By Danielle Scruggs
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus
As a photographer, I often think about space and how we define and take up both physical and psychic space. And as someone who was born and raised in Chicago and lived in Washington, D.C. for several years, the kind of spaces I have tended to occupy have been urban. I have grown up surrounded by highways, concrete and glass skyscrapers, shattered glass from broken bottles and successful carjackings, brick rowhouses painted red, yellow, muted greens and blues, and early 20th-century greystones and brownstones.
While I am certainly a city girl and am often invigorated by those surroundings, by the end of 2014, they had made me weary. 2014 was one of the most difficult years of my life, due to personal and collective traumas.
The collective trauma of the killings of cis and trans Black men, women, boys and girls, and the lack of justice their families received in the wake of their deaths had left me devastated.
The personal trauma of a stunning act of betrayal by someone I trusted had left me drained. And angry. And confused. And scared. And subject to panic attacks and nightmares. A fog had settled all around me and I could not see past it.
Then, I saw a sale for airfare to Los Angeles in January.
I immediately snatched up the tickets.
Somewhere, a small part of me knew that I needed a change from the grey, from the cold, from the snow, from the wind, from the ice, from the isolation of the District, from the reminders of all of the horrible things that had happened. I saw Los Angeles as both a chance to catch up with family members that I had not seen in five years as well as a chance at a renewal, however small it turned out to be.
I felt a shift even before I landed in Los Angeles, when I saw the mountains just outside the city from my airplane window. I felt so small in the face of something so majestic, something that was formed by thousands of years of natural forces. Time and again, I had that feeling as I walked around downtown LA, Culver City, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Irvine, surrounded by cacti, flowers, succulents, palm trees, open sky, the smell of eucalyptus and fresh pine needles and constant sunshine that cast deep shadows and rich, golden hues on every sidewalk and building I passed by.
Time and again, I was reminded that the beauty of the natural world was bigger than me. It was here before I existed, it is here for me in the present to see, touch, smell and taste, and it will be here long after I am gone. And that knowledge gives me comfort and hope. While the fog is still there, it lifted a little after my weeklong retreat in southern California. And I like to think that maybe I have inched one step closer to that feeling of an “invincible summer” that Camus wrote about so many years before.
Danielle Scruggs is a photographer, photo editor and cultural producer who has exhibited her work and curated shows throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Brooklyn, Baltimore and Los Angeles. Residencies and awards include: Pleasant Plains Workshop Studio Residency (2013), The Center for Photography at Woodstock (2013), and The Wassaic Project (2012). The Washington Post, PBS MediaShift, Social Studies DC, Ebony, Stop Smiling Magazine, WAMU 88.5's Bandwidth, Buzzfeed, Greenpeace, Howard University, and LivingSocial have published her editorial and commercial work. Scruggs is the co-founder and Research and Media Director of Mambu Badu, a collective of cultural producers and artists who curate art-based experiences such as biannual shows and publications that center the process and product of black self-identified women who engage in photo-based work. She is also the founder and producer of The Vanguard, an oral history and portrait project mapping the artistic community within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Scruggs earned her MA in Digital Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art and her BA in Print Journalism from Howard University.