photography. in late 2017, I began a project entitled “Return To The Tree Of Life.” It started as simply an IB (International Baccalaureate) art project. As part of the higher level curriculum, I was exposed to what it would be like to take art in college. We began with a central theme to our work as well as few artists we wanted to emulate in style. My theme was childhood. If you can’t tell yet, my transition to the adult world has been anything but easy, and I wanted to capture all of the stages.
It exposed me to growth and development and definitely showed me that I wanted to work with children or babies in some manner. I wanted to showcase life- from conception to the death of childhood- the moment in which we realize the adult world has approached.
If you can’t tell from the cover photo, this was meant to be the dramatic death of the childhood. It’s done in the style of photographer Dorothea Lange, known for her candids from the Great Depression. She had a talent for capturing the pain on people’s faces, and a few things happened over the course of our photo shoot that allowed me to capture some emotion, too.
About the name, “Return to the Tree of Life” is like many of my projects somewhat of a Biblical allusion. First to the garden before man was cast out. Although children are simply shorter stature sinners, there’s an innocence about them that is sad to leave as age piles on. “Tree of Life” was my first piece, a silhouette of a pregnant woman days before birth, painted on a slice of wood from a fallen hurricane tree in my back yard. It was meant to capture the beginnings- the time when mothers are blessed with the fruit of the tree and thus life begins. Return to the Tree of Life hints at the time in which women begin the cycle once more. It’s the end of my pieces and collection. No longer a child, a woman can restart the cycle at the tree- a child is born through them, the ultimate gift God gave women in creating the womb.
I delved deep particularly into the death of childhood for women, as all of my subjects were female. I thought back to when I realized I was growing older. My freshman year of high school, I vividly remember being alarmed at the number of pregnant women who were my age (fifteen). Babies are joyful at all times, but there’s something about the idea of babies having babies that breaks my heart, as social stereotypes are vicious and as shown recently, our country is full of prejudice and bias that keeps us in a vicious cycle. There’s also the moment in which I realized the drama was no longer crying because she’s wearing the same dress as you, but rather, crying because you’d been sexually assaulted by your best friend’s boyfriend. The sentiments of that memory weigh heavy on my heart today, and despite the fact my relationship with the Lord was at it’s most topsy-turvy during that time, the Spirit convicted me.
I was growing older, and with that came more responsibility to care for my neighbor more than myself. My close friends in high school would have told you I was one of the more altruistic already (a guy who worked beside me in Computer Science once told me I was “too good for this world. Like, Hanan, you’re so good it hurts,” after I had shared a story about a drama my freshman year. It was no doubt Christ’s light shining through me, and to Him be all the glory because I am far from perfect). But there was still a sense of judging pride in my soul.
I had no right to judge her for what had happened to her, as my society would try to say it was her fault for perhaps “leading him on.” My job was to love my neighbor. My job was to listen to her talk about how he’d put his hands on her when he had no right. There’s also another side to the story, when it comes to my fellow peers and sins. I learned from my pastor in youth that year that we can’t hold unbelievers to the same standard as believers. And when telling your Christian friends about their sin, be careful of the log in your own eye and for Heaven’s sake be gentle! Too often was I too hard, and dear Reader, we are fragile creatures.
That being said, I channeled these moments, these glimpses of the adult world, and I tried to recreate those moments on film. I tried to capture the moment when we first realize sexuality is a thing. I tried to capture nature as a metaphor for our separation from God and ultimate purity and innocence. I tried to symbolically portray the moment we all can relate to- the moment in which we realized we are no longer a child.
A special thank you to my high school friends pictured here: Emily, Carrie, Emma, Saahirah (Siri), and Anjani. You were a joy to photograph, and it was such a pleasure to get to revisit these. Many hopes and prayers are sent your way for your junior year of college! Thank you endlessly for your permission to post!
We’ll start at the beginning. It started in Eden, swirling life about them in the perfect puzzle piece fit of all creation. We revere childhood as a time of innocence almost as much as we revere that heavenly-like garden. Here, I capture some of the words I see often used to describe children in addition to utilizing nature as my metaphor for childhood.
But alas, there is always a fall. This one represents the moment in which adulthood fast approaches. In my nature metaphor, here the child rejects the nature that for so long has been a home, in her descent toward the adult (sin), nature will begin to creep away, and she will have to make her return to the tree of life in which she will begin the cycle anew.
Essentially, locked out of Eden. Adam and Eve fell because of their prideful decision they had to be like God. Children find themselves abruptly locked out of childhood at age eighteen, when they’re thrust into the adult world filled to the brim with its own problems that promote wrinkles and grow gray hairs.
Here, a happy accident when a lens flare just so happens to look like the end of an all too familiar angel’s wing.
With the fall toward the adult and sinful come a slough of new emotions and feelings. There comes a new meaning to “play pretend”- to force a new identity onto oneself that is fake and unreal. Sometimes, other people force us to fit in a terrible tug of war called peer pressure. With the loss of childlike innocence come feelings like misunderstanding.
Here, I fully embrace the sexual tones that begin to creep in, just as they did in my own high school life. Love becomes something different than butterflies and innocent hand holding. It becomes something different than frantic little fingers and timid soft lips. Sexual attraction is a gift from God when we trust Him with it instead of pushing it into lust and immorality. Yet it’s so adult-like. Here, the theme took hold of the photoshoot, and my own feelings took hold on the models I captured on film.
You’ll notice most of this motif follows my lovely friend Saahirah. I remember laughing and telling her not to pose so angry, but it seemed in her face, I saw the anger I felt in my own heart. Anger at growing up, anger at the weird feelings I felt in my soul, the sinful roots that were running deep.
She began to become the character that so many high school girls in America can relate to- the ones that “fall in love” and make the decisions often better suited for the adult world. Here, she encapsulates a character I think may have made that return to the tree of life- she may have become pregnant, thus ending her childhood and allowing her to start the cycle once more.
I imagine her telling a friend, her face so hardened by the shocks of the adult world, yet hardened and hurt more by the innocence still written on her friend’s face.
This last one was candid. We were talking about college and IB exams and SATs and ACTs. Things our parents told us wouldn’t matter in a few years, yet you can see on her face the terror it sparked in us. I can imagine this look on the character’s face as well, finding out about the return.
We all have to watch our childhood end, though we see glimpses of it in the life after. This character’s childhood ends abruptly. I think mine is just now slowly wrapping to a close. My aim is for you to examine your own in these photos.
Thank you for checking these out! And thank you again to my wonderful models and friends!