Long Term Project

Ramblings on Identity

I have been thinking a lot about identity lately. If you’ve ready my blog posts, you will see that I have moved around a lot. In the last five years, I have lived in three different countries (four if you count the one I come from) and have traveled around the world. I have seen polar opposite cultures, from women fully covered to women practically naked, or from bustling urban cities to empty, wide-open country. Each place is so different.

Moving from culture to culture so fluidly can be jolting and confusing. One moment everyone is speaking a language you understand until a five-hour plane ride later, you’re in a completely different place, with not only a different language, but a different set of rules to how you live life. It’s mind-boggling.

Living in the US you don’t experience this as much. Of course, every state has it’s culture and way of life, but it doesn’t feel that different for an American, especially compared to traveling to a different country. Traveling on a three-to-four-hour flight across the States takes you to another place where English is spoken and the culture relatively the same. On the other side of the world however, a short plane ride can take you to exponentially different places. Places that contain people who see life very differently than you ever thought or imagined. It’s a wild contrast and with globalization and the ease of travel, it allows such a change in just a day.

These days the ease of traveling makes transitioning from place to place more difficult. I have realized now that I need a buffer before I head back to the States. My mind needs some kind of adjustment period where I exit the culture I’m living in and enter my home culture. This transition gets easier every time I do it, but it still is a challenge. It takes a bit to remember where I am and how I relate to people.

Why is it that culture affects identity and how we live our lives? I have found pieces of me change as I’ve lived in each place. From how I dress, to how I interact with men, to even how I spend my time has morphed in the last half decade. Culture seems to have a great impact on people more than one would think.

I am unsure where to go with all of these thoughts (and this is just scratching the surface), but I have plans to build a project around these ideas. I plan to introspectively take a look at my life and how I have changed over these last several years and how culture has had an effect on that. Some of the imagery might be self portraits, but I have some other ideas that I want to experiment with. I’d love it if you’d follow me on this journey and I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on identity, culture, and globalization as well.

In the coming days, I plan to map out my ideas and see how I can start fleshing this out photographically. If you want to share your ideas with me, please comment below or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I do plan on continuing my project over fatherhood. I still have much interest in the topic and I can’t imagine dropping it as I’ve become quite passionate about it. So keep following me on my Instagram, as that’s where I’ll mostly be posting from that project.

For now though, I leave you a photo from a recent trip to Rome. I had never been there before and I was quite enchanted by the city. It reminded me of other parts of Europe, but the more we explored, the more we realized how different and beautiful it is in its own way.

Have a great weekend!

-Ashley

 
2018.09.20 - Rome 01.jpg
 

Fatherscapes Project: Meet Nathan

Meet Nathan! He is a father to a rambunctious, car-loving-almost-18-month-old boy in the Houston, Texas area. He agreed to participate in my project and we had fun playing with cars and blocks on Sunday evening.

Just a side note--the boy, Zachary, is actually my nephew, so it was fun photographing him and his dad for this project! :) It's not too often that we're back in the States so I took advantage of the opportunity. 

 "My son has taught me to be patient. If he decides he wants to do something his way, he will do it his way. He's very stubborn--I have four nephews and one niece and he's probably one of the most stubborn kids I've ever met."   -Nathan

"My son has taught me to be patient. If he decides he wants to do something his way, he will do it his way. He's very stubborn--I have four nephews and one niece and he's probably one of the most stubborn kids I've ever met."   -Nathan

2017.12.04 - Nathan & Zachary - for blog 04.jpg

For a first time father, Nathan had a lot of wisdom to share. One of the things that have surprised me throughout this project is how every single father has something unique to say about fatherhood--the challenges, the greatest moments, and the advice they'd give. There have been some similarities of what people have said, but oftentimes each father has specific areas of focus and things that are important to them. It's always exciting to me to hear what they have to say and what activity they'll choose to do with their kid (as I leave it up to them to make it more personable and authentic). Honestly sometimes I feel I'm getting more out of the project than they are! I'll never be a father, but I sure am learning much about this vital role in families. 

