was scared to do was take pictures. I know that sounds crazy. I am being vulnerable in telling you this because it’s such a simple thing that everyone does now, especially with their phones. I decided a couple of years ago to take a photography class. Here in Chicago, I went and I learned all the mechanics of the camera. We had to do these assignments every week. We were in manual mode, so it had to be one-on-one.
We would go and take pictures of the different assignments and things that we were doing. Every week, we had to put our photos up on the wall. We circled around and took a look at everyone’s photos and people said which ones they loved and why. Mine were never chosen. Needless to say, I was determined to get that picture that everyone would love. I was trying so hard. One day, I walked into a candy store and I was looking at the colorful candies and this girl walked in. She was probably 17 or 18. She had piercings and she had purple hair. She had a colorful outfit on. I looked at her looking at the lollipop tree. I was on the other side and I saw her looking, and she looked like a little girl, even though she was in her late teens.
I grabbed my camera and snapped the picture. That was recognized in my class as being a great photo. I was so honored but I realized at that moment, I learned it wasn’t about posing the people or trying hard to get that perfect shot. For me, it was about capturing the moment of this girl that was trying hard to be so grown up and be different, and yet she wanted that lollipop. Our guest is Paige Parsons. She captures moments. She captures people in authentic situations and in laughter, joy and sorrow. She is a photographer.
Paige, what do you think about my story about capturing that moment? I’m so curious, you as a photographer, what your thoughts are.
I love hearing about that moment because you’re right that that’s what capturing the moments. It’s not about posing something or putting it together, but it’s seeing something that moves you and wanting to capture that, share that, and share that connection with somebody else. I also love the story of this little girl who wants to be so grown up. That also captures your perspective as being older and having gone through it, knowing you’re not grown up yet. Even the juxtaposition of being in a candy store is lovely.
It made me happy when I found that and I captured it. I wasn’t sitting them down for this pose, “Smile.” I noticed that in your work, you seem to capture those moments. I’d like to go back though to how you and I met. Do you want to tell the people who are reading the blog on Grateful Goddesses how that encounter happened? Do you remember?
I do. I can tell you a little bit about it, but I was thinking that’s more your story than mine because, from my point of view, it’s simple. I got a phone message from somebody who was interested in what I do and wanted to talk to me. I do a fair amount of public speaking and things like that, so I didn’t recognize your name, nor did I recognize the context, but I still reached out because that’s what I tend to do. I tend to try to say yes.
I was trying to connect with Paige Parsons who’s a wellness coach. I looked up a number and I decided to call Paige out there. I started talking with you and you started to tell me that you’re a photographer and I was like, “This is the wrong Paige. Hold on a second.” As we were talking, I was looking up on my computer what you do and what you’re currently working on. I was blown away. Here we are, meeting serendipitously, yet it was meant to be. We’re meant to talk and share your story. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey, Paige, when you were younger? Was this a passion of yours? How did it lead up to what you’re doing?
The funny thing is that when I was younger, music has always been a passion of mine. Photography, my best friend always brought a little disc camera to all the concerts that we went to back in high school and I thought, “She’s got it.” I thought I was always in the moment and not so much worried about documenting things. When I went off to college, I did take several photography courses because it was something that interested me once I had a real camera, but I never imagined or even told myself that that was something that I could do as a career.
I was taught growing up that it was important to be independent and that to be independent, you have to support yourself. The only way to do that was to do something technical because I was fairly gifted in math and science areas and things like that. I didn’t understand that it was my own choice to choose my life school. I thought that I should listen to my parents. The funny thing about that is that I certainly didn’t listen to them about a lot of other things, so I have no idea why I was listening to them about what I should do in school. I shot for the school newspaper and I took photography courses. I went on to do a lot of user experience work and other work having to do with people in connection, but not with photography.
It wasn’t until the birth of my children and the digital camera revolution was taking off that I realized, “I enjoy doing this.” There was a serendipitous moment when I was going to Lollapalooza and I met up with this guy in the Ice Cream Man. I realized he was able to give me an official photo pass that I was like, “I could do this. I enjoy doing this.” I have a lot of choices at this point in my life as I’ve taken some time off the crazy train in Silicon Valley. “Why don’t I try this direction instead?” I did and here I am now. It’s my professional career, at least up until COVID and hopefully, it will be again. I love what I do. I love photographing people, especially live concerts, but anything having to do with people and connecting is one of my focuses.
That took a lot of bravery to stop and switch. You don’t see it like that?
