Children

The best stories have layers

Think of one of the greatest storytellers of all time – Stan Lee. Each Marvel movie has a storyline, within each movie every character has their own story, and all of the movies intersect with the overall story of the Marvel Universe. It’s all about the layers. This structure keeps our attention and pulls our minds into another world using complex stories within stories.

Family films are not about impossible superhuman abilities, but they are similar to Marvel in that they have different levels of meaningful stories. When I create a blog, I usually choose one focal point, but to the family who the film was created for, there are a lot of meaningful pieces that go deeper than the casual observer would understand. This time, we are going to pull out a few of the storylines that were behind the creation of this film.


Story #1:
col·or
a shade of meaning

As a biology major, color fascinated me. Neuroscience can describe how color is received into the brain: specific wavelengths of light are refracted onto the retina where rods and cones send neural signals to the primary visual cortex, with a whole lot more detail in each one of those steps than anyone wants to read in this story. Scientists can even tell you all sorts of research about how colors play into our cognition and memory. My son may have synesthesia, a joining of the senses, in which he associates colors with certain smells. Really, this nerdy stuff is so amazing! But you know the most incredible part of color? It only exists as a perception. It’s not really there and it can be experienced differently by different people.

If a person with total color-blindness can’t see this concept we call color, it doesn’t really exist and therefore doesn’t have meaning…right? With the understanding that philosophical arguments don’t have right or wrong answers, I’m going to do my best to tell you why I think that color has a lot of meaning. 

When you strip color away from a film, you also strip away part of the realness of that memory. Artistically this can serve a purpose when you want to draw the viewers attention to a specific item, expression, or dramatically lit scene. I used this technique when I volunteered for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, an organization providing the gift of remembrance photos to parents who will never get to bring their baby home from the hospital. All of the images created were in black and white to help the parents focus on the love for their child, and less on the pain and realness of remembering the loss.

In family filmmaking, color plays a crucial role when you want to portray the full depth of a memory. It makes it feel more real, almost tangible. It’s as close to reliving the moment that you can possibly get. Color creates an important link between our memories and emotions. THAT, I would argue, means that color also holds a lot of meaning.

You may be wondering…why oh why did I then make half of a film in black and white? The answer, of course, lies within another story.

The discussion of skin color is a hot topic, and I have found it incredibly difficult to speak up about my thoughts without fear of saying something wrong. At the same time, silence has not felt like the right solution either. The lack of discussion leading up to recent events is the primary reason our culture is in this position right now. The best way I can find to express myself is through my art. I asked this family specifically if they would do a session with a purpose. Their family is made up of different colors, yet the experiences that they have are so relatable to any family. Without color and with color, the film expresses the same love and joy. We can’t change skin color, but what would happen if we changed our perception of its meaning? What if the presence of varied skin tones brought vibrancy to life in the visual esthetic of our uniqueness? What if we saw color as nothing other than a pigment, an ancestry, a beautiful history of people who lived, laughed, and loved? I don’t want to ignore color. I want to embrace it.


Story #2:
A blended family

The stages of life do not have beginnings and endings. They sort of blend into each other, with children growing and changing gradually yet oh so quickly. And when a house has two teenagers remote learning and a 6 year old homeschooled during a pandemic with mom and dad both working full-time, it can begin to feel like it’s just one giant cluster of chaos. Yet even in this time when everything is so unsettled and hectic, there is beauty in the little moments when we slow down and spend time together.


Story #3:
Video games & movies

When I asked Jen in her scriptwriting session what activities were important to their family and she said video games and movies I froze for a second. Previously I had a no technology “rule” for sessions so families could spend time interacting genuinely. This request really challenged me. I knew that leaving out technology, a big part of their family dynamics, would be leaving out a piece of their story. It made me slow down and think about how I could show WHY these things are important. All too often our culture values going going going. This session reminded me to pause. “It’s is a place to slow down and value rest over productivity.”


Story #4:
What is a home?

Jen is one of the best REALTORS I know. Not because she can find you the best houses at the best prices. Many REALTORS can do that. What sets Jen apart from everyone else is the heart she has to help people. She understands that her job is more than about finding a building for her clients to live in. It’s about finding them a place to live, laugh, and love together. “Homes are made up of so much more than wood and nails. They contain personalities, adventures, the colors of life.”

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A film to remember our loved ones

Wing Wing’s Story

We thought about homeschooling our children but were always tentative about whether or not we could actually make it happen. Well, there is nothing quite like covid to give us a kick in the pants to just try it. We started off the year with an exciting activity that my husband and I have not done since we were in elementary school: we cared for a monarch. From caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, the kids (and mom and dad) checked on Milky every day. One night her chrysalis turned black and the next morning she emerged. It didn’t even occur to me until halfway through her re-birth day the significance of that date. She spread her wings for the first time on August 31st, a day that we should be celebrating my brother Joe’s birthday but instead we are still processing the grief of his passing 7 years ago.

