my annual book and a surprise letter

i wanted to start this post in sharing a handwritten note i received in the mail yesterday, which i opened this morning... Deb, I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know a few of the ways you inspire me. First off, the way you push yourself so far into your art helps me to not be complacent in sharing my vision with the world. You help me to become a better artist.

I can tell that you're a great mom. Someone who knows what matters most in life (family) and puts their heart, soul and full energy into crafting a life that allows for the love and support kids need. I know you're raising well-love kids and they're going to change the world because that's what well-loved kids do. The intentionality in how you live your life inspires me to focus on presence with my help me become a better father. I can feel the passion / heart you pour into the words / images you share, so keep posting...

It might seem odd to get a litter from me, when we've met face to face only once, but when someone inspires me, I want to tell them in a meaningful way. Too many times we think awesome thoughts about people, then never tell them. That makes me sad so this is my way of saying you're awesome, you inspire me and to let you know how much you are loved.

With gratitude, JS

what an absolutely incredible surprise to receive this note in the mail. i'm blown away by his beautiful thoughts and so very grateful for his sharing with me -- i will treasure the card forever and already have it tacked up on my inspiration board --  a lovely reminder (especially during those challenging days) that i'm doing a pretty good job in this world.  something i so greatly aspire to do is not only be an inspirational artist, but most importantly, be a great mother, wife and friend.  i'm happy to know that this comes through in how i present myself and all that i share.

right now, i'm gratefully heavily engrossed in preparing for a portfolio review, two solo exhibitions (new orleans photo alliance in december and baum gallery in february) and the development of a fine art book of my work (edited by the amazing jock sturges and produced by gallery vevais).  yep, just wow, wow, WOW!!  did i mention that i am beyond grateful?

but i've also been recently engrossed in the design of my family's annual book, something i've been doing each year since i started photography in 2006. my family will always be my priority and, well...the making of our book each year makes my heart swell and inspires me.

i shared my book layout on facebook yesterday and received a lot of questions regarding my design process, who i use to print, etc. so here we go, a little about my process...

i use blurb booksmart application. i start with a completely blank book and then select page template  based on the photographs that i am selecting for each page spread. with most of the pages, i modify the template, but the template provides a good starting point. i design the book, keeping the photographs in chronological order. how do i select which images to share? i just do. images that mean the most and share my family's story throughout the year. i also include special artwork and writings from my kids. this is something that i keep up with all year (scanning artwork and typing their writings and place into a folder on my computer entitled annual book). i have a page, where i include each child's age and thoughts about them. this year, i'm also asking them about some of their favorites.

my book typical ends up about 140-150 pages and so i needed a book printing company that was somewhat inexpensive, but still offered great quality and blurb fits that bill for me. i not only print the book for our family, but also for the grandparents as christmas gifts.

if you decide to try a book with blurb, be sure to print with their pro paper. it's a bit more expensive but totally worth it.

here is my overall book layout, along with a few of the page spreads. each book is unique to the happenings of the year, our location, etc.  i don't ever have a specific plan when i start the book.  it just unfolds page by page. all the annual books beautifully grace our credenza and nothing makes me happier than hearing my kids reminisce and giggle as they look through previous year's books.

i hope this will inspire you to share your gratitude with another.   i hope this will inspire you to write a handwritten note to someone you love and / or care about. i hope this will inspire you to get your family's photographs OFF THE COMPUTER. i hope this will inspire you to live your life beautifully and authentically -- and cherish every minute of it.

have questions, feel free to ask in the comment section. i will do my best to answer and will edit the post to share my thoughts.

book layout

front and back book cover

some page spreads

the gift of time

written for the incredible motherhood with a camera blog, a gathering of images and writings, each swirling around a specific theme. this week, the topic was time and here is my submission.

time precious and fleeting unstoppable time gives time takes your past is a memory your future is a mystery all you know for certain is your time now this very moment each day a present how will you spend your time? from the time you rise till the time you rest it’s a choice your choice what will your legacy be? that you lived your life fully and spent your time well that you were kind and good and giving i hope so because time is a gift i will do my best to cherish every minute and celebrate my time but for now it’s time to say thank you for your time!


you can view the entire choir of the beautiful and inspiring voices here.

