I have to say i never expected to enjoy shooting weddings as much as I do, they fill my heart and remind me that true love does exist. I still get pretty nervous as I show up to photograph each very special day. It's really intense, usually unpredictable, a little chaotic before the ceremony. I never know what to expect, I've photographed soon to be married beautiful women cry their makeup off their faces. I've photographed brides during panic attacks, struggling to breathe and calm their extreme emotions. A couple brides who were so calm and collected that I forgot I was at a wedding. I stay quiet in the shadows through all of the emotional moments. I've learned letting everything happen in front of my camera naturally and comfortably is a kind of beautiful like no other.
Although these women's journeys through this day are so different from one another's , there is always one moment I catch at every single wedding that is my absolute favorite. At some point between slowly sliding into sparkling dresses and touching up the tear drop shaped streaks in their makeup, the bride always takes a seat, and just stares into space as her best friends and sisters chat loudly and twirl around her in a tornado of halfway on outfits. When it happens, I sense it coming and usually find myself sitting cross legged on the floor at an edge of the room. I don't want my camera to alter this moment at all, to bring any insecurity to her thoughtful eyes. This moment usually only lasts a few minutes, but it sticks with me like it were hours of it. In between snapping a few photos of my favorite scene, as she stares into visions of the rest of her life, I can't help but just watch her. I'm often the only one admiring this moment, I don't think the other women know what's happening as they usually haven't seen it many times like I have.
As I intently watch her mind go out of this room, I know she can't hear any of the commotion surrounding her, I know that her vision is blurred, if her eyes close I imagine what she creates in that darkness. I try to create beautiful days in my own eyes as she does.She slowly starts to come out of her day dream, and starts to respond to conversation here and there, but she isn't fully back to the present moment until she walks down the aisle, until she has mixed those emotions all together into a radiant smile.
At some weddings,I show up having never met anyone there, sometimes they are friends of friends, and today it was family. No matter who they are, where I am in the country, it is so incredibly special to experience every moment of the whole day with each bride and groom and their loved ones. It is such an honor to me, because only the photographer gets to see every minute, beginning to end. And the photos I take will be part of their new family and the future generations they create forever. I smile knowing that these photos will remind them of their love every day from here on.
Breathtaking days like this full of life and love are the most special reminders of why I do what I do every day.
Tears come to my eyes as I reflect on the past year, my life is forever changed because of the events that took place. On January 5th of last year I drove from Atlanta to Louisville to interview with Clay Cook for a year long position as one of his assistants. In between moving I got a tattoo on my hand, because I knew my entire life from then on would be photography, and that there was no going back, no quitting and getting an easy job.
Exactly one month later, alongside my two poodles I packed everything that would fit in my coupe and moved to Louisville to completely change my life as an artist and as a person.
This year I've done things I never thought I would be able to do. I've gained courage, confidence and strength that I never thought I would have. I have transformed into a photographer who wants to make a difference, not just take pretty pictures.
This transformation has led this year to also be the hardest year of my life, my heart aches more than it ever has for my people and communities under attack all over the world.
I started a photo and video project with Zachary Erwin to bring awareness to the suicide and drug epidemic that overwhelms Native American communities across America. We filmed and camped for a week in several reservations in Oregon and Washington throughout the northwest tribal canoe journey.
In early September I came across a video of police letting their dogs attack a native woman in Standing Rock. I broke down crying, and right then my whole body told me I needed to be there and needed to share my photos and experiences with everyone I possibly could. A week later, with just enough money to get there and back I drove to North Dakota.
In November I drove to Standing Rock again with Zach, it was the hardest trip I've ever made. The cold was already too unbearable for me. For no reason at all we left a day early, and right when I walked into my house my mom sends me live feeds of the water protectors being tortured by police with water canons and rubber bullets in below freezing temperatures. I was the saddest I've been in my life, and it lasted for weeks.
In the last month of this year, my life was completely derailed by one individual, but the love and support of many helped me keep my head high and my eyes on my dreams.
In a year I have gained an insane amount of knowledge, confidence in myself and the tools to be successful in a cutthroat industry. I have worked alongside outstanding artists who are now lifelong friends. I can't even imagine what ill be writing about on this day next year.
Thank you Clay for changing my life, and thank you to all of you who have shared this journey with me, for believing in me at my best and worst, I would be nothing without you.
