Poverty and the Purple House

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We pulled up to a small private school in a neighborhood in Nicaragua. Our driver turned the key in  the ignition and Kendra, the missionary we were with, began to tell us why they decided to partner with this school.  

"See that purple house with shutters over the windows," she asked.

Sixteen-year-old twins lived there with their mother. 

Kendra met them when they were 11. She brought them to a camp the missionaries hosted each summer.

At night, they screamed.

It was so bad that she pulled one of the girls outside and asked what was wrong.

Desperate for her daughters' survival, their mother would accept food from a pastor in the community. 

He came by at night, where she would meet him on the front steps. In exchange for food for her daughters, she would let him go inside and have his way with the girls.

They were also forced to sleep by the open windows so men could come in and out throughout the night. 

When Kendra heard this tragic story, she decided that not only did Feed the Hungry need to have a presence in this neighborhood, but that families there desperately needed food. The school is now a feeding center for FTH, and the students regularly eat Feed My Starving Children meals. 

Kendra contacted the authorities about the situation. They did an investigation. She hopes that it, along with a presence in the community and much-needed nutrition, can help others not take such drastic measures. 

"The affects of poverty go so deep," Kendra said as she twirled a little girl's orange-tinted hair and moved on to explain how consistent nutrition meant it was starting to grow in healthy. 

I Went to Haiti and Forgot to Tell You

This past April, I had an amazing opportunity with my job managing blog and social media storytelling for Feed My Starving Children

I was able to travel to Haiti with a group of FMSC staff and donors. 

I wrote a lot of blog posts for work and shared photos on my personal social channels, but I never wrote about it here.

Perhaps the biggest thing I walked away with was that there are so many factors and variables to each child’s story. Sometimes the healing takes longer than we realize.

I talked about that in a blog about how hunger is more complicated than we often acknowledge. 

I also wrote about experiencing church in Haiti, sending meals to Hurricane Matthew survivors and paying attention to the faces of Haiti.  

I have the opportunity to bring that last blog to life at Community Grounds in Columbia Heights.

An exhibit of portraits I took in Haiti will be on display through the month of August. I hope you check it out! 

Lauren & Ryan

Last year, I photographed Lauren & Ryan's wedding. It was a beautiful day -- everything about it captured this couple. 

It was my first wedding. I was second shooter and did it for the experience. I loved every minute of it. 

I haven't advertised that I shoot weddings because wedding photographers are their own breed. It's a whole different game.

But I do shoot small weddings, and I guess I'm ready to let the world know -- haha. 

Enjoy a small selection of photos from Lauren & Ryan's special day by clicking on the photos in the gallery to move it along. 

 

If I Should Have a Daughter....

This poem will always make me think of Jackie and Josie and vice versa. I was so honored to photograph these two the last time I went home to Chicago. Love you guys <3 

“If I should have a daughter…“Instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she can say “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder-woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

And “Baby,” I’ll tell her “don’t keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him.”

But I know that she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boats nearby, ‘cause there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything if you let it.

I want her to see the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat, to look through a magnifying glass at the galaxies that exist on the pin point of a human mind. Because that’s how my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this my momma said” when you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you wanna save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say “thank you,” ‘cause there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.

You will put the “wind” in win some lose some, you will put the “star” in starting over and over, and no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting I am pretty damn naive but I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

“Baby,” I’ll tell her “remember your mama is a worrier but your papa is a warrior and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”

Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.” 

― Sarah Kay

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Tangled

“Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that.” 
― Ally Condie

This weekend, I sat on the floor with this person I have known for 20 years and ate mac and cheese. But this time there was a baby there, too.

No one really talks about the beautiful mind fuck that is seeing someone you've grown up with become a mother.

It's been four days since I've met Max, and I still can't get over it. The way Amy looks at him and touches him and rushes to his side when he cries.

Capturing this family whose roots are tangled with mine has been one of my greatest pleasures since I picked up a camera this fall.  

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"Say Yes"

If there’s a cause worth fighting for, it’s this: Children belong in families.
— Nicole Skellenger via Confessions of an Adoptive Parent

My beautiful friend, Lianna and her husband Chris, are embarking on the foster to adopt journey. They're expecting a baby within a few months. 

I had the honor of hosting a shower for them and snuck some photos in along the way. 

You can follow along on their journey HERE

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How to Navigate the Photography World with an Infertility Diagnosis

So, I don't actually have an answer for this. I don't know how to navigate the photography world with unexplained infertility. I just wanted to talk about it.