 

This film is a tribute to my brother and the loved ones we’ve lost in our family. Joe was the last in our lineage. Although the Felton name will no longer be passed on I will not let it be forgotten. I took a picture of a plate he signed at our wedding and created the “Felton” graphics from his handwriting. He included the railroad tracks because he was a road kid who hopped trains and hitched rides to travel the country with his dog. I soaked in every detail of this butterfly’s beauty, remembering what a gentle and caring soul my brother was and knowing that he is now flying free too.

Now he flies with the butterflies.

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Stories span across the generations

Pam’s Story

Every family has a story that deserves to be remembered. Many people take out their cameras like crazy when the kids are little and as the years go on family photos become less and less common. A 60th birthday is just as important as the first. While celebrating Pam on this day, it really struck me how much I could connect to the stories her mother told.

To her grandkids she is known as “Bubee”, to Pam she is known as “Mom”. She drew me right into her storytelling throughout the day as she made people laugh in ways that no one else could, and when it came time for the gifts I was blown away. The thoughtfulness behind each item reminded me of how my own mom finds gifts for their meaning far more than monetary value. The most powerful one from Bubee was a hat that Pam’s grandmother wore to her wedding. Her gentle spirit and loving nature reminded me so much of me Meme, and when she shared the story of Pam’s birth like it was just the other day I reconnected to my children’s birth stories.

Seeing life unfold across the generations struck me in a really powerful way. All in one day we talked about birth, life, and those who are no longer with us. It made me look backward and forward in time, remembering my own experiences and wondering what I have yet to explore.

“It’s beautiful to transcend generations and to just be inside an artistic work, together, enjoying what only a great artistic work can provide.”
-Peter Davis

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The stories behind the print competition finalists

Print Competition Finalists 2020
After sorting through years worth of photographs and ideas from many friends, families and strangers the final four images are prepared for print competition! This is my first year applying. With my style being so different than a studio portrait with controlled lighting and carefully selected attire, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in so I just never tried. Lame, I know. But this year I’m ready to put myself out there. Unfortunately Districts has been cancelled this year but PPA plans on creating a virtual platform for the International Photographic Competition.  These are the stories behind the finalists that I will submit in October.


Language Barrier
Carter and Bruce were besties from the start. When we brought my son home from for the first time, Bruce came over and laid his head right on Carter’s little tiny legs while looking up at us for confirmation that this new addition was going to be ok. We knew that Bruce had one major advantage when it comes to babies – he’s completely deaf. Crying doesn’t bother him one bit! We “talk” with Bruce by stomping on the floor, using sign language, and buzzing his vibration collar when we need his attention. Carter had to find other ways of telling his best friend that he loved him, which was primarily accomplished through this open-mouthed growl while Bruce licked inside his mouth. Pretty gross, but such a precious memory. Carter is now almost 6 years old. His favorite way to show love to Bruce now is with snuggles. For dogs and for people, love can be expressed in many unique ways, without the need for words.


Multiple Perspectives
As we drove from a park to their home (pre-COVID) I turned around in my seat to see three teenagers just doing their thing – two of them were on their phones and this young man was just looking out the window the whole ride home. It struck me not only that he sat comfortably with the silence but also that it almost looked as if I was staring at two different people. He was staring out the window at the world and looking “at me” at the same time. This image struck home more during the pandemic. It is so easy to get weighed down by the world and try to escape through a phone, a computer, a TV. It’s in the quiet moments of stillness that we are able to contemplate what truly matters and take on different perspectives to try to help us make sense of what is going on around us. When we take the time to look out the external world from behind the glass of our protective bubbles, we are also able to reflect more on our internal environments and on our relationships with those who mean the most – those who are inside the bubble with us.


Reflecting Love
Laura lost her daughter, Anastasia, during childbirth. A year later she was pregnant with her son, Blake. “It felt like everyone thought that Blake would “cure” my sadness and in so many ways, he does. He brought joy back to my life, purpose back to my days and a smile back to my face. But he did not replace Anastasia. My heart still aches for her and my arms long to hold her. I want to shout to the world, ‘I am the Mother of TWO precious, perfect and beautiful children!’” THAT is what this session was about – creating a picture that also incorporated her angel baby. When Laura and Blake want to remember Anastasia, the go to a local duck pond together, listening to the breeze and feeling a deeper connection with her. This image is a picture of their reflection in that duck pond. The spots in the foreground are the result of bokeh from the lily pads.

For print competition I can’t include the graphics found in this version. In order to really pull Anastasia’s story into the image I commissioned John Langdon, the artist for Angels and Demons, to create a reflective ambigram of her name.


