By Amy Senk | Contributor
FALL 2023 ISSUE
PHOTOGRAPHER ANNE WATSON AND THE GIFT OF A LIFE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
Photos credit courtesy of Anne Watson
At the Watson Ranch and Watson Ranch Vineyards in northern San Diego County, a mother and son share orderly lives filled with contradictions and quirks. The roosters and pigs battle with the practicing of Metallica guitar riffs. Winegrower Anne Watson tends the vines but will rarely take a sip, and shoots tail-to-nose cookbook art as a practicing vegetarian.
The sorrow that not long ago filled their home has shifted, turning into light and energy and healing and hope.
“I’m at a place in my life now where I can very comfortably say that going through the hardest years of my life — which were my husband being diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer in 2019 — those were some of the best experiences of my life because it shifted everything,” Anne says. “There is like Anne Before and Anne After.”
The Anne Before was 50 pounds heavier, depressed without realizing it, numbed with alcohol and lacked any spirituality. Then her husband, Tim, was diagnosed with stomach cancer, admitted to the ICU and given days to live. Her family took their young son, Russell, and Anne returned to her empty home. Stressed, exhausted and wired, she went outside and walked in circles in her garden, chanting words she can no longer remember. It was 4 a.m. and her world was falling apart. That is the moment when she discovered Reiki, a Japanese energy healing method.
“I suddenly saw light coming out of the palms of my hands,” she says. “It was like I was hallucinating. I started shining this light coming out of my hands at parts of my house where there had been kind of yucky energy. It was almost like cleansing our house. And I kept thinking, ‘What is happening?’ I had no idea.”
A week later, she told her therapist about the experience, and the therapist mentioned Reiki. Anne Googled “Reiki near me,” found a practitioner and began learning all she could, continuing through the pandemic with Zoom sessions. She used what she learned to help her husband as he fought the cancer that had attacked his stomach and brain and liver and lungs. Tim died at age 57 in February 2021, and Anne believes that Reiki helped keep him alive longer than doctors had expected.
She is now herself a Reiki master with a fully certified practice called Watson Wellness, which Tim wanted for her, and she offers healing to clients in her home’s healing studio, which Tim had built for her before he died. She has used Reiki on parts of her own home that need positive energy and light, and even on the vines, which she considers part of Tim’s legacy.
“Some people told me, ‘You’re crazy, your husband died, you should sell off the vines because that was his business,’ and instead, I’ve taken it on,” she says. “There are days that I think I’m completely nuts for doing it. But the wine is now becoming my legacy and not just his, and that feels tremendous.”
Anne considers Tim’s diagnosis a moment when her life’s trajectory shifted, when she realized nothing was guaranteed.
“When all plans go straight out the window, you realize that’s a gift in and of itself,” she says. “I needed to reach very deep within myself and also very wide outside myself. Like there are forces outside my control in charge of the trajectory of my life, so I need to surrender to that.”
Earlier in her life, the changes in Anne’s trajectory came from personal choices. After attending four years at Pepperdine University, she moved to Boston to take a job as a line cook earning minimum wage. Later, she drew from her father’s love of vintage cars and photography and had a career in public relations and marketing in the automotive industry. Part of that job was to coordinate events at the right restaurants.
“Food was always there,” she says. “I have always felt drawn towards it.”
She and Tim married in 2010, and she worked as her own wedding coordinator. She was such a pro that their caterer, 24 Carrots, offered her a job.
“My husband always teased me that I did such a good job bossing everybody else around at our wedding that I ended up getting a job offer out of it,” she says. “I loved working with the caterer. I loved planning menus. I loved helping brides select their beverage pairings. All that stuff was right in my wheelhouse.”
The caterer asked if she could shoot a few photos of some dishes, knowing that she was a photography nerd — think high-schooler hanging out in the darkroom.
She took the photos, and the caterer was impressed.
“They said, ’Hang on, you’re actually pretty good at this,’” she says. “They started hiring me to take photos at events, and it completely snowballed. The chef and the caterer knew another chef who needed some food photos. It was all word of mouth.”
Anne Watson Photography formally launched in 2012 after a couple of years of informal work. For a decade, even after they moved from Santa Ana to the five-acre property and had their son, she did on-site shoots for restaurants and magazines.
These days, as a single mom, Anne’s food photography takes place in a home studio. She also works from home on recipe development, including a collaboration with friend Audra Wilford on a MaxLove Project anti-cancer cookbook titled “The Fierce Foods Kitchen: Healing Through Culinary Medicine.” The book, published earlier this year, sold out and is on its second reprint.
“Every day is different,” she says. “I don’t have a specific structure other than I know I need to wake up with the sunrise and go have my practice. A day when I miss meditating and yoga is like a whole day that is wonky. I do my sadhana in the morning, and I’m just going to be open to what comes.”
On this particular day, after her meditation, Anne fed the dogs and chickens and pigs, made sure the vines were watered and that the irrigation was working. Then she drove Russell, now 9 and a budding guitarist, to the School of Rock in Temecula for a day of music. She returned home for four hours of cookbook photography, returned to School of Rock for pickup, did emails at home and spent family time over dinner.
“I’m usually pretty wiped out and done by 9,” she says. “I go to bed early.”
Bonding with her son over heavy metal music has been a delight, Anne says, and they are excited about the Power Trip Festival this October in Indio. Metallica, Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses, Tool, AC/DC and Judas Priest are all part of the lineup. Russell inherited the metal gene from both mother and father, Anne says.
“It’s funny,” she says. “I am a very yin-yang person. I have a retreat center. I am a Reiki master. But I also am a huge metalhead. I absolutely love it. I grew up listening to that music. It’s something that my husband and I have in common. So, I figured that my son and I listen to music, and it keeps us connected to my husband, too. It is a family thing.”
Anne, who turns 45 in September, says she has learned to accept and respect the things that might surprise or throw off other people, like taking photos of liver meatballs as a vegetarian or drinking her own wine for work when she is a non-drinker.
“I drink it and treat it like it’s sacred,” she says. “There is an art and beauty and connection to Mother Earth that is just deeply meaningful when it’s treated as sacred.”
When she sends the vines Reiki energy, it’s another example of how the different parts of Anne’s life overlap and create a sensible and beautiful picture.
“This is what I’m realizing,” she says. “The work I’m doing with the food, the work I do with my wine, and the work I do with Reiki and meditation, it’s like they sound like they’re all completely different things, but they are completely related. Like there is a thread throughout all of it. I guess it’s me.”