The sun beats down on Sarah Jenkins’ right shoulder as her daughter lifts her into a deckchair by the pool.
Her hands curl up and grip the poles as she is hoisted into the air and swung. His toes find the water first, then his ankles, then all but his green eyes dip below the surface.
Except for the green noodle she uses to support her arms, Sarah swims unassisted. This is the only time she can move on her own.
“The most important thing I can do is swim every day…I think swimming basically saved my life,” she says.
Sarah moves from side to side of the pool, each step slow but deliberate. She grabs the side for extra support.
While walking, she has the impression of “zapping” her leg. “It doesn’t happen most of the day,” she says. “[Swimming] just gives me the most amazing feeling and sensation, because you stimulate the nerves.”
It was this sense of freedom that led Sarah to find her new passion – drone photography – during the height of the lockdown.
“The funny thing is, I can’t take a picture with another camera,” she says.
“I can’t use a standard camera and I can’t use a cell phone – I can’t hold it up.”
Get the diagnosis
Sarah lives with Girdle Muscular Dystrophy called LGMD2i (also known as FKRP-related LGMD R9), one of the world’s rare diseases. This started showing up in his late teens as his performance declined while swimming.
“I thought, oh, it’s just puberty, I’m just slowing down.”
When Sarah started her nursing career, people asked her why she was limping as she walked down the hall.
“I would say I don’t limp…people noticed that before me,” she says.
“When I was 30, I went to an aerobics class, and we all had to stand on our tiptoes, and I couldn’t. So I went, okay, that’s weird. .. and that’s when I started doing tests.”
Only a few hundred or thousands of people in Australia are thought to have LGMD2i.
“It affects your breathing muscles, so your diaphragm and intercostal muscles that help your lungs expand and contract are weakened,” Sarah says. “So my breathing is affected and that’s usually what ends the life of someone with muscular dystrophy. It’s respiratory failure or heart failure – or both.”
After being diagnosed, Sarah became pregnant with her first daughter Lucy and a year later with her second daughter Tess. It was during this period of her life that she began to experience a decline in her condition.
“I remember when I used to sit on the grass for picnics. And I thought to myself that one day I won’t be able to get up.”
That moment came in 2016, when her dog Pippa ran under her legs in her narrow hallway and she broke her leg.
“Since that day, I have never stood up again. I have never walked. I have never driven a car…my whole life has changed dramatically.”
Dizzying thinking and a new sense of purpose
Drones came into Sarah’s life at a time when her world was shrinking, as COVID lockdowns drew closer.
During Melbourne’s long lockdown, her daughter Lucy came to live with her in Port Douglas and together they decided to buy one.
“We just said, what are we going to do? We have to do something. I really couldn’t do anything in the community, because I was at high risk for COVID, I pretty much had to isolate myself from people , “Sarah said.
She admits that she was initially terrified of crashing it and didn’t want to pilot it herself.
“I gradually gained confidence flying it, and just saw Earth from a different perspective.”
In November 2020, Sarah hosted a photo shoot inspired by COVID lockdowns and a recent piece of art she had painted.
“I just had this idea of using a basketball court, just down the street, and I thought, what if I put this girl in the middle of the court, reading a magazine, supposedly having a great time, in the midst of the chaos that reigned in the world, compromising to always be happy and enjoy life?”
She went to buy a billiard ring and borrowed a small bag.
“It was 10 a.m. and it was so hot,” Sarah recalled of the shoot. “The poor girl had to sit on a towel under the pool ring, and we just had to measure. She was in the middle of the field, and I put the drone in place, and I just started shooting.”
The Boston Drone Film Festival found Sarah and Lucy’s photo on their Instagram page, Air Bare Studio, and asked them to enter it in their contest.
Much to their delight, their image won the architecture category in 2021, less than a year after they started experimenting with the drone.
“We felt a bit undeserved of the award as we lacked experience…but it gave us the confidence to enter another competition, Capture Magazine’s Best Emerging Australasia Photographers” , says Sarah.
The same image won this award in the Single Shot category.
An international publishing house recently chose 16 of Sarah and Lucy’s images for its new book on minimalism in photography.
Sarah says taking a drone helped her rekindle her creativity through a new lens.
She enjoyed painting in school and in her early adult years and since then has had a deep appreciation for art and design.
“Photography is no different from creating a painting – it’s all about composition, orientation, framing, color and tone, and it has to tell a story,” she says.
“I really like to look at things in a minimalistic way…focusing on a particular section of an image for quirky and unique things.
“You have to look at things from so many different perspectives to understand the true meaning.”
Still, she laughs: “We don’t always hit the mark.”
Even though Lucy is back in Melbourne, Sarah has continued to experiment and is looking forward to studying an online photography course this year.
“Photography just made me realize that this is something I absolutely can do,” she says. “The drone can take me to places I can’t physically access and create images I normally couldn’t get to.”