2017.12.04 - Nathan & Zachary - for blog 03.jpg

I'm currently adding in another element to this project, where I'm adding in objects (like toys, books, etc.) that the kids play with in order to bring in more context to the relationship between fathers and kids. So for Zachary, he loves playing with cars, trucks, and his blocks, so I had to take a picture of these items. 

 "I never had someone I cared about so much before. He's barely been in my life and I care more about him than anyone else."  -Nathan

"I never had someone I cared about so much before. He's barely been in my life and I care more about him than anyone else."  -Nathan

The biggest challenge of this photo shoot was the lighting actually. So far in this project I have not used flash and I really wanted to keep it that way in order to not change the aesthetic of the images. Natural lighting is also what I'm comfortable with--I haven't really used flash except to experiment and learn, so I didn't quite feel comfortable bringing it in. Unfortunately some of the lights in this set were blown out in order to have correct exposure elsewhere and the images are quite grainy. I'll still use these for the project, but this is something I need to consider in the future--perhaps I need to experiment with flash in these situations in order to get cleaner images? This is the life of a photographer though--constantly learning and adapting to situations is a must!

Since I'm currently in Texas, my plan is to set up as many photo shoots as I can while I'm here, so...if you're in the Houston or Dallas areas and want to partake, let me know! I'd love, love, love to take your pictures and to show through your relationship with your child how important being a father is. I can't do this project without fathers collaborating with me in this. So, if you're interested, shoot me an email: ashley@transparentlifephotos.com. We leave in the beginning of January, so time is of the essence. :) Don't delay and email me today (ha, I rhymed! ;)

Have a happy Monday!

-Ashley

Fatherscapes Project: Meet Matt

While visiting some good friends of ours, I asked them if they would set me up to photograph a father in their area and they set me up with Matt. 

Matt has three adorable children and he graciously participated in the project. I honestly can say this was one of the best photo shoots for the project I've done. I feel like photo shoots with complete strangers can go really well or really bad. It definitely went really well! 

Matt's openness in sharing his struggles about being a dad, his willingness to be real and goofy with his kids in front of the camera, and his patience while I got all the shots I needed was just unparalleled. All the father's I've photographed have been very wonderful, but as I've done this project I've noticed that dad's aren't the biggest fans of having their picture taken! :) So thank you to all of you who have participated thus far! 

 “Now that I'm six and a half years in being a father and have three kids now and not just one or two, I’ve learned that you have to lay down your life for them and assume that your life is not yours anymore. That's just how much effort having children take.”    -Matt

“Now that I'm six and a half years in being a father and have three kids now and not just one or two, I’ve learned that you have to lay down your life for them and assume that your life is not yours anymore. That's just how much effort having children take.”    -Matt

One of the things I tried out with Matt was pictures of things that were special to his relationship with his kids. I had done this with Andrew as well, but with Matt I dug a little deeper. The things that came out of it were really wonderful and I feel that they gave much more context for the project. 

2017.11.27 - Meet Matt - Fatherhood Project - for blog02.jpg
 "I did not know that I was an angry man until I had kids; they just have the ability to bring out anger in me that no one ever has in my life. This is hard on a lot of levels. It's hard being angry, it's hard that their the ones that make me angry, and it's hard knowing that they're watching me be angry. It's like a trifecta that both my wife and I are working on."    -Matt

"I did not know that I was an angry man until I had kids; they just have the ability to bring out anger in me that no one ever has in my life. This is hard on a lot of levels. It's hard being angry, it's hard that their the ones that make me angry, and it's hard knowing that they're watching me be angry. It's like a trifecta that both my wife and I are working on."    -Matt

Overall moving forward, I'm excited about what I'm learning, the depth at which this project is going, and the relationships I'm building in the process. Hopefully I will have a beautiful photo book at the end of all of this work that I can proudly share with dad's all around the world! 

I have done two photo shoots recently that I will share soon! Have a great Monday!

-Ashley

End Goals | Work in Progress

If you've been following my work in progress posts, then you might have wondered what I will do with all of these photos and these father's stories. As I've wrestled with what I want to accomplish, I believe I've come to the decision of a photo book!

