“I truly believe things happen for a reason.”
It’s a familiar trope, but photographer Nancy Borowick claims it with haunting conviction. At 31 years of age, living in Guam with her husband Kyle Grimm, Borowick bases her belief on a reality that few her age know: she lost both her parents to cancer within a year.
“None of my friends had lost their parents. It was devastating at first,” she said. “But the number of people who reached out after that first New York Times article was overwhelming. That community made me want to keep strong.”
The Times article materialized when Borowick — a former amNewYork photographer — entered a small, photography competition in June 2013, submitting photos documenting her parents’ final months together.
“I never thought about this work as ‘a work.’ I just didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Borowick’s parents were simultaneously diagnosed with stage-four cancer in 2012, and as an experienced assignment photographer, she just picked up her camera. Over the next 24 months, she documented everything from lighthearted moments to heartbreaking scenes of grief. Borowick doesn’t remember making a conscious decision to document the process, but one day, as a nurse searched for a vein in her father’s arm, she realized how important the endeavor was.
“There was a moment when I put my camera down. I had taken so many photos that I thought, ‘Why do I need another photo of this,’ ” she recalled. “Next thing I knew I was waking up in the next room. I had passed out. That’s when I realized the role the camera was playing.”
Not long after the incident, her father passed away at age 58 on December 7, 2013. Almost a year to the day, her mother then passed away at age 59 on December 6, 2014.
It was at some point between her parents’ untimely deaths that she began to consider the journalistic and artistic merit of the photographs. So she entered the photo competition. If nothing else she wanted an objective review of her work. Though she didn’t win the competition, she won something greater — the attention of a judge, who happened to be a photo editor at The Times. The editor approached Borowick with the idea of publishing the work, and that offer tipped the first domino that would lead to where she is now.
She eventually self-published a crowdfunded book titled “The Family Imprint: A Daughter’s Portrait of Love and Loss.” Her Kickstarter campaign raised $45,000 in two weeks. The book is a thoughtful compilation of her photographs, sprinkled with family photos and scanned copies of handwritten cards her parents sent to one another. She hopes the book will serve as a tool to help those going through something similar.
“This will always stand as the most important thing I’ve ever done. Family is the most important thing, and that puts [this book] in a league of its own,” Borowick said.
She also stressed how important documentation is to the healing process. Even if people don’t consider themselves proficient photographers or writers, she said they will never regret documenting loved ones’ stories.
“Don’t let your insecurities stop you from recording these images in some way,” Borowick said. “This book, for me, is the final chapter of this story.”
Her work will be on display at the Anastasia Photo Gallery from May 16 until June 15. She plans to attend the exhibition opening to kick off her book tour, which she’ll have to brave without her husband.
When asked how she and Kyle ended up in Guam, she remembered her father, in his last weeks, telling her to look for him in the sunset.
“And we get really beautiful sunsets in Guam.”