It happened sort of like this:
Sometime in February, in the middle of my chemotherapy haze, I found the courage to propose a collaboration with Caitlin Taylor from Coral Dove. I fell in love with her work and that immediately intimidated me. You can tell by her images that she has studied art to an academic level. What struck me in her body of work, however, was how much it differed from your run-of-the-mill wedding photographer in a very unapologetic way. It says "This is how I see it. Period." Or at least, this is what I saw in her work. She is not afraid of being herself and delivering thoughtful art.
All this to say that I so deeply identified myself in her work. I spent the last decade as a photographer trying to please others because that's part of my fabric. I was always trying to please. And I achieved that. I pleased others, but I didn't please my own soul. A lot of times, I know I did a good job, but I didn't create the art I can be proud of. There are all these things I want to let go of, so much of the control, to just photograph what my heart desires. And my heart desires to create without the constraints of the wedding/portrait industry imposes on us photographers.
I reached out to Caitlin because I thought that maybe I need more artists in my life. Artists that will help me undo the knots of all the ways I've been conditioned to produce imagery. I'm always wary of contacting other photographers because I always imagine they'd be super protective of their process. But not Caitlin. She replied, to my surprise, when I suggested photographing together for the fun of it, photograph to inspire creativity without pressure to deliver.
There's a book that I discovered about 6 years ago called Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. It's the story of a group of schoolgirls in the 1900s Australian country who go missing during a picnic expedition to a monolith known as Hanging Rock. The story of their disappearance is shrouded in natural mysticism and supernatural phenomena. Since its publication in 1967, it has been adapted to film and television a few times to varying criticism. What attracts me to both the 1975 feature film and the more recent TV adaptation is the ethereal imagery that seems to be a repeated element of the turn-of-the-century aesthetic. I think it's safe to say, this is a tale that has stuck to my mind.
Last year, I was already trying to move towards a more personal approach to the photography I create, allowing these references to seep into them. I did two shoots with this ethereal aesthetic in mind. Yet neither completely fulfilled my goals. I, again, didn't fully let go of pleasing others. Something was still amiss.
When I reached out to Caitlin, I knew I still wanted to work on this idea that never leaves my brain. We slowly put it into motion. My chemotherapy wouldn't be over until mid-April and I needed to be feeling whole again to take on a shoot. Then the pandemic hit in March, so we pushed the project to the summer. Then summer arrived and the virus didn't leave. We really had no idea when this would be possible. I recruited Valerie Hammer, my go-to makeup artist to join us in this, letting her know that it would happen... someday.
As we slowly, and carefully, started taking on work again in July, the idea to get together to shoot soon started seeming possible again. But I made no plans. Still worried about leaving the protection of my home. But then Caitlin texted me and said she had a bouquet being done for a creative shoot and we could meet in the woods and get that shoot done. The next day!
And this is how a magical shoot happened. So happy it did!
Make sure to check Coral Dove's take on this shoot too: Gambrill State Park Elopement