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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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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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The teenage years deserve to be remembered too

Song credit: “Wonderful, Wonderful” by Emorie

Cris’s Story

When Cris asked me to capture her family’s story I was so excited because she’s such a vibrant, lovely woman that I knew it was going to be wonderful to work together. There was just one thing that made me a tad bit nervous: she has teenagers. In my own household I’m used to the baby, toddler, and kindergarten stages. Generally all I’ve heard about the teen years is that they want nothing to do with hanging out with their parents and they are constantly on their phones. I was really curious how this would go.

As soon as I stepped foot into the house and felt the energy of this family I knew that I had nothing to worry about. Teens are not all that different, and certainly nothing to be scared of. Yes, they were on their phones sometimes because that’s their normal life. They spent most of their time just hanging out, being silly, and appreciating the joy of simply being together. Capturing the beauty in their lives is not all that different than families’ with young kids. The gentle touch of a mother’s hand. The love in her eyes. The bond between that is unlike any other.

This session really solidified for me how important it is to preserve stories from all stages of life, because every phase is beautiful in its own way. Family Stories is not just reserved for families with young kids. Throughout your entire life your relationships and connections to the other people, animals, places, and events that are important to you make up YOUR story. The chapters may be different but they all deserve to be remembered.

“A mother’s arms are more comfortable than anyone else’s.”
~Princess Diana


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This family received more than just photos and films

Linda & Mike’s Story
Guest post written by Linda F.

Photographers play the role of family historians. They dutifully and often beautifully document the births and growth of children, the changing dynamics of a family, the holidays, the important events. These memories are collected, edited, printed, and handed back as pieces of paper filled with the smiling faces of those who are someone’s entire world.

But-Melody is not a historian nor is she a photographer. She is elevated into the same category as the true magicians and miracle workers, those rare few who have incredible gifts and are willing to share them with the world.

In my maternity pictures, my son’s first birthday, and my daughter’s birth, Melody did not just take our pictures, which anyone with a camera can do, but she somehow managed to capture the essence of our family. When we look her photos we don’t see our faces so much as we see the overwhelming love and joy we find in each other. We see the excitement as we navigate parenthood. We see the pride in our son’s face as he holds his sister. Melody doesn’t take pictures. She encapsulates the feeling of the moment, and gives it back to us as a gift of immeasurable value.

There is this undefinable something when you meet the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with- the world shifts, starts spinning a little smoother maybe. And when you and that person are lucky enough to have first one healthy, amazing, little child, and luckier still to have a second fiery, fierce little person, you recognize that blessing and thank your lucky stars for it every day. I may not be able to ever define the depth of the love I have for my family, but I don’t need to. Melody captures it for me.

“The world is full of magic things, waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
-W.B. Yeats


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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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