workshop scholarship winners

all the entries were so beautiful and heartfelt, making it extremely difficult to select the scholarship winners, but here they are --  the two winning entires (along with announcing a couple  awesome adjustments with the bali workshop)... CANADA -- amber lowe

so i'm up at 5am on a wednesday, to steal an hour of quiet & coffee before the kids wake… and i stumble upon your post. at first, it felt a little like when you read about someone else's lottery winnings or other dream-come-true. i almost didn't click on the link for details. i mean, what are the chances? i bet your inbox is flooded with applicants! then i realized... it's been a long, long time since i let myself dream big.

i've only attended 2 workshops, ever. both taught by friend & mentor, cheryl jacobs-nicolai. both in 2005, which seems like a lifetime ago.

for a few years, i poured myself into my work as a portrait photographer. then my oldest son fell seriously ill and everything work related came to a screeching halt.  several dark months/doctors/hospitalizations later, my then 11 year old was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder (+aspergers). fortunately, we were able to find him the proper care and treatment he needed, and today he's well. not unicorns-and-rainbows-well. but stable-well. and for that, i am grateful.

but as i was trying to hold it together in the wake of my personal tsunami... something else happened. i stopped shooting. the mere thought of picking up my camera sent a flash of sheer panic through my veins. it felt as though if i took my eye off my kids, for even 1/250 sec. their world might come crashing down. and i couldn't risk that happening again.

since then, it's been an ugly, slow, painful, gut-wrenching, terrifying, soul- awakening, beautiful journey back to photography. i'm finally pursuing once more what i know i'm meant to. recently, i started shooting clients again. partly because i ache to photograph faces, connect, and share my work. (because what is art if it's not shared?) partly to take care of my 4 kids. and partly because the cost of loving a craft like photography is almost as much as a 5th child would be. ;)

now, here i am rebuilding my business… crunching numbers, working on a website, branding/marketing, trying to keep it simple, planning everything in a way that will both spare and fuel my passion for the art. all while simultaneously depleting our savings to invest in start up. what i really need is a reprieve. a chance to catch my breath. to refocus. time devoted solely to connecting. to inspiring and nurturing the thing that drives me. so then i'm up at 5am on a wednesday, to steal an hour of quiet & coffee before the kids wake... and i stumble upon your post.

my reason for wanting to attend a workshop is simply because i'm inspired to dream big again.

and i absolutely deserve this scholarship... because i've fought a thousand battles to be inspired to dream big again.

i would be humbled, honored, and absolutely over-the-moon-thrilled to receive a scholarship to either workshop. bali sure looks especially incredible though... and i'm dreaming big. so if i got to pick, that's where i'd go.

BALI -- liz perryman

In the past, I have given into the voices of self-doubt and fear that paralyze me from trying and reaching beyond my comfort zone. It is so much easier to stay stagnant, protected within the walls of familiarity, but that is not what life is meant for. I do not wish for the whisperings of self-deprecation in my mind to silence the voices of desire and passion, of faith and the insatiable longing to improve, to attempt even with the possibility of failure. I have an inner voice that screams to be heard and to make a difference in the lives of others.

I feel that I see the world in a unique way. Amid all the struggles that we face, I found a way to notice the beauty that surrounds me even when darkness threatens to overcome. I see it in subtle touches, raw emotion, imperfect reality, the grand, as well as the simple and mundane of everyday life. I have an overwhelming desire to capture life and freeze time - not through sugar-coating reality, but by seeing the beauty interlaced with the grit that we as humans get covered in, yet continue to push through and survive . . . not just survive, but live as fully and joyously as we know how.

With my experiences in life, I have come to realize how fragile and precarious life is - through the death of my sister, years of infertility, and a deep depression that left me feeling as though I might drown and never break the surface again. Yet through these experiences, I have grown in love, appreciation, perspective, and compassion. I have learned that life is about more than me. It is about sharing myself with others, cultivating love for them and doing what I can to show compassion and reach beyond my comfort to bless their lives.

I have an unyielding need to continue to learn and develop my photography skills, so that I can more fully express myself and capture the beauty in this world for the benefit of others. It would be a dream to attend a workshop in Bali, surrounded by other artists who share my driving passion for life and photography. To experience a different culture and part of the world away from my own, to see the humanity and beauty that extend beyond anything I have experienced would be an undeniable blessing. And to do this with one who has influenced my passion for this art would be an honor.

