I could write volumes about the highs (trips, time with family, creative pursuits...) and lows (basically any and everything having to do with our ridiculous current presidential administration) of this year, but instead I'll just leave you with these: some of my favorite images from some of my favorite shoots and adventures over the course of 2017.
"Andy is truly one of the most enrapturing people I have ever met - smart, beautiful, confident, and intriguing. She slayed during this Gucci-inspired shoot, which she also envisioned, planned, and orchestrated. Obvs."Read More
That feeling when you have to supress squeals of delight during a photo shoot because you *know* the images you're creating in that moment are going to be some of your all-time faves...
Thanks so much to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for giving me the creative license and the opportunity to carry out the shoot of my dreams for a takeover of their Instagram account.
Reason #496 I love what I do: sometimes you hit it off with clients so much that you come to consider them friends. Julia is one such client - an extremely inspiring boss babe who works to empower women through yoga and wellness.
You might recognize Julia from an amazing yoga shoot we did last year. This time, she took her yoga skills to the next level, showing off some amazing acro yoga poses with her boyfriend, Nick.
The couple also wanted some more-traditional photos to document this period in their relationship. As Julia said when she first shared these images with her friends and family: "Not engaged, married or pregnant. Just in love."
True story: Beth found me by googling "Minneapolis Yoga Photographer" after her search for "Minneapolis Feminist Photographer" yielded no results. And I've been trying to figure out how to become searchable via the latter ever since.
Beth Berila's resume is impressive - she is an author, Ph.D., professor, the director of the Women's Studies Program at St. Cloud State University, and a yoga teacher and Ayurvedic Yoga specialist. Upon meeting her and collaborating with her for a couple hours, I discovered she is also a delightful human being. It was an honor to make some images with such an inspiring female powerhouse. Here are a few of my faves.
EDITOR'S NOTE: November, 2016 rocked my world unlike any other month of any other year in recent memory. The election of Donald Trump was a game-changer - the sort of devastating, earth-shattering event that puts everything else into perspective and forever marks periods of time as "before" and "after." As such, this project stopped after 13 days. Stopped because it felt trivial and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It stopped because I stopped - stopped my desire to create, stopped by ability to not be utterly depressed about the state of our nation.
For a long time, I simply hid this post; it served as too raw a reminder of how painful that period of time was. But as I look back at the images now, I see beauty and hope in them. Hope I was able to find even then. Albeit unfinished, the project seems to have served some small purpose and for that, it's hard not to be grateful.
November to me is a month of warmth. Not warm in the way August is hot and sticky or the way May is balmy and breezy. It is about a sense of home and nostalgia and peacefulness that make you feel warm and fuzzy no matter the chill in the air or the darkness of the long nights. It is cozy blankets and hot beverages sipped out of oversized mugs. It is glowing fireplaces and the heart-filling laughter of family and friends. It is food that sticks to your ribs and booze that warms your belly. And most of all, it is slowing down and pausing for moments of introspection and gratitude.
For the next 30 days, I plan to offer up thanks for the things in my life - big and small, material and intangible - that fulfill me in some way. And to do so in the best manner I know how: through images.
I'm thankful for kids who are finally starting to realize they are better playmates than adversaries. Also, Julian just discovered he can lift Nora up and they both think it's pretty cool.
I am grateful for our garden. For the bounty of vegetables it produces. For the time it forces us to spend outdoors. For the fertile soil and access to clean water which allow us to grow healthy food. I am thankful that - by participating in the growing, nurturing, harvesting, and cooking of these crops - my children have an understanding of where their food comes from and an appreciation for it.
I am very thankful to live in a neighborhood that puts us within walking distance of parks, restaurants, a brewery, a natural foods co-op, friends' houses, and more.
I am thankful for the beautiful weather we have had so far this month. For the chance it has afforded us to spend extra time outside. For the prolonged season of spectacular fall colors and the way the glorious sunshine illuminated this ginkgo tree today.
