Favorite Sessions

Five Marys Farm - Harvest Session

I recently spent a day in the breathtaking Siskiyou County in Northern California with the Heffernan family on their 1800 acre ranch, aptly named, Five Marys Farms (with Papa Brian, Mama Mary and their four little Marys in tow). I rose with the sun, roamed through their grassy prairies, ran through thick woods and admired the snow capped mountains surrounding the homestead that was first established in 1858. The day was filled with caring for the animals as a family; Black Angus cattle, Navajo-Churro sheep, Glouchester Old Spot pigs, Red Bourbon turkeys and their 40+ varieties of laying hens as well as the heart filling laughter that poured through every wooden wall of that original grain barn-turned-tiny farmhouse.

 

 

This video. Well, the images too.

Can I humbly say that it is my favorite work I've done yet? I love it.

I hope you do too. And mamas, make the video full screen & call in the kiddos because I'm sure they would love to watch as well!

 

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Mary, the mama of Five Marys Farms, so kindly wrote the story of how they recently came to be a farming family and it is pieced throughout the photographs below. This is surely a long, rich post so give yourself time so you can make it all the way to the bottom...

 

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Mary:  "Two and a half years ago we were living a busy life in the Bay Area, Brian was a lawyer and I owned a few family based small businesses, and together we owned and operated two restaurants. Brian was raised on a farm in California where his dad farmed trees and row crops and I am a sixth generation Californian with farming roots - so we both always were drawn to the idea of buying a farm to split time between the bustle of Silicon Valley and the wide open California spaces. It was a "someday" dream since we met.

 

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We looked for rural property several times after we were married but nothing ever worked out at the time. The restaurants pushed us to look for really premium meat raised with idyllic small farm husbandry but we could never find the right volume, quality and consistency we needed year round - and so we decided to try and do it ourselves.

 

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We found our ranch by chance - looking primarily for land and water to raise cattle, not really for a place to live (at least at this point in our lives). It all happened quickly and soon we were the owners of a beautiful ranch that needed lots of work, cows and infrastructure. We naively thought we could do both - live a busy life in the city and be weekend warrior ranchers.

 

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We drove up and back to the ranch every weekend for 8 out of 9 weekends - a 6 hour trip each way with four carseated kids in tow. We had lots of "windshield time" together to consider and discuss what we really wanted for ourselves and for our kids. The 8th trip we decided we decided to pick up our life and plant our roots right here on our ranch for good.

 

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We fell in love with this land, with our small town here, with the incredible community of people willing to help us new folks learn the ropes, the local schools, and with everything about working hard together as a family raising animals everyday - with the lifestyle of ranching. We knew this was where we wanted to raise our children and grow old together.

 

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So we sold our businesses, sold our house and have never really looked back.Ranching is no joke - it's work 24 hours a day 7 days a week with no time for vacations or days off. We are up with the sun and, since every animal gets fed before we do, usually eat dinner after dark.

 

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There are livestock in my living room and kitchen half the time, my girls are always covered in dirt and my wardrobe consists of blue jeans and torn flannel shirts and boots every day.

 

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The daily ranch to-do list is truly never-ending and there are obstacles and hardships at every turn - back breaking work, broken pipes, drought, flooding and animals that die no matter how hard you work to take care of them. It's unpredictable and raw, with intense emotions in the highs and in the lows.

 

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But when you ask either of us where we'd go if we had the chance for a vacation both of us would honestly answer there is no place we'd rather be than right here experiencing this life together as a family.

 

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If we weren't here everyday - we might miss the wonder of a new baby calf being born, or a newborn lamb learning to walk for the first time, or a squealing little litter of 9 piglets learning to nurse, climbing all over each other. We feel pretty lucky we get to call this life together our own and are very proud of the meat we get to put on other families' tables."

 

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I was so impressed while visiting Five Marys Farms at how the children were never viewed as an imposition. It was the most beautiful thing to watch as parent and child just worked and played alongside one another joyfully.

I was so intrigued and asked Mary to share a bit about how they've instilled such a thoughtful nature and work ethic into their children and she wrote her heart out in the most beautiful post on her Five Marys Farms blog… mamas, I promise her words will encourage your weary hearts and inspire you to reach your children right where they are at rather than fitting into another family's mold.

Find her most recent blogpost as well as info on how to order their farm raised products (to ship nationwide!) on their website here.

