Dear Shirley is a photographic diary and first-person account of love and loss captured by Hinda Schuman between 1978-2010. Schuman describes her book, published by Daylight, as “an intimate and highly personal account of what it is like to live through the unraveling of relationships — both heterosexual and lesbian.”
The first part of the book chronicles the unravelling of Schuman’s marriage of 10 years to her husband Jeremy through the early years of her relationship with Susan. She combines black-and-white photographs with letters she wrote to her friend, Shirley, about the demise of her marriage.
As Schuman fell in love with Susan, Shirley distanced herself from her friend. Eventually, Schuman reclaimed the original letters. In her last note to Shirley in the summer of 1998, Schuman addresses the things she’s lost since coming out, including her friend: “The loss of my best friend. That’s the one I haven’t let go. At least not completely.”
The second part of the book is the saga of the last two years of Schuman’s relationship with Susan, when she found herself in the midst of another failing relationship. Here, she blends color images with transcriptions of emails the couple wrote to each other.
In his essay for Dear Shirley, Sunil Gupta writes, “Dear Shirley is about the detail of the protagonists’ lives as witnessed by Hinda, but the ever-present and unseen Shirley seems to stand in for society, so when we see Hinda being rejected at the conclusion, it’s a judgement whose painful wrongfulness we share.”
There is a happy post-script to Dear Shirley. Hinda and Susan later reconciled, and married in Brooklyn, New York, in February 2014.