lifestyle photography

Sixteen

Graham-100.jpg

Here we are...sweet sixteen.

I'm not sure it feels as sweet from this end.  No longer my snuggly little boy. Not yet a full independent man. But you are well on your way. It's inevitable. The clock just ticks along...and with each passing day, change is eminent.

You tower over me now. At 6'1", you are man-sized. But its your spirit that remains so sweet. It's still got the innocence of you when you were a toddler waking up from a nap – bleary-eyed and drunk with thoughts of dreams that made you full of wonder and curiosity. Sometimes, it makes it hard for me to see you as the man you are becoming.

This past year was hard. It was a year of growth. A year of hurdles. You gave up a little, and then you gave it all you had. You learned such big lessons about life. You know when to ask for help and where to look for it. You know what struggle looks like and how it feels to be hopeless. More importantly, you know how it feels to be empowered. Strong. Capable. And in control. You know how to change the story with mindset, grit and grace.

The year ahead will be something you remember forever. I often reflect on my 16 year-old self and what she did. The mistakes she made and the trails she faced. So this is my advice to you: Make good choices.  You are ready for the year ahead, but the world will test you - pushing back like a the bully it can be. That's how it works. Stand resilient in it's face. Just keep remembering who you are.

You are good.

You are kind.

You are strong.

You are smart.

You are talented beyond your years.

You are gracious.

And yes, you are beautiful. Full of heart. Full of soul. And full of wonder.

 

You are wonder-full.

I love you, sweet Graham. Happy Birthday.

 

My Best Life

 Shooting on farm with sunflowers and toddlers...this is my best life.

Shooting on farm with sunflowers and toddlers...this is my best life.

Right now, I am living my best life.

Wait...I take that back.

I am living my 95% life.

The reason for the 95%...because I always hope there is room for improvement. I hope there is always space in my life for the phrase, "I can do better." If I think about it, that IS my best life. Always striving for something greater. Otherwise we become complacent, right? We become comfortable. And that is where we stop growing.

I have had an amazing year this past year. I have worked in situations I only thought would exist in my dreams. I have worked with clients who share my vision and style. I have worked with missions that I truly and whole-heartedly believe in. I have photographed things I only fantasized over. I have told stories and taken photos of people, places, and things that make me pinch myself in hopes that I really won't wake up from this incredible dream.

I never thought the possibility was real for me to live my best life. Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing. I believed I wasn't enough - good enough, strong enough, thoughtful enough, skinny enough, pretty enough. But somewhere deep in my soul, I believed there was more waiting for me. There was a little ember of hope burning on my belly, not put out by the wet blanket of self criticism. I believed those dreams could actually happen. I stopped hearing the voice that said "give up...you can't do this." I leaned in to trust. I leaned into the fear. I pushed through. I gave it one more try.

Every day I wake up and am happy to do what I do. Don't get me wrong, this is still a job. It has it's moments. And it has come with it's own set of massive sacrifices (ohhhhh...the sacrifices). But I am happy...at least 95% happy.

It has taken a long time to get here. I have made mistakes. I have lived with crippling anxiety and depression. I have failed miserably...wow, have I failed. But all of that has brought me to this place where I can appreciate the complexity of what makes life feel good.

Will I screw up again? Most definitely. Will I be afraid and paralyzed? Absolutely! Will I know how to get up and dust myself off again? You can count on it!

Today, I am opening myself up to possibility. The possibility of hope, failure, success, despair, highs, lows. All of it. Because without all of that, I am not growing or challenging myself. I am not changing. I am not moving forward, knocking off that last 5%.

But if I have to be honest, I will be happy to settle in where I am... Always pushing. Always dreaming. Never settling.

 

 

Messy rooms.

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Some days, I wake up and look at my son's room and sigh. It's always a mess. Carpet tiles askew. Bed never made. Clothes strewn about the room. I turn the other way as much as I can. But honestly, some days it gets to me. The mess feels chaotic - like loud music with a lot of dischord.

Lately, though I have been leaning into the mess. I walk by the room and smile a little. Nothing has changed except, perhaps, for my outlook on it. He's growing up. In 2 years he will be gone, walking across the stage in a cap and gown, a sea of opportunity in front of him. After that, his little room that he has know since he was 2 will be tidy, quiet, and organized. But it won't have him in it.

So today, I sat in here for a few minute. I admired the spots and stains on his white carpet tiles from the juice he spilled when he was sick. I traced the tiny, dirty hand prints on the wall that he outgrew so quickly. I picked up a little matchbox car he has on his bedside table and remember all of it... flood of memories I can't quite contain before they come spilling out around me, messy and chaotic...just like his room.

