'Acid Neutral' Photo Series By Clara Herrera Gives New Meaning To A Wedding Dress After Divorce

Upon learning about Clara Herrera's Acid Neutral photo series, a quote from Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw popped into my head: "If you love someone and you break up, where does the love go?" In essence, such was the question facing the 46-year-old Austin, Texas-based teacher when her marriage of 19 years came to an end. Knowing she would eventually want her daughters to wear her wedding dress — an iconic symbol of the love she and her husband once shared — Herrera decided to shift the emotion the dress represented into a labor of love: traveling around Texas taking photos of herself wearing the dress doing just about everything but getting hitched.

"I was very sad when I decided to divorce my husband of 19 years," Herrera tells Bustle via email of the project, which she chronicled through her blog. "Three kids, a teacher's salary. Not a small decision. I loved that man very much, and I do not regret marrying him. I got three great kids out of the deal. But nothing I did to help me get through the process seemed to be enough — working out, writing, therapy. When people would say, 'Get over it and move on,' I would think, Are you kidding me? This is devastating."

So Herrera decided to do something about it. "I had to kick myself in the butt to restart my life in a positive way so I could show my kids me ... the real me. I think in an artistic way. I paint in abstract, write, create stuff. So, it really literally hit me one day — taking photos. Specifically black and white in my wedding dress as a 'baby book,' noting all the new stuff I do in my new life," she explains of the process. "I thought it would be artistic, funny, quirky, and fun, but in my head there would be a bigger, more profound message, even if that message was only for me. And I wanted my daughters to view the dress in a positive way so they would want to wear it. From the beginning, I knew it would have a beginning, middle, and end.I wanted the last shot to be color, but didn’t know what that would be until about three weeks into the project."

Pretty empowering, right? Herrera's perspective is refreshing in the way that most things you wish you'd thought of yourself are in that it just makes so much sense. It's beautiful and poetic and affecting in a transformative fashion. And, let's face it, that's a far better way to go through a divorce than being mired in the past. For Herrera, the most surprising thing about the entirely process though was how much it truly did change her own perspective.

"Personally, I wanted to empower myself and my children after ending my marriage of 19 years. Now, I want to show women and girls that our society is moving forward as we — women — get educated, have economic power, and take ownership of our lives in whatever form we choose. We control our lives, our outcome, our happiness. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and the societal limitations expected of you to be your best self. Acid Neutral is my self expression through art. My main goal, before any photos were published, was to just to show my children a role model of a strong woman," she says.

To date, Herrera has not heard from her former spouse regarding the project. For the record, she eschews using the term "ex" for either party. Rather, she says, "I refer to myself as a solo artist. All women should. Why should we define ourselves by something that happened to us: divorce? I shouldn't have to define myself by that word for the rest of my freakin' life." That sense of liberation is laced with confidence for Herrera, who wants other women to feel the same and know their worth doesn't diminish outside of the margins of marriage either. "Here's the one thing I want gals to know," she reveals. "Don't ever let anyone take that away from you. Don't doubt yourself — others will do that for you. My favorite quote of mine is, 'Don't let trepidation inhibit your capacity to achieve potential greatness.'"

Faith has also been a governing force for this Texas trailblazer as she reemerged in the world a newly solo artist. "Faith is amazing — in one's self, in others and in the world... faith guided me a lot during these photos," she says, adding, "Love is infinite and I am thankful for that. I had so many people support me through this project, especially my children."

In fact, it was Herrera's 17-year-old daughter who tagged along and took the photos that comprise the wedding dress series. While they were incredibly supportive, though, the reality was Herrera's kids never thought anything would come of the project. "Now, I am just an elementary school science teacher from Austin who grades papers until two in the morning at my kitchen table, so their doubt was not unfounded," she tells Bustle. "But I knew it in my head. I never doubted this project, ever."

Still, Herrera's kids weren't without doubt at first, a fact Herrera has since turned into a teachable moment. "Even when I told Rachael — my lovely, intelligent photographer daughter — the first story was going to come out on Today.com, she said point blank, 'Nothing is going to come out of this.' All I said to her was, 'Faith.' And now, every time someone shows interest or writes a story about it, I just send her the link and write, 'Faith.'"

To see all the photos in Herrera's wedding dress series and get more insight into the series, head over to Acid Neutral.

Images: Courtesy of Rachael Ellisor/Acid Neutral