 

 

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Homeschooling on our homestead.

“The teacher’s desire is to so feed her students and whet their apetities that they will naturally value books and come to feed themselves… we, like Charlotte Mason, wish to have children take their places in the world at their best, with every capacity of good in them developed into a power. Children have a vast and rich intellectual and spiritual inheritance to draw upon for their present and future. Living books and ideas; a brood curriculum filled with the realities of truth, goodness, and beauty; and a constellation of natural relationship will put them in touch with this inheritance. What they will become we do not know – but we have hope that they will become all God has planned them to be, whether parent, artist, factory worker, business owner, doctor, lawyer, or teacher. We hope this because the ‘who’ of children is secure – all we need do is to place them in a large room spread with an abundant feast of learning.” – Jack Beckman

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at the very bottom of this post you will find a video - it is actually a recorded talk i gave (just in vimeo format for ease of listening here) at the wild and free homeschooling conference held in portland, oregon last month. i have had many people over the years ask about why and how we homeschool and i feel like this talk will explain a lot of that. and for the parents that don't homeschool, i still encourage you to listen! so much of what i talk about is purely our genuine desire to ignite a curiosity and love of learning in our children, an appreciation and respect for nature and the importance of nurturing their individual gifts through intentional decisions in the everyday. so after you look through these images, and when you have 35 minutes to relax and listen, the video will be waiting for you.

these photographs are the documentation of my very favorite week that i can remember, the second week of april. the apple blossoms had just begun to bloom on our trees, we were preparing our garden for planting, the dandelions were thick in the tall green grass, and everywhere we looked, the earth was ripe with the fresh beauty of spring.

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“If we want our children to stay hungry for knowledge, remain interested in questioning, enjoy the wonder of discovery, then we must leave them some clutter-free hours for friendship, the great out-of-doors, the rich world of imagination and the satisfaction of the skilled use of art supplies, music, dance, wood and clay.”

– Elaine Cooper

 

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“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

― G.K. Chesterton

 

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“Together teacher and child are under a higher authority. The child should not be asked to be good to please a parent or teacher. Children and the adults both must choose to obey God. Both are learning to be better people, and both children and adults are interested in learning from books, nature, art, music. Ideas are discussed. Thought is important. Children have amazing ideas and grow in proper self-esteem as they are listened to and allowed to be themselves. Too many of us treat education as a competition, with some idea of success as the objective. The approach is bad for the winners and bad for the losers, who only see themselves more or less as failures. Such a narrow focus ignores children’s strong points, their gifts.”

– Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

 

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you will find the talk i gave on homeschooling below! my husband and i made the decision to begin homeschooling our children while we were living on the road two years ago. we were not in one place long enough to enroll them in traditional school and felt that adventure had sparked a flame for learning in our children. they journaled and gained knowledge in the roots of nature… yellowstone national park, the grand teton mountains, the redwood forest. we thought we may consider a waldorf style education once we settled but we had fallen in love with homeschooling. our family bond has been strengthened, our children have flourished, and we have truly seen the benefits of being able to cater our style of teaching toward the individual gifts of each child and the way that each learn best. we follow the charlotte mason classically-based principles of education and use amblesideonline.org curriculum. we do not know what the future holds, of course, but as long as homeschooling seems to be the most beneficial choice for needs of the children and for our family, we hope to continue on throughout their education.

click play below for my wild & free conference recording...

Joy Prouty - Homeschooling Talk: WILD & FREE from joy prouty on Vimeo.

Harvesting Hope: A life worth remembering.

When we moved into our new house last year, I pondered what to hang on the walls. Our old photo canvases and prints were still in storage. I thought back on all of our professional family photos and realized that I had also avoided hanging those at our old house; they sat for years in a pile on our bedroom floor.  When I looked at those pictures, I always remembered how I’d felt during the shoot, and it felt heavy.  I remembered how much Gracie hated the scratchy dress I told her she had to wear, how Donny and I argued on the way there.  I saw the antique props that I purchased the day before to look like they had character and stories.  But the stories were not ours. And, over the years as a photographer, with each client session that I photographed, I began to cringe whenever the parents quietly begged their children to behave, and bribes were on hand to help hide away the tears.  When the sun finally set, and I said "finished," it was common that the parents would allow their shoulders to finally relax; the children would kick off their shoes; and that’s when the authentic beauty would shine the brightest.  But by then the daylight had already faded, and my camera was put away.