There is so much to be learned and treasured in life. I want to hone my skills and set myself on a course of self-expression, capturing the beauty of real life, and extending service & my talent to others. This would be a wonderful opportunity on the path to realize my dreams.


i have decided to modify the bali workshop a bit -- now a 4-night / 5-day retreat (august 11th - 15th), with the first day (august 11th) open for arrivals, adjusting to the time difference, relaxing by the pool, seeing sites of bali, etc.  workshop discussion will begin the morning of august 12th and conclude at approximately 12 PM on august 15th.  i've also added a morning of private yoga at the villa and am in the process of exploring a couple other amazing bali experiences for the group.

to allow for the additional day, i have had to change the villa location and am in negotiations with two absolutely incredible, breathtaking, luxury villas.  you can view all the workshop details HERE.

there will be assistance in finding one- or two-bedroom villas, for those who would like to stay additional days in bali.

TUITION  for bali retreat: $2400 RETAINER: $800 deposit to reserve your seat. remaining balance can be paid in installments. payment due in full by july 21st. please note that all rooms are shared king beds.

TO REGISTER: email for payment information.

*ALL PAYMENTS ARE NON-REFUNDABLE; however, if cancellation is necessary, you may sell your seat to another photographer.

closing with a little beauty and inspiration from the majestic land of bali...

filmed by andrew melikov

taking a risk

honored to have been asked to participate in THE CHORUS this week -- sharing a photo and thoughts on the subject of risk. this is what i shared...

my journey i tread along this path of comfort this route of familiarity then i see it as i had so many times before "NO CROSSING" the sign demands but this wondrous space ahead it calls to me full of longing i ache for it this unknown mystery magic in the distance could it be? i see the the lingering trail of others do i take the chance? go where i haven't gone before only a fool would enter, a familiar voice whispers yes, only a fool my heart races my palms sweaty maybe tomorrow always tomorrow but tomorrow may never come and i remind myself... you never know what will happen you never know what you will find so i venture in slowly bravely step by step and suddenly my feathers ruffled my wings are spread and just like that… i am free to soar! [deb schwedhelm, 2013]

so many more beautiful images and words, on the topic of risk, shared HERE.



have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn?or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? or perhaps you know the silence when you haven't the answer to a question you've been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you're alone in the whole house? each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully. - norton juster i've been quiet the past few months.  i needed to.  last year was amazing but i needed to digest all that happened and reflect. i needed to do some soul-searching. i needed a break. i needed to focus on my family. i needed to bring balance back into my life. i simply needed some quiet.

yes, i've been quiet... but i am here, striving to be present, fully present, each and every day!

and i wanted to share this incredibly beautiful video and the story behind it. took my breath away...

Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.

february online workshop | breaking the mold

BREAKING THE MOLD a two-week online workshop february 11th - 25th space is limited registration details below

some topics that will be discussed are: inspiration creativity thinking outside the box finding your style creating strong images building a strong portfolio

participants will receive the following: an honest and intimate look into my photography daily, interactive communication three assignments followed by feedback an inspirational e-book a few special giveaways and more!

details for early registration: 1. this workshop is held via the bloom form & therefore, all participants MUST BE bloom forum members. if interested in registering for this two-week online workshop but are not a yet a member of bloom, you can join the forum (for 3, 6 or 12 months), by clicking the bloom logo below... The Bloom Forum 2. once a bloom member, you can register in the bloom forum, here:  Bloom News section under Mini Workshop Information 3. the workshop will run from monday, february 11th - 25th, with daily posts and interaction 4. active seats are $225.00 per seat. 5. silent/read-a-long seats are $175.00 per seat. 6. the private workshop information will be available for one month after the workshop ends. 7. there is also a private section for all past breaking the mold participants, to continue  interacting and sharing with one another.

and here's what a few former breaking the mold participants had to say when the workshop was done:

I am sad that our time has come to an end in your new workshop ‘Breaking the Mold’. I have enjoyed it immensely.

We so often second-guess our instincts and I have learned lately that mine are very loud and rarely go away. It is funny too, I don’t often shy away from it, unless there is fear involved – fear of rejection, fear of not being validated, fear of moving forward, fear of dwelling too much on the past, fear of trying something new, fear of the competition. Your workshop has not only validated me, my strengths, my weaknesses, but it also brought my journey to a whole other level. I hope that I will continue to adapt and transform and ask myself all the questions you asked of us in your workshop. It was fast moving, made me reflect and helped me see things way more clearly. That is a gift.