Do you remember who you were before? Before growing up, before the pain, before the struggle... Do you remember who you were before people told you who you weren't and who they wanted you to be?
I used to care what people thought of me, I cared a lot what society said I should become. I would take every single critical word to heart. Words and images piled up. I begun to hate myself. I began toobsess over fixing myself. And then I realized, there's nothing wrong with me. It's society that is broken, manipulative and evil, not me.
I've been thinking a lot lately about who I am underneath it all, who I am when I'm deep in the forest, alone, no technology and no sounds other than the wind. I've been bringing back memories of who I was on the river banks in Oregon. I've been looking through hundreds of old pictures, taken before I had bills to pay and expectations to live up to, seeing how I smiled, how I stood while a camera was pointed at me.
It may sound silly, but taking this new profile photo is important to me. The one you've seen for months was the version of me that was so uncomfortable with the world, with fury in my eyes for the way I am treated for being a woman, mad at the government for torturing my people, and anxious because I couldn't do anything to stop these disgusting actions by many of the people in this country. Don't get me wrong, I'm still mad as hell, and I'm still fighting, I will fight my whole life, but that's not who I was before, and I can't let society take my spirit away.
The past couple months I've been getting rid of everything toxic, shedding anything that makes me think differently, freeing myself from a job that would suck my energy, protecting my mind from commercials that mesmerize me with their awful jingles. I've been doing only what I love, watching the movies I think are breathtaking, listening exclusively to the songs that make me sing, the same 20 songs repeating, over and over, steady.
I'm realizing more and more who I really am, and am doing the best I can to live true to who I am, but it's not easy to be complete self, free and unburdened when surrounded by uninvited and unwanted influences, expectations, sights and sounds. Now that I notice how much these things change me, I don't want them.
So, here's a photo of the real me, and I'm going to try my best to show you nothing but her from now on. The me that's always smiling and goofing around, the girl who's full of life and spastic energy, who walks barefoot and rolls on the floor with her dogs. The girl who runs up and down the stairs like I kid, and eats pizza three times a week. The girl who doesn't care to match her socks or buy new clothes, who will run to the car screaming because the air is ice cold. I like my world to be as beautiful and hushed as the beach. I like my hair the color of the Pacific Ocean, and I won't change it for anyone.
Today was the first day in a long time that I've felt "normal", I felt like myself. I am myself.
Today we make history. For the first time in 500 years Native Americans are back together again on this Thanksgiving.
For the first time in 500 years we are building fires together, sleeping in Teepees together, singing together, eating together, praying together, fighting a war together, practicing our traditional ways together, and taking back our stolen land together.
All because of the Dakota Access Pipeline threatening our lives. After this fight is over we will forever be changed, we will be stronger than we have ever been, we will be together forever.
"I am indigenous, original resistance, I'm going to need assistance if I'm going to make a difference, I used to be restless and now I'm relentless"
For those who didn't know, the Dakota Access Pipeline project is a 1,200 mile long pipeline that would transport over 570,000 barrels of oil per day. The pipeline would contribute to 50 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which is the equivalent of 10 million cars.
The pipeline will cross sacred Native land including burial grounds, historical sites and the plentiful Missouri river. It will contaminate the only clean drinking water of over 20,000 Standing Rock Sioux Indians, as well as cross Treaty land of the Sioux and the Oceti Sakowin Tribe.
Yesterday I saw the pipeline for the first time, it is truly massive and destructive already, and they aren't even close to being finished, when you arrive at the pipeline construction sites, you can smell the dirtiness of it. You can see it going straight through thriving farm lands and cows roam only feet from it. I can't even imagine what this land will look like if this pipeline is finished.
This needs to be stopped. This is Environmental Racism and threatens human rights of thousands of Native American people and the sacred land they live on. We can only take so much from this earth before we completely destroy it and the recourses she provides us with.
Wherever you are please educate yourself and stand up with me, stand up with the Sioux, stand up for human rights.
Natives are leaving their homelands across the United States, quitting their jobs, enrolling in school here in North Dakota, to stop this, and they will not leave until it is stopped, they will be here through the harsh North Dakota winter. Our earth and the water she gives us to live is more important than any amount of money, any job or four walls.
We will stop this through Native America coming together again. and rising up after hundreds of years of oppression and seclusion. This is the largest gathering of Native Tribes since the Battle of Little Big Horn...