I'm not sure it can be done. I have zero pain when it comes to photographing families. I consider this a huge blessing. Family sessions are my favorite thing to do, and I love holding your baby so I can get a picture of mom and dad alone. 

But it's not just me and you. Photography is so much about community. It's not just about me and my clients; it's about me and other photographers, photography groups and social media accounts. 

As a photographer, especially when you're new to the game, you have to figure out where you fit in to all this.

Where do you belong? 

You can't be a successful photographer if you live in a vacuum. You have to be active on all the pages -- getting inspiration, participating in weekly fave and themed submissions.

This is where I've started to see a disconnect. So many photographers have children of their own. So many pages are geared towards mom photographers. 

It's one more way for someone struggling with infertility to be on the outside looking in. 

It's one more way for someone struggling with infertility to be reminded that they don't really belong -- anywhere.

This week, I've felt like throwing in the towel. I've unfollowed a lot of important accounts. It's not just the complicated feelings that come along with constantly seeing pictures of baby bellies and peachy newborns -- it's feeling like you can't participate.

During the busy season, I had lots of client photos to share and submit, but now I don't. For most photographers, they can post photos of their children in place of clients until spring when sessions start to pick up.

I don't have that luxury. 

It's not that I don't love these beautiful images. I do. I love the documentary style that comes along with photographing your children in your home. It's so, so beautiful and important. 

But I implore you, photography world, to invite me in. Tell me where I belong. Help me find a way to coexist with you despite this terrible, painful thing called infertility. 

 

 

Let it Snow -- Personal Projects that is

Winter is officially here. It's negative degrees outside and I've had my first of many winter flat tires (thank you Scion tC!) 

With winter comes a bit of a lull for many photographers, and I'm excited to tackle a few personal projects that will grow my photography and editing skills for the next busy season.

Twin Cities Refugees: A Day in the Life

This project is near and dear to my heart. I first pursued journalism as a means to tell the stories of refugees. And when I got to do it, it made my heart sing. One of the reasons I left journalism is because I didn't see a path to that kind of storytelling where I was at. Now, I have the freedom to do what I want. There has been a lot of vitriol and misunderstanding of refugees lately. It breaks my heart. The refugee community in the Twin Cities is vibrant. From Hmong to Somali to the fastest growing group, the Karen, this is a beautiful and diverse place to live. 

Yet. 

Last year a Muslim woman was attacked at an Applebee's for speaking Swahili to the friends at her table. Racial slurs have been sprayed with graffiti in high school bathrooms. Innocent people have been told with hatred to "go back home" and that they don't belong here. But they do belong.

This winter, I am focusing my energy on a photo essay project to capture the very normal yet beautiful daily lives of refugees. Sort of a "Celebrities! They're just like us!" but for refugees. And I can't wait. 

The Photography Conversation Project

I'm also applying to participate in this project for photographers with the talented Rachel Cathleen Photography. You pair up and have an ongoing conversation through photos alone. I hope to be accepted because this will challenge me in my photography and in how I communicate in general! 

"Read This if you Want to Take Great Photographs"

I'm reading this book by Henry Carroll as a way to expand my education past the two semesters in digital storytelling I took in grad school. He covers composition, light, exposure and lenses. It all sounds very basic, but he goes into quite a bit of depth in an easy to understand way. He also peppered the book with photos from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Dorothea Lange. 

 

A Special Merry & Bright at the Tree Farm

"As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness -- just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm." -- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Christa's Christmas tree tradition dates back to her own childhood, when her mom used this same Stanley thermos for hot chocolate.

She lost her mom this year and told me that filling this thermos with hot chocolate before our session moved her to tears.

Now I look at these pictures and I see Deb.

She's still with us in so many ways from her legacy that shines through her daughters to the small, seemingly meaningless things like a thermos at a Christmas tree farm.

Click on photos to navigate gallery and carousel.

 Book your Merry &amp; Bright session today!

Book your Merry & Bright session today!

A Day in the Life of the Deusterman Gang

This family is everything I ever wanted to photograph.

I loved that mom and I shared a vision for an unconventional family session. 

As she put it, "We don't sit around smiling pretty in parks. We throw leaves in each other's faces and laugh."

I was honored to capture the spirit and energy of this family. 

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Giving Kids a Fighting Chance

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they’re capable of being.
— John Wolfgang von Goethe

I recently had the honor of photographing Fighting Chance Boxing Club in North Minneapolis. 