There are very few people in my life who have truly given me inspiration, made me want to move forward and try something new. But you sure have! You have allowed me to let loose and share in a comfortable and giving environment. You were warm, generous and giving!!! I so appreciated all your candor. In our short two weeks, you have definitely given me confidence, helped me make sense of the issues and doubts I have been feeling for awhile and made me want to be a better me, for my clients and for my family and friends. Everyone needs that someone to get you “unstuck”. Your words, your exercises for us, and your explanation of your own photography has heightened my love and passion for photography so much more than I ever thought possible. - SARA

i’m so sad that our workshop is over, but i just wanted to take a minute to send you a quick note. this was the very first workshop i have ever taken, i had no real expectations. i can tell you that the last three weeks were unlike anything i thought i would experience in a photography workshop… it was almost like therapy for me, really! i am self taught, and have struggled with the mentality that i’m not up to par because i don’t have the piece of paper to prove that i deserve to be here. i finally think i’m starting to see that i don’t need to be technically perfect to be great at what i do. really, i could ramble on forever but i really just wanted to say thank you! thank you for helping me believe in myself, for bringing so much passion and inspiration to me in a short time and thank you for taking the time to teach us all and for being you!! i have never really surrounded myself with a group of my peers, it’s been an amazing ride. – Lila

I can’t thank you enough for your amazing workshop. It went above and beyond anything I had ever expected. I came into the workshop hoping to learn more about photography, I never dreamed of the personal journey it would take me on or the growth I would have. I have come away appreciating my vision as an artist and not worrying about others. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so open and honest. I have grown leaps and bounds and look forward to continuing to grow even more. - STEPHANIE

there will never be a perfect time

you will never have this day again.each day is a gift. breathe and notice. today. every day. relish the beauty and charm of the present. enjoy this day because... before you know it today will be gone. [modified from poem by jan hatmaker]

for my dear friend, robin, who i met during my air force days (we worked at the military hospital in tucson together). we haven't seen each other in over 12 years, but she will forever remain one of my dearest, truest friends.  a few days ago, she wrote on my facebook wall...

My beautiful, talented friend....So I pose a question that lots of my friends are requesting an answer to as well...... I MUST get family photos done, but I hate the way I look in pics. I would like something hip and funky to wear.... Got any advice on photographing moms like me? Seems all the families you take pics of are BEAUTIFUL. Also, if you lived in a cold area, would you postpone your sessions until it warms outside? XXXOOO your fluffy friend.

short on time, my initial reply to her was that she is beautiful and fabulous through and through and THAT is what the camera will capture.  and i shared with her that she needs to read THIS.

i told her that i would post a cold-weather chicago shoot here on my blog, for her to see.  so here it is. i was supposed to photograph this family three weeks prior to our actual shoot date (when it was much, much warmer), but i was really sick at the time and had to delay my chicago travel. the original planned 70-degree weather ended up being in the 40s.

i also think it's important to include the words from my client, emailed to me after she saw her gallery for the first time...

I LOVE THEM!  Thank you so much for the amazing pictures. You delivered exactly what I had hoped to get! I have looked over the gallery several times before sending you a note so that I could let you know some of my favorites, to impress upon you, more than just a simple thank you -- how happy I am. But I ran into the problem that I could not choose.  I love them all.  I'm so happy that I can look past the weight I need / wanted to lose before you took our pictures.  Love love love.  That is a lot of love coming from me.  They make my heart happy.  Okay excited!

of course, can't help but love the last two photos of the night.  after our shoot, the kids were excited to show me their play room, so of course, i brought my camera back out and took a couple more photos.

and here's a few photos from my family's cold-weather session in kansas (2009), courtesy of leigh miller photography.  it was FREEZING!

fav finds | twenty-nine

good words to read with the start of each day.

this too.

pretty boots.

because i'm currently obsessed with owning a working, vintage typewriter at the moment.

love absolutely everything about this outfit.

i believe in random acts of kindness.

