Hello. It’s me.
Sorry I haven’t blogged in a long time. I’ve been sharing more work lately on Facebook and Instagram.
This blog’s for you, Jane Bee (who very sweetly called me out for being delinquent in my blogging) and all the other awesome women who participated in A Year in the Making.
Some of you may have been wondering why I went to Northern California this summer to teach a photography workshop.
And some of you may have been wondering what on earth is “A Year in the Making”.
In order to answer either question, you have to start with the creator of A Year in the Making, my friend, Karen Russell.
Karen Russell is a photographer and teacher who taught an online photography workshop called The Photographers’ Workshop for years.
She never marketed her class once. Her business grew simply by word of mouth. She is such a good teacher that registration would fill up for all the seats in the class within minutes. If you were to print up all the pdf lessons for the 8 week course, you would get a 400+ page text book that I think sets the standard for basic digital photography. She didn’t stop there. She created an easy-to-navigate online forum for discussion about the class and created a culture where people felt safe to take risks and learn. Combine the class with her long-running, self-disclosing, and beautiful-looking blog and you have the recipe for a strong following.
I took her class in 2009. I have been forever changed by it. She laid a solid foundation for me with photography that I have built on. As a result of her class, I learned to shoot with confidence–especially indoors.
Three years later, she took a big risk and invited me to spend time with her in Oregon in 2012. We hadn’t even talked on the phone before I arrived at the Medford Airport and stayed in her house for five days. I am so thankful that she took that risk.
Then she came for a visit to San Antonio 2013 and saw the beauty and brokenness of my life. She loved each of my kids and got to know Greg. My family fell in love with her.
God has built our friendship over the course of years. I am so thankful that I have caught a glimpse of what He is up to in and through her. My life is richer because she is my friend.
About a year and a half ago, Karen had a big, bold idea for a new class called A Year in the Making. She replaced her much-loved Photographers’ Workshop with a year long, online class for a smaller group of about 60 students. This new forum started meeting online in June of 2015. The ambitious, online forum covered topics from relationships to organization to fitness and nutrition. Of course, there was a heavy photography component as well. All the participants wrote their life story. All of the participants selected a word to think about and meditate on for the entire year. After interacting virtually for a year, the women in this class met face to face this past June 2016 during two weekends. One group of women arrived the weekend of 6/16. The other group arrived the weekend of 6/23. Karen invited me to help with these two in-person workshops.
Karen has spent hours and hours preparing for this workshop–on the couch, in front of her computer, and running errands.
She pays attention to the smallest visual detail. Here, she is with my dear friend Lea (who took the class) at JoAnn’s, selecting fabric to tie onto Mason jar drinking glasses for dinner the first night.
DAY #1: THURSDAY
The day the women arrived for the first workshop, Annie, Karen’s daughter, made a huge chalk art sign in the front street welcoming them.
Josh, Karen’s husband, was instrumental in this workshop. He schlepped our suitcases, drove us around, got their house ready for the first evening’s events, told funny jokes–sometimes twice, and loved his family like crazy.
I see these two choosing truth and light and patience and vulnerability and joy in the midst of a very hard personal season of their life.
Watching them these past few months has been a big source of encouragement for me. I am officially part of the Josh Downs fan club. I love this photo of them.
Each woman received a packet like this to open while traveling to the in person meet up. It was filled with notes from all the other women who were coming. Because I was helping with both workshops, that means I received over 50 notes of encouragement and kindness even before arriving. It was humbling and overwhelming.
Karen’s friend, Coral, helped with the workshop too. She is a skilled portrait photographer in southern Oregon who understands light well. She has a great laugh. She’s been a constant friend to Karen. The first night, she needed a few more moments to get ready.
When the women arrived Thursday night, Karen and Josh’s two daughters gave them a tour of their house.
Josh and Karen welcomed the ladies in the backyard for dinner.
Karen and Josh bought a school bus to transport the students for these two weekends. Josh added seats, fixed it up, and got his CDL so he could drive everyone around.
After dinner, the women got on the school bus and headed to McCloud, California–a total surprise to them.
Located at the foot of Mount Shasta, McCloud is a small town in Northern California known for fly fishing, snow skiing, and clean water.
We took over the Mercantile Hotel there. It’s where Karen and Josh spent their honeymoon and have celebrated several anniversaries.
Karen surprised the women by setting up an art show of their own work before their arrival. For many women this was very emotional–especially for those who don’t usually print their images or display them in a large format.
DAY #2: FRIDAY
Friday morning started with surprise videos for each woman’s family.
Children, husbands, daughters, grand kids, parents, and grandparents shared about what made their loved one beautiful to them.
During the weekend, I documented many of the events; I taught my own class about storytelling; and I coached small groups of women through different shooting scenarios.
Friday, I helped the women with an indoor shooting scenario in beautiful, moody light.
I talked them through my thought process; helped them with settings; touched a bit on composition; and introduced many to my friend, Kelvin.
