Carolyn Van Houten's photograph of Serenity Bamberger got a Gold award in the Portrait category at the recent CPOY 70, and is a part of Carolyn's CPOY-winning Portfolio. Catching Photo of Yours (CPOY) is a new CPOY Blog feature that gives photographers a chance to share the emotional and technical aspects of making their award-winning photograph.
In my story about the Bambergers rebuilding after the flood, I wanted to show the relationship that the Bambergers had with the Little Blanco River—the river that destroyed their home, their business and their sense of security. The river was bone dry for years before this past Spring. In the months after the water receded from the flood, the river became an almost daily part of the Bamberger’s lives. They would swim in it, celebrate on its shores and check it hourly for flooding when rainstorms came. It was important to me that I show their relationship with the river. I wanted the river to become a subtle character in their story.
In the months leading up to this moment with Serenity in the river, I had photographed the girls in the river many times. There is a steep bank along the river on their property, so sometimes I would photograph from up high. Other times I would carefully climb down and sit on the bank to photograph. However, the river bed was filled with slick rocks, so I did not trust myself to get in with my gear unprotected. To fix this problem, I got a waterproof bag that was big enough to fit my camera inside. A few days later, I returned to the river. After placing the camera in the bag, I started to climb down the bank into the river. Sure enough, the second I fully stepped into the river, I slipped and fell face first and fully clothed into the water. Once Serenity and Cielo stopped laughing at my clumsiness, they went back to swimming and playing as if I wasn’t there. Thankful for my waterproof bag, I stood in the river with my dry camera and let the swirl of activity and water happen around me. A huge oak tree stands on the river bank casting shadows and speckled light across the river. Knowing that Serenity often floats on her back while swimming in the river, I quietly waited until she floated through that speck of light.
Since this image was made, the Bambergers moved into their new home on stilts on their youngest daughter Esme’s first birthday. That same week their property flooded and they were evacuated. Their relationship with the river will always be a tenuous one, but it will take a lot more than losing their home to break the family’s bond with their land and the river.