Personal Stuff

At Home in Texas as a family of 7!

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When we arrived in Washington, two years and three months ago, we had merely picked a place on the map and jumped. Drawn to the fresh air, the tall trees and the fog that settled low on the mountains. It was a place to rest, a safe place to grow. We planted seeds and waited through the cold winter. Far from anything and anyone familiar. We wrestled. We surrendered and held our breath awaiting spring. In that cold, as husband and wife, we dug deep into past hurts and saw that although we had been on the adventure together, for so long we had been walking alone. In that moment we chose to fight hard for the good. The light persisted, breaking down all our walls; it was hope. It was gentleness. We began to document all of our gratitude flowing out of the struggle and our list of thanks grew and grew. Our seeds took root and blossomed. Warmth opened the petals and we saw one another anew. The soft springtime breeze carried that love into every corner of our darkness until only hope remained. In April we renewed sacred vows, bare toes in the meadow with the laughter of our children as our melody of grace in all the days that followed. With an undeserved gift woven from all the broken threads being knit together within me, a baby boy. Redemption.

For the first time in our marriage we prayed together. We listened for guidance. And over time we felt a calling to step out, from the mossy forest to a land drenched in warmth. A season for all things new, as we no longer need a place to burrow in; but a place to give, to share, to build community, and to hold our faces up to the sun and exhale. Hearts engulfed, souls exposed, arms open wide, control released, prayers lifted up, we took the leap. With my belly ripe and expectancy hanging thick, we held tight to each other and the calling that whispered from deep within. And now we are here, in the Texas Hill Country, all seven of us, this new tiny babe cooing sweetly upon my chest. We aren't clear as to what the next chapter holds but we know we must choose gentle words, tenderness and humility to light the way. And for now, we bask in evenings flooded with pink sunsets and wide open skies, giving thanks for the abundant mercy raining down all around us.

 

Here are photographs of our days so far here in Texas… the first half expectant for a miracle and the second half savoring our new baby boy.

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on january 1st, the day ushering in all things new, our son was born. smith james prouty. 7 pounds, 4 ounces and 19 inches long. born in the living room of our new home in the wee hours of the morning. s_0042s_0043s_0044s_0045s_0046s_0047s_0048s_0049s_0050s_0051s_0052s_0053s_0054s_0055s_0056s_0057s_0058s_0059s_0060s_0061s_0062s_0063s_0064s_0065s_0066s_0067s_0068s_0069s_0070s_0071s_0072s_0073s_0074s_0075s_0076s_0077s_0078s_0079s_0080s_0081s_0082s_0083s_0084

A Heart Set on Fire.

We traveled to the east coast this past weekend to shoot a wedding.  Donny and I sat on the first leg of our early morning flight. He nudged me, “See that?!” and motioned towards the windows on the opposite side of the plane. I saw it instantly: a fire in the sky, rich with pinks and purples and oranges.

He knows my love affair with the colors of Creation.  First, I looked to the closest window, right across the aisle, but my vision was blocked. The flight was packed to the brim with passengers. They were gripping laptops and coffee cups, snacks and tabloids, all the “necessities” we bring aboard a six hour flight.

I struggled in my seat to find a good view. Just beyond those dirty, thick airplane windows, there was a majestic gift just waiting to meet my gaze. I leaned forward and back and stretched my neck all around, but, despite my efforts, I just couldn’t fully see the beauty.

 

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Every moment, the glow of the colors grew richer and more vibrant, calling to me in a language I understood more clearly than words.  I was on the right side of the plane. Five passengers sat between me and the sunrise. I desperately wanted to press my face against the windows, but I sat, buckled in. A feeling of deep dread grew stronger within me with each passing second. My winter boots were laced up tight, and my down coat with the furry hood was wrapped around me in anticipation of the snowstorm we knew was waiting for us in New York.  These things normally gave warmth and comfort, but I only felt trapped, so very aware that I had no choice but to stay still, separated from the incredible miracle just out of reach.

That was when I realized I was the only one looking towards the sun.  All of the passengers that were lucky enough to have a front row ticket to the glory on the left side of the plane just ignored its existence.

I rose out of my seat a bit, lifting my body with my arms, searching for one person that saw what I saw.  No faces looked heavenward.  There was no acknowledgment of the obvious miracle just one glance away.   I said to Donny, “Do you notice that not one person is watching the sunrise?!”  And, before he could respond, I said again, louder, and with more passion, “Can you believe that no one is seeing the sunrise??!!!”  He giggled at me, familiar with how I can start a personal mission to make everything right in the world.

I was painfully aware that I couldn’t leave my seat.  I was trapped, separated from the divine. I just wanted to swim in the vibrancy I saw out there, to heal my wounds and release the art locked within my bones. I felt the heat rise up in my body, first to my palms, then to my chest, and finally to my face, my blood boiling from the inside out.  A fire raged within me, desperately burning with wild fearlessness.