I got hooked on the place.

The mission is "To effect positive change in North Minneapolis youth through boxing and physical fitness." The gym also partners with Matter and others to feed the kids healthy meals -- something they started doing after noticing they were sending the kids away hungry at the end of the night.

This doesn't just sound good on paper -- it works.

You see, if you start to Google North Minneapolis, it autofills the rest of the search bar with "shooting."

Nearly 50 percent of North Minneapolis lives below the poverty line, according to data from the Minnesota Compass.

But there is so much more to this vibrant community than statistics.

I pulled up to the gym as dusk started to roll in and saw these kids work with their coaches in the dreamy light of the sun setting.

It was an unseasonably warm day, so there was almost as much work being done outside as in.

It smelled like rubber and sweat. Kids were smiling, laughing and shadow boxing with determination. 

I watched as neighborhood kids -- boys AND girls -- helped each other put wraps and gloves on, shadow boxed and got in the ring with coaches.

And I thought, "What if this wasn't here?" This gym that is filled to the brim with kids from 8 to 18...these kids might be on the street with more of a chance to be part of the statistics, the Google autofill.

Every single day, approximately 13 young people in the United States are victims of homicide and an additional 1,642 visit hospital emergency departments because of physical assault-related injuries. Among high school students, 1 in 4 report being in at least one physical fight and 1 in 5 report being bullied in the last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC views this as a public health crisis. Furthermore, they say there is a disproportionate burden on ethnic and racial minority youth. 

Some of the key prevention strategies the CDC has defined are taking place every day at Fighting Chance.

1. Build children’s and adolescents’ skills and competencies to choose nonviolent, safe behaviors. 

2. Build and maintain positive relationships between young people and caring adults in their community. 

3. Improve and sustain a safe physical environment in communities and create spaces to strengthen social relationships. 

And this is all before you even think about the benefits that exercise -- specifically boxing -- has on mental health and wellness.

I hope I did the gym and these kids justice in these photos. 

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A Quintessential Fall Family Date

Autumn carries more gold in its pockets than all the other seasons.
— Jim Bishop

I've enjoyed more fall this year than I have in a long time! Getting to hang out with cool families in beautiful parks and pumpkin patches is a definite job perk. 

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A Day in the Life: Gutierrez Family

We do not remember days, we remember moments.
— Cesare Pavese

Watching your closest friends being parents is an indescribable feeling. Karen was my best friend through high school and beyond. I remember daydreaming out loud about each other's futures, and now I get to watch her in her element -- with Sergio and the girls. 

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Contact me to book a special day-in-the-life session for your family. 

Evensong

I had the privilege of photographing our Evensong service at St. Paul's United Church of Christ. It's a unique service that I can't describe in my own words, so here is how the church describes it: 

Join us for our meditative Evensong Service with Folk Harp & Dulcimer on the second Sunday of each month, 5:15 to 6:00 pm. Singing the music of Iona and Taizé ~ Accompanied by folk harp and hammered dulcimer ~ Lectio Divina and extended silent meditation ~ Praying for self, our wider circle, and the world. An optional opportunity to ask for and receive prayers for healing and/or anointing with oil follows the service. Light reception afterward. All are welcome!

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'We Walk for Nan'

"I was 25 years old when I found out cancer would take my mom from me."

That's how my friend Emily starts her beautiful piece on Millennials mourning

Yesterday, we gathered at the MOCA Teal Strides for Ovarian Cancer 5k in honor of her mother, Nan.

I never knew her. I met Emily about a year after her mom passed. But I count the Kaisers as my Minnesota family (not sure how they feel about this?) 

I brought my camera to practice my manual settings during a high sun time, and I'm so glad I did. 

There is something so special about this family and their many close friends. 

As Jim Walsh once put it, "The Kaisers were and are saints, straight up."

And thank you, Nan, for making an appearance as the sun climbed over the hill. 

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Hazel Loses a Tooth

My friend Liz recently came to my house for a bridal shower I hosted for a friend. She brought her two daughters who I want to be like when I grow up. 

They are so smart, spunky, independent and fearless! Kinda like Liz ;)

I shirked my hosting duties to photograph them playing in the backyard with my puppy.

That's when Hazel lost a tooth.

This is my favorite example of documentary photography in my portfolio despite some of the imperfections with the photos. 

Storytelling <3

(Click photos to navigate the gallery)