Thank you Gary Barragan for taking this portrait of me before I left Louisville for Standing Rock to support the cause and spread the word. Thank you for supporting me in standing up for my people.
Please read and share!
I was poisoned before, by my childhood, by our societies standards, by 5 years of oppressive relationships. I was choking on the idea that a man would determine my success, that I was incapable of thinking for myself, that I was powerless in my society.
Every single word from hell that has been thrown in my face like lava is tattooed on my soul forever, and some nights they still come back to haunt my mind, the words telling me that I have no influence, no power to change, that I am weak, that I will never be an artist and that I am absolutely crazy for having deep fiery passion for what I believe in.
Every scar on my body is a symbol for one of those days they couldn't contain my strength in a bottle anymore, the days when I furiously stepped out of my obedient state of being. The scars are now reminders that they are truly the only weak ones, they are the weakest for harming our bodies when they can't decompose our souls anymore.
These invisible words and faint scars were meant to be tattooed on me, so that I will fight for equality the rest of my life, so that I will never forget how strong I am, so that I can forever rise above the men who try to drag me back down to the ground by my hair, just because I am a woman.
Exactly two months ago I lifted the poisons from my body, I stood up, cut off all my hair, realized my worth, and I started to fight hard for it. It was not surprising when men told me not to talk about the things that had happened to me, because if we start talking and giving each other strength to be whole without men, our society will change forever.
With this photograph I am showing you that I am taking back the power, unshackling myself from the demons I have been fed for years. I hope it inspires you to do the same, to tell your stories without fear, to fight for our equality, to fight so that our new ruler does not objectify us as he does his own wife.
It is time we have to turn the tables, so that our Granddaughters do not have to feel this pain, so they do not have to fight for their rights as humans, so that they will not live a life of suffering at the hands of our men.
Feel free to share, and share your own strength and the stories that gave it to you with me or the world if you're ready, when I'm feeling weak, your words lift me back up.
Where every human is free
Where we have the freedom to speak
The freedom to believe differently than others
Where we're free to peacefully protest the wrong
America, where everyone is equal
Oh unless your Native American, protecting uour land without using the white mans weapons, without their hatred and violence, and not a drop of their greed in our loving hearts. When your an Indian they take all of this away, like it was theirs.
They took our rights like they took our ancestors.
When we go to pray, white men great us with tanks
When we speak, we are choked with chemicals
When we walk we are pushed back by walls.
When we sing they try to make our hearts cold with freezing water.
But they don't know they can't break us, they can't take the resilience out of our genes, the genes that make us different from them, stronger than them.
The white man will be fighting forever, until they live like us, until they learn to love this earth and love each other like we do every day, until they follow their ancestors as we do, and not their money.
We will always be happier living this way, because even when the gas is rising around us as we step on barbed wire, as we stare down the barrels of their guns and search for the souls behind the shields, we have hope. We have hope because we can see the end, the snows tell us the story of it every single day.
We spent Independence Day, attempting to have freedom at the The Nine at University of Louisville, a girls night swimming and taking photos. However these boys made my lovely friends extremely uncomfortable, we had to leave after 10 minutes. We sat for a few minutes and waited to see if they'd bother us, and they did, several of them bombarded us in their XS soaking boxers. They stood over us and asked if we were taken, like our answers mattered to them. We unanimously replied with the firmest denials you've ever seen and then turned around and ignored them.
After 5 excruciating minutes of agitation as they lingered like vultures above our chairs and private conversation, they finally moseyed sadly back to their hot tub filled with flashy entitlement and arrogance.
At first I really didn't want Tiffany to get in the pool and model for me like we had planned... But we decided to not let their behavior prevent us from creating. I assured everyone I'd get some good shots in two minutes and then we'd leave.
I was amazed at her ability to completely ignore these boys as they yelled loudly, disgusting and derogatory remarks at her as she fearlessly posed for my camera.
When I felt relief at her comfort I was finally able to zone them out too.
They yelled, non stop, the entire two minutes, so I told her to turn around so my camera was pointed straight at them and their hilarious situation in the hot tub behind my breathtaking friend, who unlike these boys has a gentle, respectful and majestic soul that lights up a crowded room.
So, I took 6 photos of Tiffany walking up the stairs out of the water, and then we left and went inside, where we sadly felt safer and more free...
