Michelle & Kellan's Wedding

“The garden where you sitHas never a need of flowers, For you are the blossoms And only a fool or the blind Would fail to know it” ― Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli's Mandolinmichellan

michelle is like blood to me. kin. a sister. the best way to sum her up in that she loves people well. she is the most thoughtful person i have ever had the honor to know up close. she began, years ago, as our babysitter, then assistant to me, office manager and has traveled the country to be by my side at countless workshops, becoming my confidant of every thought within the corners of my mind. she's seen me at my worst and loved me just the same. she gives openly. she does not judge. she never seems to think of herself and makes every person she encounters feel that they are the most treasured in all the world. these words seem insufficient and cheap even compared to how closely i hold michelle to my heart.

i didn't think it would be possible for any man to be worthy of a love like hers. but then we met kellan. she brought him to our home last year for us to meet him for the first time during our workshop reunion. it was a busy weekend but i watched from afar as he and michelle would giggle and kiss when no one was looking, he did dishes with a smile, he danced with michelle in our kitchen, just purely exuding sweetness. i realized that he was her perfect match… the same soul existing in two bodies. when i attended their wedding in round top, texas at rachel ashwell's the prairie last month, i listened to hundreds of their friends and family say almost the exact same thing about them. these two, they are pure joy. they are each wise and established on their own… they didn't need to find another person to be complete, however, they make each other so much more alive for being together. they are a blossoming tree. and each of us that passes by their fragrance is left better because of it.

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“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.” ― Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli's Mandolin

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gardella family - a harvest session.

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i have long admired the gardellas. michelle's fierce passion and glorious artistry, thomas' gentle, loving spirit and humble bravery as he leads his family, and their two little beautiful humans, lily and braedon, who themselves are filled to the brim with quirky creativity, tender daydreams and wisdom far beyond their years. i have the honor of calling them friends, although family would perhaps describe the kinship better. and i know that anyone who has met them feels their genuine warmth burning from their hearts right down to their toes and into every soul they encounter. i spent a day with them at their home in austin, texas; arriving just before they woke up to an unkempt house, messy hair and bleary eyes, as requested.

michelle told me, "i want my children to remember this: that they, and we, are enough, even in our most undone and real moments. we are beautiful even when things aren't pretty."

while these images speak for themselves, i did feel that since the gardellas are, themselves, so eloquent with words, that i would share some of their writings that i gathered from their online journals alongside the photographs.  you'll also notice these are all in black & white, as requested by michelle. timeless and not a bit fancy.

these four souls, they just bleed love.

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Thomas about Michelle: "I have learned so much from her. How to love. How to be silly. How to open my heart to the world. But more than anything I have learned how to be a better dad from watching and experiencing her be such an amazing mom to our children."

Michelle about Thomas: "He always knows how to bring my heavy heart back into the light."

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Thomas about Lily: "I am certain I have known this soul for many lifetimes."

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Thomas about Michelle: "The little things about her I love… her side of the bed just after waking up. Her soft white blanket still warm while dreams slowly fade from memory. I cherish every moment with her."

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Michelle about Thomas: "If you were to throw a pebble in a lake it might make a tiny ripple, but if you happened to be super mini and sailing on an ant-sized ship, that tiny ripple would feel like an enormous wave. I am living this life on an ant-sized ship. Most days I see my highly sensitive nature as a huge blessing. Especially when it comes to my art. But somedays, my goodness it just feels like too much. And on those oh-my-goodness-my-heart-is-breaking-every-second-because-this-sunset-is-reminding-me-of-my-third-grade-lunch-lady-who-had-cancer-one-year-and-wore-orange-days, he is my anchor. He keeps my boat from capsizing or swirling out to a sea filled with pirates."

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Michelle about Braedon: " Me: I will always love you with every inch of my soul. Him: Well, I will always love you from here to the ends of the universe, therefor, it is always expanding."

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Thomas about Braedon: "He is more perfect than I could have ever imagined. Every time I look at him I am so grateful. Grateful for the amazing times I have spent with him over the years. He has such a huge heart… just like his incredible mom."

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Michelle about Lily: "Her sweetly spun fairytale, her messy hair, backwards Goodwill dress, arm resting on my leg... I don't want to let this go. I need to hold on to the seemingly simple moments like this, that, on every birthday since I can remember, I blew out the candles, and wished so hard for."

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Thomas about Michelle: "No matter what comes at us I know that she will always be there for me and our family. Never have I met someone so brave and true. She amazes me every single day."