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As an artist, it tortured me.

This past year, Donny and I worked through a lot of heavy stuff.  In the years leading up to our move, we were going in fast motion, and we didn't take the time we needed to nurture our marriage.  After years of continually feeling exhausted and unfulfilled, we got fed up, sold our home and all of our belongings, traveled the country looking for a place that felt like home, then put down roots on a farm in Washington state.  Once we settled into a simpler lifestyle, we found the time we needed to work through our pain.  We faced hard truths. We let go of years of bitterness. We learned how to anchor our respect for one another.  And we found a wellspring of hope in the midst of our healing.

This growth in my personal life stirred up something in me as an artist.

I had stopped taking pictures of our daily life with my big camera around mid-winter, soon after we moved into our new home, and I didn’t start up again until just recently.  Vulnerability takes a serious amount of bravery, and I was afraid. I didn’t want to look back on photos of this time and be reminded of all our pain.

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I closed my eyes one night and thought about what I would want my children to remember when looking back on photographs from this time. I saw the photographs all shot as gritty black and whites.  They would be super grainy; because I get up early with the little girls, before the sun has a chance to rise; and also because grainy film feels raw and unkempt, exactly how I would describe this current chapter of our life.

Clementine curled up in a ball beside me, her special quilt trailing off the side of the bed and onto the floor.  The photo would be taken straight from above, as I sing softly to her trying to soothe her back to sleep.

We’d tiptoe in the darkness towards Mabel’s room, with only a strip of light coming from the bathroom at the end of the hall.  Clem would hold my hand, dressed in an oversized t-shirt hanging down over one shoulder, bare feet, and her messy hair backlit just enough for me to see the paint in her bangs from the project we did the night before.

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One perfect ringlet curl twisting down at the nape of Mabel’s neck, her face messy from the yogurt that she just pulled out of the fridge.  In the dark kitchen, we’d glow by the light of the fridge, accidentally left wide open. Instead of closing it, I would join my girls on the floor and sing. And, sometimes, there would be bittersweet tears.  The photos would be dramatic and honest.

When I imagined this, I felt a healing begin within me.  It struck me that, perhaps, this kind of photography could also be healing to others.

I saw the potential for so much beauty in a photo session that focused on the pursuit of hope.

 

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When I quiet my mind to take notice of the details in my day, with no other reason except to pursue being grateful, I am always drawn to the bright spots. God speaks to me in the stillness. When I close my mouth to my own discouraging thoughts and take my lens cap off, I allow myself to listen.  Sometimes what I hear isn’t what I had hoped for, but that only pushes me harder through the darkness to find the light.

 

That is what photographs have always been for me: stepping stones out of grief into a place of clarity.

 

Over the years I have photographed a wide variety of themed photo sessions, and each was a beautiful expression of that current season for myself and for my client.  The most enjoyable part for me has always been getting to know the small, unique details about a family to figure out what makes them truly come alive; and then brainstorming how to tell their personal story through photographs in the most creative, authentic way, while doing justice to the beautiful story entrusted to me.

People have asked me, at times, to create fantasy type sessions for them that they have seen on Pinterest or in magazines.  In digging deeper, I've uncovered a better story in my subjects, one that is authentically their own.  It surprises my clients when I tell them the most magical and life-giving stories are happening in the quiet moments of their very own home.  Where he proposed to her on the living room floor.  Where they opened their wedding presents, and then, years later, where they brought their babies home from the hospital.  And where they fold laundry and tell bedtime stories and prepare food to nourish their family.  And where they cling to one another at the end of a long day, instead of to someone else’s idea of perfection.

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I began to think of when I had felt the most alive in my career as a photographer, and realized it was during the documentation of birth.  There is no room for perfection or cleanliness or forced expressions at a birth.  There is also no time limit.  I am allowed to be present, but I do not intercede.  I am a fly on the wall during one of the most intimate, painful and spiritual experiences of another’s life.  I ached for that same level of depth in my family portraiture.

Photography is about images but it does not have to be about appearances.

 

I remembered one of my favorite photographs of my grandma, taken in the mid 1900’s.  She was about the age I am now, in her backyard in upstate New York,  on a ladder up under her apple tree, with her sunhat and her fruit basket.  She was not posed and she was looking straight into the camera with a look of pure contentment.  It makes me yearn to have known that side of her.  I would have loved to have asked her how she picked the perfect apple.  That photograph captured a slice of her spirit that had dimmed a bit by the time I knew her.  I searched for a photo that even sensed a bit of that from her later years, but I only found posed images.