I am thankful to be surrounded by creative and inspiring people - both those I've known for a while and those I continue to meet throughout the course of my work.
Thankful doesn't even begin to explain how I feel about being this girl's mama. She is independent and strong and she likes playing with tractors and her brother's ninja turtle gear just as much as she does singing to and "mothering" her babydoll. This little powerhouse waited in line for over an hour today and joined me in the (early) voting booth as I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. The future is female and this one is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
I'm grateful for our dog, Oliver. Our cuddly, stinky, grumpy old man who always seems to know the right time to curl up in my lap. Like today when my election anxiety was at an all-time high and my other methods of coping (stress-eating and blasting hip hop) weren't quite doing the trick.
I am finding it really difficult to find something to be grateful for at this moment on this particular day. Perhaps it's times like this when stopping to look for the proverbial silver lining or giving thanks for the little things matters the most. I can't even begin to process my emotions about this election right now, but I sure do love these little kids of mine, both of whom were very excited to watch the returns tonight and neither of whom made it past 8:30 p.m. Lucky them.
This is not the thankfulness post I had hoped to write on November 9th. Instead of celebrating the historic shattering of glass ceilings and the triumph of love and common decency over hate and exclusion, I am left completely despondent over yesterday's election. I've cried more today than I have in a long time. Like every time I looked at my children's faces and thought about how long 4 YEARS is in the span of their lifetimes.
As this unforgettably painful day came to a close and we sat around the dinner table as a family, this little guy took it upon himself to teach us the sign language he learned at preschool today. The words? PEACE, JOY, HAPPY, and MUSIC. And there we had it: a beautiful moment of light - worthy of immense gratitude - during a dark, dark day.
We could all use a little more light in our lives right now. And Bruce Munro's, "Winter Lights," at the Arboretum was just the thing. I am grateful for the opportunity to preview this impressive art installation.
After having landed myself squarely in the depression stage of [the five stages of] grief and having suffered a migraine all day long, to say that I am grateful to my people for taking care of me would be a huge understatement. My mom - rockstar that she is - played with and read to and cared for the kids all day long. And Andrew ran point on bedtime and cooked us a special dinner AND served it to me in bed. As miserable as today was, it's hard to not feel thankful for having amazing people in my life.
I am thankful to have a plant-filled, light-filled, powerful-woman-filled environment in which to work and create.
I am so grateful to live in a city that celebrates ALL of its inhabitants regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or immigration status.
Nearly ten years ago, Andrew and I got married in the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos on the Mayan Riviera. We were joined by about 60 of our closest friends and family members, some of whom were experiencing this beautiful place for the first time and some of whom vacation there yearly. Puerto Morelos is a quaint, laid-back town that welcomes tourists from all over the world, but is not overly crowded. The whole-in-the-wall taco joints and shanty bars on the beach far outnumber the fancy sit-down restaurants. Locals flock to the beaches on the weekends with their families and spend the day picnicking and swimming. The coral reef off the shore - second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef - offers up some of the best snorkeling in the world.
Needless to say, it holds a very special place in our hearts.
On our final day in Mexico, we booked a van with Olympus Tours and brought Julian and Nora to Puerto Morelos. I was excited to show them where we tied the knot. Excited for them to see a where local families spent their time. And frankly I was excited to show off my Spanish to these kids of mine who typically groan when I try to teach it to them.
We arrived in the center of town and our driver parked near the plaza. From there, we could walk just about anywhere. We first set off to see the docks where the fishing boats anchor with their catch of the day. We watched the pelicans swooping overhead and the frigate birds riding the wind currents. We stopped at the famous lighthouse that had been tipped by a hurricane many years before and checked out the large, colorful sign reading “PUERTO MORELOS” on the promenade which was new to town since we had last visited.
We set off walking down the beach toward the spot where we got married, stopping along the way to chase sand pipers, collect seaweed, and dig in the sand. The beaches in Puerto Morelos are much different from those in Playa del Carmen where we were staying, because the waves break off shore on the reef rather than on the beach. The water is much shallower and calmer along this stretch.