Photo books can be so fun to look at. I've really come to enjoy them and appreciate them in a new way. Kind of like KayLynn Deveney's book (that I wrote about here), a book really can bring a narrative to life by having one topic being discovered throughout the entire piece of work. It really focuses your attention and allows you to look through the pages and take in the subject matter without being distracted by other things. 

Initially I struggled with deciding if it should only be pictures and no text, but as I've interviewed these fathers I believe that their advice and experience needs to be told. It is just too good to leave it out. Images are powerful on their own, but sometimes when combined with text it can really bring the story to life and is not obtrusive or distracting.

 “When we adopted Tacoa, I remember thinking, how can I have even more love in my heart for another child? When he came, my heart opened up more then I ever realized it could.”  -Chris

“When we adopted Tacoa, I remember thinking, how can I have even more love in my heart for another child? When he came, my heart opened up more then I ever realized it could.”

-Chris

There are values and ideals that these fathers are carrying that enrich the experience of fatherhood that I want to bring out and show the world. I want viewers of this book to end with a different opinion of fathers than when they started. I know myself, my thoughts have changed. Being a father is quite difficult and I never understood it before the project (not that I do now--I just have a better understanding). 

The photo book will roll out next year some time, so be on the lookout for my process and when it's finished. I'm really excited about it and feel that it will be a starting point for me as a photographer. Who knows what I will create after this project ends! :)

So out of curiosity, do any of you have photo books that you love/hate? Let me know, as I'd love to see what other people have done. Secondly, what do you think of this idea of making a photo book? Let me know--I'd love to hear your thoughts.

-Ashley

Fatherscapes Project: Meet Andrew

Meet Andrew--he and his kiddos participated in my project recently. His perspective on Fatherhood is much different than other father's I've interviewed in that he has four children at very different ages. It was fun to hear his experiences and photograph them drinking tea and playing cards. :)

 "Let each kid be themselves. Don't try to force them all to be what you want to be. Observe them, get to know them and see what they're actually interested in rather than kind of pushing them around."

"Let each kid be themselves. Don't try to force them all to be what you want to be. Observe them, get to know them and see what they're actually interested in rather than kind of pushing them around."

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 “This drawing was made by my oldest daughter and is very important to me, as it clearly represents each person in our family. It reminds me how thankful I am for my children and how special they are to me.”

“This drawing was made by my oldest daughter and is very important to me, as it clearly represents each person in our family. It reminds me how thankful I am for my children and how special they are to me.”

I'm beginning to take pictures of not only the father and his children, but of objects that are special to the relationship--like toys, pictures, drawings, etc. I think this will build more context to the story! 

More to come soon!

-Ashley

Where am I going? | Work in Progress Part 3

As you've seen in part one and two of my work in progress for my master's project, a lot has changed over a year period. I started this new term excited for what's ahead. I left the previous term seeking images that show the entire scene and forced you to look around--not just lifestyle portraits that summed up everything in one viewing. 

Another angle that I was told to consider was objects; to "investigate" these families. Sounds creepy saying it like that, but what it means is taking closer-up shots of the items that the fathers and children interact with. Could be the books, a note from the child to the father, an older photograph, toys, etc. So rather than just show the fathers and kids interacting, bring in more context to the project as a whole by showing items that they interact with or have some kind of emotional value with.

This is the idea or concept that I'm currently exploring and it's been a lot of fun! I did a few shoots before this idea was brought to my attention, so it's rather new and where I'm headed in my project currently. Here is one of the first shoots I did this term of my friend Dan.

 "An important aspect of fatherhood is co-creating and making things together. My son came up with the idea of making a potato launcher and figuring out how to make it together was fun and special for us both."

"An important aspect of fatherhood is co-creating and making things together. My son came up with the idea of making a potato launcher and figuring out how to make it together was fun and special for us both."

 “Something memorable and special for me, is that my kids buy me a game every year for my birthday and Christmas and we play those games every week. Spot it! is my current favorite that we often play together.”  -Dan

“Something memorable and special for me, is that my kids buy me a game every year for my birthday and Christmas and we play those games every week. Spot it! is my current favorite that we often play together.”

