We leave here in one week. That’s insane. In some ways, it feel like it flew by. In others, the days felt slow and long, like time actually moves at a slower pace here.
I thought I would write the entire time I was here. I thought I would be overwhelmed with words and thoughts and revelations—things I would share with people on this blog with everyone.
But here I am, a week from leaving, and writing something to share for the second time. The words and thoughts and revelations came, but they weren’t for sharing. They were for me. This season has been one of definite growth and change, but more than anything, it’s been a lesson in being present.
I asked (read: forced) Travis to write a blog for you all. I thought it might be a good idea to let you hear from him while we are in Kenya because he is, after all, half of this journey. He's also much smarter than me so who knows? Maybe I'll get some more engineers to follow along, ;).
I remember studying the planets as a kid in elementary school, maybe even making a diorama of our solar system, but I don’t remember truly geeking out over them. It was just another science topic and I suppose at that point in life I was too devoted to recess activities to think or feel strongly about the planets.
Welp, we've been here in Maai Mahui at Naomi's Village for a little over a week now. And that feels crazy to me. I honestly feel like we've been here a month. And not in a bad way, but in a very, very comfortable way. The kids welcomed us with wiiiiiide open arms on the very first day we were here. They instantly started referring to us as Auntie Rachel and Uncle Travis, and I did my very best to learn the names of all 81 kids (plus about 20 staff!) in the first week. And I did it!
Today is the day! I'm writing this blog from a cute little coffee shop in Salt Lake City. Trav and I just landed and we have a few hours to kill before boarding our flight to Amsterdam.
(If you don't read every word I write on all social media channels, I judge you and I have some news: Trav and I are heading to Kenya for the next four-ish months. We will be working at a children's home—him as an engineer, me as a photographer.)
Every time I walk into his house, my nephew Max (master manipulator that he is), either grabs my hand or crawls up into my lap, looks me directly in the eye and says, "Aunt Wachel, will you pway wif me?"
Welcome! I've never been happier to invite you in. I'm so unbelievably proud of this space. Please take your time enjoying the little and big changes. I think you'll find it all easier to navigate and just prettier all around. I know I've been quiet lately, but I was working on this!
Exactly one year ago, I was standing in front of my bathroom mirror, mascara wand in hand. My cell phone rang, a call from my oldest sister. She sounded panicky when I answered, and quickly delivered the news that our grandmother had a massive stroke the evening before.
I just want to make one thing super clear. Everything I've written this month isn't about me. It was definitely about me shedding a light on where I'm trying to go in my own business. It was a little bit about piquing interest in what I'm doing. But this month was not about me making more money. More than absolutely anything, this month was about expressing a belief held deep inside my soul that says we are doing some things wrong.
As we watched it for the first time together, each of us reacted differently. It was my first DSLR family film, and I had shot and edited it over a few weeks of a perfectly crisp, colorful October. My husband sat next to me and watched, smiling and nodding with familiarity in his eyes. My sons belly-laughed at the funny moments. My one-year-old daughter focused intently throughout, pointing at and naming us as we appeared in the film. We each took ownership of this film in our own way.
The kids come into the bedroom, “It’s time to get up mom & dad!” The coffee is poured. Dad makes breakfast and the smell of bacon in the morning is an iconic scent of a day to be spent with family … and the rest of the day is your playground together. I want you to picture it right now: what would you likely do together on a day like this?
There was something I noticed really quickly when I started dipping my toes into the community of documentary family photographers—most of them were mothers. I think it's a natural fit: photographers who have young children are going to be drawn to those everyday moments.
I am a documentary family photographer because I have a fascination with people & the inner-workings of families & how they interact with each other & with the world around them. I want to be able to see what people are like behind closed doors, without the outside pressure of "keeping up appearances."
My mom did an excellent job of documenting my childhood. When I say excellent, what I mean is, I literally have 25 scrapbooks cataloging, photographically, my life from the time I was born all the way through my four college soccer seasons.
When you walk through my front door, you’ll more than likely be greeted by a shy (at first) two-year-old, a rambunctious five-year-old who will be determined to know everything about you in the span of thirty seconds, and a three-year-old chocolate lab mix who will do her best not to knock you over and kiss your face all at the same time.
I feel like a lot of what I've written about documentary family photography so far is about remembering the magic of childhood. And I totally believe that photographs should document that: they should visually articulate this new bond between parents and their young children, siblings at a young age, and spouses growing together.
Ever since I became a mom almost 7 years ago, I have been obsessively photographing my girls. But it wasn’t until after the birth of my third daughter, when I was hit with postpartum depression, that I discovered the void photography filled in my life.
