Mental health has always baffled and fascinated me. Our brains are capable of so much good, yet some are plagued with anxiety, depression, delusions (the list goes on) that make it impossible to realize a “normal” life. My confusion around how our brains can work against us stems from witnessing severe and persistent mental health issues in my some of my own friends and family. Last year, when it came time to choose a topic for my photojournalism capstone project, I knew I wanted to explore mental health. I spent months in research mode — going to meetings, making countless calls, trying to tap into a very closed community and document it.
The same day I met Maggie Krueger, I also spoke to dozens of parents of youth with mental illness. I was in Frankfort, Kentucky where parents and advocates were gathered to talk to their representatives at the state capital about mental health reform. It was another “research day” that I spent meeting people, asking questions, learning and listening. I was packing up my audio recorder and microphone, getting ready to leave, when a woman I met earlier that day told me I had to hear Maggie's story before I left. She introduced me to Maggie and I started learning her story and why she was there. A week later we (my project partner Adam & I) were in her home with our cameras, and she was making us tortillas.
We spent four months documenting Maggie and her family. (Her story is complicated, and if you want to see the full project click here.) Adam and I were by their side during intimate and sad moments where they got their hopes up and were let down. As a documentary photographer, I’m no stranger to sharing personal moments with people I’ve just met, asking them to share their most vulnerable times with me. It’s a responsibility I take seriously and feel thankful to have.
Something I’ve learned through the years, is that a sure way to ease the tension or to get to know a person is to eat with them. I’ll ask subjects out for lunch or coffee. I’ll come over for dinner. The first time Adam and I went to Maggie's house she made us food, and we talked about her story and struggles over a meal. I stood in the kitchen with her as she made these tortillas, telling me about how much her family loved them. Her daughter Lissie commented from the background, "They are so good!" We bonded over something real and universal, and I believe we grew closer as she cooked for me.
Maggie is one of the strongest women I have ever met. I was lucky to tell her story, I am lucky to know her and learn from her — I feel even luckier to call her my friend.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the shortening till the mixture is crumbly. (If the mixture looks more floury than crumbly, be sure to add just one or two more tablespoons of shortening till it is crumbly.)
- Add about 3/4 cup hot water to the mixture (or just enough to make the ingredients look moist.)
- With a fork or a hand mixer, knead the mixture making sure to rub the dough against the sides of the large mixing bowl to gather any clinging dough. If the dough still sticks to the side of the bowl, add a couple more tablespoons of flour until the dough forms a soft round shape. Take the dough, and pull it apart into 10 to 12 balls. Cover it with a dish towel, and let it rise for about an hour or so.
- Lightly flour your rolling area, and roll each ball with a rolling pin to about 1/8 inch thickness.
- Place each tortilla on a medium hot cast iron skillet. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until the tortilla no longer looks doughy.