new awesome and super easy crockpot recipe. chicken breasts 6 Tbs franks hot sauce 6 Tbs chicken broth serve over rice, with beans, as taco meat...whatever. YUM!!

i make a modified version of these every christmas and give to teachers, neighbors, etc.  terribly addicting.

all kinds of cool 'did you knows' (most of which i didn't)

this article, which includes this quote:

The beauty of storytelling is found in a series of images that translate truth—not our truth, but theirs. When we, as photographers, let go of our selfish needs to create the best work, capture award-winning images, or be featured on the covers of magazines, we allow the beauty of others’ circumstance to resonate through our lenses. This is art. This is humanity. We are able to show others that their story has significance, that their lives are beautiful and profound.

this video, which had be laughing, but the poor thing.  she tried so, so hard.

and this video had me laughing so hard, i was crying.

last but not least, this video and the life-changing power of a good teacher!!  personally, kiele wouldn't be where she is today without a few amazing, special teachers in her life, who believed she could...when everyone else said she couldn't!

grow great minds

as i do every year, i've been working on my kids' class auction projects.  i do a book for both sky's and ryder's classes, which includes a portrait, writing and drawing from each child (along with a variety of other photos from the kids and classroom).  their school theme this year is 'growing great minds'.  sky's 4th grade class wrote about 'if i were famous...' and ryder's 2nd grade class wrote about 'i am special because...'. this year, i decided to write a poem for their books, based on the school theme...

Go. Read all you can. Open your mind and... Welcome curiosity. Immerse yourself. Never give up or forget to be... Grateful.

Goodness and kindness will... Reward you. Enrich your life. And feed your soul. Trust those who are willing to teach you.

Make each day the best. It takes time, but your hard work will pay off. Nourish your creativity. Dream big and... Surround yourself with people who will lift you higher.

and here's my two book cover photos (both shot on the school grounds)...

i'm grateful that i can do this for the kids each year, but i sure wish the auction was at a different time of year.  a november 3rd auction date makes it super tough!!

meeting sally mann

anyone who knows me...knows that sally mann has been a longtime inspiration.  like...HUGE, HUGE inspiration.  before i knew any better (in the very beginning of my photography journey), i tried to copy her work.  as embarrassing as this is, here is the photo, taken sometime mid-2006 (after purchasing my DSLR jan 2006)...

then i began to learn, grow, evolve and begin to discover the artist that i am myself.  and i tried do a candy cigarette photograph in my own way (i loved candy cigarettes growing up).  taken feb 2007 and i remember being so, so proud of this photograph...

and then i continued to learn, grow, discover and appreciate...

fast forward to a few days ago.  i got to hear sally mann speak...and meet her (even if it was for the briefest of moments).  i'm pretty sure i was asking her if we could pretend to be best friends in this picture...or something like that.  lol.

to be honest, i dreamt about the day i might meet sally mann, but wasn't sure it would ever really happen.  just kept hoping, dreaming...believing.

sally spoke at university of michigan's michigan theatre, which was incredibly beautiful.  and having grown up in detroit, it was awesome to be back in the area, after 20 years of being away.

sally (can i call her sally?) read an excerpt from the book she is writing and shared a new body of work that will accompany the book.  in her work, she is photographing black men.  seeing her new work was awesome.  hearing the background and inspiration for this new work was that much more incredible.  she's hoping to publish the book and show the work (as 30x40 prints) in the next few years.

the talk was followed by a Q&A session and book signing.  i had brought two sally mann books with me to ann arbor, but, to my sadness, i had left them in my hotel room (immediate family was actually the first photography book i ever owned).  i asked chrisstina, who was running the show, if she thought i had time to run back to my hotel to get my books.  she said, " fast".  so that's exactly what i did.  my sickly self ran as fast as i possibly could handle, back to my hotel room -- returning in time to be the last person to have  books signed.

chrisstina was pretty shocked to learn that the group of us had traveled from FL, NY, MN and canada, to  listen to sally mann speak.  so we begged, along with chrisstina's encouragement, to get a photo with sally.  all we had were our iphones and light was minimal...but who cares, right?!!

my sally dreaming isn't quite done yet.  i dream to one day photograph sally and maybe her whole family.  i dream that i can talk to her more.  she strongly discouraged the audience of photographing our own kids, but didn't expand upon the topic, which i found interesting.  needless to say, i have lots of questions regarding the topic.