When we arrived at “the spot” - the grounds of a condo complex where we had our wedding ceremony, we found a sweet couple to take a family picture of us. We found out that they had also gotten married in Puerto Morelos five years earlier and were back with their young child to celebrate their anniversary (something Andrew and I did with baby Julian for our five-year!).
We grabbed some lemonade and guacamole at a nearby the restaurant on the beach and the kids played in the sand some more.
It was hard to tear the kids away from the beach, but we decided to take the main road back to the plaza to show them what the neighborhood was like. They were fascinated to see the elementary school, the playground in the plaza, and some of the interesting architecture in the town. We finished off our visit with cones from the ice cream shop and vowed to return soon.
This was my 5th visit to Puerto Morelos - my first time was when I was a teenager - and this little slice of paradise still felt like a home away from home.
In a move that seemed fitting with the vibe of this magical town, I shot some film while there. Here are a few of my favorite images from the roll.
There are vacations and then there are trips. To me, the former conjures up images of lounging, reading, and drinking cocktails with umbrellas in them. The latter usually involves sight-seeing, activities, and being constantly on the go. I've done plenty of both and have grown to love each. I’m quickly learning that traveling with kids is all about finding the perfect balance between “vacation” and “trip” - keeping them entertained and happy and sneaking those brief moments of relaxation whenever possible.
Paradisus - La Esmeralda grasps this concept fully. They know just how to cater to families trying to strike a balance. The mini bars are stocked with both liquor and chocolate milk. The turndown service at the end of the day includes champagne for the adults and cookies for the kids. And while Andrew and I didn’t go so far as to drop our kids off at the in-house day care and peace-out to the spa, we did decide - after our action-packed second day - to spend our third day hanging around Paradisus and taking advantage of its many amenities. We slept in, watched the sunrise from our balcony, and ordered room service for breakfast. The kids played with Lego sets my mom had sneaked into their luggage and Andrew and I actually got to savor our morning coffee.
One of my favorite moments from the trip came that day when Nora discovered there were kid-sized slippers and a bathrobe in the closet to match the ones I’d been wearing. She donned them and we were “twinsies” most of the morning. It was such a sweet moment and a beautiful reminder that the most meaningful memories can be created even when you’re not actively seeking them out.
When we decided we were ready for an excursion, we didn't need to venture far; the pool and the beach at the resort were all the entertainment we needed. My little water babies loved swimming the ocean - meaning they clung to us for dear life as Andrew and I jumped up to ride each cresting wave. We built castles on the beach and let the waves wash up on our feet and cover our toes with sand. When we needed a break, we headed for the pool where we lounged in cabanas, ordered food and drinks, and relaxed while the kids splashed in the water.
Upon the recommendation from our fabulous butler (did I mention there was a butler?!), Paulina, we dined that night at the resort’s teppanyaki restaurant. Not exactly authentic Mexico, but delicious and highly entertaining for the kids.
When we returned to our room at the end of the day, Paulina had a surprise waiting for the kids: a bubble bath in the huge tub with balloon swords and animals in it. (This was on the heels of a treasure hunt she had staged for them in the room the night before.) They were delighted and it was the perfect ending to the perfect day - one where we had just the right amount of activity and relaxation, the perfect mix of vacation and trip.
Any of my fellow children-of-the-80s out there remember The Voyage of the Mimi?! Specifically the second voyage where a young Ben Affleck and his pals try to thwart looters from pillaging sacred sites in Mexico? Watching it (on laser disc, obviously) in late elementary school left such an impression on me that when I first visited Mexico years later, I was mildly obsessed with Tulum and made my family go see the ruins.
