Day Nineteen:

Somewhere in the skies between Omaha and Phoenix…

I’m sitting in a half full (or would it be half empty) flight back from my trip documenting the Ellis family in South Dakota.

It was an amazing trip on many levels.  The photographs were fantastic because they were the kind of images that I absolutely love to capture.

Real moments of people living their lives.

The other thing that was great was hanging out with Cory Ann and her family.  CA is a fantastic photographer who operates a successful wedding and portrait business in Brookings.

She is also one of the most organized people I have ever met and has willingly shared her organizational secrets which I plan on implementing when I am at home.  Funny, I can organize the space in the frame of my camera  but when it comes to organizing the images on my many many hard drives, well, let’s just say it’s not what I would want.

Cory Ann is not only supremely organized she’s supremely talented as a photographer and is really coming into her own with not only her wedding coverage — which is absolutely stellar — but also her work as a photographer doing intimate portraits of women.

She is one of the best I’ve ever seen in this genre and the work has evolved majorly over the course of the year.  I can only imagine how they’ll be in the next couple of years.

It was also a pleasure meeting her husband Andy who teaches at South Dakota State Univ, also in Brookings.   Not only did I get to see a side of his life that is supremely important to him (his hunting), I got to also see the educator side of Andy yesterday.  He oversees the day-to-day operation of the Anatomy lab and yesterday he was getting his students for this semester organized of their lab which will be the examination of a human cadaver.  I was able to see that, but not photograph it for privacy reasons but felt like I had stepped into a scene from NCIS or CSI.

I got to also photograph and get to know their boys:  Kaleb (a 7th grader) and Ayden (a first grader).  Cory Ann worked hard to get permission for me to document them in school so I could continue this documentary project on the family.  That work paid off.  Even though I was only there for a couple of hours, I did get glimpses into their life in school.   It’s a privilege to be granted that access, and the camera makes it possible.

What just absolutely amazed me was what happened before school for Ayden.   With temperatures below freezing (probably around 20º or so) the kids were undaunted as they swung on the swings, slid down the slide, literally jumped onto the playground apparatus that had iced over.  Ayden sat atop the jungle jim bars and just looked perfectly content even thought the weather — to me — was bone chilling.  I couldn’t help but think about Kate playing on a very similar type of jungle jim about 10 days ago.  Kate was wearing her flip flops, short sleeve t-shirt and the temperature was about 70.  The kids in SD seemed to be just as content even bundled up with layers of hats, scarves, heavy coats, gloves and boots as Kate and her buddies were with crocks and t-shirts.  Wherever they are, they just adapt.

Ayden is a sprite of a kid who just loves to play outside, use a knife to carve wood figures, shoot bow and arrow — pretty much everything his Dad loves to do as well.  He’s impish, playful and quick to smile (and show off those gaps from the missing baby teeth!).

He looks up to Kaleb (his older half brother) and I think Kaleb kind of likes that, though he may not easily admit it.

Kaleb was a bit shy around me, though it’s probably the norm for that age.  He is a good athlete and I was able to photograph him with his family on the skates (and he’s a demon skating backwards), and also practicing basketball (too bad his game on Monday was cancelled due to the foggy road conditions), and today in gym playing Dodgeball.

Thanks to Cory Ann and Andy for commissioning me to document the family — it’s the start of creating a totally new type of portrait session for my clients.  That is a real day in the life type of assignment where there’s no posing of photographs, just honest to goodness documentary photography that reveals a side of the family that no mere portrait can represent.

This is much truer to my ultimate photographic vision.  It’s about spending time with people, photographing the simple things in their lives like mealtime, recreation, or simply photographing them just hanging out and rolling around on the floor playing with a huge Great Dane in pjs.

And this could not have worked out more perfectly.

Ayden licks the snow from a snow bank on the way to school this morning.

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