all in all, it was absolutely amazing -- and i am really, really grateful!!

stay passionate, work hard (really hard) and don't ever give up on your dreams.  you  just never know when it will all pay off and your dream(s) will come true.  :-)


ETA:  there's been a lot of feedback, thoughts and questions voiced regarding the obvious -- why did sally mann discourage the audience from shooting our own children.  and i don't know the exact answer. her statement was a response to a question asked about her book, 'immediate family' (although i can't remember the exact question). most of the Q&A time was spent discussing sally's new work and the discussion about photographing her own kids was very minimal.

i do NOT think sally meant don't photograph your children at all!!   and i'm pretty confident that her statement revolved around her choice to photograph her children nude, but i just wish she had expanded more on the topic -- especially since i, myself, photograph my children a lot and very often, for personal work / projects.  obviously she and / or her children were affected by sally's journey of  photographing her children.  but i don't believe it's as straight forward as that. i don't think it can be directly applied to me / us, without discussing and considering all the surrounding factors (then and now).  i love photographing my children. they are my muses. they are part of the art that i am currently creating. and i feel that i photograph them respectfully.  they are always aware of the resulting photograph and they know and are aware of what i share publicly (especially if the photograph is a bit moodier, edgier, etc.).

regarding if there was anything that surprised, intrigued me, made me rethink... sally mann shared that she's a bad photographer and a compulsive printer. i had heard her say this before in an interview but it still is a bit strange to hear her say it in person. she was very open and willing to answer any question that was thrown at her. i loved that but wish we had had more Q & A time.

i pretty much suspected, but it was confirmed that sally mann is very private and doesn't get in public very much or even talk much with other artists. it took something like six years of trying, to get her to speak at UM.

i was a bit surprised that she was reading an excerpt from her book as i had hoped that she would just be sharing and talking to us on a variety of topics (she's a brilliant writer). i believe that her book is going to be great and in the end, will probably be more informative and educational than hearing her in person.

someone asked her how she found the black men, who were / are her subjects in her new work. she shared that she sees someone interesting in her town and will just ask them. she pays them $25/hour and will typically work with them for 1-1/2 hours. she says she is as uncomfortable as they probably are through the process of photographing them.

i just came across this harvard link, which shows a few of images from sally's new work. the reading that she shared with us was a smaller version of the reading she did at harvard.

waves of gratitude

this is so inspirational --  really fricken incredible!!  gives me the chills.  the cinematography. his words.  mmmmmmm...

open your eyes and hearts to the world. be inspired. cameras help me relate, translate & interpret what i see. live creatively. pay tribute to the magic -- through photographs. ignite the imagination. never take this for granted try and keep motivation simple. positive. if i am going to scrape a living... at least it's a living worth scraping. fires of happiness. waves of gratitude. i love doing what i do.

a special thanks to isabel, for reaching out and sharing this with me.

DARK SIDE OF THE LENS from Astray Films on Vimeo.

so, so much gratitude...

my love for her...

oh how i love sally mann!  stumbled upon this video the other morning -- from a charlie rose interview in 2003. sally mann just blows my mind -- in the best way, of course. it's about 20 minutes long, but so worth your time (IMHO).  i hope you'll watch. my friend, meg, also shared with me this morning, that sally mann is going to be speaking at the university of michigan's school of art & design on september 20th.  if i wasn't already traveling, i would so be there!

i am confident that one day, someday, somehow...i WILL meet sally mann! for the moment, i'll just keep dreaming about that day. :-)

now go.  work hard. be determined.  stay true to yourself.  pursue your dreams. and make things happen.

and on that note, let me close with these words from the inspirational seth godin...

One reason to do something is because you get paid to do it.

But it's sad to think that this might be the only reason to do something.