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Michelle about Thomas: "I crept in on his nap so I could smell his neck."

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Thomas about Braedon: "At some point he went from cradled in my arms and rocking him to sleep to building and giving presentations on oscillating water generators."

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Michelle: "I follow their freckles like sailors look to the constellations, when their ships are lost at sea."

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Michelle about Lily & Braedon: "She called out asking for someone to help her button her sweater. He came running over. I don't know much about previous lives, but I do know, without a doubt, their bond is millions of lifetimes strong."

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Thomas about Michelle: "Hearing her blow dry her hair with Lily singing and dancing around her always makes me smile."

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Michelle about Braedon: "He has the kindest, most forgiving heart I have ever witnessed. I have seen him angry twice. The love I have for this human being is otherworldly and swallows me whole. Every freckle on his shoulders. Every sound effect he makes while playing. Every comic he draws in his notebooks. Every dance move. Every huge hug he gives his sister. Every morning snuggle. Every single second that I get to be his Mama."

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Thomas about Lily: "This girl has my heart. Always."

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Michelle: "Me- Lily want to do my daily meditation together? Lily- Sure! (giggles nonstop for ten minutes.)"

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Thomas about Michelle: "Everyday she works hard to live her truth and balance family and passion and art and income. We are so honored and blessed to have her as a mom and wife."

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Michelle: "My children know what it is like to be loved right up close, and to have parents who, by ungraceful but passionate example, live to nurture both the wilderness within, and afoot."

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Mia & Sean's Wedding - Valentines Day in New Jersey

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the snow flurries began at one in the afternoon on valentines day.   he toasted with his friends and she cried with hers and the snow fell silently, preparing the way for them to walk together, for the rest of their lives.  they met at the carriage house that almost felt like connecticut and a world away from manhattan; a place where new life would grow.  she was running late, she closed her eyes with intention and the snow gathered upon her lashes, and he took her hand, and they took in that winter air and exhaled deeply, as one.  it all seemed frantic until he saw her.  all the words were too loud until they stood in that falling snow in the silence.  their eyes smiled and his shoulders relaxed and she came alive.  their friends and family gathered and candles were lit and vows were promised.  the snow fell thick all around them, as if it all took place in a dream and they danced into the night like the only ones, free with abandon.  it was the valentines day her grandmother had once given her as a little girl and why this day of the year was the one choice to celebrate a love this sacred.

i haven't gone through nearly half the images from this wedding but i felt drawn to share these.  the anticipation feels like a first date and the newness of snow feels like a daydream, but it's the maturity of their love, the security and the strength you can feel as they stand beside one another that truly makes me love these photographs.  it's the standing still, trusting, being covered by love in a way that it can actually be seen and felt in the snow.  truly, that is all i can hope for my art.

 

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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.

Harvest Session: The Robbins Family

i wrote this post in december titled 'Harvesting Hope: A life worth remembering'.  if you didn't have a chance to read it then, i'd love for you to take a few minutes when things are quiet, with a cup of something good in your palm, and read it.  and if you did read it, thank you deeply.  thank you for your love, i felt it and i do feel it.  vulnerability is a fragile, delicate thing… like taking a great big leap into something unknown, with the hope of beauty below.  a sea of beauty.  i am swimming in it.  sometimes it is isolating but that is when i am just keeping my eyes on myself.  it is in the looking up, being expectant for the warmth from the sun, and the racing after gratitude that reminds me of all the grace. robbinsharvest-717_b&w

thank you for your comments, your support, and for those of you that expressed interest in having me into your homes to document your family for a full 24 hours.  i have begun traveling for these harvest sessions.  i am so very giddy to share this one with you.  i took many MANY photographs.  i ended up with 800 final color images (actually 1600, since there is a duplicate set in black & white).  and in this little slideshow that i made to share with you there are 200 of my favorites.  i just couldn't narrow them down any further.  these sessions are so different than my normal portrait sessions because the goal is not for a smiley happy all together posed photograph.  i am just beside you, doing your normal routine, on a normal day of your life.  i tread lightly, i try to stay back but not too much, and we become friends in the in-between, i talk to you about your heart and share mine and we are forever bonded by this special and sacred shared pursuit of hope through photographs.

