Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Bell Family


I've known this beautiful woman since she was one year old, and I babysat her for a summer when she was five or so. (The mac and cheese flowed, for real.) Our mothers were close friends, and our families attended the same church; still, when I think back, I'm a little surprised that--given the eleven-year age difference--Stacey and I were so close. She's just always been so fun.

Stacey's an only child, and I loved to hang out at her house...during my teen years, especially. Again, a little odd, but the eatin' was always so good over there, and Stacey's mama has a big (magnetic!) personality and some serious, musical abilities. I loved singing with her and to the music of her guitar. She loved me and still does, and Stacey's daddy loved me, too. He always called me Brandee May; I have no idea why but plan to ask him, someday, on that other shore. Miss him.

Stacey's house was a safe, happy place to land: a home away from home.

And it's amazing, isn't it, what time does? It shrinks age gaps. The gap between five and sixteen seems so much greater than the one between twenty-nine and forty. The little girl for whom I made blanket forts and french toast has grown into a woman I respect: a Jesus-loving, God-fearing wife and mother.

Stacey's and Daniel's son Caleb is adorable, as you can see, and he has his mama's easygoing spirit. Carley has a completely different energy, and I'll be honest: tired as I was, I could've photographed her all day. I was captivated by the complexity of her expressions.

Later, editing through the photos of Carley, I wondered if she'd been feeding off my (tired) energy. That's when her mama said something I hope to remember...something like: "Carley's not me. She's not the happy-go-lucky child I was. She's my gorgeous, guarded little wildflower."

Isn't that beautiful? Would that every mama saw and celebrated her children for the individuals they are right now: including the parts to which she can't relate, personally, as well as the parts the children might outgrow.

My all-grown-up friend Stacey is wiser (and much lovelier) than she knows.

And her family is gorgeous.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seth, Chelsey, & Kendyl

Seth's mom, who's been one of my mom's dearest friends almost ere I can remember, hired me to photograph Seth's sweet, little family. In the course of the shoot, Seth and I determined: he's sixteen years younger than I, which makes sense because--sure as I'm sitting here--I remember him only as a toddler like his little daughter. He would've been about her age when I left home.

Ours was a morning shoot, and according to her parents, Kendyl isn't really a morning person. I took an overabundance of photos because it took a long while for me to feel confident that I'd gotten enough family photos; the itty-bitty blonde was perfectly happy to explore and play, but not so much to be held down for a group shot. :) 

In the end, I couldn't be more pleased with the images I captured, and may God continue to bless and keep this beautiful, little family.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fletcher's Family

Just a little over a month ago, Baby Fletcher's paternal grandmother hired me to take some photos of him and his parents, who married this weekend. She asked me to delay in putting the photos on the Internet because she planned to display some of them (at the reception, I think).

It's been a little hard for me to sit on these gorgeous photos. Every session is my favorite, but I love this one for special reasons. First of all, Fletcher's dad took me back to my days of teaching English at the technical school. There's no such thing as an English major, there, and most of my students filed in begrudgingly, to meet a requirement. One of my very favorite things was to bust up all the preconceived notions they held and make their experience enjoyable.

I enjoy photography sessions, sometimes, for the challenge of making the experience better than expected. Occasionally (particularly with small children), I can't turn things around completely, and I value, too, the challenge of capturing images--anyway, despite--that will be treasured down the road.

Fletcher's dad warmed and played, and the word on the street is that he was pleased with my work. He made his gorgeous fiancee his wife, this weekend, which goes to the second reason I love this session: it reminds me of "Dance Little Jean" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I've always loved that song.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


We needed to travel to East Tennessee to pick up Jim's mom's car, and I decided to try and take some photos while we were down there (gas money). My Friday evening photo session was with five-year-old Joslin.

Joslin's mom Shelly is my younger brother's age (I graduated with Shelly's sister Angie!), but I remember Shelly from our evenings with missionaries Mrs. Glover and Mrs. Clark, who drove through Straight Fork in an enormous van, 25+ years ago, picking up willing children for home-based Bible study.

I keep up with Shelly via facebook, but in all honesty, it had been so long since I'd seen her actual face that, when I looked at her the other evening, I felt a little as if I were participating in an episode of Cold Case, experiencing flashbacks of her face as a teenager.

Joslin is amazing: sharp as a tack, energetic, non-squeamish, and (best of all) very frank. Every time I asked her a question, she told me like it was, and without hesitation. I prefer to interact with people just like that: open, sincere. I hope she never changes.

I'm in love with the images I captured of Joslin and found it difficult to choose which to share here and on facebook, especially because I want her mama to be plenty surprised and delighted when she views the entire set. But I would be remiss if I didn't share that, for me, the best part of the shoot involved my interaction with Shelly.

My dad made a comment, once, about someone's spirit failing to bear witness to his, and I took that to mean that he didn't connect with that person on a spiritual level: that he couldn't identify with that person as being related to him, in Christ. After my time with Shelly, that turn of phrase ran through my mind; I just kept thinking, with wonder: her spirit just bore witness to mine.

