Archive of ‘Personal Life’ category

Personal Post: what do you bring to the viewfinder?

People who are makers are makers their whole lives. It doesn’t matter if they are artists or musicians, gardeners or pipefitters; those who were born to make will keep their hands busy and minds wandering.

When I went to art school, I imagined myself as a painter or ceramicist, covered in clay and acrylic. My goals changed when I had my first photography class with Sarah Detweiler. I didn’t love those messy mediums any less, but images took on new meaning. I was amazed at how the simplest objects and scenes were open to interpretation. Sarah explained that each of us comes to the viewfinder with our own voice, whether we know it or not. This photographic voice is built of our past experiences, our opinions and political views, our taste in clothing, our relationship with our families, and so much more. Everything that we are, and everything we surround ourselves with affects what we choose to make.

People often reject photography as a passive medium – unartistic because of how “easy” it can be to take a snapshot and how little we alter our environment before photographing. But I will argue (alongside every photography theorist) that the decision to take the image, is, in itself, and alteration of the environment. As viewers, we are not seeing a hotel or a sign or a person as a whole experience; we are seeing exactly what the photographer has chosen for us to see. Their inflection and bias is added to the image by what they cropped out, what they left in, what perspective they chose, and a thousand other micro-decisions that make up the artwork.

In my “Developing a Creative Vision” class at Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek, we talk about these natural attractions that appear in our work with repetition. As see-ers, we are moved by certain colors, textures, angles, objects, etc and they call us to take a photograph. You can see my attractions simply by looking at two rolls of film from my personal work (above: from September and October 2016). I am attracted to vintage ephemera (hand painted signs, neon, roadside oddities, vernacular architecture). I get pulled in by natural light and faded colors (especially blues and reds). Nearly all of my photographs are “straight-on” – deadpan with no dramatic angles and little action, and it is rare to see a person, especially one who addresses the camera.

When we know what we are attracted to, we better understand the images we are making and how they will function as a body of work. This awareness makes us better see-ers and better photographers. Details on my upcoming class below.

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Above images taken in Wisconsin and Michigan on 35 mm film.
To sign up for “Developing a Creative Vision Class” at Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek on July 13, 2017, please visit PSA .
For more blog posts about thinking creatively, check out: Liking What you Like and Honoring Your Thoughts .

Personal Post: making maple syrup

March is the dullest month of the year. We rush into March with dreams of spring and (as yesterday’s massive snowstorm proves) we are rewarded with another month of winter parading itself as a new season. Stuck somewhere between “winter wonderland” and “budding spring” I usually use these weeks to update our website, clean out the junk drawers, and make plans for warmer days. But last year we started a new March tradition with our family: making homemade maple syrup.

Learning to make maple syrup had been on our bucket list for awhile, and in the summer of 2015 we casually mentioned it to my grandpa at the farmhouse in Door County. Turns out, years ago, when the land was still an orchard, grandpa’s family used to tap the sugar maples every year. Some rummaging through the picker’s cabins drummed up pails and beautiful, old spiles. It was with a complete lack of knowledge and an impetuous spirit that we tackled our new project last spring.

On a Monday afternoon we cancelled our previously scheduled plans and drove up to Baileys Harbor on a whim. Using a hand-drill and hammer we knocked the spiles into the sugar maples around the farthest reaches of the property with no plans of how or when to retrieve them. By midweek the jugs were overflowing and mom and uncle Keven were scrambling to replace them in time. Maple tapping had begun.

Between small cookstove batches, there was a sap boiling weekend where all of us were there together. Gallon after gallon of sap simmered down over the wood fire while we gathered more jugs and spent the long lulls in camp chairs eating hot dogs and drinking coffee. The end result was 30+ jars of sweet syrup and one of my favorite rolls of film to date.

This year we’re making a few changes with some new tools, five gallon pails, and a little more forethought. We will be changing our boiling time to make the syrup thicker and sweeter than last year’s batch. March might not be good for much, but it’s definitely good for maple syrup.


Film scans above from March 2016, Nikon FG 35mm Kodak Portra 400

Personal Post: fall day trips

Wisconsin-Midwestern-Adventure-Photographer-Explore-St-Louis-Crivitz-Northwoods-Vintage-Moped-Cabin-1 Wisconsin-Midwestern-Adventure-Photographer-Explore-St-Louis-Crivitz-Northwoods-Vintage-Moped-Cabin-2You know those Fridays when you are about to pack for the weekend, then realize you never unpacked from last weekend and the ten outfits you actually wear, are in the laundry? It’s the busy season scramble with work to be done, great weather to be enjoyed, and the overnight bag ready for adventure!