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the robbins family invited me into their home to document their current season of life for 24 hours and bethany, the mama, sent this to me about her family to share here,

"These people in my little family are so dear to me-Daniel, my husband, and I both are constantly in awe of our children and each other, but we truly do not deserve such a safe and beautiful life. We've seen death and disease and extreme poverty-not just seen it, but we've held it and tasted it and seen hopelessness. We also truly have felt and witnessed healing and we have a great hope that all will be made new!  For our children, we long to help them understand their faith, to hold onto the promises given to them by God and homeschooling gives me the opportunity to gently show them who they are, who they are meant to worship and how they are meant to do that. Of course, I long for them to be geniuses and to love learning, but most of all, I want them to have a deep knowledge and love of the Lord.  I also don't want their days spent memorizing things and learning to please their peers. We hope to give them a strong foundation so they are confident in God's love and don't feel the need to seek that from anyone else in unhealthy ways. I've been so inspired and encouraged to actually lead my children through their education rather than teach them to be performers. I've always loved DOING things with my children-what better way to learn than by discovering God's own artwork through the eyes of my children.  We live in a beautiful place for such learning and I'm determined not to take it for granted!  Honestly, this photo shoot is so timely for us as we prepare our hearts for foster care-putting ourselves in the midst of someone's mess-opening our hearts and helping to carry the burden of broken families.  But we're being led by our loving father and that's where we get our strength, it's been so sweet enjoying this time with just the five of us and a new chapter is about to begin. Daniel and I should not be alive, let alone happily married with 3 healthy children. It's all such a gift!"

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and below you will find the little movie/slideshow of my favorite 200.  photographing from the wee hours of the morning until late in the evening with the moon big and bright.  it was a normal day for them so dad went to work in the morning as usual and it was a true gift for me to watch bethany homeschool, seeing a full day in her schoolhouse start to finish.  i am surely a better mother, wife and teacher because of my time beside her, seeing her knead bread for dinner, make baby laugh and thoughtfully guide her boys with  intentional learning.  she made the everyday magical.  and when daddy came home at the end of the workday, well, that's my favorite part.  make sure to make it full screen.  enjoy.  :)

HARVEST SESSION - Robbins Family from joy prouty on Vimeo.

The George Family: a Motherhood Session.

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.”   -Maya Angelou 1

the beautiful mother you see in these photographs, helen joy, wrote me this email months back when she asked me to photograph her family:

 

"I feel that no one has ever captured that certain beauty I feel wash over me when I am with my babies.  Maybe it’s because I never trust the photographer fully to get it or maybe it’s because my kids are crazy and I feel like I spend photo sessions trying to get everyone to get into place and just so for the very non flexible photographer.  I would love one “imperfect” shot of me with them.  I know and trust that you will be able to capture it.  I told my mother the other day that I hate looking into the mirror because I FEEL so much more beautiful than I see in a photograph or in a mirror.  So I prefer to live my days just feeling the beauty.  This is not to say I want to look thinner or more beautiful.  It’s just that no one has ever caught that still, small moment of a piece of heaven that I feel scattered through our chaotic days.  I believe after all my searching that you are the one who can find the beauty in me that I feel when I'm with my babies."

 

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what a gift those words were to me.   i kept that secret hope for the documentation of her motherhood tucked deep into my heart as i took these photographs.  when i look at them i can almost hear her loud, deep, contagious laugh, her head thrown back in bliss, standing on the sand nursing her baby girl, her hair blowing wild in the island wind.

so, to you, helen joy, i say this:  YOU are a masterpiece.  not only because you are a mother, but because you are the most alive human being i think i have ever met, full of a million feelings and convictions and dreams.  you have shown me that beauty shines from within, and that intoxicating light just pours out of you, drenching everyone in your presence with tenderness.  you are a gift.  thank you for choosing me.  i hope that when you look at these images you see truth and depth and all of the beauty i witnessed.  it was almost too much for my eyes to hold.

 

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these photographs were taken on the tiny island of north captiva on the southern tip of florida.  the george family drove 13 hours each way to meet me for the session all the way from asheville, north carolina!  they rented a little beach house for a few days where they knew it would be as close to their happy place as they could imagine.

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The Beaman Family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

beaman-164 the beaman family invited me into their home in jackson hole, wyoming to document their summertime in this beautiful current chapter of life for their family.  they all planned to meet in jackson hole at the river house and i would meet them there as well… the place where they all gathered each year for summertime and Christmastime and to pack in as many memories as possible in the short time they were all together.  the barn out in the flower pasture was brought to the property all the way from virginia and put back together out there in the perfect spot.  as their daughters flew in, each from a different school, i got to spend a magical afternoon beforehand with a good man and his boy and their dog, their favorite thing to do together.  i got to stand back and soak in all in, a true postcard of scenery before my eyes with the snow peaked Grand Teton Mountains in the background!  the next morning as everyone trickled in, i sat at their breakfast table and listened to stories from years past and crazy summer adventures along the water's edge in that house.  i had fresh pancakes made by mama with extra butter to the sounds of laughter.  the boys were out kayaking, the ladies knitted and then played volleyball out in the yard (they were competitive, it was awesome) and i had the honor of photographing the rest of their day in the sunshine.  i loved the whole experience of this.  the gathering.  the time set aside with intention to love and savor.  and then the documentation of memory making where the whole family can be themselves, doing the things each of them hopes the children remember most when they are grown.  i am so looking forward to photographing more of these family reunion weekend gatherings in my harvest sessions this coming year.