I'm giving myself the month of February to convince each and every one of you that documentary family photography has its place in our world. That means I will be sharing blogs, photos, videos, and many feelings explaining how this niche of photography has changed so many lives.
The Year of The Fancy Lotion … a weird title, I’m aware. Let me explain.
A few months ago, I was looking for something in my bathroom. A brush? Or some lipstick? I don’t remember. Either way, I had to move about 17 bottles of lotion as I was searching. I kept thinking, Why do I have so much lotion?
Some of you know that I attended a photography retreat this summer. I had to to a shoot to prepare and shared it in July. The retreat was with renowned photographers Kirsten Lewis and Jenna Shouldice. They both do extremely moment-oriented photography, offering "Day In The Life" sessions to their clients. It means what it says: they follow families for a day (sometimes more) to document their lives. There is no posing or directing or "lighting scenarios." And the photos they produce are stunning. It isn't your typical go-sit-under-that-tree-and-smile-at-me kind of work.
At one point, I remember looking at Sherice right in the eye and saying, "You're a warrior." I've never meant anything like I meant that statement. She had been contracting for a few hours with minimal fuss. Saying, "Oh, this is a big one," occasionally and sometimes looking at me and saying, "I'm so sorry you had to get up so early." I laughed at her. But when the contractions picked up and her tiny little body started really showing the signs of pain, I couldn't believe how strong she was.
Back in December, my husband and I were in Pennsylvania for Christmas. It was such a luxury. We knew it would be the first and last time we celebrated Christmas in the home I grew up in. My family has been in Florida every December for the last 25 years. It was the first time we spent the month in Pennsylvania. There was sadness for bucking tradition, but there was also a lot of joy that came from it.
If we had gone to Florida, we wouldn't have had those two weeks with Mimi, my grandmother. She would have stayed in PA and gone to other parties, seeing our other cousins and aunts and uncles. But because we stayed, she hung out with us.
I set out this month to un-addict myself from my phone. A small update: I'm failing miserably in certain regards (still checking social media and the Voxer app too much and sometimes reading my phone in bed) but doing really well about keeping my phone out of sight with my husband and friends. Regardless, I'm talking about it to everyone and I've found some others who are also seeking some change.
My friend Rachael wrote two weeks ago about how she's unplugging. And today, I asked another dear friend to write about how she giving her life more attention. Let me introduce you to the beautiful Abigail Mary Green. She is thoughtful and kind and introspective and her words are always so full of emotion. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and you won't regret it.
If you follow me over on Instagram, you'll notice that every once in a while I write haikus in the comments of my photos. I'm not super emo, but it's just a little reminder to my husband that I'm thinking of him.
Travis and I met 6 years ago in Africa. I was instantly smitten with him, but he took his time "warming up" to me. (Can you imagine?!) Our time there only overlapped for four months, and we formed a strong friendship, emailing quite frequently as we traveled separately all over the continent and then sharing meals with a group of friends when we were both at our home base in Kampala. He handed me a letter when I left, telling me to open it on the plane ride home.
Using Photographs as an instrument of memory is probably a mistake because I think that photographs actually sort of impoverish your memory in certain ways, sort of take away all the other senses—the sense of smell and taste and texture, that kind of stuff. ... Sally Mann, Photographer
I was recently introduced to the legendary work of Sally Mann (which is beautiful, evocative, and warning: full of nudity in case you Google.) And I was utterly intrigued as to why someone so gifted at the art of photography would say these things about essentially, her own work. On first reading, it seemed like a put-down to me and my defenses rose up. ‘No! We take pictures to remember! That’s the whole point!’
The first step is admitting you have a problem, right? Well I do, and it happens to be an addiction to the thing that comes with me everywhere.
The thing that is hard about this addiction is that it's very socially acceptable. It's actually socially UNacceptable to not be attached to your phone. To take too long to text/email/call someone back. I'm guilty of being annoyed with people for not answering me quickly. And I'm just perpetuating the problem.
I want to finish this project by acknowledging women who may not be mothers at this point in their lives. There are women who desire motherhood more than anything and just haven't been able to have children. There are some women who have made a choice to not become a mother. And there are many women who mother other people every single day but may not have any children of their own.
Society places an extremely high value on being a mother. There are so many things I could write about expectations, worth, purpose, calling, feminism ... the list goes on. I don't want a single woman who read along this month to feel that she hasn't achieved the highest honor in life if she can't be a mother or has made the decision not to be.