I was 16 years old and the ancient Mayan city lived up to all of my expectations. It was magical and mysterious. Its fortresses were formidable and its beaches were treacherous and beautiful. We hired a guide to show us the secrets of Tulum and I hung on every word he shared with us about the Mayan history and culture. I vividly remember this visit to the centuries-old city as the first of many experiences I would have where my own tiny place in time and space was truly put into perspective.
If our first day in Mexico was about getting settled in to our luxurious new surroundings, our second day was full of non-stop adventure. There is no shortage of things to do along the Mayan Riviera. We opted to pack two of the area's most amazing destinations into one day and, thanks to Olympus Tours, we were taken from place to place with ease.
Tulum was of course included in the itinerary and the tour bus brought us there first. The kids weren't exactly as awestruck at 2.5 and 5 years old as I was as a teenager, but my little engineer Julian's interest was certainly piqued when he realized that the Mayans didn't use excavators and backhoe loaders and tower cranes to build the impressive structures. The seaside cliffs were just as stunning as I'd remembered them, but sadly the beach was closed due to very high tides that day. We sat in the grass, had a snack, and took in the magnificence of the whole place.
Our second and final destination of the day was the ecological park, Xel-Ha. I had heard of its attractions - swimming with dolphins, floating through blue lagoons, zip-lining over water - and was dying to see what it was about. The moment we arrived, we were all blown away by how wonderful it truly was. The kids were wide-eyed as we made our way past dolphin pools, parrots on their perches, and iguanas sunning themselves. There were hammock groves for lounging, piña coladas for sipping (all food and drink was included in the price of admission), a playground, ropes courses, wild mangrove forests, and perfectly curated gardens.
One thing that immediately struck me was the park’s dedication to preserving the natural wonders within its borders. Andrew and I noticed the compost bins, absence of plastic water bottles, and signs reminding visitors to only use biodegradable sunscreen.
We ate lunch at a buffet of delicious, authentic Mexican food, dropped our clothes and gear off at (free) lockers, picked up some towels, and made our way to the mouth of the river - the main artery of the park. We hopped on inner-tubes - each of us with a kiddo on our lap - and floated our way down into the lagoon. From there, we could disembark at various points - to cliff jump, snorkel, ride the zip line, try the ropes course - or just keep drifting lazily in the turquoise water. We opted for a combination of all of the above and loved every minute of it.
At the end of the day, exhausted after nearly 12 hours of adventure, we boarded the bus back to Paradisus. Just before he drifted to sleep on my lap, Julian said, “mama, can you even believe I tried snorkeling today?!” I just smiled and hummed the Voyage of the Mimi theme song quietly to myself.
To understand why I might consider an all-inclusive resort in a popular tourist area in Mexico a "hidden gem," one must first understand my travel history. I am fluent in Spanish. I have lived in South America and backpacked through Peru, Argentina, and Chile. I have stayed in hostels, camped, cooked my own food, lived on very little money. And I have been to the Mayan Riviera four times, staying in modest vacation rentals in a small fishing village on each visit. I scoffed at all-inclusive resorts and wrote them off as not being an "authentic" travel experiences or as too insular.
That was all before kids.
Now I realize - after having discovered the magical place that is Paradisus - La Esmerelda in Playa del Carmen - that an all-inclusive resort can be an amazing haven of recreation and relaxation and family-friendly accommodations. Were it not for our recent #SCAgetaway, I would never have discovered Paradisus, a place where they provided anything and everything we as a family with two young kids might want.
On the day of our departure, Andrew and I awoke to a 3:45 a.m. alarm, threw on our clothes and woke the kids - Julian (5) and Nora (2.5) - for our 4:15 a.m. taxi pick-up. The plane lifted off under cover of darkness at 6:00 in the morning, the kids sitting wide-eyed in their seats, still in their jammies. Both had flown before, but when they were infants, and neither one remembered the experience. They were mesmerized, terrified, and fascinated all at once. At one point, Julian asked me, "are you sure this is safe?" (something I wonder to myself every time I fly). As the sun began to rise - a spectacular sight from an airplane window - any anxiety melted away to pure excitement.
