Not Amish, Not English

Not Amish, Not English

This project is a culmination of many of the skills I have been working on since arriving at OU. The story follows an Amish family who recently left the community. The Swartzentrubers may not agree with the Amish teachings and religious views, but they still treasure many of the values of the Amish lifestyle. Since leaving, they have adapted to many modern conveniences while choosing to hold others at a distance. Much of this mentality is a part of their decision to raise their children to value both. A side story that is not addressed as directly in the story is that the Swartzentrubers as well as many other former Amish families have started their own church which is affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventists. 

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Ghost Town: Picher, Oklahoma

Ghost Town: Picher, Oklahoma

I always imagined America's largest Superfund site, land designated by the EPA as contaminated by harmful toxic waste, to be on a catastrophic scale similar to Chernobyl. Luckily, in the United States Superfund sites are not as notable as Chernobyl. In fact, if you are not careful you may drive right through one like I did on a recent trip.

I was on my way to Quapaw, Oklahoma when I sped through what looked like a an abandoned town. I had heard of Picher, Oklahoma, mostly because of a tornado that hit it a few years ago. An eerie downtown lingers on with one lone pharmacy still running a business along the town's main street. Most of the community is fenced off by chain link fence or barbed wire accompanied by government signs. After a bit of research I found that the government labeled Picher the Tar Creek Superfund site after chemical run off from the prevalent chat piles and lead mines seeped into the creek and poisoned the water. It was later discovered that there was a high instance of lead poisoning in the area and millions (if not billions) of dollars have since been spent to clean up the mess made by excessive mining. The large chat piles still remain and one can only assume that when the wind blows it still blows the nasty dust around. It seems the final death of the town occurred when a large tornado in 2008 encouraged the last remaining residents to take the government buy out and leave Picher for good. Now what is left is an eery subdivision that is emptied of all but the brick homes that at first look perfectly normal. They in fact do not have any doors or windows, lights or people.

If you are curious, there appears to be several documentaries on Picher. One of which is this one from PBS. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/creekrunsred/film.html

As a teenager I had to do a research project on Superfunds and I remember reading about Love Canal, the New York subdivision that had to be evacuated due to harmful toxic run-off from waste. Love Canal is certainly a better known Suprefund site. The history is certainly fascinating.  (Here is a link if you are interested  http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000002566509/love-canal-a-legacy-of-doubt.html)

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Blue Skies, Blue Downtown

Blue Skies, Blue Downtown

I love a good challenge. I like to problem solve and meander my way through things until I come up with a truly satisfying solution. It was for that reason that I was really excited to be challenged by Brandon.

We sat down for our client visit to get a feel for what Brandon was thinking for his portraits and his words to me were as follows. "I want my photos to say adventurous."

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Summertime Portraits

Summertime Portraits

Despite incredible heat, a hopping location full of visitors thanks to the Chihuly Glass Exhibit and heels that were sky high and not built for walking, Rachel was more than ready for this shoot. Her request was simple. She wanted photos that made her look and feel beautiful.

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Botanic Gardens Portrait Session

Botanic Gardens Portrait Session

Sunset is a great time to stroll through the Denver Botanic Gardens. The glow of color, the blooming flora, it was all a stunning back drop for Aracely who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Aracely is a senior this year and wanted to have her photos taken with someone who she was comfortable being around. She is a natural girl who wanted to look natural in her photos.

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Naomi + Chuy

Naomi + Chuy

Naomi and Chuy were committed to two things; each other and a small, intimate wedding. Intimate weddings are a favorite of mine and my new photography partner Kevin Ryan (check out our new business at photovesper.com). Small weddings enlist a commitment to include the people that matter the most and the values you hold dear. Naomi included several close friends who lovingly visited her before the ceremony to meditate in prayer, laugh and hug, help in any way possible and offer sincere wishes of future happiness. Although Chuy was ill on the big day, he was just as excited to get the ball rolling with his new bride. Here are my photos from Stonebrook Manor in Thornton, CO. 