My favorite photos from last night are the shots of Tiffany alone, confident and effortlessly there, as if no one was watching her, I have to share this. I have to share this one to show you the situations models, photographers and everyone involved in creating images has to deal with and somehow move past in order to make the art.
It took years of practice for me to be able to finally ignore everything going on outside of my cameras view. Thankfully nothing stops me now, a gun to my head wouldn't stop he from taking a photograph, but I know so many models and photographers who give up because of judgement like this. I know many women that hate things about themselves because of years of listening to words like theirs, and it brings my heart tremendous sadness.
So, one reason I'm sharing this Isco remind you to be kind to one another, to be delicate with your words and to be supportive instead of discouraging. And if you have words for others, please don't scream them in a disruptive disrespectful manor. Your words could be the breaking point of a woman finally giving up. Your words could be the final gust of wind that destroys her self confidence for the rest of her life.
I spent the entire night following this aggravating experience getting to know some beautiful women, inside and out. We shared stories like this one that broke us down, that stole the love for ourselves right out of our gentle hands. We talked about everything we hated about ourselves, and reassured each other that we shouldn't hate them.
This morning I woke up thinking about these women and the things that caused them insecurity. I woke up thinking about the men in these stories have no idea what permanent damage they've done to them. After today, these boys may never speak of this event ever again, and they have no idea it could have changed us forever. I woke up feeling sad for all of us women who let events like this change our self image, the way we carry ourselves, to change our life paths.
The most important reason I'm sharing this is to say to all of the women who read this, don't ever change your path because of this. If you have people putting you down or making you uncomfortable like this, it's because they envy your ability to be there in the first place.
These boys didn't yell at us because we were annoying, overweight, too skinny, too unwelcoming to their gross words, they yelled at us because we were doing something. We were doing SOMETHING, while they got drunk in a hot tub and ignored by some strong women.
Women are sacred, without us there would be no human life, our spirits are magical, and every single one of our bodies is fucking beautiful
I see beauty in everything, my mother taught me how.
She built a beautiful garden of roses and climbing vines for us.
We watch the hummingbirds as they drink from her flowers.
She hopped the fence to the field with me to pick raspberries.
She brings my cousins and I to the river to gather the things that don't belong.
After dinner we don't watch TV, we walk into the forest to search for arrowheads our ancestors left behind.
We hike for miles, just to find the still owls in the fir trees.
She taught me the calm way of the ocean.
We spend hours walking the beach collecting special rocks.
While we walk She says look at the hibiscus blooming.
Look at the blue heron standing quiet in the mud.
She says, look how the light is shining through the trees.
As we drive on the road above the shore, she says look for the whales.
Even when there aren't any there.
So here is my porch, the trees I admire every day, it's beautiful.
Sometimes I feel like if you just watch things, just sit still and let the world exist in front of you, I swear that time freezes.
The past two weeks I've been very still, I've been sitting on the porch watching. I've been watching the big oak tree in front of me and how the clouds change each day through its branches. I watch the people come and go, And see the lights go down in their homes at the same time each night.
Sometimes I watch the stars on those rare nights you can see them here. When the wind blows on the warm days the neighbors wind chimes bring a smile to my face. Even on the quietest nights the occasional fast car fails to bring me back to reality.
For the first time in a long time I've been trying to breath, a way that I've forgotten how. The type of breathing that clears your thoughts, and steadies the beat of your heart as the world around you stands still.
The past two weeks I started to feel my heart in my chest, more then your supposed to, a constant heavy ache I had never felt before. So after years of ignoring doctors who told me I had a heart murmur I finally went to have an x ray. They said one of my valves is collapsed, so it's not pumping my blood the way it should.
Although it's scaring the hell out of me, it's forcing me to slow down, something I've not been able to do for years. I am always rushing to do things, like I have a time limit on everything, including my photography. Since I've been moving slower, I've been planning more thoroughly, editing more meticulously and observing other photographers work to improve my own.
I am one to always find reasons why bad things happen to me, and let them lead me to be stronger and more whole. This challenge is by far the hardest I've yet to see the positives in.
Being only twenty three, and finding out the organ that's keeping me alive is broken, the creator is forcing me to slow down, to take my time, to breathe and to be still. He's showing me that stillness and being healthy is important as an artist, and that I will need it to grow and capture the world.