I saw that once I was off that Silicon Valley crazy train, many things about stopping work and being at home with my kids took a lot of bravery that in some ways during the photography was the least of that. It wasn’t like I just went out pounding the pavement looking for a full-time job. Doing the photography, I edged into it with my kids and with other families that I knew. My husband is an introvert. He didn’t like going out much. The fact that I could go out to a concert by myself and he didn’t go, he was glad to be home.When I was young, I didn't understand that it was my own choice to choose my life's goal. Click To Tweet
He was like, “Go.”
That worked out well.
I’d like to invite our Featured Goddesses, Esta and Lara on. We’re going to ask you some more questions about your passion and your connection. Esta, would you like to start?
I watched your video and I loved it. I was in Boston for 25 years and I’m familiar with MIT. It’s phenomenal that you’re such an amazing institution. I headed the photography. I saw that you were at the MIT Media Lab and I didn’t even know they did anything with photography, so I’m curious about your connection, how you stumbled into photography when you’re at MIT, and where the Media Lab came into your inspiration in what you did and your motivation?
Back when I was at MIT, there was what they call course core, which is all the arts and architecture and things like that. That was all housed within the Media Lab. That was part of the department at the time. All the visual classes are through course core and they’re through the Media Lab. I started out by taking a course called creative scene and that wasn’t even photography, but it was known at the time as a class that a lot of people punted on. It was easy to get into. Many people wanted to take that class, but I didn’t want it because it was an easy class. It was something that I found easy.
They had to take a test to get in. You went and showed up at an auditorium at the Media Lab and it was this piece of paper that was blank other than a circle and they said, show us something creative about you to get in. I pulled out my eyeshadow in my purse and my mascara that I use all of those things to put together a picture of a turtle. That’s how I got into my first class at the Media Lab. The thing that made a difference was that I went to study abroad for a semester in Florence, Italy and I was supposed to take a lot of Architecture classes, but it turned out because of where I was in my own program, I was too advanced for the beginning classes, but I wasn’t advanced enough for their studio classes.
There was a photography studio and you could just do that and do it in Italian. I thought, “That sounds fun.” I spent a semester abroad at Portland studios in Florence and learned darkroom photography, and that’s what got me hooked. Because I had that experience when I went back to MIT, they did offer photography classes at the Media Lab. This was before digital. They were like, “You got your way around the darkroom. Will you be the TA for this class?” “Of course.” I was the TA and that’s how I got in there and then started working with the school newspaper and shooting concerts.
I love that there was a competition to get into a class after you got into MIT.
It’s the only time that they ever did that and it was because it was all these people that had heard it was a sucker class. It had been written up in Playboy magazine. It’s like, “Of all the institutions in the United States, it’s one of the easiest classes.” It wasn’t that it’s a particularly easy class. It’s more of doing computer science problem set or something like that. It took a different part of your brain, but for me, it was the one fun time each week that you could go off and create a scene. That set it all. Evan Fisher was the name of the guy that taught it, and I’m forever thankful for being able to see that it was alright to take classes like that. That was worthy of the pursuits of my mind.
Lara has some questions related to your concert photography and your work with patience.
Paige, it’s exciting to meet you and hear your story. I wanted to hear about your passion for getting involved with the PPE Project when you had a little roadblock and had to take a turn because of COVID. I’m interested in the mind-body connection and healing. Your compassion must have led you there to put a photograph of the doctors’ faces when working with patients. What was the response to that in terms of healing? Was that a big impact? Did that have an impactful experience for the patients seeing the photographs? Can you explain to us how that all worked?
The way that I got involved in that was that my career came to a crashing halt as many parts of many people’s lives did in March of 2020. I sat around consuming news 24/7, reading research papers, and things like that about COVID. My family thought I’d gone off the deep end and was a little worried about me. I couldn’t look at any of my rock and roll photography and I didn’t quite know what to do. I’ve been watching the Stanford Grand Rounds. They do a weekly video podcast thing about their current research and there was an image there.
Do you know one of those moments in your life where you’re just stopped? It was this woman clad in PPE from head to toe and you could see nothing. There was this image on a sticker, a large one in the front of her and I was like, “What’s that?” I paused and I looked at the name and I heard the PPE Portrait Project. I thought, “That is such a phenomenal idea. Who’s doing that? How can I get involved? How can I photograph?” I was able to reach out and find out more about it. Luckily, I’m a mile away from Stanford. Although, my partner and I have never met in person.
I found out about the work that they were doing with trying to get healthcare workers that were clad in PPE these portraits so that they can connect with their patients. The project was started by Mary Beth Heffernan at Occidental College during the Ebola pandemic, but Cati Brown-Johnson, the researcher at Stanford, had picked it up with COVID. She is the one that’s been doing the majority of the work on trying to quantify what it’s doing for patients and how it’s helping with the patient-provider connection.
