I´m looking out the window, see fall approaching in front of my doorstep and suddenly realize - It´s been over a year that we left Shanghai. A year of changes and transformation as I moved with my little family from China to the United States. It´s been a very long journey for us.
I paused in my work as photographer to make sure that Paul, Hannah and I would make it here safely and happy. Moving from one side of the world to the other, taking our time to arrive, learning about a new culture and how things work. We looked out for new friends - and what great ones we found!. Twelve months later we can truly say: We feel settled, we have arrived.
In our move we did not only unpack boxes of housing goods. There was an abundance of personal photographs of our life in Shanghai. Memories and stories I had collected but never had a chance reflect on on whilst still living over there. And not just my external hard drives were full: when leaving Shanghai my head was overloaded. I had seen so much. I felt almost blind. It was time for a break from my camera and catch up with my own story.
As I was sorting through my files I stumbled upon an emotional moment: The portrait of our daughter, Hannah when she said good by to our neighbors in Shanghai.
I had forgotten about it, but there is a story to this picture. Today I want to share it with you. It´s about a dream that came true on that day.
Ever since we had moved into our apartment in Gao An Lu (2011), we shared the house with Mr. and Mrs. Jing. They were the kindest people you could think of. A very respectful, loving, elder couple who had always lived in this house. I remember when I was introduced to Mrs Jing, she welcomed me with the words: "If you ever need help in life or other, we will be there for you". A heartwarming outreach to a foreigner they had never met. I knew, Paul and I we had found the right place for us to live.
From the first day I met them I had this wish to take portrait one day. But because of language and cultural differences this was not an easy to approach. It always felt like I would overstep an invisible line of respect and that it would not be aproppiate.
In 2013 Hannah was born and with our own parents thousands of miles away from us, Mr and Mrs. Jing came became a little closer to us. One day Hannah started to call them "Lao Lao" (Grandmother) and "Ye Ye" (Grandfather). However I still did not feel brave enough to ask them to take their Picture.
Mrs. Jing knew of my job as photographer but we never talked about it. She waited 5 years until the very last day when she suddenly asked very shyly if it would be possible for me to take a professional picture of her and her husband and maybe also Hannah? - I could not believe my luck! At last - My long term wish coming true!
It was one of those hot sweaty July days. Too hot to shoot outside. Our apartment was already almost empty. The only furniture left was a sofa in Hannahs former bedroom. With the sun flooding the walls, reflecting this beautiful warm light it seemed like the ideal spot to take their Portrait.
Photographing them was a very emotional experience for me. Hannah was only three years old but somehow she understood that we soon were going on a long journey with no return. On one side my heart was jumping with joy for finally having the opportunity to capture our neighbors. At the same time my mothers heart hurt so much at the thought that our daughter may not even remember the Jings, or anything of her life in Shanghai one day.
I love the way they both touch. Gentle, close, yet respectful. Two generations, two cultures united in this one Moment. Time seems to stand still.
It´s a moment of silence. Their good bye - forever.
A year later National Geographic invited their photocommuity to join on an assignment called "Finding Family". I somehow felt I could try entering this image as it defines family in a wider sense to us. Just to see what would happen.
I always felt deep respect for the work of other photographers and admired those published in National Geographic. It became my secret dream that one day in my life I would have a picture so good that it would get recognized amongst the sea of millions of others.
And then this happend:
From 6900 Pictures the jury picked Hannah and Lao Lao for their final (online) Story!: Finding Family
I had no words when I found out. Just sheer joy and happiness. I felt so grateful and honored. Thanks to "We-chat" I was able to share this sensation with the Jings back in China. Their response came immediately:
We are so proud of you.
Being neighbor with you and your Family is sweet Memory for us
Keep going and make your dream even more brilliant "
Before we left Germany, back in 2010 I remember thinking: "I don´t know why I should move to China. All I know is I have to go and find out WHY"
I know now: THIS is why.
Whatever it is you believe in you want to do: Trust that your heart tells you the truth and trust that one day things will fall into place. Just keep on walking your path. I used to have so many doubts. Through this story life showed me that I made all the right decisions on my way.
I´m a story teller by heart.
And I love to build bridges between people.
This is why I´m here, what I live and love for .
...and I´m ready to move on now.