-Dan

I've been told to consider taking two to three pictures of objects for each family, so this is what I'll do in the future. For Dan, I only have one image unfortunately, but it still brings in a story more than just the shot of them shooting a potato gun together (which is still pretty epic!). 

What do you think? How do you think these up-close shots will enrich my project? 

Thanks for stopping by!

-Ashley

Where I've Come From | Work in Progress Part 2

As promised, here is part two of "Where I've Come From" in regards to my master's project over fatherhood. If you missed part one, go here and you can read about where I was about 10 months ago.

The next term I decided to keep going in the direction I ended with--portrait-like scenes of father's interacting with their kids. As I began shooting though, the feedback I received was that my images were competent for editorial work, the kind of images seen in an advertisement or something similar, but for this project it wasn't suitable. It was flattering to me that editorial work was/is a possibility (and one I'd like to consider in the future), but for this project I didn't understand why an editorial look was bad.

 "Prioritizing my time in order to be with my kids is an important aspect of being a father."  -Michael

"Prioritizing my time in order to be with my kids is an important aspect of being a father."

-Michael

And so I remained confused for a good while (and honestly frustrated) and didn't want to photograph anyone out of fear that I'd do the wrong style.  And then, for whatever reason, it clicked. One of my professors met with me one-on-one and told me to try to capture images of the entire scene, not just the fathers themselves, up close.

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 "As fathers we should focus on our children's hearts, not the disobedience. Why are they responding like they are? How do you build up rather than tear down?"  -Peter

"As fathers we should focus on our children's hearts, not the disobedience. Why are they responding like they are? How do you build up rather than tear down?"

-Peter

Many of the images, like Michael and Peter above, I was photographing in what is called the "middle ground". There are three parts to an image--the foreground, the middle ground and the background. Many editorial images focus on the middle ground space because they want the message to be caught immediately without much thought. Most editorial shots are for products or services, so it needs to be well composed and lighted to create an eye-catching image that shares a singular message. Michael's images are very much editorial-looking, with first shot having space for text even with the wall I used on the lefthand side. 

Once I realized this, I tried to change up my composition and shooting methodology and finally understood what he was talking about. Look at these images of Cory:

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 "The challenge of being a good father is your own immaturity. You're never the dad you want to be and there's always a longing to be better."  -Cory

"The challenge of being a good father is your own immaturity. You're never the dad you want to be and there's always a longing to be better."

-Cory

The kind of images my professors were trying to pull out of me were more complicated, rich images that had lot to look at and much to interpret about the subject of fatherhood. To be honest, shooting this way was quite difficult. I felt like I was missing something since I positioned myself so far away from my subjects. 

I remember leaving Cory and thinking to myself, geez, I think I might have to redo that. The way I shot felt so uncomfortable and foreign to me. However, when I loaded the images and saw them on my screen, I just knew this is what I needed to go for. There was much more depth to these images--a richness that I wasn't getting when I got in close. You could observe the family's surroundings and the interactions within those surroundings. What were the relationships between the surroundings and the family? How did that add to their relationship/family bond? Why were they together in that space and why was it important to them? Those kinds of questions didn't have a chance to be posed in my previous up-close work. 

After Cory's shoot I did a few more and I really feel like things started coming together.

 "My greatest moment was the first day--I remember everything about it. My wife gave birth in another city, so on my way to her I was anxious to see my daughter for the first time, but when I saw her, I felt so happy. I will never forget this moment."  -Piyush

"My greatest moment was the first day--I remember everything about it. My wife gave birth in another city, so on my way to her I was anxious to see my daughter for the first time, but when I saw her, I felt so happy. I will never forget this moment."

-Piyush

 “I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone when playing with my daughter. I enjoy myself, get animated, and have fun with her. Our kids won’t always be this age, so we should enjoy it.”  -Aaron

“I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone when playing with my daughter. I enjoy myself, get animated, and have fun with her. Our kids won’t always be this age, so we should enjoy it.”