Karen thought it would be cool to get these bike carts (a.k.a. surreys) up and running and have the women ride them to a baseball game.
Both the carts and the game were a total surprise also.
Check out Cathy’s expression up close.
Paper, rock, scissors to decide who bats first.
Helena got a great hit.
Anna–a fierce athlete–scored a home run.
Karen went all out to try to field Colleen’s ball at first base.
During workshop #2, the red team photo bombed the losing blue team.
After the ball game, we pedaled home. I opted for a hike with some of the women in the evening.
I enjoyed getting to know Regina a bit and seeing Cathy in her element.
Friday night ended with dinner in the crane shed, a cavernous barn-like building at the mill.
Yes, Karen Russell creates event venues where there are none.
DAY #3: SATURDAY
Karen asked Kirk Rudy to share his collection of Native American portraits by photographer, Edward S. Curtis. Curtis created most of his work during the first two decades of the 1900s.
You can learn more about Curtis and this extraordinary collection HERE.
After Kirk’s lecture, I taught the class I had created for these women, a class on photographic storytelling.
I love to teach but don’t get to do it often. It felt like I had made a delicious meal and got to bring all these women around the table and serve it to them.
I felt so much joy teaching. I’m on the lookout for other places/ ways to teach about photography.
Here’s a screen shot of one of the slides in my presentation that sets out the goals of my class.
Apparently, I get pretty animated when I start teaching. [Bam]
Thank you, Marilou, for taking this one.
In the late afternoon, I coached the women through a really tricking shooting scenario–in the dimly lit and cluttered basement of the Mercantile. The students affectionately named it the dungeon.
Then we headed outdoors for some more traditional portraits in abundant light.
Here’s Dana. . .
The first Saturday night, I was sick so I took the night off.
The second Saturday night, I joined the group by a pond and a cabin with breathtaking views of Mt. Shasta for dinner and dancing. During dinner, I listened in on a conversation between two courageous women who were both systematically sexually abused by a family member. I listened as they encouraged each other and ministered to one another–sharing concrete ways they fight to heal moment by moment. I believe every single word they said. And I want them to keep fighting to heal.
I ended one of the best days of my life dancing like crazy. My kids don’t believe me that I pulled it off. Maybe if you were there and witnessed it, you could add a comment to this blog post to try to convince them of the truth.
So glad Coral got a few photos. Here’s proof that I will do just about anything to make Karen smile. Thank you, Coral!
DAY #4: SUNDAY
Tired yet? The Karen Russell train is fun, but it moves really fast.
She challenged all the women to run or walk a 5 K.
The morning started with some dynamic stretching.
The first weekend, my friend Lea had a super strong run. She has never been a runner and was reluctant to even start training.
Her husband, Damon, encouraged her to try and they started running together.
It was so wonderful to see her heading down the road looking stronger than I’ve ever seen her.
This woman has had a huge influence on me. She knows me deeply and loves me well. Quite simply, I want to be like her. It seemed like Lea’s participation in AYITM was a gift to everyone she met.
The women hoisted her up to celebrate her victory.
At the end of the second workshop, Lisa gifted Karen with a handmade quilt that she made using fabric that we sent her.
I know Karen well enough to know this gift would pretty much blow her mind. And it did.
After dinner in Dunsmuir. . .
. . . the women walked about 2 blocks up a steep hill to their final surprise, the California Theatre (est. 1926) lit up and ready for a slideshow viewing of images from the weekend.
Tyler and Dodee helped us set up. I think I would have lost sleep had I not asked to photograph them.
They surprised us by asking their friend Billy to play some piano as we all arrived.
On the one hand, I poured myself out for these women for two weekends. I expended myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. I did things that felt really uncomfortable to me. At times, I felt spent.
On the other hand, these women poured themselves into me. These women cared for me and supported me in all kinds of ways. I cherish all the moments they said yes to learning and trying new things. I cherish every single conversation I had–conversations where the women opened up to me and created a place for me to open up to them. I cherish all the dancing and laughing. I cherish every single note I received during the workshop. I have read each one more than one time. My eyes fill with tears of joyful gratitude when I read them. I cherish all the important words of encouragement and clarity. I cherish the Fage breaks and high kicks. I felt alive and free.
Can’t believe how fast those days came and went.
Thank you, Alison, Angie, Barb, Camille, Cara, Celia, Colette, Dana L., Dana N., Donna, Elaine, Gina, Ifan, Karen, Kellie, Keri, Lan, Lea, Lisa, Liz, Maria, Michele, Rachael, Robin, Sharra, Sunny, Tanya, Tara, Wendi, and Jules. Thank you, Andria, Anna, Cathi, Cathy, Colleen, Crystal, Debbie, Helena, Jane, Jen, Joanie, Joyce, Kari, Kelley, Kim, Kristen, Kristym, Leslie, Liora, Lisa, Maria, Michelle, Nancy, Rachelle, Regina, Stephanie, Suzi, Vicky, Coral, Nicole, Marilou, and Karen.
Hope many of our paths cross again.