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deeply.  Thoughts rushed through my mind.  I remembered how I have always looked for the deepest meaning in things others may see just as ordinary, or not worth taking note of.  I wanted to scream to those passengers in the airplane “LOOK! DO NOT LET IT PASS YOU BY! FEEL THAT WARMTH AGAINST YOUR SKIN!  DON’T YOU SEE THAT A MIRACLE IS JUST BEYOND THE WINDOWPANE?!!”

Tears dripped down my face.

The flames of fire within me then turned to introspection.  This is how I have felt all of my life.  My mom struggled with my extreme passion ever since I was born. She told me that, from the age of 15 months, I had a story to tell.  Throughout my preschool and elementary years, she was always trying to keep my hands and mind busy, or else I would find a way to channel that zeal elsewhere.  I had so much within me.

There was also much pain in my childhood, concerning my father.  Combined with my born intensity, I had to get it out.  I filled diary after diary. In third grade I wrote a book of poems; they were tender and dark, with simple hope as a theme.  I remember writing them in my backyard, under our apricot trees, rolling around in the long grass. Even then I would escape into nature, outside of the house that often felt suffocating.  When I was alone, I didn’t feel lonely; it allowed me to create. The quieting of my own mind and mouth allowed me to listen for inspiration.

These days, I am practicing quite a bit of intentional quiet. Looking more closely for breadcrumbs along the way. Not disregarding the small details of the day as coincidental or meaningless.  Writing things down, writing a lot of things down.  Keeping my mind clear and allowing myself the space I need to listen for truth.   Pushing back against distraction tactics that I can often use to numb my deep thoughts. Refusing to believe the lie whispered in my ear that I am not qualified to instruct wisdom to others.

The voices of doubts are false. We each have a story of hope to add to the world. We have to tell those voices to shut up, then just do the thing we were created to do.

After 15 years of pushing down my passion for introspection, I am giving myself permission to scream from the rooftops. Being a deep thinker can be lonely; it can feel isolating; and it is a heavy burden. But that’s because getting your words and your art out into the world is so valuable and desperately needed.

I am sick of surface talk.  I want to no longer spend time filling space with pretty words and happy endings, just because I think that it is safe.  I want to talk about things that matter.  I want to really, truly know people.  I was born to be an artist, the kind that has to feel things so heavily that it often leaves me breathless and on the floor.  But this new freedom also feels productive.  For years, I was pushing it aside and it made me miserable.  That untapped energy manifested itself into severe anxiety and panic attacks, never feeling comfortable in my own skin and feeling lost.  But I remember again.  A fire is burning, and I am desperately and intentionally fanning that flame, purely by taking notice.

I took a break from social media.  I needed some time away, to reassess my existence and remember who I belong to and who I began creating for in the first place.  I realize now that my previous unsettled feelings were because I avoided diving into the deep waters of surrender, where the Spirit and muse for my creation is always found.  I also thought that, because I hid from my depths for so long, that I could never find that burning fire again without attaching guilt or shame or embarrassment to all my brooding reflections.

When I wrote my harvest session post, it was the first step in recovering my direction. Just saying those things publicly and taking a stand for what I wanted my work to 100% represent brought rest, professionally and for my art.  It was time for me to give myself permission to channel and express myself in a way that would bring a new kind of rest, for the core of who I am in my soul and for who I was created to be.  I was knit together with extra empathy and sensitivity with great favor.  It was no accident.  It is not to be numbed.  It may be lonely but I am not alone.   I feel the Spirit nudging me and affirming me.   I am savoring each breadcrumb, accepting the freedom of knowing who I am and how I need to express it.  And all those words that were trapped and jumbled within me for so long, well, in these last few weeks, they have become poetry.

We returned from our New York trip last night, just in time to witness one of the most unbelievably vivid sunsets we have seen since moving to Washington sixteen months ago.  I held Clementine’s hand, and we walked beneath the willow tree and sat down on a fallen trunk beside the pond.  We sat silently, eyes wide, taking in the glory until the sky turned a dark shade of violet. We both began to shiver a bit.  This morning, when she woke up, she ran to the window, heartbroken at what she saw, crying and howling at the sky, “Oh no!!!  It didn’t come back!  The sunset!”

As she cried and cried, I scooped her up and held her in my arms.  I told her, “Clem, it’s there. We just can’t see it yet!  We don’t know if it will come back tonight or tomorrow, but we will just keep watching.”

 

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"Are you born a writer?  Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace?  In the end the question can only be answered by action.  Do it or don't do it.  It may help to think of it this way;  if you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt me, you hurt the planet...  You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along it's path back to God.  Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor.  It's a gift to the world and every being in it.  Don't cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you've got."   - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

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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