The art of healing
By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
In 2009, Rebecca Soulé sent a text message to her sister-in-law Erin with a photo of an extraordinary sunset, and a note saying she loved her. Erin was sick with leukemia, and Soulé hoped the photo showing beams of light coming from the clouds would comfort her. Erin died two days later.
Several years later, Soulé received a call from a woman who’d seen that same image on a business card Soulé had posted in the Cateye Café in Bozeman. The woman had lost both of her parents that year. Seeing that image, she told Soulé, was the closest to god she’d ever felt.
“Knowing I could make someone feel like that was a pivotal point for me,” Soulé says. “It was the biggest compliment I’ve ever received.”
That phone call eventually led Soulé to her next project—a show depicting a year of sadness and healing in her own life, told through self-portraits and images of others.
Soulé, 35, lives in Bozeman with her 3½ year-old daughter Olivia. A self-taught photographer, she has an intuitive and emotional connection to people.
Photography has been a tool for healing, and something Soulé never planned to share with anyone. But when Erin was diagnosed with leukemia, it put life in perspective.
“It made me think about what I want to do, what I want to be,” Soulé says. “Life is short. I realized it was time to start showing this work, to actually go for it.”
She launched her business, LucaPhotography, in June 2010, figuring if she was “meant to be in it, it [would] show itself.”
Right away, she published a two page black and white spread of canoes on Hyalite Lake, in Outside Bozeman—a centerfold, she jokes.
A month later she won five awards in the Gallatin County Fair photo contest. Her work appeared in Montana Parent, Kidsville and Healthy Living soon after.
By late spring, she was shooting more family portraits and kids, something she likes because kids are “silly, and have the freedom to be themselves.”
Describing herself as a “dual artist,” Soulé likes this whimsical photography and also more challenging work where she can dig deeper into human emotions.
This summer she shot photos with Family Promise, a nonprofit that helps and houses homeless families. The images of volunteers and two homeless families that hung in the U.S. Bank pagoda let her realize the potential power behind her work.
“I am a life photographer who at times is the visual messenger.”
When Soulé first found Bozeman in 2004, she was on a road trip from Seattle and just stopped for a few hours. Standing on Main Street, she watched people greeting each other on the street. The community feeling and artistic energy inspired her, and she knew she’s found home.
Soulé’s current show, which is hanging in the Nova Café in Bozeman this December, exemplifies the two sides of her work. One rooms holds a visual storyboard with 11 mostly black and white image showing the powerful year transition and growth. The other is a collection of family portraits.
The first series shows deep emotion—innocence, vulnerability, wrenching sadness, angst, freedom, peace and strength. The images include Soulé and her daughter, and other acquaintances who wanted to be a part of the project.
Admitting it sounds “a little bit out there,” she says the participants “showed up when they were supposed to,” each with something to say. “They came to me to try and photograph that—to give them a voice. They were the chosen people.”
The second set of photos is a color collection that captures kids and families together, happy. They’re not manicured family portraits, but are sweet, earthy, and with a sense of purity.
“I like capturing a child how they are. I follow them around, sometimes run after them. I make up crazy jokes to get them to laugh or smile, put something on top of my head so they’ll look at the camera.”
This show was cathartic, Soulé says.
“The photography is the art of healing for me. For this show, I’m hoping it is for others.” She thinks of it as a gift for others, and none of the photos are for sale.
After a year that was clearly very difficult, Soulé is confident in life, and loves being a mother and an artist.
“Being a single mom is empowering. It’s kicked my ass, and it’s made me do this [show]. Because everything I do is for that little girl. She’s my inspiration, my light.”
Looking around the room at her work, Soulé seems comfortable with herself.
“This is me. This is my heart and soul.”