All of the research that’s been done so far seems to show that it aids in creating a warm connection and showing competence and in reducing fear in patients. We haven’t gotten to do much work yet because it’s hard to get into the COVID wards to speak with the patients about their experiences interacting with the PPE Portraits, but that’s the plan. In addition to the healthcare workers, there are many people that are in a position of not being able to connect in the same way, in particular, folks in assisted living facilities and in nursing homes with their care providers. Especially young students like preschool and kindergarten students with their teachers in school. What I decided to do was try to expand the project to those other areas that hadn’t gotten the attention yet.
That’s phenomenal. I’m in Toronto, Canada. I know that was happening here too. I saw the same thing and it’s important. That was breaking my heart to see how that connection was happening in the masks and having no connection. What an incredible thing that you’re part of that. I was wondering if you’ve ever thought about providing portraits for the patients because they’re in a situation where they can’t be seen. I know family and friends who have brought pictures into hospital rooms. If a patient is ill and not thriving at their best, the doctors and nurses can see them at a time where they might have been more vibrant.
Everybody has a wish and a heart’s desire. In this project, my wish is to be able to go in and photograph the patients. I keep on hoping that by putting that intention and putting that wish out into the world that one day that’ll be able to happen. The family members can’t get in and I can’t get in. I’ve never been able to photograph somebody as a provider, even using a PPE portrait, let alone someone that was on the other side of it. There’s such limited access to the hospitals at this point. I would love to do that. Not only to photograph the connection between the provider wearing the PPE portrait but also to photograph someone that’s there in the hospital as well too.
I noticed that there are people who stand outside a hospital room and they’re trying to contact whether it’s a mother, father, or grandparent. Those pictures are pretty poignant to capture that moment where they can’t get inside, they can’t get on the other side of that wall. You see the connection. You see them touching the glass. Those photographs can be as poignant as getting inside the hospital or the nursing room.
I’ve seen some of those images, in particular, from the nursing homes where people are still well enough that they’re able to walk or get up to the windows. In a lot of the hospitals and things like that, the patients aren’t necessarily on the ground floor or often, they’re sick enough that they’re not able to get out of bed to have that connection. The interesting thing that’s going on as well too, some of the doctors and families are using iPads and other things like Zoom to try to communicate and to bridge that gap. The thing that we all miss the most is the face-to-face connection. We used to take that for granted, I knew that I did. I don’t mean that I was like a vampire. That was what I lived on. That is the energy between a performer in the audience, even me and my friends. Being able to be face to face and feeling that energy connection between people, that’s what I miss so much.
Lara and I are sisters-in-law. My husband was telling me that when your mom was sick, they brought in a picture of her before she was sick so that doctors could see before she got into that state of looking ill.
What I was saying to Paige is that this project was brought on in trying times that no one ever could foresee. For patients, specifically with the masks, they’re in the same situation as the doctors and nurses. That connection and energy are blocked with that relationship. The communication with their voices must be challenging. It’s a difficult process to get a patient’s picture in everyone’s room or a patient badge but that would be incredible. Going forward, maybe it will be something that even doctors and patients could consider having as conversation pieces to have patients who are not themselves anymore.
One of the things that I’ve done in the past and one of the reasons I was interested in working with the assisted living facilities is that both of my in-laws, we moved them out from Philadelphia to the area as they began to struggle with dementia. Their caregivers never knew them as the vibrant, wonderful people that they were. One of the things that I did that they both found to be a gift was putting together digital photo frames. My mother-in-law passed away but my father-in-law is still there. Before then, I made a photo frame for each of them and showing them when they were younger in their youth and also with their grandkids and work images. My in-laws liked them but the staff would talk to me when I was there, “Thank you for sharing these images. I would never have known that Charles was in the military or to bring it up or, ‘Who’s the little baby that’s on your lap there?’” It was a great conversation starter too. Many times, when we’re in a weak and compromised situation, the people that are caring for us don’t always know the vast and rich lives that we have before we might have been in that situation where we’re dependent upon others.
It humanizes people. You mentioned teachers. I’m a preschool teacher. I’m teaching a pod in my basement. They wear their masks and I wear my mask. They’ve hardly seen me without my mask. I do need to reach out to you to get the portrait. When we’re outside, I’ll put it down but I stay 6 feet away. It’s hard as a preschool teacher. You want to get close and you want to have that connection. It’s important for everyone. Can we go back to when you were a photographer for bands and concerts? Tell us about that a little bit. You were right in the action. In your photos, you were right there when the crowd was crowd surfing. Some of the band members are sweating. Can you tell us about some of those experiences perhaps?