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Wildflowers Workshop Reunion Party!

reunion-226 when i began teaching workshops a few years back, i never imagined the community that would grow as the fruit from my taking that first step towards telling my story.  these women have become some of my best friends.  they are the real deal.  they are honest and brave and gentle and strong.  they are mothers and sisters and artists and dreamers.

apart we are a flame trying to stay lit, but together the fires of creation burn wild and free; it can be intoxicating!  something happens when women gather that stirs the soul.  i think oftentimes the attendees arrive dry and simply just wanting more.  out of life and the art of photo taking and quietly hoping for someone to perhaps give them the permission to do that one amazing thing that they never thought they'd be brave enough to do.

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i've had the honor of seeing women release years of burdens piled upon their own shoulders, i've watched galleries be unveiled and passion projects emerge from the women that perhaps came with the most fear.  because i teach, i feel so strongly about never becoming stagnant in in own personal art.  for me to inspire others i must always be inching closer and closer towards my own truth to tell the story of my own family and those of my clients' in the most heartfelt and focused way.

not too long ago i felt a personal shift in me occurring and, since, i have been so open with my workshop attendees about my personal feelings and the evolution in my own photography.  that fire burning within me for true authenticity in imagery.  i never want to stop digging.  what a gift i have been given in facilitating an experience that fills my own cup, time and time again, while also giving these women a place to feel safe enough let their fires rise up and burn brightly from the ashes.

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we opened up our home to all of my past workshop attendees from over the years and scheduled it while our apple orchards were in peak harvest season.  basically, we put on a big party… lots of hard apple cider, dancing in the pouring rain, good comfort food, sleeping on stacks of quilts and laughing into the wee hours, coffee on the porch, apple crumbles with vanilla ice cream and balsamic reduction for a midnight snack and crying and bonding and catching up and sitting in the hot tub beneath a rainstorm and picking flowers and resting and just letting it all go.

it was glorious.  the second day was pretty wet so we picked up a bunch of the maple leaves from the yard, left our muddy boots by the door, everyone dried their leaves by the wood stove and then we started to paint them.

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i dug out all our kid craft supplies and the most imperfectly perfect wildflower crowns were created.  i think a good flower crown brings out the giddiness in a lady because from there on there was a bit of magic in the air as we danced in the orchards and then sat beneath the willow tree by the pond and each spoke about our journeys toward gratitude.   reunion-108 reunion-117 reunion-118reunion-280reunion-147 reunion-151 reunion-155 these women are incredible.  i didn't properly document each woman but i will hold them dear to my heart always.  (and take a lot more photos at the next reunion!)reunion-159 reunion-163 reunion-165 reunion-166 reunion-167 reunion-169 reunion-170 reunion-178 reunion-180 reunion-182 reunion-183 reunion-184 reunion-187 reunion-188 reunion-190 reunion-201 reunion-206 reunion-208 reunion-215 reunion-216 reunion-217.3 reunion-217.4 reunion-217 reunion-218.4reunion-222reunion-231 reunion-237 reunion-244 reunion-246 reunion-247 reunion-251 reunion-252 reunion-253 reunion-255 reunion-256reunion-259 reunion-262reunion-269 reunion-270reunion-101

a few of my favorite wildflowers also wrote and documented their time at this reunion party and i would be so honored for you to go visit their posts and enjoy their gorgeous photos and soak in their heartwarming words about the wildflowers workshop & reunion experience (they documented more than i did of the whole 3 days).  here are the links to four posts about the reunion in particular that made me laugh and cry all at once:

Apples & Honey Photography - Kelsey Clark,

Paper Deer Photo - Jayme Ford,

As Ever Photography - Jenny Corbett,

Sarah Libby Photography - Sarah Thompson

and you MUST watch this breathtaking video that amy teague at happily situated created with footage from this reunion.  i adore the feeling and the motion of it all so much!

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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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