|Julie Baird and infant, 1993, by Darcy Padilla|
In my Huffington Post piece I asked what I considered the most obvious question: What made her want to spend a significant portion of her own life telling the story of Julie Baird's life? I got some of the answers I anticipated, and much more.
|Baird comforts a son, 1994|
There were moments along the way, Padilla told me, when she thought the story might end, but somehow it never did.
"Once was back in 1998, when she met this guy Paul, and she was like, 'We're moving to Stockton, and he got a job, she was looking for a job, and they got a two-bedroom apartment that was better than any place she had lived in the Tenderloin," Padilla said. Baird's life of abuse, drug use, and poverty seemed to be headed in a new direction. "I thought, 'Oh my god, this is so good for her, she has a decent shot now. But then she had a miscarriage, and Paul began abusing her one-year-old." And Julie's story went on.
Padilla also told me that even after spending 18 years photographing Julie she really had managed to capture "only a small sliver" of her subject's real life. I made the mistake of assuming that Padilla had sacrificed for her art, as I put it in the Huffington Post piece. But she said that in fact it was a kind of luxury to spend so much time on a single story—to tell it to its end.
On her website she has assembled photographs, newspaper clippings, and other documents that help fill in the detail of Baird's life. And it is the detail, rather than the scope, that makes Padilla's project so compelling. Inevitably, she became a participant as well as an observer. Once, she told me, while doing research about Baird (who at one point was arrested for taking her children from a hospital after they had been claimed by the state) on the Internet, she came across a posting that said, "If you're Julie Baird from Anchorage, Alaska, born 10/10/73, you're the one. Call this number."
|Julie and her father, reunited|
|Julie reads letter from son Zach, or Jason Jr.|
|Julie and daughter Elyssa meet Zach|
When Julie lay dying last summer, Padilla was there, taking pictures. She got a call on her cell phone—a small miracle, she notes, because the reception in Alaska was usually no good—and it was Zach. He wanted to talk with Julie. "He thanked her for having him," said Padilla. "And then he said, 'You know, I only met you once, but when you kissed me on the forehead it was my favorite time.' It took every bit of strength Julie had to talk, and when she hung up she went into a coma."
It was another point at which the story might have ended. Now Baird wants to use the Smith Grant money to set up scholarships for Baird's five children, if she can locate them all. So the story isn't over yet.