Three Reasons
Being a parent is hard. Being an entrepreneur is constantly challenging. There are times that doing both doesn’t seem possible and I contemplate if I should give up on my dreams to be a better mom. Recently we asked my five year old if Mommy or Daddy should just go get a job to make money or stay the course with our businesses and help people with doing what we truly love. His response made me pause. “You should help people, and you can make money doing it.” From the mouths of babes. To this child’s mind, who has watched Mommy go through all of the ups and downs of running a business, it was very simple. He knows that I do this work to love people and to support our family. These three beautiful human beings depend on me to be mom and business owner. I can show up as both. They do not have to be exclusive of each other. My children are seeing how determination, resilience, and a community of support have given me this opportunity to stay home with them AND chase my dreams. This is my wish for them. This is the reason I get up early and stay up late almost every day.

This image was a recreation of a picture I took when my second child was born. I knew that this was what I wanted to make into a portrait for our walls to remember when our family was made complete with the arrival of our baby girl. I had to work quite a bit of photoshop magic to merge three images together, paint part of an arm, and change the color of the flower in her hair. Life with three kids is simply not this perfect!

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Sometimes the story to be told is one we didn't expect

Song credit: “There For You” by Cherie and Lyndy

Babe & Christina’s Story
When I first met Christina four years ago, we were waiting for a Memorial Day parade to start. We had children around the same age so we naturally started chatting with each other. As we got further along in the conversation I started talking about my photography and she got really excited. Her and her husband had recently purchased a farm and were happy to share the space if I ever needed a location. As I pulled up to their property for the first time I was blown away with the beauty of the gorgeous lake, landscape, and historic buildings.

Since that day they have grown the property into a brewery, a wedding venue, and arguably the best Christmas tree farm in the area. They also own and operate a well established landscaping company. It amazes me to see how they have worked so hard to make their dreams a reality.

When Christina and I sat down for her Scriptwriting Session (6 feet apart at the lakefront might I add!), the vision that we created did not include any of the grand achievements that I just listed. She wanted to surprise her husband, Babe, with a film for Father’s Day. We were going to film little snippets throughout the day of the things she loves most about him as a father and husband – making pancakes for Sunday breakfast, helping the kids learn the responsibilities that go along with having farm animals, setting up the family for popcorn and a movie before bedtime, and throwing giggling, crazy-haired children on the bed after tubby. That was our plan and we were ready! That is until the day went into an entirely different direction.

One of the kids slept at Oma’s house and wasn’t back in time for breakfast, so the first scene we planned was scratched. Then, I quickly realized that it was going to be challenging to surprise Babe with a film staring himself. It felt intrusive to follow him all day with a camera in his face when he didn’t really know what we were creating, so I stepped back and followed a different story. One that was beautiful, deep, and real.

I saw the story of a couple who have big dreams and support each other in any ways they can to make it happen. Christina takes on a lot of the farm chores, does a ton of outreach and coordination for events at the farm, and probably 1001 other things that she does behind the scenes for their family and business every day. Babe does a lot of work with his hands – cutting, building, digging, trimming. His days are long and physically exhausting. When there is still work to be done and not enough of themselves to go around, they call on Christina’s mom (also in the film) who will swing by in a heartbeat to lend a hand. The song in this film speaks to this family’s dedication to be there for each other through thick and thin, and the visuals focus on what all of their work is really about – the love for their children, each other, and family that supports them. The beautiful moments they spend together make all of the challenges of entrepreneurship worth it. These children will grow up knowing what it means to keep moving forward in life even when there are huge mountains to climb because they see their parents doing it every day.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
~Eleanore Roosevelt


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Love each other as we have loved you

Vanessa & Brendan’s Story

Love permeates all stages of life. As a midwife, Vanessa brings her loving voice and healing energy to moms while they go through a time of intense pain and even greater joy – the birth of their baby. She carries with her the unfathomably immense love of God that is evident through the work of her hands and the gifts of compassion and comfort that she brings to others. With her clients and with her family, love is the center of it all.

Love. It is such a small word with so much meaning. It is a feeling, an action, an embodiment of God living among us. While guiding Vanessa and Brendan through writing the script for their film, this word became central to everything we wrote together. In writing a message to their children, they undoubtedly knew that the love of Christ is the foundation upon which their family is built, and it is the reflection of that love in us that brings so much beauty into the world.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
-John 15:12

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A film directed and narrated by a five-year-old

Carter’s Story

After seeing a film for his brother, my five year old asked when he could have one, so I enlisted his help in creating it from beginning to end.

