Death Wooed Us
2012 - 2014
Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about. Most try to avoid it. Yet some of us have personally experienced despair so great that we have thought about it as an option. We have also known others who have tragically succumbed to it. In 2011 after the birth of my daughter I developed a severe case of postpartum depression and considered taking my own life. I imagined I would drive to the California coast where I could look at the magnificent ocean and then jump off a cliff. Since then I have recovered, and learned that many suicidal people have similar inclinations: they travel near or far to well-known or obscure natural places to end their lives. Often these places are near water, mountains or valleys. There is even a term for such places – “suicide destinations.”
The photographs in this project attempt to capture the views of these settings. Using research gathered from media reports, I found several locations in the Bay Area and travelled to them. I walked along the paths taken by these people before they ended their lives. Most of these photographs were taken from bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most well-known “suicide destinations,” but also lesser-known beaches and overlooks. I purposely photographed from the perspective of looking up at the sky, down at the water or crags, or straight ahead but far away, thinking that these views might have resembled the ones seen by others moments before dying. Many of my images have a hazy and elusive quality, which I believe reflects the clouded state of mind of the suicidal.
Yet I do not pretend to know why others really chose the specific locations that they did. Nor do I claim to know what they were truly thinking before they jumped, hanged or drowned themselves. The reason behind each suicide is highly personal and, often, an enigma to the ones left behind. But I do believe that there have been others, like me, who wanted to die surrounded by a beautiful landscape. One survivor even said there was a “certain grace and beauty” about dying from the Golden Gate Bridge.
There are some who may think that my photographs romanticize these places of death. I can understand that point of view, although that is not my intention. Death is not beautiful – in fact, jumping from a bridge 200 feet high is a very painful and violent way to die. Yet the sublimity of these places continues to lure people to them. I do not intend for my work to glorify the allure of these places. Instead, I hope that it may offer a glimpse into the minds of those who may have thought that dying by these beautiful places was a peaceful way to end their suffering. As the poet Louise Gluck wrote in her poem “Cottonmouth Country,” "Death wooed us, by water, wooed us By land…"