Right after the shutdown happened, I don’t even think I could talk about it. It was hard. There was a lot of grief that I went through and mourning that part of my life is gone and knowing it would be gone for long. That’s how important it is to me. I love being in the middle of it. There’s some work that I do at the Fillmore for example. Usually, I’m in what they call a photo pit. It’s this area between the performer and the crowd. It’s usually about 6 feet wide. It’s high energy. I do a lot of what they call house photography for music festivals, especially the Outside Lands Music Festival. I’ve done that every year. I photograph that every year that it’s been in existence.
When a performer will come on stage, sometimes they’ll crowd surf or sometimes they’ll be there at the edge. That’s my favorite thing. My motto always was a festival is not a festival until I bring out my fisheye lens. A fisheye lens is when you’re within 6 inches or something. I love getting right in there. I love being able to capture what it’s like to be up close to feel that energy. There are tens of thousands of people at a festival, but yet it’s only a handful that gets to experience that particular moment and be up close when somebody goes out like that. I want everybody to have a chance to feel a little bit of that energy because it’s powerful. Sometimes it’s a little messy. I’ve gotten sweaty.
I was going to say, “Did you get some sweat and saliva sprayed your way?”
It’s not the worst that ever happened.Photography helps us to find connections and show energy between people. Click To Tweet
Another bodily fluid came your way?
No. The lead singer of The Murder City Devils at the Sasquatch! Music Festival, I didn’t realize that he was on something. When you have a fisheye lens, everything’s distorted. I could tell he was getting closer and closer. He grabbed my camera and he rubbed it into his crotch. He was rubbing my head and it was off. There were these jumbotrons, so 70,000 people see this go on. I never understood what it meant to be reeling until this happened. It was awful.
There could have been a lawsuit, just saying.
Half the people looked at me like, “That’s awful.” The other half was like, “Rock and roll.” I was not happy about what happened in any way, shape or form. To make a long story short, the woman that organized the photographers, Ashley Graham, reached out to me. She was kind and compassionate. When the singer realized what had happened, he felt awful about it and reached out as well too. I told him, “What I want you to do to make it right is to make a public apology and to make a donation to my favorite charity, The House Rabbit Society,” which he did. The crazy part was that a year later when Ashley became the media manager for Fillmore, she recognized me and she said, “Paige, how about you give a try shooting here and we’ll see if this works out?” That awful episode is responsible for the most wonderful thing in my music career that ever happened, getting that job at the Fillmore. My job at the Fillmore wouldn’t have happened without that.
I’m not happy that happened. Like many things in our lives, it’s the awful, wretched, good, joyous and the glorious that go together and they make that story of what our lives are. I’m proud of how I handled it. The other thing that makes me happy is Spencer Moody said, “I want to thank you because this made me reconsider what I was doing with my life and how I was impacting other people.” He went on to make some changes in his life because of it. He said, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to apologize. A lot of people wouldn’t have.”
That’s an incredible story. We talk a lot about episodes that happen or mistakes or roadblocks and how they push you forward or come out on the other side. It determines all of these serendipitous events. You’ll never know. Esta wanted to ask you some more questions related to photographing your subjects.
I have many other questions after I saw the video. I do photography. I am nowhere near the level of where you’re at. In the photos I do get in that moment, I don’t pose people. Honestly, my thing is landscape and architecture and not people. When I do get those moments, people say, “Will you photograph me?” No, because I capture that moment. I’m wondering if you pose when you’re doing portraits. Do you let them get relaxed and do their own thing or do they say, “This is my best side, this is the side I would like you to take?” Do you say, “Trust me and let me do my thing?” Is it an either/or? Do they even ever ask you to catch one side?
Up until the pandemic, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about taking portraits to begin with. I am very much like you. I want to capture people at the moment. When somebody is on stage, they’re not asking me to get a good side, a bad side, anything like that. Occasionally, I would do portraits of musicians. In particular, I worked with a Noise Pop Music Festival and I would do the program guide. They cover the program guide every year. I knew that it was going to be a pose creative portrait. It was like, “I can’t believe February is here again. I’ve got to do this.”
I’m not normally an anxious person, but that would give me a huge amount of anxiety for exactly the reasons that you’re talking about. It’s like, “How do I pose them? What do I do? How do I know what they want to do?” I thought, “Who am I to be telling them how to pose? They’re usually assured of themselves on stage.” The funny thing is that I had always taken portraits of small children around my children’s school and they would come up. They’d met me and they looked me straight in the eye and everybody would say, “You’ve captured them.” In all these other contexts, it was always hard. The amazing thing about the PPE Portraits and what I do is that for somebody that’s been anxious about doing portrait photography her entire career, that’s all I do. I don’t do 1 or 2 a day, oftentimes, it’s 40 or 50 a day.