Now that you've got a skillset and trust and leverage and a following and the tools to make something happen, are you going to invest your heart and soul into something that's important or waste it selling something you're not proud of?

wild & free

if one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams,and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. [henry david thoreau] a new favorite photo. :-)

i hope i never forget to live deliberately -- wild and free...

and i couldn't help but fall in love with these words of henry david thoreau... yourself -- not your idea of what you think somebody else's idea of yourself should be.

i went to the woods because i wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if i could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when i came to die, discover that i had not lived. i did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did i wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. i wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

inspiration | leah zawadzki

most of you probably already know that leah is one of my dearest friends, but she is also such a huge inspiration to me -- not only in photography, but also in life. leah inspires me creatively.  she inspires me to be a stronger photographer.  she inspires me to be a better wife, mother and friend.  i can honestly say that i wouldn't be the photographer or person that i am today, without leah in my life.  i will forever be grateful for her friendship...and her inspiration.  i have no doubt that she and her work will inspire you too. If I remember right, you’ve been (seriously) pursuing photography since 2005. Obviously your photography has evolved over the years but has your style changed? And if so, in what ways?  It is always so hard for me to answer questions regarding my style.  I have never thought very hard about it—in terms of creating it or making it something.  I have always been asked how I found my style, but I believe style is something that finds you, evolves with you as you grow as a person and as a photographer.  Maybe it’s because I have been a student of Cheryl Jacobs since the very beginning and I’m comforted by her words and her ideals.  I have never been one to force something to happen, to stylize moments or invent myself.  I can only be myself.  To sit back and see, to observe and record, to let go and shoot freely—that’s when I do my very best work, that’s when my style grows and comes into it’s own.   So I can’t say that I think my style has changed much, no.  I think my heart has always been deeply rooted in my work and that is what defines my style. I must admit that over the years I go through periods of hiding it and other times letting it show.  Why would I hide it—because I’m scared to show it to the world, and more importantly to myself.  I think that at the heart of my life’s journey is becoming comfortable with who I am as a person and what I have to give, and crazy enough it’s photography that helps me work through that.

You recently started a ‘fifty-two portraits each’ project.  Can you share a bit about your inspiration behind the project?  I needed to do something—anything to get me shooting my family again.  It’s not that I didn’t shoot them before, but it was so hard.  It was so hard because I always put so much weight on it.  It became so important to get just the right shot because I did it so infrequently.  I also love projects where you can see growth—I can’t wait to see all the photos together at the end of the year.  I haven’t informed them yet, but this might not end.  I might just have to get a portrait a week of them until they are not mine anymore.

A great side effect of this project is what I am getting from it as a photographer.  Not only was I not taking (what I thought was) enough photos of my family, I was shooting less and less in general.  When I first went truly crazy over photography I wouldn’t put the camera down.  Last year it became increasingly harder to pick the camera up.  I have learned that the longer I go without shooting the harder it becomes.  The more I shoot, the more I grow and the more comfortable I am with it.

You also recently began to shoot weddings.  What inspired this and is this a new direction for your photography?  Honestly, I am not certain exactly where my photography will take me—I am still looking for the right fit with my work.  I felt compelled to give it a try.  As I mentioned before, I am not one to fabricate a moment—I enjoy observing and capturing moments as they unfold.  Weddings are perfect for that.  There is something so special about a wedding day, the love, the hope, the dreams—all right there in front of me, just waiting to be captured.

What artists inspire or influence you and why / how?  Oh gosh.  There are so many artists that inspire me or have at one point or another… Le Corbusier, Rothko, Mondrian, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Calder, Georgia OKeeffe, David Hockney, Barbara Cole, Cig Harvey, Sally Mann, Mona Kuhn, Mark Tucker, Max Wegner, Hugh Forte….

I think what draws me to these artists is that they are so grounded, so strong.  They all have a great sense of who they are and what they want to express in their art.  They don’t compromise themselves or what they believe in for anything.  And even though I have listed artists across three mediums, there is a common thread that draws me to them—line, composition, color, depth and strength.  As for some of the photographers on my list, I always find it interesting that they are so different then me—the content they shoot, the way they shoot.  Most of them have a vision and then go execute that vision, and as I mentioned I shoot very different then that.  But still, there are qualities to their work that speak to me, that move me and inspire me to create my own work in my own way.

What has been the best part of your photography journey thus far and why?  Connecting with people.  Seeing and getting know people, and not just my clients but my kids too.  As an introvert, I sometimes have a hard time connecting with people.  But when I photograph I make connections I never thought possible.  I am always amazed at how in love I am with my subjects after the process is over—not just in taking the photos, but in selecting and editing the photos from our time together.  In the end I feel so connected—I appreciate them, I feel like I understand them better.  It’s very hard to describe, but it’s like I see a little bit of their heart, and a little bit more of my own heart too.