In this winter lull, I have a moment to organize our personal photos from the past few months, and in doing so, I realized this fall was filled with fun day trips. There was the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in late August, a day-long moped trip in September, an October weekend in St. Louis (with a stop at the Leinenkugel’s Brewery), and Ben’s birthday celebration at a cabin in November. On Monday we came home with full hearts (and memory cards) and by Thursday, we were already preparing for the next outing. A more practical person may be tempted to feel domestic guilt for all the weeks where our refrigerator only contained mustard and beer, but I know better. There are only so many summer days that hit 70°, and only so many fall days that hit 50°, and if I’m in the grocery store pushing around a cart and missing one of the twenty beautiful sunsets on one of the ten warm evenings, well, that just won’t do.

Photography drew me in because it gives me the ability to capture things. My restless side is just another urge to keep events, places, feelings, and sensations, storing them away in my memory. That way, when there are no trips on the horizon and no sun in the sky, I’ve got memories of day trips like these to keep me warm.

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Photos above are film scans (Kodak Portra 35 mm) from August-October 2016.

Personal Post: i am thankful, pain for pain, joy for joy

Hazel-Door-County-Film-Photographer-Northwoods-Summer-1 Hazel-Door-County-Film-Photographer-Northwoods-Summer-2The day my film scans arrive back is like magic. When we wait for weeks or months, the memories of long weekends and summer nights begins to fade, but in handling the prints, I have those feelings back in tangible way – the good, the bad, and the bittersweet. Every moment is replayed in emulsion with the soft texture of film and I remember vividly how I felt when I made each image.

I have been absent from the personal blog for a few months. When I write these posts I write from the heart, and sometimes it can be difficult to touch upon what I feel and what I want to say about it. Even now, with so many photos I want to share, the clarity of phrasing isn’t quite clear, other than to say I am thankful. I am thankful for my beautiful home, my capable body, and most of all, my family. When things are good, family celebrates in our joys, and when things are bad, they are the people who check in every. damn. day. Not out of obligation, not because they’re sad we’re sad or happy we’re happy, but because they feel it 100% – pain for pain, joy for joy.

I have people like this in my life – family I am related to, and people whose lives have become intertwined with mine in the unlikeliest of circumstances. I am grateful for both. Life is built experiencing the feelings of others in whatever way we can. I am showing up for that – pain for pain, joy for joy.

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Film scans above ^^ from summer events with friends and family around Fourth of July.

Personal Post: why we travel

California-Travel-Wanderlust-Big-Sur-San-Fransisco-Beach-Photographer-Road-TripIf you’re in contact with us often, you’ll find that a few times each year your email will bounce back with an out-of-office message telling you that we’re away somewhere exploring. Sometimes it’s a big trip (like our spring visit to France) and sometimes it’s a few hours north for a weekend in the land of no phone service. I’ve always had the travel bug, and, aside from blaming it on genetics, I often wonder where it comes from. What is it that drives us to travel again and again?

Let’s start with what it’s not. I know it is not dissatisfaction with where we live. I love our little downtown home in a city that’s just starting to rediscover itself, and I love where I’m from originally – the beautiful Door Peninsula with beaches 20 miles in any direction. Instead, I think it has to do with two things: curiosity and re-appreciation. Curiosity is what drives the desire to plan the trip. It’s what has us wondering, “What do the buildings look like there? What does the food taste like there? What does the weather feel like there?” It’s a sort of yearning to experience new things that aren’t a part of our day-to-day lives (which can be as simple – or as profound – as seeing mountains for the first time when you spent your whole life in the flatlands of eastern Wisconsin).

In my experience, if we give ourselves enough time with one place, these discoveries are followed by a humbling gratefulness for being more connected to the rest of the world.

The second part, re-appreciation, is harder to explain. Re-apprceiation (although it’s possible that I just made that word up) is the thing that has us coming home from a trip happier and more bonded to the people in our lives. When we travel as a family, as a couple, or as a group of friends, we are working together to overcome obstacles (language barriers, getting lost, travel anxieties) and there are moments that require skills we don’t often use at home. Partners are reminded of the wonderful characteristics and talents possessed by this person they love that are easily forgotten in our day-to-day lives where so many “conversations” revolve around how much laundry there is to do, or the leak that needs to be fixed, or the obligations that fill the weekend. We can more easily feel those skills – patience, flexibility, creative problem solving, street savviness – when we are out of our normal spaces, away from our jobs, and more open to everything around us, including each other.

This is why we travel. This is why each year includes plans of an adventure to someplace we’ve never been. It’s why my idea book comes home fuller, my film all spent and memory cards depleted, a suitcase of dirty laundry, and that feeling of happy exhaustion.

