“Technique is purely individual—it is a personal means of expression” from The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider & Joost Elffers
When I first announced that I had been chosen to be a photographer for this project, Michelle was the first person to jump on being a subject! In fact, she told me that just that week she had ordered the book that was the inspiration behind the project – The Secret Language of Birthdays – and was waiting for it to arrive in the mail. It was definitely meant to be that she would be one of my subjects! For her session, we went to one of my favourite spots in Port Hope – the Ganaraska River. As a lover of nature and movement, Michelle wanted to have some fun in the water for her portrait. We had lots of fun splashing in the river as the sun set behind us! – Jeannette B
Image © Jeannette Breward
An Interview with Michelle
Q. What is your best memory/moment from one of your past birthdays?
A. My best memory was this year’s birthday. I turned 33. I didn’t have anything planned. I treated myself to a new phone to replace mine that fell in the toilet a few weeks prior! I was with a girlfriend, a new Albanian friend who moved here to Port Hope from Vancouver. Her friend from work invited us to an outdoor party in town. We rounded up a nice bottle of wine to bring. I was still wearing white pants and a nice blouse from my work day. Good thing I decided to chance into jeans and sneakers last minute… We arrived at this backyard party…and it surprisingly was not the venue we were expecting! A live band was playing, several camp fire stations kept us cozy and warm as the sun set into crisp June night air, the coconut rum soaked pineapple was so delicious, I had enough to get drunk on, and the band played happy birthday for me! As we walked back downtown to go home there was a feeling it had all been just right, filled with surprise, delight, and the simplicity of the way we sometimes do it in Canada. I was satisfied with what was and eager for more.
Q. How about the worst? And why?
A. The year I turned 6, my grandmother who I was meeting for the first time, (and a couple times after that) came to Ontario for a visit from Quebec. There was a language barrier that was frustrating. For my birthday she bought me my first wrist watch. It was red, digital and showed the date. That seemed special! Then I realized she had gotten the same one for my older sister, and it just wasn’t special anymore.
Q. What was the present you’ve received for your birthday that most surprised you?
A. I was turning 15, my mother got me a gift bag with a myriad of different things. There was a hard cover calendar-like keep-sake book with poetry and different sayings in it. It was called ‘Days to Remember’ and I still have it. It seemed too nice. There must have been other practical items like underwear, but I will never forget the three packs of Player’s light cigarettes. My mother got me my own cigarettes for my birthday. She also surprised me when I turned about 11, with a paper route, my first official job, so I could make my own money and buy my own gifts.
Q. Is there one food or dish that you insist on eating during your birthday celebration?
A. Pizza. The good kind. And chocolate ganache cake with raspberry cream mousse filling is really nice.
Q. What do you believe is the most important aspect of celebrating a birthday?
A. Birthdays have always been a sensitive subject for me because there haven’t been many traditional celebrations in my experience. I used to think it was important to remember you’re special every other day of the year too!
Q. Do you/your family/culture have any traditions/rituals/ceremonies that are performed to celebrate birthdays? What is it?
A. My family’s attitude towards birthdays was to not make such a big deal about celebrating them which is kinda sad. And even though I’m much older now, and I sorta carried that tradition with me into adulthood, I’d like to change that. The idea being you have 364 other days in the year of your life, why make that one special when they all should be… But I think making that one day exceptionally happy would make the other 364 so much better.