I guess the moral of the story is that life is messy when we have more in it. Soon enough, his sheets will be tucked in, dresser dusted, and life will be tidied up. For now though, I will hang on to the mess. It reminds me of how much I have to hold on to.

The Human Experience

  My sweet little garden, on a particularly gloomy spring day in Charleston.

My sweet little garden, on a particularly gloomy spring day in Charleston.

If you follow me on social media, you know that this spot is one of my favorite spots in my yard – or really in my whole world. I don't know why, but it seems to symbolize everything I love about this space – the yard, the privacy hedge, the chair, and my futile attempts at gardening. It's an intimate snapshot of all that I have worked hard for and become over the years.

And yet, it's imperfect. The chair needs a good cleaning and some fresh paint. Weeds are growing through the crack in the pathway. The hedge is out of control with vines and overgrowth. And I have an unplanted hand-me-down pot sitting there, full of leaves, debris and actual trash.

The thing is, this used to bother me. I wanted life to be perfect. I wanted the perfect house, the perfect yard, the perfect family, and the perfect life. I wanted the social media life everyone was selling me. I wanted a spouse that loved me purely. I wanted to enjoy the sunny southern weather here like my friends on their boats and in their backyard pools. This seemed to be the recipe for blissed-out perfection. So in my mind, if I could just get my life to look perfect, it would be perfect.

We all know that's a lie. Yes somehow, we fall into this trap over and over again.

And the trap is deeper that the superficial things. It's about more than a pretty house > pretty yard > pretty life. It's about having life in the palm of your hand. It's about owning every challenge that comes your way. It's about not looking like your world is rocked when you are climbing out of a crisis or depression or another loss you can't bear. You have it together in your sunny, colorful, insta-life.

These superficial ideals are more dangerous than ever. We are living in a time where we aren't embracing the Human Experience.  We aren't accepting the bad with the good. We get depressed when we have a string of too many cold days in a row. We get frustrated when we have to wait in line at our local Target with a cart full of possessions we don't even need. We get mad when the barista doesn't get our order right. Or the traffic light hangs us up another 60 seconds.

In the current landscape of social media, we have been trained not to overshare. Don't tell me the bad stuff. I just want to hear the great parts of your life. I have been told not to tell you that my kid is struggling with school, ADD and depression, but I can tell you he loves rugby and is kind to all animals. I can't tell you that the past 15 years have been the ultimate struggle for me because life is hard, y'all. I can't share my fear of failure as I send a proposal for a new assignment out - I just have to ROCK THAT SHIT and OWN IT! Because we all know that leads to success, right? RIGHT?!?!

The problem is, we are losing all sense of why we are here - flesh and blood walking around on planet earth. We are here to experience it all. That doesn't just mean jumping from airplanes or living the sweet life in a van traveling back and forth across North America. (but by all means, it can mean that!) It means doing the dishes, running out of gas on your trip and forgetting your passports. It means leaning into the rainy days. It means living through grief and pain – even if it lasts for years. (Because honestly, sometimes it does last for years. And I am here to tell you that it's okay.)

The Human Experience is what we are here to live through. Leaning into the days and moments that aren't so great is part of why we are here. We aren't meant to be permanently happy and blissful. We need all of it to make our time here on earth meaningful. The good is there... it's just waiting for you to find it. It's hidden in messy bedrooms and piles of laundry. It's lurking at the bottom of your sink full of dirty dishes. It's hiding behind the clouds on a grey and gloomy day. It's in all of it. You just have to be patient.

The rain will soon end, but the sun never stops shining. It's there all along. For now, I am going to watch the raindrops and lean into this beautifully chilly spring day.

 

 

 

An early spring

radish

It feels like we are having an early spring this year.

As much as I want to say "praise the maker," I am stuck. It's the same feeling you get when you didn't get long enough to spend in bed on the weekend because obligation rang. Or when a party ended too early. Or when you just weren't quite prepared for your guest arrival.

On the bright side of things, spring is my favorite season. It's gusty winds clear the dust from my aching soul. It's colorful parade of blooms makes me feel like life is colorful and clear and oh-so-alive. The early arrival of spring means a long, lingering season of amazing things...things like fresh, garden grown veggies. Long, lingering days that melt into extended evenings and deep conversations. Bonfires. Delicious meals. Friends. Beach evenings. The best things that life is made of.

Maybe an early spring - crisp and bright like garden radishes, crunching with peppery brightness - is just what I need after all.

