I’m 46, an artist, mother, and partner. I am from and currently live in Toronto. I was raised with a deep appreciation of arts and permission to live my heart’s desire. What a blessing. Although my path meandered a bit, art remained a through-line. I’ve always been interested in how people find meaning in life. I studied social anthropology and fine art at university and was particularly interested in how cultures created rituals and symbols for healing and identity formation. I found that while the structure and expression of cultures varied, the connections between people were always based on love and trust. It is human nature. Though I loved learning about cultures, I realized that I was more of a culture maker than a culture observer. I studied filmmaking and photography for a couple of years and, after working in the film industry for a while, returned to my true love of photography, got a studio, and never looked back.
When my daughter was 20 months old, I found a lump in my breast. Against all hopeful reasoning that it was just a blocked milk duct, it turned out to be cancer. Suddenly, my hazy sleep-deprived recovery/reemergence from early motherhood became overshadowed by my new full-time job of cancer treatment and survival. I was forced to consider unthinkable choices and outcomes. I learned that I would need to have chemotherapy and that my fertility would be damaged from this. We wanted to have a second child. It was heartbreaking.
The good news is that I’m still here, eight years later, and am healthier and happier than ever. And I have a second daughter who is 18 months old. I have so much gratitude for it all. It’s been a journey of reconnecting and rediscovering who I am and how I want to be in the world. With the help of an incredible program called Healing Journey, I learned how to use meditation and visualization to connect with a sense of more profound peace and purpose in my life.
During this time in my life when everything fell away in service of my survival, the things that remained were family, friends, art, and nature. These are my pillars. In my career as a photographer for over 20 years, I’ve photographed all kinds of people, places, and things in my career from babies to investment bankers, interior design to weddings. After becoming a mother and surviving breast cancer, I realized how precious life is and how short childhood is and that I wanted to focus on what really matters. I passionately grew my business as a documentary family photographer, making emotional storytelling photographs for families to savour and celebrate their love and connection. I then developed Imagination Sessions that focus on capturing the magic of childhood through play and creativity, activated by a child’s natural inclination to imagine and be curious.
Presence Portraits are my latest offering. In these meditative portrait sessions for adults, I lead people through heart-centred prompts to help them connect to the subtle motion of their inner spirit, heartbeat, and breath to tune into their own light and vibration and feel freedom and joy in their bodies. Capturing this radiance in portraits reminds people that feeling their own presence is the key to finding peace and joy and connecting to what really matters in life. We get one chance to live an unforgettable, magnificent, and remarkable life. I believe that photographs amplify who we love and affirm and deepen our relationship to ourselves, to others and to our environment. It is my goal to see the people I photograph through my heart, revealing their PRESENCE, SHINING HEARTS, and GRACEFUL SOULS, the essence of people that has no words.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?
The biggest shift in my life since turning 40 has been my quest for peace and meaning. I understand the value of time and intimacy. I am peeling back the layers of time to get to the true me and spark that I was as a child, the me that I want to express more of as an adult. I am less concerned with what other people think and more concerned with whether my expression is aligned with my values. I am seeking out people who raise my vibration and inspire me because I want to grow and evolve, and I think the best way to do this is in relation and collaboration. I’m also more comfortable letting go of old patterns that don’t serve me. I’m putting a lot of time and thought into how I am living my life.
When do you feel you are most powerful?
I feel most powerful when I am expressing my voice with integrity, honesty, and love. I feel powerful when I am still. I feel powerful when I bring my heart and soul to another to meet theirs with kindness and reverence. I feel powerful when I am seeing and photographing people through my heart. I feel powerful when I surrender to the flow of creativity.
What are the top three most important things to you right now?
Family, kindness, and creative expression
How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?
I have a list of values that I always come back to authenticity, beauty, connection, creativity, curiosity, and kindness. I ask myself, is what I’m doing amplifying these values, and how can I make these more prominent in my actions.
What seeds are you planting today for the future?
EMPATHY, CREATIVITY, CONNECTION: I’m growing a community of parents who are interested in making deeper connections with their children and growing their empathy for them by using their imagination and creativity. I have a photography project called Walk, Stop, and Wonder that any parent can join to rediscover their creative self by mindfully connecting with their children, with nature, and the wonder of childhood.
INNER PEACE: I’m strengthening my meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practice daily.
PRESENCE AND EMPOWERING COLLABORATIONS: I’m collaborating with some incredible women (Sara Smeaton, Jennifer Ziliotto) to up-level what we do and make a greater impact. Enter Midlife Milestone Sessions and a trilogy of transformative experiences for women.
FRIENDSHIP AND CHANGEMAKING: I’m about to launch a fundraising event of Friendship Portrait Sessions for kids where they get to choose where their donation goes. Early childhood friendships create a model for future relationships; they teach us about trust, kindness, love, and identity. I want to celebrate childhood friendships like family relationships. I’m passionate about empowering children to see themselves as changemakers. I want children to know that their voice matters and that they can make a difference in the world. I believe that kids can make informed decisions early on if we give them opportunities to do so. Small actions can make a big difference.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?
I would suggest getting really clear about their values and whether their actions are aligned. I would invite them to consider what energy and expression they are putting into the world and what they want that to look like. And, the classic, “if you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” question is a great one.
How can people connect with you and your work?
My main website for Storytelling Sessions, Imagination Sessions, any child/family-related photography, and blog is www.melaniegordon.com.
You can join the Walk, Stop, and Wonder project here.
Presence Portraits are here.