Images above are 35 mm film scans from our trip to California in late February.

Personal Post: adventures with mom

Door-County-Midwest-Ice-Fishing-Hiking-Snowshoeing-Snow-Fish-Winter-Sturgeon-Bay-Green-Bay-Wildlife-SanctuaryAfter a little over a week in California, I came home to my favorite kind of mail: film scans. There were a few family events and travels from over the last year on the various rolls, but my favorite was from just a few weeks ago. It was a day planned by my mom inspired by matching enamel camp mugs I bought for us at Christmas. The day was warm (by Wisconsin winter standards) and my mom, brother, and I spent the morning hiking the Ice Age Trail in Potawatomi Park, Door County. After a few hours we stopped in the shelter house, gathered wood, and built a fire. The flames warmed the space as mom carved toasting forks and Josh fed the fire. We made pudgy pies and hot cocoa on the open flame, and, as is true anytime you work for your food, it tasted like the best lunch ever.

My mom is a Girl Scout. I mean this beyond the simple fact that she was a Girl Scout as a child and led my troop as an adult. It is a fact exceeding membership in a club, and is more like an embodiment of the ideals of what a Girl Scout is and should be. She is courageous, empathetic, and welcoming of new ideas. She is determined when it comes to tasks and skilled at nearly everything that involves the outdoors. Each summer we pitch our little tent, develop elaborate camp menus (with at least three “fuel methods” in classic Girl Scout style), and spend a few days in a state park hiking or biking or kayaking, or playing cards as the rain pours down outside. And even when it rains, even when the canopy tent gathers gallons of water that we have to empty in torrents and the entire weekend is spent in humid ponchos and muddy shoes, it is the best. Mom is the person literally laughing in the rainstorm – eternally optimistic and ready for every kind of adventure (even the ones that don’t go as planned). And this rubs off on others, calling out the it-has-to-go-as-planned-ers (like me), opening us up to a little more exploration and a little more grace.

After our shelter house lunch was cleaned up and the fire was put out, we met Ben and dad out on the bay where they had spent the morning ice fishing. We brought along a thermos of cider, a propane stove, and all the fixings to fry up their catch right on the ice. The horizon grew hazy in that pre-sunset foggy glow as we headed back with another adventure in the books, inspired, as always, by mom.

Personal Post: Social Media Reality Check – – – why we need to stop comparing ourselves

Social-Media-Reality-Check-Comparison-Thief-of-Joy-FOMO-Instagram-Green-Bay-BlogComparison is the thief of joy. – Theodore Roosevelt

This quote has been around for a hundred years, but scrolling through perfectly curated Instagram accounts and idyllic blog posts, it’s more relevant than ever. Social media has an amazing power to connect us, but it can become a trap when we start to feel like others are “doing it better” (whatever “it” may be).  As a photographer, I have the “behind the scenes knowledge” to know that a casual #mornings pic of someone’s breakfast took about 20 different arrangements, standing on a chair, and some cold waffles to accomplish. And yet, knowing it doesn’t always make us feel it. I can still be completely envious of someone’s weekend plans, finished home renovations, and networking skills, even knowing all the work that went in behind the scenes and all the imperfections we aren’t privy to.

I could tell you absurd details about all the “styled” photos posted above, (including that our kitchen ceiling has a drywall hole that’s hiding just out of the frame!) Sharing things we’re proud of and taking pretty pictures isn’t the problem (we’re all entitled to a little play on Instagram). The problem is how we let these posts distort our perception of reality.

Truth is, if I shared my 8:00am #mornings pic there would be no coffee in a cute mug surrounded by tea towels and succulents, no post-workout [sweat-free] selfie, no stacks of gorgeous office supplies topped with a finished to-do list. And honestly, I’m just not sure my slippered feet, fleece robe, and make-up free face (aka: home office wardrobe) would photograph very well. But that’s okay. I do what I do because I love what I do. That’s how this little business began. Nobody is calling me up to photograph their family because of my DIY flower crown blog posts or how great I am at styling my food before I eat it. Why lament the things we don’t do well or feel obligated to the things we don’t like, when we could be spending that energy doing things we do love and pushing toward goals that bring us joy?

There is a concept I remember from my university business classes called Opportunity Cost, and it means simply, that every decision to put our resources (aka: our time) towards one activity, is a decision to skip another. I reflect on this all the time, and I often wonder what I am giving up in order to complete an obligation that gives me no satisfaction.  It really makes me think that if we spent one minute thinking on all the bragworthy things we’ve been working toward – milestones we’ve reached, moments we’ve cherished, and talents we possess – we’d be pretty impressed with ourselves (even without the glamorous white house backdrop, and silly styling props).