Do you grab your camera and go out? When I think of a traditional portrait, for some reason I think of a studio and the lighting and setting up everything. That’s what comes to my mind when I hear professional portrait. Do you do that or is everything outside at the moment, wherever the environment is?
Even when I was doing rock and roll portraits and I was doing the covers of these magazines and things like that, I’ve always worked with 100% outside. My favorite photographer is Anton Corbijn. He’s always been my hero. All of his portraits have been done with natural light in all kinds of different contexts and pretty much never in a studio. I thought, “If Anton doesn’t have to use a studio, neither do I.” Even with these PPE Portraits, because we can’t be close to each other, I can’t go into a hospital or an assisted living facility, I always need to find a place with a plain background behind that I can shoot. Because it’s a close up on the face, the background doesn’t matter so much. It’s the quality of light. Over time, with all the work that I’ve done, especially with the festivals because they’re during the day, you learn to find good light and even good quality light. Sometimes it’s in the shadow of a porch. Oftentimes, it’s in a garage with the garage door open. That’s beautiful light. It’s never anything particularly special and you wouldn’t know.
Paige, I know that you talked about grief and I appreciate you sharing that because we’re all grieving different things. The fact that you mentioned that is powerful for people. It’s a loss. Hopefully, it will come back again but you needed to pivot and you did. You had to go through that. Lara has some questions about the future moving forward with photography and grieving.
In this new pandemic life that we are witnessing unprecedented experiences, seeing empty venues and seeing sporting events going on and trying to improvise, it was quite amazing seeing Major League Baseball and how they incorporated faces and photographs of people that you could send in. That was interesting to see. In the NBA, they had live videos so people’s reactions were live while the game was happening. Do you think there’s anything like that down the road that could be incorporated with concert venues for artists that want to continue and keep it going in the meantime until things are back to normal?
There have been a few people that have been doing that. The one concept that comes to mind is Jason Isbell and his wife, Amanda Shires. They did a concert at the Brooklyn Bowl Organization in Tennessee where they do Bonnaroo. They were there at an open venue with about twenty video screens and each one would show the faces of different people around the country that were watching them perform. They did a live concert at The Cavern where they had little pods of people that were separated. It was only about a tenth of the normal capacity but there were some live people there as well.
The thing that’s hard with the music venues is that so much of what feeds a live performer is that energy from the audience. I can’t speak for live sports. That helps somewhat, but there’s more dynamic between the players and the opposing teams. It’s been a real challenge for live music but it’s wonderful to see the experiments that are going on. James, who works with the woman that I worked for at the Fillmore, Ashley Graham, they’ve been going around in San Francisco and doing pop up live concerts. He and a friend show up with a guitar and it’s for 2 or 3 people. It’s redefining what it means to be a concert and to be a live event but people begin to cry. They tear up and they say, “Thank you.”
He came down here in this area to do it at a friend’s house for maybe a dozen of us that sat out on the street and I cried as well too because it was the first time that I felt some normality. It was of my life as I remember it and what was important. Even though he was standing in the middle of a cul-de-sac, in a suburb, it was the music that I remembered and it was that connection that I valued. He was there and performing for us live. That got to the heart of what was important.
How this will evolve, I’m not sure. Maybe it will be some combination of a few people there in-person and many people watching remotely. There have also been some crazy suits, I don’t know if you’d seen that early on. Theoretically, people could wear them to seal themselves up and go to a concert. I’m hopeful that there are many creative people in this world that they can get us back to being together again to experience live music because it is people together and that connection that’s important.
It’s been moving to see some of the live music that they recorded and it’s been televised and combining it with fundraising. In the meantime, this is a pause and we’ll get back to normal.
I did see on the news bubbles. We were laughing about it because we wonder how much that ticket is to get yourself a bubble. That would be cool, Paige, if you could be in one of those bubbles up close and taking pictures through the bubble.
The irony of that would be that Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips always goes out into the crowd in a bubble. I photographed him a thousand times in a bubble. For me to be in the bubble and photographing instead the other way out would be a funny thing to be doing as well too. Around here and in other parts of the country as well is that they’ve been making use of drive-ins. People are performing in a drive-in and having the cars come in as well too. Noise Pop has their first in-person concert coming up with Pink Martini here in the Bay Area and it will be cars that are coming in. The tickets are pretty expensive. For a car of people, I want to say it’s about $300 or something like that. It’s not available to everybody. If you think about it, if you had six people in your car, that’s comparable to what a ticket was beforehand. I have no idea how it will work out but it’s exciting to see people experimenting. I hope that some of this creative energy makes its way into the new live performances and that our performances are even better than they were before because of all this experimentation.