-Aaron

 "Having three small children is pretty challenging. As much joy as it is, it's hard work. It's humbling because you think you have it all together, and then you get married, and then you have kids. It's a constant reminder of how much you have to learn and grow in life."  -Wade

"Having three small children is pretty challenging. As much joy as it is, it's hard work. It's humbling because you think you have it all together, and then you get married, and then you have kids. It's a constant reminder of how much you have to learn and grow in life."

-Wade

 “The role of fatherhood has changed for me over the years drastically. I went from the one who gave advice, to being the one who’s receiving advice. This is a welcome change, as I’m proud of my children and who they’ve become.”  -Ken

“The role of fatherhood has changed for me over the years drastically. I went from the one who gave advice, to being the one who’s receiving advice. This is a welcome change, as I’m proud of my children and who they’ve become.”

-Ken

This is where I ended in my third module (in August 2017) and where I just picked up--and I'm taking it even further now though. I've been encouraged to go even more in depth, which I'll explain in my final work in progress series next week! 

What do you think about my progress? Do you agree with my tutors and my conclusions? Let me know in the comment section below!

-Ashley

Where I've Come From | Work in Progress Part 1

The last time I wrote about my master's project, I was still photographing strangers on the street, but the project has progressed greatly over the last 10 months! 

About halfway through the first module I changed my methodology and began photographing families in their homes or places that were unique to them. The project changed drastically as I was able to create better imagery and stories through being with these fathers. I also interviewed the dads and learned much about fatherhood. These are some of the images I captured in the second term, along with some of the interview from each one:

 “The advice I’d give to another father is summed up in one word: Savor. Many families wish their kids were certain ages, but the reality is that every age is important. We should take the time and savor every moment with our kids.”  -Chris

“The advice I’d give to another father is summed up in one word: Savor. Many families wish their kids were certain ages, but the reality is that every age is important. We should take the time and savor every moment with our kids.”

-Chris

 “For me fatherhood is about intentional involvement. Caring for my children and having fun is great, but developing and inspiring character growth is essential. Traits like compassion need to be modeled and discipled.”   -Esteban

“For me fatherhood is about intentional involvement. Caring for my children and having fun is great, but developing and inspiring character growth is essential. Traits like compassion need to be modeled and discipled.” 

-Esteban

 “Watching Riley thrive in Tae Kwon Doe was amazing, because it was something he truly excelled in. It’s encouraging to see your kid grow up and do something he’s good at. Seeing him come in first place in events made me truly proud.”  -David

“Watching Riley thrive in Tae Kwon Doe was amazing, because it was something he truly excelled in. It’s encouraging to see your kid grow up and do something he’s good at. Seeing him come in first place in events made me truly proud.”

-David

 “Fatherhood is better, harder, and funnier than I ever expected it would be. You hear things before you have kids, similar to before you get married, about the difficulties and good things, but you don’t realize any of it until you have kids yourself.”  -Sage

“Fatherhood is better, harder, and funnier than I ever expected it would be. You hear things before you have kids, similar to before you get married, about the difficulties and good things, but you don’t realize any of it until you have kids yourself.”

-Sage

What I realized the most in this process was that each father had a unique relationship with their child or children and they each expressed that differently. This was a great finding and it was fun to begin the discovery process of how to photograph each family uniquely according to their lives. I loved coupling the text with the images as I thought it brought these stories to life--these are real dads with real kids. Hearing from them and learning from them is invaluable.

I also felt I was getting closer to creating more intimate imagery--you can tell a stark difference from these strangers I was photographing versus these images of fathers who I spent time with. The time factor I think really makes a difference--time is needed when getting images that hold deeper messages than just a snapshot off the street. Some people can make this work, don't get me wrong (I'm inspired greatly by them as well), but considering my values and how I operate in my practice as a photographer, I had to change up how I was working to accomplish more meaningful images. I think knowing this about myself is key moving forward.

At the end of the second term I knew I wanted to head in this direction, holding mini-shoots, photographing fathers and interviewing them about their lives. I'm glad to say that it has progressed wonderfully and I think I'm finding what works for this project.

I'll share in part two of my work in progress what I accomplished the next term (I'll hold you in suspense!). :)

-Ashley