  

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A Baby Shower for Baby Ellie

Baby showers are always fun, but when you get a big sister and husband involved they are even more fun. Sarah had just a few friends with babies but had many couples that she counted as equally important parts of her and her husband Darren's social circles. So, for this shower the fun was extended to the menfolk as well. After all, who doesn't want to enjoy some tasty food, extend well wishes, enjoy a few mid-day cocktails and shower friends with gifts, hopes and advice? Gifts and games were abound as the group wished Darren, Sarah and big sister Evan all of their best luck for the new bundle of joy. Baby Ellie was soon to come just a few short weeks later.

 

 

 Guests and big sister Evan, far right, taste a mystery baby food during one of the party games.  

Guests and big sister Evan, far right, taste a mystery baby food during one of the party games.  

In one party game, friends and guests to the shower had to guess Sarah's waste size using crepe paper. When they had made their selections, they had to bring it up and stretch it around her waste to see how close their guess was to being correct.  

Husband Darren celebrates his down to the centimeter correct waist size guess.  

Sarah and daughter Evan share a quiet moment before guests arrive.  

Darren and Sarah open gifts together, proving that fun baby showers don't just have to be for the ladies. Many of Darren's friends attended the shower as well.

A few friends brought their babies, including Meesha Baldridge. Meesha brought her daughter Ava to join in the festivities.

Evan helps her parents unwrap gifts during the shower.  

Host Whitney Reeter chose a child-friendly woodland animal theme for the guest snacks. 

Immersed In Syracuse

Last week I found myself in a car with my fiancee's father, skipping work to hop a plane to Syracuse, New York where I would spend five days soaking up, marinating in and immersing myself in multimedia. I guess there is a reason why the Newhouse School at Syracuse University calls their five day workshop/bootcamp the Multimedia Immersion. I truly felt like I ducked my head down into a warm, salty pool and kept it there along with 50 or so other friendly photographer types. It was five days of long days and nights, small bits of sleep, lots of coffee consumption and a tremendous amount of encouraging words from some of journalism's most impressive minds.

The ironic part of the immersion is that I took most of my photos using my iPhone and I literally only shot one photo on assignment. It was one that stopped me in my tracks and begged to be taken (see below), but was still a lonely one. That is because the Immersion workshop forces you to twist your mind a bit and see the world as a moving image and not just a still one. That perfect eye for composition is still important but now your subject is constantly moving and you don't get to stop. It is harder than you might think. In particular, I struggled with hoisting around a tripod all day. In my regular day as a photographer I rarely even lay my eyes on my tripod. It is always thrown in my car but I just don't find it that useful. In the world of video, a good tripod is invaluable.

As the week progressed, I found myself having the typical problems a still image photojournalist faces coupled with a few new problems that were to be expected (after all, I was at the Immersion for a reason). Timing, a subject that cooperates but also viewed the face time as self-promotion, a learning curve that was frankly a bit higher than I thought it would be when it came to audio and sound as well as learning the tricks to editing software I had never used was all an adventure that myself and the other workshop subjects took on with glee. Yes, it was a room full of photographers geeking out to new technology. The organizers even invited representatives from Nikon and Canon to share, check out and demonstrate new equipment. You should have seen the giddiness as three huge crates of Canon gear were unlocked and presented to participants who wished to try something new. The Immersion definitely tapped into a common thread among photographers, the need to fiddle with new gadgets.

I personally learned a tremendous amount about editing techniques and sound from my coaches (they pair two for every team of four) Joe Mahoney and Jason Kuhlbrenner. They patiently pushed me forward, questioned my thinking and were honest with me about my expectations. Shoot for the stars but aim for the moon was a common word of levelheaded advice from Joe. You are learning so the expectation is that you will churn out something satisfying but still at slightly above beginner level. That was comforting as I watched my story unfold into a work that was not quite up to my expectations.