As a teacher, I worked with kids who’ve had dyslexia and they can get discouraged, feeling like they can’t keep up and can’t do it. I wonder how you felt about that and how you push yourself forward because it’s quite a roadblock? It can hold you back.
I didn’t realize that I had dyslexia when I was little. I knew that I did mess up the spelling of everything all the time. I transpose numbers and letters and mispronounce things sometimes. People said that I was lazy and sloppy, which was, in some ways, worse because they said, “You applied yourself.” I didn’t understand. I wasn’t enthusiastic, 100% in applying myself kind of person. I didn’t realize until my daughter was around second or third grade that she was dyslexic. When we went through that testing process, it was this big a-ha moment for me. It was like, “All these things that I noticed in myself over the years, I’m dyslexic too.”
The thing that was great and that I want to share with anybody that is dyslexic or thinks they might be is that dyslexia is a superpower. Many of us were never diagnosed, but dyslexia is a learning difference. It’s not a deficit. It’s about how one processes symbol systems. Figuring out a new symbol system, whether it be numbers or letters, for the first time is a hard thing to do. The great thing is that with every deficit like this comes something much easier. Visual storytelling, understanding patterns, being able to think on the fly, and doing systemic thinking, all the researchers have found that people with dyslexia are much better and have a huge number of skills in those areas.
When you’re little, you don’t get to use a lot of those skills. It’s all based on learning your times tables and things like that. The fantastic thing is once you get beyond those things that are hard, for me, in particular, in high school and once I got to college, everything was much easier. A lot of things that other people struggled with were easy for me because that’s where my superpowers came out. I’m proud that I’m dyslexic. I’m proud that I’m a mom of two dyslexic kids.
I love that you’re saying that and I hope our readers, especially if you’re a parent, because as a teacher when you try and explain that to parents, it’s hard for them to hear. Here we have Paige Parsons, who is extremely creative and able to tap into her inner connections with people and be authentic and you have dyslexia. It’s not seen as something negative. That’s spectacular. Thank you for sharing that.
There’s an organization founded by Brock and Fernette Eide. It’s called Dyslexic Advantage. I’m part of their board or think tank of people that work with them. I’m one of them and I’ve spoken at their conferences before. The whole organizational point is to be able to talk about the upside of dyslexia. For any parent or anybody, go to DyslexicAdvantage.org. There are many resources and they’ve written several books about this as well too. They’re fantastic free resources for anybody that might be struggling with some of these concepts.
Thank you for sharing that. Before we wrap it up, Lara or Esta, do you have any other questions for Paige?
Paige, I wanted to ask you specifically about your work in the community with education. I know you were involved in photographing and spreading your power of positivity with students, teachers, and parents. I’m curious to know if there was ever a moment where someone looked at a photograph of themselves that you had taken and had a deep moment of reflection to say, “Wow.” Did they have any life-altering moments looking at a photograph? Did parents ever reach out to you to thank you for these amazing moments that you captured?Dyslexia is like a superpower! With every deficit comes something else that will come more easily. Click To Tweet
I get it from parents an awful lot. That’s my favorite thing. In fact, in the version of the talk that you might have seen, I don’t talk about that as much but the funny part is that happens at the schools that I’ve worked with and things like that, but I’ve gotten calls and been reached out by rock stars’ parents to talk about how I’ve captured the essence of their kid which they’re not kids anymore. They’re grown adults. That’s special to me and that’s what I live for. That’s what I love about Peninsula School in particular because this is what I know, after all these years of photographing, is that being in a place where a child or anybody but a child, in particular, feels comfortable and they feel seen and known.
The kinds of images and what you can document and capture there are special. I do see that with a lot of those kids at that Peninsula School. I’ve taught a couple of what they call Choices, their short courses there with their middle school kids. It’s exciting now to see some of them that are off at college and have decided on using photography as an aspect of their studies of the work that they do. Jacob Sharpin is a world-class rock climber and not only does he do this climbing, but he documents the work of other climbers. I am blown away by his work.
I talked with his mom from time to time, and she said, “Thank you, Paige. You’re the one that lit this fire in him about photography through doing this Choice that you did when he was in 5th or 6th grade.” Sometimes you don’t know it, especially with the kids at the time. They don’t speak of it but it’s great to hear years later that something that you did either taking the photo or in particular, because I worked so much with kids, you can take these photos too because they’re often the ones that have the connections with their classmates, and that they have that power within them.
