(preview of) A book in image and word by Karen Davis

Photographs: Karen Davis; Text: the Morgan Orton family
Preface: Alison Nordström; Introduction: tba

Hammock by Karen Davis

A Family Portrait: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back is a twenty-two year visual and textual portrait of a family as it cruises along, gets clobbered by a treacherous childhood illness and then moves forward.

Amidst the quotidian of life—jobs, moves, school, family and friends—the book reveals the wrenching and transformative experience of becoming a family that includes a severely disabled child and living with all that brings.



Early years at the beach by karen davis
Early years at the beach

Through my photographs and the family’s words—from letters, an essay, a documentary and interviews—the book provides an intimate window into a world turned upside down, then righted to the new reality by the will and persistence of the four family members.

Sunday Morning
Sunday Morning – Berkeley Heights

The narrative begins with the untroubled days of early childhood. It then follows the Morgan-Ortons as they seek a diagnosis for their nine-year-old son and learn the worst of news—that it is Childhood Onset Schizophrenia (COS).  Next is a period of adaptation. Shaken but determined, the family finds a new rhythm. The narrative concludes with the children in their twenties and the four Morgan-Ortons offering unvarnished reflections on their lives and concerns for the future.

Another week at the beach

I am related to the Morgan-Ortons through marriage. Twenty-four years ago, as a new photographer exploring the medium, parents Meredith and Ed and children Parker and Maggie were accessible and willing subjects. When Parker’s condition worsened, when the family found themselves in the throes of fear and the unknown, no matter what the circumstances, they wrote and I photographed–which now makes it possible for me to tell their story.

Diptych #3

It has not been lost on the Morgan-Ortons or me that my background includes growing up in a family of four with a physically disabled sister.  As the lives of the Morgan-Ortons changed and adapted, I found myself returning to memories of my childhood. From the young me – I saw in Maggie the well-sibling and how she developed in that position.  From the parent me – I felt empathy for Ed and Meredith as I never was able to for my parents and, for my sister and me, I understood our dynamic and our lost opportunities with far more clarity.

Family at Home, Berkeley Heights, 2017 by Karen Davis
Berkeley Heights, 2017

So here I am, telling the story of a specific family and suspecting that for those of us who have grown up in a family challenged by mental or physical disability it is a familiar story and, in some ways, cathartic.

Karen Davis, Hudson NY 2018