As I see it

tomato soup
Chef

Recently, I spent some time shooting behind the scenes with the Chef Ken from  NAPA  in Mt. Pleasant. I followed him around like a lost puppy, watching him craft dishes and cook delicious, made from scratch foods right before my very eyes. I lurked near him in the kitchen, dodging busy sous chefs and prep cooks. I listened and asked questions while still trying to be a silent observer.

To be honest, this is sort of what I love - what happens behind the scenes. What does life look like when you peek behind the velvet curtains we veil everything with. Is it authentic? Is it beautiful? Is it messy and gritty? I love all capturing the reality of what is happening - whether it's a chef dishing up his daily orders, a nurse doing infusions on a cancer ward, or a mom with her baby at the park. It's what I come back to as a photographer time and time again - authenticity. It's what challenges me and excites me at the same time. Getting a shot that isn't staged or styled is harder than it looks.

I approach all my shoots the same way I approach life now - with wide eyed curiosity and a deep desire to show life as it is and how I see it.

 

Lately

raised beds

I have been more quiet than usual this fall and winter. I have been working on some exciting projects and new ventures. Thankfully quiet = busy right now!

One of the projects I have hit the ground hard on is a book on saving seeds I am wrking on with my good friend Julie of Julie's Garden Delights. I liken this project to a type of step by step for seed saving gardeners which has taken me literally from Spartanburg to Charleston and everywhere in between. I have learned so much on this project - not just about seeds and gardening, but about myself and my work. I love when a project comes along and changes everything, don't you?

Here are some images for you to see. I have no idea what's been rejected, but images of vegetables never disappoint! Special shout out the the folks at Charleston Parks Conservancy for my all access pass to their gardens!

sprouts
chopping
carrots
seeding
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Wild love.

boy and his dogs

"Sometime's hope will look a lot like you." Unknown

It's Christmas.

I didn't do a card this year. In the past, we have had some winners. The first one was you as a naked baby sitting on a stool with little, white, drawn-on angel wings attached to you. That's where we started. And truth be told, we are still there. I could draw wings on you in this photo and it would be very fitting. You amaze me still...every day and in every way. Your heart is kind and full and ready to give. Your soul is like gold. To me, you look a lot like hope.

But we are at 15 now. It's been a tough year for you so far. Fifteen is hard. Between hormones and high school, you have been battled, beaten and worn down. But you just keep getting back up, facing it every day in the only ways you know how at 15. By flying with those wings.

I have admittedly been worried about you lately. It's what parents do. I know you feel it, too. The future is looming. There is so much pressure to Be and Do and Achieve. The expectations that life puts on you at this age are unfair. I don't buy into them. And yet, I still fret. I worry because I am unsure of what life holds - not only for you, but for me. I am unsure of how much to push, force, or encourage you to do things like study for an English exam or practice guitar. The doubt and pressure you are feeling are most certainly trickling down from me standing on a little shaky ground of my own.  Some of it matters. And some of it just doesn't. It's a fine line that is a unclear to a lot of people.

I saw a video the other day. It said something I was so sure of and I will never forget. It said "The world is desperate now. It is desperate for unconditional, wild, defiant love. Be that love."

I may be unclear about many things, but if there is one thing I am sure of it's this...we need love. Wild love. Unconditional love. Defiant love. So stay on your path...this path of kindness, empathy, caring. It's in you.  Be brave with your self because your self is beautiful. Spread it around like confetti. It may hurt sometimes, but I know one thing: the world needs more of you.

Merry Christmas, my wild love. You are all I could ever hope for in this world.

In the middle.

pumpkins

Cultivating things takes patience. It's a lot of work in the beginning. A lot of planning, nurturing and caring for the eventual lovely harvest that yields all the best parts. But what about the middle part?

The middle is where the work really is getting done, but you can't see it. Sure, you can define the measured growth along the way. Pull a few weeds. Do a little watering. But the parts that are really making things happen are a little undefined. Maybe the fruit hasn't started forming on the vine. Maybe it's happening underground in a place you can't see it. But the magic is in the middle.

The middle part is always so undefined...uncelebrated. It's the part we want to be over, so we can see the fruits of our labor. We want to fast forward through this part when in reality, this is the most needed part. This is where ideas incubate and bloom. Where you build the muscle for the product. It's where you refine and redefine what the final outcome will be and how it will look. It's essential in the end product.

We are all in the middle really. We are all watching patiently. Revising. Revisiting. And just watching patiently to see what comes of it all. Be patient here. This is where the good stuff is happening.

