The universe sometimes has a way of placing us on a road that we would have never chosen ourselves. Sometimes it’s a moment or a casual conversation that launches us on that alternate, unplanned path.
Lorna Dancey never intended to be a photographer. The Canadian mother of two was in the middle of a human resources career when photography found her. “I loved learning about history, art history and photographing architecture,” stated Lorna. “But in my heart, I always wanted my life to make a difference in the lives of others. I just didn’t know what my mission would look like.”
When her daughter was only 5 years old, Lorna was driving her to school. At a red light, the child saw a homeless man sleeping outside and asked her mother what he was doing. Lorna explained he was sleeping there because he had no home. Lorna thought that was the end of the conversation. After a few minutes, her daughter asked, “Why doesn’t he have a home? There are so many homes around us.” Lorna replied, “I don’t know but I am sure he has a story to tell.”
At the time, Lorna didn’t realize that conversation had changed her life.
Reflecting on that conversation and with camera in hand, Lorna began to snap photos. But, she wanted something more out of her photos. She wanted them to make a difference – and she wanted people to see themselves and find the beauty within their raw images. “I didn’t want images of a perfect world. I wanted them to tell real stories. I wanted to learn about people’s struggles and successes. The world is not perfect and Life often is not pretty. I knew it from my own insecurities and difficult childhood. A society filled with perfect photos of perfect lives just felt disingenuous.
Lorna thought back to the homeless man and wondered about his life journey. “As children, we never dream of being on the street. But life just happens, and our choices sometimes take us in that direction.”
Through conversations with others, Lorna realized that by simply going beyond her front door – to the park, walking her dog, taking her children on an outing – she could uncover unique stories from the faces of those crossing her path. “For me, I wanted my photos and the stories to reflect those conversations. I wanted them to make a difference, and meaningful photos for me are about the battles, the successes, and even the defeats, not the perfect moments that rarely represented reality.
Lorna is not afraid to immerse herself in her subjects’ stories. Lorna believes conversation gives courage to her subjects to finally exhale, breathe deeply, and move forward with greater confidence and hope. Ultimately, Lorna believes that such connectivity and caring creates positive change in society. “When I talk to people, it’s not an interview; it’s a conversation. The diversity of life experiences that surround us is amazing, sometimes heartbreaking, and often inspiring.”
“Recently, I talked with a teenager at a skateboard park who said he had been thru hell in his life. As I drew deeper into the conversation, I asked him if he was afraid of falling. He looked me straight in my eye and replied. “No. Because when I fall, I know I am alive.” I walked away, thankful for the wise words. For him, he felt that someone actually cared about his life.
“Then there was Gina, a woman who recently passed away from brain cancer. I photographed her a month before she died and wrote her story. From that work, Gina’s family and friends understood her grace in dealing with the diagnosis and her remaining days of life. I have also talked with Carla, who found her son, dead in her basement. He had committed suicide because his pain of living was worse to him than the pain of dying.”
Lorna states, “I didn’t strive for my own world to be recognized. I simply wanted to help one person at a time to step forward. With our “me-first” culture and technology, we’re now forgetting to listen. We’re forgetting what we need as humans – connectivity and caring. We need someone to care about us. Through storytelling, I wish to facilitate that connectivity and caring. Helping someone to release their heavy load begins their own healing. I am helping people use their voice and empowering them with a pathway to healing.” Over the past few years, Lorna has worked tirelessly to create The Scars Project, State of Mind Project, the Skin-Deep Project, and the Silent Scream Project. These works have allowed Lorna to photograph and converse with hundreds of individuals, and to draw attention to their struggles. The projects are helping to reduce the stigma surrounding important issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicide, violence and cancer.
And her projects keep coming. Some label Lorna as a “social impact photographer and storyteller”. Labels aside, she has given people a platform to be seen, heard, and feel relevant to society. Lorna’s efforts bring hope to those who feel so isolated and unimportant. in doing so, Lorna is giving a face and a voice to those who had suffered alone, in silence.
Lorna’s gift of connectivity and caring makes us all realize that we are not alone. “I know, in my heart, that I’ve been given this gift of connectivity through storytelling.’ states Lorna. “Within every photo and every word, there is also a piece of me. Writing someone’s story gives me a voice, lets me heal myself, and to be grateful for my gifts received from these fascinating fellow human beings.” In addition to her website LornaDanceyPhotography.com, Lorna has now partnered with the UNTOLD Project to share stories on a much broader scale. “In five years, I want to see the ripple effect that storytelling has. I want to travel to different cultures and showcase that we humans are NOT different from each other. We all want to love and be loved.”
Can we hear her photographs?
Editor’s Note: In partnership with Unconditionally Her, UNTOLDProject.org and Lorna Dancey Photography will begin a year-long partnership of storytelling. Please join us as we impact a world with much-needed love and caring.