Overall, it was a humbling experience. I had to step back from something I am fairly confident in and embrace a new storytelling strategy that is important and relevant...and new. Each photographer also had to present their work to each other and the public. Despite a refreshingly honest discussion by Brad Horn early in the workshop about honesty, jealousy and understanding that we are all envious of one another when it comes to our work, it was really hard to present my work to people that in many cases I have admired from afar for years. 

I am so excited to start editing my next project and share it here. When I was a teenager I really wanted to be a filmmaker but assumed that this would be out of my league, way too Hollywood and not at all possible for a girl from Missouri. Now I am looking back at that girl knowing that all things are possible. Who would have known that important storytelling film making would be so close to my fingertips? I am sharing my project from the week, not because I think it is my best piece of work but because it shares a story and marks a new progression in my craft. It is a place to start from and move ever forward.

 The one photograph taken on my Canon 5D during my time at the Multimedia Immersion workshop in Syracuse, NY. Pictured here is a tiny cabin built on Kellish Farms  in Manlius, NY for anyone who performs at the barn and chooses to stay the night.

The one photograph taken on my Canon 5D during my time at the Multimedia Immersion workshop in Syracuse, NY. Pictured here is a tiny cabin built on Kellish Farms  in Manlius, NY for anyone who performs at the barn and chooses to stay the night.

A Jill of Many Trades

As many of you may know, I spend my days not just shooting. I also teach photojournalism at a Denver high school. This past week my students once again had the privilege of meeting award winning photojournalists and multimedia artists during a visit from the Denver Post. In that same week my students were also notified of several awards won in a district show and a handful photographed and interviewed Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Capitol Hill Press Conference the same day civil unions were being discussed on the Senate floor. The work can be very rewarding. Watching students develop their voice and grow in skills helps inspire me to keep discovering photography and digital media arts. It is every bit as fulfilling as making great photography on my own.

My work in Denver is often complicated. Much like human relationships, work can have multiple surfaces of scratchable evidence of our skills, passions and ambitions. As I work more and more in Denver I have also been leaned upon for other skills. I have become something of a marketer for my school as more and more people have asked me to create their marketing materials for events and programs. I have found this is yet another creative endeavor that I really enjoy in my "free time." It has started to grow as a business and has become its own animal and so I decided I may start showing a few of my graphic designs here as I get more requests. In the past week I have worked on three that are fun and all very different in mood. I created all in Adobe Illustrator and utilized a Wacom Bamboo tablet for the freehand drawing. I find my understanding of photography has given me a great base for creating graphics and hope it only grows a means for promoting good causes.

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Roller Derby

Roller Derby

Some of us played soccer. Others learned the piano. These days there are more exciting hobbies to take up. Following in the footsteps of their older counterparts, young girls across Colorado are participating in roller derby leagues for girls between the ages of 13-18. Spirited, young teens that prefer to put on their warrior paint, throw elbows and lace up in colorful roller skates have been holding bouts all over the state and will be opening for the Rocky Mountain Roller Dolls in February at the Fillmore.

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Abby, Brittany + Emily

Children are always fun, but these three preteens were a blast! Each has their own distinct personality which their parents so happily encourage them to share and develop. Abby is the sporty one that loves golf, math and running. Brittany is the shy, introspective bookworm who is devoted to horses and riding while Emily is the charismatic buzz of energy who loves people.

The charming part of this shoot is that these three sisters are very close and truly enjoy one another. I was also impressed with how soulful and lovely these girls are as they head into their teen years where life's priorities tend to change and morph. These girls are clearly grounded in what is important.

Our shoot had to be short because it was designed to be a surprise for the parents. However, the shoot had to happen on the acreage adjoining their home so distractions and a quiet walk through the garage door and down the pine lined path of their backyard had to be quick and snappy. No pun intended!

