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Beverly Beckham

Where self-doubt does not enter the picture

“Leo,” from the book “Solitary Soul” by Sandra Goroff, was shot on Prince Street in Boston’s North End.

‘When I’m 12, I’m going to be on Broadway in a play with Sutton Foster.” This is what I love about children. They dream big.

Charlotte was 8 when she said this. She’s 9 now and every bit as sure that Broadway is in her future. There’s no “Maybe I’m not good enough” in her tone. No self-doubt. No looking outside of herself for affirmation. She is certain that if she tries hard she can do anything.

And why shouldn’t she believe this? She mastered the monkey bars and the 12 table and every word to a musical she was in. Not immediately, but after a lot of practice. That’s what she does. When she wants to learn something — a dance step, a times table — she does it over and over. When she wants to learn a song, she listens to it again and again. When she messes up she starts over. She is patient and persistent and engagingly joyful.

You see joy and patience and persistence in kids everywhere. Practicing ground balls. Perfecting cartwheels. Putting together Legos. I saw a dance recital two weeks ago where children as young as 4 who didn’t know their left foot from their right back in September danced in a row and in step. Even the older kids looked confident and happy.


Look at me, Mom. Look at me. Wanna hear a song I learned? Read this story. Watch this handstand. When does self-doubt trump all this? When do kids start saying “Don’t look at me” and “I can’t” instead of “I can”?

Sandra Goroff is in her 60s. She published her first book of photography, “Solitary Soul,” just three years ago. One of her photographs, “Tire Swing,” hangs on a wall at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Gallery at Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island in Maine is representing her work this summer and has four of her photographs on display.


Goroff, who lives in Canton, has spent most of her life promoting other people’s work. She made her living as a literary publicist, first with Houghton Mifflin then with her own company. But her love of photography simmered. Art was always in her head.

She quipped, over coffee, that she doesn’t know an f-stop from a bus stop. And while this may be true, while she may not have the ability to balance aperture and shutter speed, she has what’s more important: an artist’s eye for seeing light and shadow and detail, for framing a scene, and for capturing the unseen — that mix of emotions you feel when you look at a work of art and have to look again.

Her photos are haunting. “I am drawn to solitary places, narrow passages, reflections, and in-between spaces — people and things that seem to have gone unnoticed or that have been forgotten,” she wrote in the preface to “Solitary Soul,” a small book with a big impact.

Goroff’s mother was her inspiration. “She was a painter but didn’t start painting till she was 50. She painted up to the time of her death at age 95. She always wanted to learn new things.”

Goroff wants to learn new things, too. She takes photography workshops. But it’s not what the camera can do that propels her, but what she can do. She shoots what she sees: boats, trees, children, dogs, random people. “I never pose anyone and I don’t plan my shots in advance.” Sometimes she comes home with diamonds. Sometimes with stones.


She calls her work “empathic observation.” “I’m the most honest behind the camera because the images tell my story, too.”

She has no self-doubt about her work. Like Charlotte, like the people we were all born to be, she does what she loves with patience and persistence. “There’s really nothing else I do that takes me out of my head,” she said.

After a lifetime of promoting other people’s work, she is now talking up her own. But she needn’t bother. Her photos say it all.

To view Sandra Goroff’s art go to

Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at