Ohoodles of Doodles is one of his favorite places to go. It’s a kids craft studio in Sturbridge, MA that encourages a free spirit to create in any way they feel inspired with the materials she has available. For my kids that usually means a lot of glue and a lot of mess. Darlene never tells then they are doing something wrong and she’s constantly challenging them to think outside the box. In a way, I might love it more than they do. 

Narrating this film with my boy brought me so much joy. He sat next to me, going through each clip to tell me what he wanted to say about the scene while I dictated it. Then we read it together for the recording, with him repeating each line after me. I adore how animated he is when he talks. His voice sounds so much littler to me when I hear him in a recording than when I see him in the role of biggest brother every day.

Here’s to Carter and the premiere of the first film he directed!

“I love creating fun projects. I can pick up incredible things! Every time I come here there is new stuff to find.”
~Carter, age 5


Your children see when you embrace who you are

Song credit: “Evergreen” by Emorie

Ashley’s Story

I’ve always admired this beautiful woman. When I see her behind the counter at the coffee shop she greets every single person with a vibrant smile. She spreads warmth and light by just being herself everywhere she goes. And as a mom, there aren’t really words to describe how incredible she is. The only way I could show her how much I appreciate her is through the lens of my camera, capturing exactly who she is both as a mother and a beautiful person.

When her oldest son came home from school he immediately ran in to see his baby brother. He gently and lovingly put the binky back in the baby’s mouth. I could see from the first interaction how the strong bonds of brotherhood were forming. The tender care that he showed to his brother was a reflection of the woman that I so looked up to. Just by being true to herself wherever she goes, she showed him exactly what it meant to be a caring and compassionate person.

“Behind all your stories is your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”
~Mitch Albom


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When you think your family's theme song is circus music...

Whitney’s Story

When Whitney first reached out to me about a film she sort of chuckled at the idea of trying to do a session in her full house. She asked me, “Can you do a film with circus music?” We came up with a plan to spotlight each of her kids and then come together as a family for hot chocolate. I know what you’re thinking…kids and hot chocolate = wardrobe disaster. Yep, there were spills because that’s real life. The focus isn’t on the stains it’s on the joy the children felt preparing for Christmas as a family.

Each of the kids chose their own activity. It captured memories of their interests at the time and made it much easier for them to be relaxed in front of the camera. All they had to do was be themselves. 

When I came across this song I new it was the most perfect fit for them (and it isn’t circus music):

“I’m gonna love you for the rest of my life. I’ll never let you go. Give me your hand and we’ll hold on tight through whatever comes and goes.”

Lyrics from “Our Love Comes easy by Jessie Villa


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There is a reason they are called "great" grandparents

Song credit: “Best of All Our Days” by Andrew Simple

David’s Story
Generational sessions are so powerful. There is so much beauty in the varied relationships between little ones and their parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents. Each one holds such a unique bond and energy that is not had anywhere else. Lately in Family Stories sessions I have been really encouraging the inclusion of extended family in sessions and my husband, David, mentioned something one day about how much it hurts him to watch these generations together when his own is incomplete. His mom passed away in 2013. Not a day goes by that the emptiness from her absence is not noticed. He wanted a generational session but he wanted her to be part of it.

When we talked about going to his grandparents’ house to capture their story, we wanted to capture two important perspectives: what Grampa’s normal day-to-day routine was like (he loves his coffee cake muffins with “reduced” sugar) and how David appreciated them for the impact they have had on the lives around them. There was one more piece I knew I had to fit in: his mom needed to be part of it somehow.

Our daughter was getting crabby at nap time so he bounced her around in the living room until she dozed off in her favorite place to be – in Daddy’s arms. He got comfy on the couch, and if you’ve ever had a sleeping baby on you know that is nearly impossible to stay awake. As their breathing slowed and they melted into each other, I looked above the couch they were resting on and saw the pictures of family members surrounding them on the walls. In the same room, Grammi had a shelf to commemorate David’s mom. And as he laid there embracing his precious baby girl, I saw the tattoo of his mom’s face looking up at him in pride the same exact way she did on our wedding day. I felt all of that love and interconnectedness of loved ones embracing them in that moment.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with the title of the blog. I want to start with a short story. When we announced our first pregnancy, we gave a gift to Grammi at Christmas that was a picture of a bear with the caption “Beary Special Great Grandmother.” She smiled and said thank you and was about to move on without even realizing what it said. Looking back, she said she just thought it was saying she is a phenomenal grandmother. That stuck with me, both as a wonderful memory that makes me smile and a much deeper insight into what it is to be a great grandparent. I cannot do justice to the story that David tells in his own words through this story so I will take a piece from his narration:

“You continue to teach us all so much in the way you look with love at the lives you helped create. Through the love, through the loss, your simple and graceful ways carry the memories of this family. Time passes and pictures fade but your love endures forever.”

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