Blooming.

Growing...

 

First the rain...

Sunset.jpg

 

I shot a wedding this weekend. It was on a boat that puttered slowly and gently around the lowcountry waters, shifting ever so gently back and forth with the sway of the boat and the shifting tide.

The skies were clear when we started our day - even with some hot sun piercing down on us. And then suddenly, the rain came in. It was a steady rain with no signs of letting up at all. Grey skies all around and a constant, gentle drizzle as we coasted the waterways.

Then as suddenly as the rain came, the clouds began to part just in time for us to see this remarkable sunset, color-filled and awe inspiring. I hustled the bride and groom to the back of the boat where I could get a good photo of them. It was all she wanted - a beautiful sunset photos of her and her husband, ready to start their lives together.

As I was snapping away at the photos, I heard one of her friends holler to them over my shoulder. "First the rain, then the sun..." It stopped my in my tracks. 

Of course.

Of course the rain has to come first. Of course you have to weather the storm first to appreciate the sunshine and the sunset. The thunder is there to shake us and move us. The water is there to nourish and refresh us. And then...the sunshine. To help us grow and bloom.

I have been here. Standing on stormy ground. Always hoping to find a way out. Maybe you are there now. Maybe you are stuck in a storm.  Just know in your heart that the sun will shine soon. It has to. There is no room for only rain. We need both to survive. So settle in and cover up, because this, too, shall pass.

Cultivating Kindness

tomato

Today has been an awfully hard day. The biggest mass shooting in American history just happened. It seems a little disingenuous of me not to mention that out of the gate. People are hurting and in pain. Even the ones not related to the shooting or the victims are carrying a burden today.

And yet...

And yet, all I can think of – all I can muster up the strength for today - is love and kindness. All I know how to do is to give love somehow. All I can say to everyone I know - whether I know them or not - is that I love them. I love them DESPITE our difference of opinion in gun control. I love them DESPITE the fact that we grew up so very differently. I love them DESPITE the fact that I don't know them.

I find that, generally speaking, this is all we ever need: someone to love us, to hear us, to see us. Right where we are in the present moment. And that requires us to get up close and personal with each other. It requires us to get to know one another on a fundamental level. Moreover, it requires us to get to know ourselves on a fundamental level. Live with our truths and speak them. It requires that we live with them, side by side, day in and day out, and accept them for what they are.

I struggle with stating my truth sometimes. Like many of us, I suffer with I-wonder-what-they-will-think-of-me-itis. Will I offend them? Will they "unfriend" me? Will my business suffer because of this? I become the Switzerland of social media. Not commenting. Not voicing what I feel in my bones. Perhaps my silence is not a sign of passivity. Maybe it's not because I feel powerless around you, but more because I feel the visceral contempt you have for my political beliefs is the opposite of that which I seek: LOVE. TRUTH. BEAUTY.  KINDNESS. COMPASSION.

So now each day, I start there. I start with Kindness. I begin with compassion. I seek out love and belonging. And then I let it take fire. I spread it around however I can. Is it perfect? No. But it's a place to begin... a place to breathe into.

_________________________

I woke up this morning feeling helpless for the world. People were already arguing on Facebook about our President reacting or not reacting. They were already slinging insults over their rights for guns and their panic over gun control as they watched their kids walk into school, some wondering if they were safe today. Was it going to be their baby next? Their concert going teenager? The conversation was already heavy. And I hadn't even had a cup of coffee.

As I sat in traffic after dropping my tired and grumpy teenager off at school, I took a giant deep breath into my heart and I let it go. I envisioned micro packets of love and kindness riding dancing around like little dandelion seeds. They circled me, my car, and swirled around outside of me into the universe, dropping microdrops of love everywhere. Maybe they landed on the grass, or a windshield, or just floated aimlessly up into the sky. Dancing freely, looking for something to plant themselves into...looking for fertile ground to take root.

 

The adventure of being alive...

  One of my most favorite photos ever. I dream of this day every day.

One of my most favorite photos ever. I dream of this day every day.

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It' doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

A Father's Day Tribute

 My crazy, mixed up, loving crew.

My crazy, mixed up, loving crew.

By all accounts, this shouldn't work.

We are the most unlikely family, filled to the brim with our own set of colossally hard issues and significant problems. Together, through this thing called parenting, we have raced against a losing current and hurdled over more obstacles than an Olympic horse jumping event. 

Yet, somehow...