Aunt Bonnie Gets the Last Laugh

Growing up, my Aunt Bonnie was by far the most colorful of my family members. My childhood memories are full of her pulling up to my great grandma's house full tilt in her El Camino, fishing line hanging out the back and a bucket of fish in the seat. "We're going to have a fish fry," she would exclaim as she collected hugs. Her laugh is a gregarious cackle and her love for Elvis is unmatched. When I was a teenager staying over at her house I would roam the tiny guest room and look at all of her Elvis memorabilia. The room was literally papered in magazine page cutouts and huge light bulb-lined movie posters. She had the velvet Elvis AND the commemorative plates to match the hip swishing telephone.

It was not surprising that after many years as a singleton, she remarried her first husband in her 70s and moved to the countryside to observe deer and enjoy the romantic trappings of married life. She only got a few unfair good years with her one true love before he died. In recent years she also had to trade in her vanity a bit when doctors had to remove one of her legs due to diabetes. Bonnie just would not let that stop her and could probably lap me in daily chores. When I visited her recently she would not let me get up to get my own coffee. "Hey, the way I look at it is you have to get up and walk over here to get your coffee. I don't have to get up. All I have to do is scoot over here in my chair." I just adore this woman and hope I can be as full of sass when I am her age. In a recent letter she told me my visit to see her made her feel so good to know she had been thought of and was important to someone. Important, yes. But the truth is, she makes me laugh and there is just not enough of that going around sometimes.

 

Aunt Bonnie lets off one of her famous cackles of laughter as she picks up her cat to love on it. She may also have been laughing at my sister who had just gone outside to root out a garden tiller from her shed. "I bet she don't even know what she is lookin' for. You better go help her."

Aunt Bonnie gets around her house in her new wheelchair. So well she won't let you get your own cup of coffee.

 "Now make sure I look pretty."

"Now make sure I look pretty."

Chelsea + Justin

Chelsea + Justin

I spent the afternoon in southern Missouri/northern Oklahoma field with Chelsea and Justin enjoying some of the most unbelievable fall colors I have seen a in a long time. Sorry Colorado, but we just don't have this kind of fall color! This engagement sessions was one of my favorites to shoot, mostly because they were so open to anything and were truly just interested in showing how happy they are together. These two wanted something tasteful but also relevant to their love of the outdoors. Fresh air, fall color and nature. A family-owned field full of fond memories certainly was not hard to pick for a location.

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Snowshoeing: The Perfect Girls Getaway

When it comes to planning ladies retreats that don't include sewing circles (not that there is anything wrong with that), Colorado has a lot to offer. Just an hour from the city one can find an endless list of outdoor options to fill your days. This past March some friends of mine were celebrating a 30th birthday and decided to plan a ladies weekend retreat in Vail that included cooking, wine, and a guided 2-hour snow shoeing hike through Vail's  aspen filled forest.

About half of the group was experiencing snowshoeing for the first time, while the other half were a bit more seasoned. For beginners it was suggested that a guide was lead the group through Vail's trail system so we hired a guide from Vail Athletic Club to take us on the trails safely. Upon arrival, our friendly guide Ellen Price helpfully suggested clothing and shoe options and then took us outside to show us how to put on our snowshoes.

"I was really nervous that I would hold back the group because I did not know what I was doing and I have asthma but she (Price) was really nice," said Whitney Reeter. "She was really good at slowing the experienced people down by pointing things out and making suggestions. That gave me a chance to catch my breath and get a drink of water."

Helpful suggestions on how to scale the slippery trail (low snow pack resulted in iced over sections and even areas that were muddy) and attentive one-on-one help getting through some tricky areas made having a guide both comforting and worth the price. It also helped ease some of our fears so that when we fell, slid or had difficulty getting back up it was nothing more than a laughing matter. Needless to say, there was a lot of laughing.

In the end, our guide suggested that our group was a bit too advanced for a guide and may benefit from just renting snow shoes the next time we wanted to try hiking. With that said, I would suggest getting a guide if you have never snowshoed before and you are trying a new location.

For more information, visit www.vailathleticclub.com/vail_outdoors.html.

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