We were met at the Cancun International Airport by a friendly driver from Olympus Tours who fulfilled my lifelong dream of being greeted at an airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it. We sprang for the private transfer to the hotel which was worth every penny - the kids dozed just long enough in their carseats to take the edge off of their tiredness and Andrew and I took full advantage of the wifi in the van to catch up on work emails (Andrew) and post to Snapchat and Instagram Stories (me).
The VIP treatment continued ten-fold when we arrived at Paradisus - a huge resort situated on the beach near Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera, yet not at all visible from the main road. We were whisked to the family concierge desk via golf cart, where we were fed champagne, outfitted with stylish wristbands, and introduced to our family butler Paulina, who gave us a tour of the myriad amenities available: several swimming pools, a rock climbing wall, babysitting services, tons of restaurants, a private beach, and beautiful grounds nestled among a mangrove forest.
We checked out our amazing room, where sand toys awaited the kids, and we discovered that we even had a jacuzzi on our balcony that looked out over the Caribbean Sea. We immediately donned swimsuits. It was then that getting up so early in the morning paid off: the kids were splashing in the pool and Andrew and I were enjoying margaritas by noon.
The rest of our first day in paradise was spent going from the pool to the beach and back. We had a delicious dinner at the resort's Brazilian steakhouse, and we were all sound asleep by 8pm.
Here are some of my favorite images from that first wonderful day.
Huge thanks to Sun Country Airlines, Paradisus - La Esmerelda, and Olympus Tours for this amazing opportunity.
There's nothing quite like a mid-week road trip. To the North Shore. With a dear friend who is also a photographer. One who is totally down to spontaneously pull over to the side of the road for those "hey look!" moments.
Eric and I had a fabulous time soaking up the fall colors along Lake Superior, chasing light, and standing in as each other's models. We explored places we'd never been before and hit up some old favorites. My heart and my camera roll are both full after our 36-hour adventure.
I knew I wanted to explore themes of LIFE and LOVE and DEATH.
I knew they were to be dressed in black & white - almost as if for a wedding - and we needed red roses.
And that day, when we stumbled upon a majestic, old willow tree, the final piece fell into place: I knew that Shakespeare's words - the ultimate commentary on life and love and death - would weave it all together.
I could talk about how I've known the Kieners for more than 15 years. How we've been college roommates, travel companions, bridesmaids, poker opponents, drinking buddies, and neighbors during that time. And how our daughters were born a little over a month apart and have become besties. But all of that would still seem inadequate. So instead I'll just leave you with a set of images - a mixture of candid at-home family moments and posed maternity portraits - that I took of this beautiful family of three very shortly before they became a family of four.
Dedicated to improving the lives of members of her community, Julia Starr left her corporate day job and founded her own yoga and wellness brand: Starr Health Co. She teaches yoga - something she has practiced almost her entire life - and is pursuing a masters in the U of M's Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coaching program.
We recently met for some in-studio head-shots (and yoga poses, of course!) and then ventured out to a nearby park for more photos. Check out my favorites below and be sure to visit one of Julia's classes in the Twin Cities.
Last week, Sony Alpha invited a group of local photographers and Instagrammers to the Minnesota State Fair to try out their a7R II camera - a full-frame, mirrorless powerhouse. I chose to use their 24-240 f/3.5-6.3 lens which offered up awesome chances to capture candid people pics. The camera worked great in low light and was easy to use. I'm not saying I'm ready to trade in my full Nikon kit just yet, but damn, this was fun to play with.
Thanks so much to Sony Alpha and photographer, Marc Coleman, for organizing this event, #SonyattheFair!
I've known Julia for years and have always admired her creative energy and free spirit. When we decided to collaborate on a yoga shoot, I created a shared Pinterest board that we could both pin ideas to. Perfectly in synch, we both immediately began saving water-themed shots. Our amazing sunset shoot at Cedar Lake was clearly meant to be.