When in American history did the idea of glorified perfection in photographs take hold?  Photography changed when Kodak introduced the first consumer-friendly camera.  Kodak advertisements featured celebrations and joyful events. Their slogans were all an effort to sell photography with happiness;  “Kodak knows no dark days”,  “Save your happy moments with a Kodak.”  In time, these "Kodak moments" became the new American standard for how a pleasing, “happy” photo should look.

The idea of perfection had become more important than honesty.

 

I did a photo session for a friend that had just been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.  My task was to document the last time she would breastfeed her daughter, which occurred the day before she was going to have her head shaven.  The baby girl nursed, stroking her mama’s long hair and happily nuzzled into the extra cushy skin that held her, completely safe and comforted.  Our time together was heartbreaking, but so very beautiful, because of how we were all truly present in that moment.

The importance of this documentation made my job no longer a job.  This was one of those soul-altering moments when I remembered the reason I wanted to pursue photography so many years ago, and why, ultimately, I had been given this gift of wanting to look a little longer for traces of gratitude in everyday life.

I saw my friend again about a year later.  I barely recognized her as the chemo treatments had weakened her body so much, but her spirit was strong.  She told me,

“Thank you, Joy, for those pictures.  I felt so fat that day but I knew it was important that we took them.  When I look at them now I see how healthy I was.  I see all the beauty.”

 Photographs that spread true hope are never contrived.  They are the most honest of them all, the ones that take your breath away and make you want to truly live.

 

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So, with that, friends, I urge you to take notice.  Notice when life is passing you by and fight to stay present.  Fight against fear when it tells you that there isn’t anything worth remembering.  Because those days become years; and, before you know it, you’ve missed it.  Don’t miss it.  Start documenting life in your own home. Don’t worry if there is still laundry on the floor from last week.  Soon your babies will outgrow those clothes, and your hands won’t be as full, and when you look back at that photograph you took so many years ago, with little muddy shirts and pants on the floor, you will feel a longing just at the sight of it.

It is worth remembering.

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I spent many hours over many months in our garden this summer, and it was good for my soul.  When we preserved our food, I found the sweetest jams came from the fruit allowed to ripen on the vine the longest.  My sweet pea flowers had their most lovely aroma once fully in bloom.  And my brussels sprouts, if picked too soon, were too bitter to taste.  It was all about needing enough time to mature.

The season that is unrushed has the most beautiful harvest.

 

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Whether the photo shoot lasts one hour or a whole day, I will always do my best to tell the most authentic story for my subjects.  However, I can no longer ignore the whispering from my soul to push beyond the curtain of the golden hour...

 

I want more time with families. I want to be in their homes for an entire day and night.

the tangled morning hair the steam rising from the coffee pot the frost on the windows with traces of tiny fingerprints from months of faces pressed against the glass

I want the messy.

the laundry on the couch the scribbles on the wall the height chart at the end of the hall with all the notches the papers left on the counter the muddy shoes kicked off by the front door

I want to sit on the dusty floor and listen to the sounds of the home. the songs coming from the shower the ice cream truck driving down the street the humming of the fridge the laughing the crying the patching it all up.

I want to be there at 2am, in the quiet. peeking in from the hallway photographing the strip of light that falls across the daddy rocking his baby in the moonlight, as he cries and hopes he is doing it all right.

I want to sit at the kitchen table and see a husband wrap his arms around his wife’s hips as she is making dinner at the stove.

I want to photograph that little glimpse of hope in the midst of the witching hour as the toddler is melting down on the kitchen floor.

If there is sadness, I don’t want it hidden. If there is bliss, I want dancing. I want togetherness.

More than anything, I want time to allow everyone to get comfortable enough to be honest, whatever that looks like.

 

You may feel broken.  You may feel imperfect. You may feel like this chapter of your story is not one worth remembering. But it is.  The most beautiful chapter of life is the one that does not go unnoticed.

 

 here you will see my documentation of 24 hours in the home of the shearer family.  this is the beauty that my heart has been wandering to find.

 

"You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

 

*I will be opening up my schedule in early 2015 to travel for a limited number of these new 24 hour documentary photo sessions.  They will be called HARVEST SESSIONS and you can learn more about them by clicking here.

 

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