In this spirit, I am issuing a challenge for us to let go of the things we think we should be doing, and instead invest our resources in what we love, our greatest strengths, and the things that make us who we are.

Personal Post: two best friends and 30 years of marriage

Southern-Door-County-Country-Anniversary-Photos-Photographer-Wisconsin-30th-LoveFor a few years after graduating, I worked in a portrait studio (one of those ten minute sittings, photo collage, six background options commercial chains). People came in, we pulled forward a matching backdrop, posed them the same as the last group, and sent them home with the coupon deal of the week. No need for names or stories. Working there helped me define what it was I wanted out of photography in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise been able to articulate.

I know how valuable images are. And I know how much more a photograph can mean if it captures who the person is, right then. It isn’t always a portrait, in fact I would argue that more often it’s a snapshot: cousins climbing an old maple tree in the front yard, grandpa in his teens laying in the grass strumming a guitar, mom on her second easter cheesing for the camera in their very first apartment. These are the photos that stick with us because they feel like the person we love.

This September my parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. Their story is a real story of two friends building a home, raising a family, and overcoming struggles. A vinyl backdrop and studio lights couldn’t tell that story. My outdoorsy dad and adventurous mom needed to be photographed in a place that characterized who they are and how they cherish one another.

More than anything the way they show their love it is through sharing their time and interests. The location we chose is not just a field filled with old buildings to make the world of Pinterest swoon; it is the place where together they hunt, and hike, and snowmobile once winter arrives. It is a physical place that symbolizes their love. I know this, and they know this, which means when I look at these images I see mom and dad, jeanie and rick, two best friends who decided to get married, and did, 30 years ago.

Personal Post: friends in northwoodsy places

Crivitz-Northwoods-Vacation-Friends-Cabin-Kasey-and-Ben-Travel-WisconsinBrought on by too many episodes of Friends and Sex and the City, somewhere along the line I developed this fantasy of what weekends with friends would be like when I was in my 20s. If television taught me anything, these days would be filled with mimosa brunches, perfectly curated outfits, and lots of spontaneous travel as a group. I would learn how to actually wear lipstick, pair wine with dinner, and walk gracefully in high heels.

Reality has it so that many of my closest friends live hours away and Sunday brunches together are a luxury planned weeks in advance. Still, I wouldn’t trade these real, honest, pick-up-where-we-left-off-last-month friendships for closer zip codes (or professional wardrobe styling).  There is something about the relationships you have with the people who knew you during the time you changed most – as you grew up, at your most awkward, finding your voice, testing the waters of personal style, breaking the rules, and making your first mistakes. These are the people who will be able to hear what you mean no matter what you say, and they are the people you need to reach out to when you’ve answered the same questions so many times, you’re no longer sure of your stale answers. They meet you where you’re at, and you do the same.

A few weeks ago, as summer was coming to a close, my friend Ashley planned a weekend in the northwoods to celebrate her golden birthday. There were margaritas and champagne, glamorous dinners on the summer porch, and cozy campfires at night. It was everything I imagined my friends and I would be doing at 28, but even better because it was us, and it was real. No laugh-tracks or hairdressers needed.

Personal Post: fourth of july hayrides

 

Fourth-of-July-Door-County-Photography-Moped-Cana-IslandIf you counted my family on your fingers we would be small in number, but if you pressed your ear to the door, you would never know it. Whether this is due to the sheer volume we achieve during scrabble matches and golf cart chases, or just a side-effect from sharing a two bedroom farmhouse on summer weekends, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, is that I love it.

This North Bay farmhouse that we all flock to each holiday weekend has been in the family since the 1920s (and the orchard land it sits on for years before that). As a kid it was my getaway – a place for daydreaming, climbing trees, and creating adventure out of nothing. Now it is a place to stop time – right in the midst of the busyness of summer – and just be with family.

One of the best traditions is our Fourth of July hayride. My grandpa hitches a bright red trailer to the back of the tractor, we fill it with straw bales and blankets, and everyone climbs aboard (drinks and dogs in hand). We take the tractor down past the little old cottages on North Bay Road, down to Cana Island, or around to Mud Lake. Grandpa waves at the locals he knows and the confused tourists who pass us by. Grandma tells us stories of who lived where when she was growing up, stories of what it all used to look like, stories of picking cherries and finding a dollar on the road that made her feel rich for weeks.  Sometimes we listen to music and sometimes we sing, and always we are snapping pictures trying to find a way to hold on to the feeling of being together on a summer afternoon in the place we love best: Up North.

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