I’ve learned so much on this show. This has been terrific. From where you started going to MIT to going to the PPE, you’ve led a terrifically full life. I loved when you spoke about dyslexia. I have no idea how you got into MIT having dyslexia because normally it’s in another area and not the academics. It’s the overcompensation. It’s more of a street. I could share and get out without getting away with not needing to read and overcompensating in other areas of your life. That’s phenomenal to me that you got into MIT.
I wouldn’t say most, but I will say that a huge portion more than a quarter or maybe even half of the people at MIT are dyslexic. Some people have a lot more difficulties with it, but it’s those same things that are hard, to begin with, that are the skills later on. If you’re a mechanical engineer coming out of MIT, more than half of them are dyslexic.
That’s a numbers thing. That’s crazy.
Surgeons as well, too. You have to be able to troubleshoot. You have to know exactly visually where things are and those are skills of dyslexia. I was also talking with someone else that I know whose son is dyslexic, has ADHD, is a physician’s assistant, and works in the OR. They were saying all those OR docs are ADHD.
That makes sense because I’m ADHD, but dyslexia is a separate switch.
Comorbid is as well. You often see the two of them together as well. I have ADHD as well too. Luckily, I’m for the most part able to focus myself. I do go off on a tangent.
You either hyper-focus or you’re off on a tangent. I find that when I focus on something, I’m happy. I don’t have Photoshop because it’s too many decisions honestly for me. Do you use Photoshop? Do you ever alter your photos?
I wouldn’t say I alter the photos. I have Photoshop but what I use much more often is another Adobe product called Lightroom. Lightroom is much more a digital darkroom. I can make things a lot brighter, or I can make them darker. I can burn, dodge, and things like that. Have I ever removed a Crystal Springs water bottle from a stage picture? Yes. A booger out of some famous lady’s nose? You know I’ll do. It’s all in the sense of trying to make everything a little bit more as I remembered it. I never remember boogers, spit, or water bottles.
I’m understanding that you’re instead digital and not film?
Yes, that’s right.
I’m so glad that we captured your inner goddess, Paige. You are in alignment with what you’re passionate about and that’s exactly the message of Grateful Goddesses. It’s feeling all of those things, even if you’re feeling grief and dyslexia turn flipping it around. You’re seeing it as something positive in helping you to push forward. What you’re doing with PPE and embracing that is incredible. If our readers would like to contact you about the PPE or anything else, how can they do that?
There are a couple of different ways. The best way you can email me, I’m public with my email address, Paige@Parsons.org. You can also find me online and see my imagery at Parsons.org or on Instagram @PaigeKParsons. All the PPE Portrait work, you can find it PPEPortrait.org as well too.
Paige, thank you so much for joining us on Grateful Goddesses.
Thank you, Karen.
I’m so glad that we accidentally met.
I am too.
You serendipitously met.
Here we are at Favorite Things on Grateful Goddesses like an adult show and tell. When I was going through my photos, because we wanted to share favorite photos, there are many favorite photos that I have. Some are posts and some aren’t, because Lara, our Featured Goddess is here, my sister-in-law, you’re going to laugh and die when you see this photo. Lara came to visit me here in Chicago with her kids. Our daughters, I don’t know what they were thinking, but they put on these outfits and I stopped them and snapped a picture. It’s hysterical. They decided to do matching costumes or outfits. I don’t remember what they were doing. I captured this moment. I got the moment, right, Paige?
Yes, you did. There is so much joy and happiness. They’re owing their expressions as well too. They’re trying on a persona and it’s lovely. What a beautiful image.
I love seeing pictures I haven’t seen. The sisterly bond there is their thing.So often in our lives, the awful and the wretched will be mixed with the glorious and good – they always go together. Click To Tweet
They were matching. They were dancers. I don’t know. They were having fun being kids and being joyous. They’re trying on everything that we had in our house to put together these costumes. That’s what I love with kids. You can capture them in these moments of having fun and being joyous. I wanted to show that. Lara, what picture did you bring?
I’m excited to show this because my family went apple picking. I have all adult children. My youngest daughter said she wanted to go apple picking as a family. There was a little bit of resistance to get everyone together to go but once we were there, we had such a great time and everyone started shooting pictures. That was a photoshoot moment for my youngest daughter who wanted to go. I said, “Guys, I have to find this picture of my mom,” that I knew I had on my phone. I searched up in Dropbox to find this picture of my mother. She passed away years ago so I looked back at all of her pictures that my dad had captured. He was a great photographer. Luckily, I found on my Dropbox, this picture of my mom apple picking.
It’s one of my favorite photos and honestly, this brings me so much joy. What I decided to do is to take the same shot myself. I mimicked it and now I have both of these pictures of me and my mom. I’m excited to share this because I was debating if I should post it and I didn’t want to post it because sometimes it brings lots of joy, but sometimes it brings a lot of emotion. This is something I’m going to cherish because my kids helped me do it too. I feel like I shared a moment with my mother.