Many years have passed since Shelly's and my time with Mrs. Glover and Mrs. Clark. They've left this world, by now, as have at least three (maybe more) of the East Tennessee children who--along with Shelly and me--sat at their knees and listened to them talk about Jesus. I'm so thankful for those kind-hearted missionaries and their preparing us for life here, and beyond.

Just before Shelly and I parted ways, she told me a story. It was a very personal story, and I won't share it, here, but I cried, listening, and received her words as validation. I didn't go into the session expecting what came out of it. It ended up being a gift to me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Gracie Turned Five

Our friend Gracie turned five, recently, and her birthday was very happy...but a little sad, too, because MeMe (her maternal grandmother) had flown to heaven earlier in the summer and couldn't attend the party in the traditional sense.

Gracie drew MeMe a picture, and the first order of business for Gracie's photo session was to affix that picture to Gracie's five, birthday balloons and send it up, up to MeMe.

We trust that MeMe has already seen the picture. Gracie relaxed noticeably after sending it; her tender heart had been waiting for that moment.

And praise be for sensitive parents: for parents who care about their children's lightness of being and teach them to let go...but just for a little while, because heaven.

My deepest thanks to Gracie's parents for tasking me with capturing Gracie's spirit at five and for trusting me with this moment in her life. It was a gorgeous one.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shrinking Nathan

I owed my friend Margie cookies, and she asked me to deliver them to a bake sale to benefit Nathan Martin. I didn't meet Nathan or his family the day of that delivery, but some time later, my friend Anjie ordered one of my cookie cakes and asked me to deliver it to Nathan at his house.

I knew Nathan loved baseball and decorated the cake to look like one. When I lifted the lid of the pizza box to show him the cake, he beamed and, without hesitation, dragged his finger right through the white icing in the center of the cake and licked it off. That's when I fell in love.

To meet Nathan and his family is to love them, and it seems like our entire community feels the same way. Thank goodness, because--having really been through it--Nathan and his family have needed love and support these past few years.

Nathan bumped his head while engaging in normal child's play and suffers from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), with symptoms to include seizures, memory loss, and headaches. He has an excellent team of doctors and was admitted to the hospital Friday, in fact, for monitoring. You can read more about his story here and follow his progress on facebook here. Please pray for his complete recovery.

I visited Nathan at his house for the second time in November, this time taking my shrink machine. I just wanted to make him smile. Trust me: that smile is captivating and contagious. The following are great examples of my shrinks, and Nathan's mom encouraged me to share them, here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lifestyle Session with Rachel & Zach

This post was published originally at Smooth Stones in May. (Ignore the watermarks.) I'm sharing it here because I think it's an excellent example of a lifestyle session. These are the sorts of photos I've always longed to have of my own family because they capture not only the way people look (as in a studio session) but also what people do. One of the most meaningful family sessions I've ever experienced, personally, occurred the year I hired a photographer to accompany us to the pumpkin patch.

I learned to use a camera primarily in order to document adventures and regular life with my children, and at this point, lifestyle sessions are a comfort zone for me. I would love to capture special moments for your family as I have for my own. If you're interested in photos of your family's participation in a meaningful activity or tradition, please let me know.

You can see many, many more examples of lifestyle sessions at Smooth Stones, which is where I document my family's activities and traditions.
Our local berry farm decided not to open for pick-your-own strawberries, this year, because--after our cold winter and a harsh, spring storm--the crop isn't what it should be. I read about a couple other farms in the Greater Richmond Area but decided to take the little kids to Crozet for "Come Grow with Us," the children's program at Chiles Peach Orchard. Then it became a matter of convincing Rachel and Zach to go with us. That was much easier than I'd expected given the fact that Rachel's baby is already working his way "toward the light"; I just had to promise to drive her into Charlottesville at lightning speed if she went into labor :)

"Come Grow with Us" costs $7 per participating child and includes a craft, a story, a container for pick-your-own, and a snack. The craft, yesterday, was a strawberry. Each child painted and dusted it with jello (to make it smell good); glued some seeds on it; and traced one of his or her hands to become the top of the berry. Clementine's Strawberry Shortcake dress was mine and has its own, special story

I can't tell you much about story time, yesterday, because I was busy supervising Chip as he climbed into and out of a little wagon.

Chip's outfit was Cade's: just one of the few outfits I kept.

Charleigh was kind of funny in the strawberry patch. She was slowed by her concern that her fruit was ripe enough; over and over, she held up a berry and asked: "Is this red enough, Mama?"

Clementine and Zach filled their containers in no time, and Zach seemed to have a knack for finding that rare, large berry.

Chip didn't have a container, but he didn't mind; he was happy to try and fill his belly with berries (and, later, with ice cream).

All in all, it was a perfect celebration of what bursts warm and ripened into the world.