Somehow, against all odds, the better advice of therapists, friends and our families, with a lot of time, effort and communication, something sticks us together like bonding glue. Through it all, we have we cobbled together a family and a history that normal people wouldn't stand a chance with. Some days I am surprised we are still standing here in the middle of this life together.

But that's us. Against all odds. Different. Like a mix of ingredients for a dish that sounds really bad on paper... until suddenly you taste it and you are transported to a new world, full of flavor, character and spice. We are an unusual blend of flavors that somehow fits together.

So now we stand, shoulder to shoulder, 15 years into this game changing thing called parenting. It's been back breaking work together and apart. (Or at the very least, wine glass breaking). Some days, I really don't know how we have made it this far.

What I do know is that listening has worked. Hard work has worked. Bloody, sweaty, tear-filled hard work. Gut-wrenching hard work.

But mostly, Love has worked. Unlikely, unconventional, unrelenting Love.

Happy Father's Day.

 

Summer Benchmarks

sleep

It's always been strange to me that we live in a world that values busyness over self care. We boast about work hours, job accomplishments and GPAs only to ignore the fact that we are simply undernourished and exhausted.

For me, summertime is the best time to actually allow yourself to unplug. It's the perfect time to let your body wake up when it needs to, eat what you hunger for, and really get some good quality soul time in. It's a perfect time to reset your self care routine and start fresh. Take a vacation. Start an exercise program. Cook fresh foods. Read a new book. And, of course, sleep in until mid morning (or, as in the example above, very late morning).

For me, summer is about changing those benchmarks you have been trying to accomplish. It's not about hours worked or grades made....it's about how you feel. Are you recharged? Rested? Refreshed? Do you feel healthy? Did you exercise you mind, body and soul today? These are my benchmarks of successful summer.

And by the looks of things, I think we are well on our way there!

 

Muddling through

 This new momma has got this motherhood thing down.

This new momma has got this motherhood thing down.

We all want to look like pros at whatever task we are handling - work, make up, dinner, motherhood. But in reality, most of us are faking it along the way - sort of like we do those first few weeks with our brand new baby. It's excited, exhausting, and exhilarating, but in reality, we are just winging it all hoping for the best outcome. Even though it all looks happy and easy on the outside, we are still on shaky feet behind closed doors.

Truly, I think it mostly works when we "fake it 'til we make it"... that is until something big comes along and gently reminds us that, in truth, it's all overwhelming. 

Just remember...the moment you feel like you are out of your league, stop, look around, and remember that you've already gotten this far in life and done just fine. All you have to do now is keep going. And truly, while it may not always look like this on the outside, nobody else really knows what they are doing either. Take comfort in knowing you have muddled your way through more than one time in your life and I am certain you can do it again.

 

A Fresh Future

  Fresh Future Farm event for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, 2017

Fresh Future Farm event for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, 2017

This past weekend, I got to attend 6 (or more...it's all a haze now) events for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. One of my dream events was shooting at Fresh Future Farm – an urban farm created as a response to addressing food, health, economic, and environmental disparities. Fresh Future Farm is in the middle of what's known as a food desert in North Charleston - an area where grocery stores have pulled out of the area because these are unprofitable neighborhoods. And as you may well know, grocery stores equate to big business.

So there I was, shooting a farm to table dinner in the middle of a food desert on the cutest little farm I ever did see, with some of the top chefs in the country cooking over open flame and plating up one of the most spectacular meals I witnessed in all the events I attended... maybe even in my whole life. All of it was Inspired food from the region – some of it grown right here in Charleston.

As I stepped away from the event goers and party planners into the field of collards and cabbages, I took a moment to appreciate where I was and what this meant.... For me. For the community. It was all a little overwhelming to be honest. Not only am I doing PRECISELY what I loved (HELLLOOOOOO.... farm, food, & people are my intersectional bliss), but I was getting to witness it being done for a cause that mattered. I saw community coming together and chefs making magic.  Suddenly, my heart felt fuller than the bellies of those lucky little diners.

I am lucky to do what I do every day. It's not easy. It doesn't come with all these romantic notions of love and grandeur and cups that runneth over. Don't be deceived. This work is hard. It's relentless hustling and constant let down. It's time away on the weekends and tired muscles from walking with too much gear. But it's what fills my soul. Especially when it intersects with moments like this.

I am forever grateful for this job, this life, and this continuously unrelenting call that hasn't left me since I first picked up a camera at the age of 12. I love what I do. But today, I feel inspired and incredibly lucky to just be here...basking in the aftermath of it all.

Thanks CHSWFF2017. I can't wait to see what you cook up for next year!