That’s a beautiful image.
Thank you for sharing that. Esta, what did you bring?
I don’t have the actual photo, but it was the first photo I did that got me into my photography. It is Snow Swept Beach. There’s an ocean you can see on the top part of the line. I was on the beach in a few feet of snow. It was in 2010, I was waist-deep in snow and I went to the beach. Paige will laugh because it was taken with a three-megapixel and it made it into the Asbury Park Press, which is pretty big paper around here. It was the first thing that I got because everybody was like, “Oh my god.” To see it was pretty. It was the same day.
I don’t know if you can see the people. It was me and them and there was nobody else there. That one photo is what got me into photography. It was rudimentary, but it was the one thing that somebody validated something that I did that was good. It encouraged me to keep doing it. Had somebody said, “That’s alright,” I may not have taken a camera or bought a camera but it’s those little moments that matter that pivot what direction you’re going in.
It’s like a pinball machine. When you’re hitting the flippers and the wall goes here and the ball goes there. It’s those little moments where you’re a flipper. It’s hitting you in another direction, you don’t know what’s coming, so you don’t know what direction you’re going to go. I did wind up having my own photography shop at a little gallery and I was part of another show in Asbury Park. I’m nowhere near the caliber you are but it’s fun and it inspires me. On my website, I say, “Capturing one moment of truth one snapshot at a time.” I don’t know anything in life but I know at that exact moment it’s true. That’s it at that moment.
I’m so glad, Esta, as your first appearance as a Featured Goddess, you are joined with our guest, Paige, because of your passion. Paige, what did you bring to share your favorite photo? I know it’s probably hard for you to pick one.
It wasn’t hard for me to pick one.
I wasn’t sure.
I’m glad that with dyslexic ADHD brain, I wasn’t even aware of it. During about it or beforehand, it was a gut thing to reach for it, and I knew where it was because it’s hanging in my entry and it’s an image that I took of my grandmother. I might get a little teary-eyed but that’s okay because I miss her and I love her so much. She passed away a few years ago. This is my grandma.
You look like her.
I do. As I get older, I’m starting to look like her.
I could see the shape of the face, the cheekbones.
What was she looking at?
We were sitting in a park together and she was trying to get away from me at the moment. She’s like,
“Paige and your camera.” She had on an ugly lime green top and that’s how I ended up processing this in black and white. I’ll bring it a little bit closer but you can see it’s her eyes. There are a lot of them but it was this one in particular. She’s within herself and trying to not think about the fact that I am photographing her at the moment. We’re sitting at a beach near a lake that we went to with my kids to have a little bit of fun. We went out. She lived in Syracuse where all my mom’s family does and did. I would go out at least once a year, if not twice a year, to see her. We were close. My favorite part and she would be irritated with me but I don’t care. There’s a hair down here on her chin.
When I went to go take this picture, we’re sitting there and I’m like, “Baba, there’s a hair on your chin.” I said, “I am not going to Photoshop that hair out if you don’t let me pluck that hair.” She’s like, “I don’t care if there’s a hair on my chin.” I love many things about this but I love the fact that she was fine with that. It’s there, the authenticity in her wrinkles and her eyes. It’s so her. It makes me happy that even though she’s not here anymore, I get to be with her all the time. What this image evokes for me is the love and connection, and it sums up everything to me that’s important about a connection with people, love and photography.
I love that she’s looking up.
I love that we shared photographs because, Lara, that picture of your mom biting that apple, and your dad capturing that moment. Also, Paige, you capturing that moment. Esta, you capturing that moment. Photographs are capturing moments. Even though this is a hard time now that we’re going through it, we know that we’ve had memories of great moments. We hope in the future to have more even now we’re going through this difficult time to capture the PPE and the moments of connection are so important. It’s all important in photography and photographs. Thank you for sharing Favorite Things and for joining us again, Paige.
It’s such a pleasure to be here.
- Paige Parsons
- MIT Media Lab
- PPE Project
- @PaigeKParsons – Instagram
About Paige Parsons
Parsons is a photographer and user experience, researcher. She is the house photographer for several music venues in San Francisco, including The Fillmore. Her design clients have included Apple Computer, Netflix, and Netscape Communications.
These seemingly disparate threads all intertwine; All of Paige’s work is centered on exploring and capturing the joy of human connection. For the past six months, Paige has pivoted in the time of COVID-19 to the PPE Portrait Project (ppeportrait.org), a social practice is in collaboration with Professor Mary Beth Heffernan of Occidental College and Dr. Cati Brown Johnson from Stanford University.
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