Since I was a young child, I have been transfixed by the question of how we should live. Convinced that the dying would have the answer, I contacted hospices across the Bay Area in California and asked to be put in touch with their patients. I spent the next two years going to meet these people and interview them about their lives - their reflections, regrets and lessons.
The culmination of my meetings is a series of nine life-size graphite pencil portraits. Using the text from more than fifty hours of interviews, I transcribed my subjects' words onto their clothing in the drawings and created a three-minute audio edit of each person’s interview to accompany their portrait.
In making this work I came to observe a profound paradox: in talking with me about dying, these people taught me how to live more meaningfully and more intensely. I found that, for most people, what mattered was how they had participated in the world and what they had created – whether that was through connection with their children, community, work or nature. Though I spoke with people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, nobody wished they had made more money, worked harder or bought more things. In short, they were not concerned with what they consumed and took into themselves. If I learned any one lesson from my conversations, it is that meaning does not come from consumption, but creation. The meaningful life is one that gives more than it takes.
The portrait of "Jenny Miller" is currently exhibited at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in the Outwin Boochever Competition until January 2017. "Thoughts in Passing" is available to travel as an exhibition and I am available to give presentations and workshops on the project to both adults and young people.