What is the most important advice would you share with aspiring photographers?  Slow down and get it right.  Bit by bit.  It doesn’t happen all at once.  Be patient and true to yourself.  Shoot what you love.  And most importantly—read the Cheryl Jacob's interview.  Nobody says it better then her.

And last but not least, how do you envision the overall future of your photography?  I am still exploring and finding my way.  I am not sure if I can say I have a big vision of what that will look like exactly.  But I know what it will include—creating work that is honest and meaningful, and hopefully a little bit beautiful.

rideTZ | day one

to say that this 10-day, 400-mile adventure was amazing, incredible, absolutely awesome, life-changing...would be an understatement. i'm not even sure how to put it all into words but i'll do my best over the coming weeks. we departed from our hotel at 10 AM and headed straight to usa river academy, where many of the TFFT-sponsored children are attending school.  there, the riders were greeted, applauded and encouraged by the children and staff -- and of course, we were equally inspired by all of the children. and then the riders were off -- biking approximately 40 miles (every day).  my 8+ hour ride was in a landcruiser with my awesome driver, hamisi (and sometimes joined by the doc and ben, who had a bad shoulder injury).

i wasn't really sure what to expect this first day or how i was going to shoot the ride, but i kept reminding myself that i'm here for a reason and i just have to do my thing and -- and so i did.

day one culminated at maji moto, where there is one of the coolest hot springs i've ever seen, imagined or dreamt of.  definitely not a tough way to end the first day. the water was warm and crystal clear blue. there were cold beers, swimming, barry jumping into the water from way-too-high in the tree, lots of swinging from the tree swing, staying up till 2 AM, learning about taking showers in dribbling water and discovering that we had some killer snorers amongst the bunch. all-in-all -- an incredible first day.

one of the things i so loved throughout the entire ride was seeing and visiting the different villages.  some we stopped at; others we just drove through.  i will share various encounters as i blog the photos, as i feel there are so many thoughts and stories i want to share.  one thing that was huge in every village was gaining their trust.  there were plenty of times when the children ran, hid and even cried.  sometimes the men and women would simply tell me no photos.

the riders, all set to depart our hotel.

kaitlin (the one who asked me to photograph RIDETZ and whom i can never thank enough) and joyce, the beautiful young lady that kaitlin's parents sponsor.

mike is a pilot and brought wings for the kids. the children couldn't get their new wings put on their sweaters fast enough.

all the students lined the road of the school, cheering on the riders, as they officially departed usa river academy. each RIDETZ, one TFFT student is selected to do the ride. this year, 16-year-old, simon, was selected (pictured below). i can't wait to hear about all the stories he has to share.

there were two land cruisers -- one that i was in and then this one, which pulled a trailer of bikes and equipment.  there also was a large truck that carried everything else (tents, kitchen, bathrooms, showers, etc.) directly from campsite to campsite.

we passed by lots of corn fields, which often were sprinkled with beautiful sunflowers.

sometimes (although not often), we had to ask for directions.  this was one of those times.

our first village stop.

this woman really wanted me to take a photo of this little boy.

the kids loved getting silly bands.

so many people came to see what the bikers were all about, as they rode by.

in most of the villages we drove through, children herded the goats and cattle. it's pretty incredible what the children do here and how free they are.  it really has had me thinking about how we raise and (over) protect our children in the US.  more on this later, after i can put my thoughts together a bit better.

the roads were often shared with others.

fixing the RIDETZ sign on our vehicle.

our first lunch stop.

another village stop.


lots and lots of dirt and dust.  and yes, you should see my camera and computer equipment.

first night's camp site -- magi moto hot spring.

and last but not least, our fearless leader, ake (sounds like orca) -- of adventure international. ake and his entire staff were so kind, hard-working and truly, truly amazing. i can't wait till my next adventure with ake and his team. ;-)

ETA:  i'm still hoping to reach my $5000 fundraising goal for TFFT.  all money raised HERE goes directly to the foundation.  maybe -- just maybe -- i can do it before heading home on the 26th.  every bit helps and is so greatly appreciated.  thank you! thank you!

also,  if you have any questions as i post, please ask in a comment.  i will do my best to answer each and every question (although might take me a bit because internet is very spotty here and often too slow).