Photo Projects

Beginnings | Infertility Series

Since before the beginning of this new year, I have had many ideas ruminating in my mind about what’s next for photography in my life. Many of my friends have also asked me this—will I continue with stories from American fathers? Will I take a different look at fatherhood? What about my posts on identity and the toll living abroad has taken on how I perceive myself and the world?

I don’t have much of an answer to these questions, mostly because I simply don’t have enough time to pursue every one of my interests, but I do have some ideas for the future that I’d like to divulge. These ideas are in no way conclusive, but some of my working thoughts on the directions I’m headed.

As I’ve reflected on the kind of work I want to do, it all revolves around three things: storytelling, hope, and transformation. For me, these three areas are non-negotiable. I don’t want to just create for the sake of creating—there needs to be an underlying purpose and deeper meaning..

One aspect of the art world that bothers me are projects on deeper topics that end unresolved. For example, I once saw this project of a woman who documented her struggle with infertility. It was depressing and devoid of all hope. As I looked through the painful, honest images she was creating, I eagerly awaited for some shred of hope or resolution, whether external or internal, of this struggle she was enduring. By the end of the images, I felt melancholy and miserable. There was no hope for this woman. All that was left of her was tears, nakedness, isolation, and hopelessness.

I do not invalidate this woman’s feelings or photographic expression. As someone who has also struggled with infertility for the last 12 years, I can attest to the awfulness of it. It’s miserable and does feel isolating and even hopeless at times. Perhaps at the time of the work, she did honestly feel hopeless and that was clearly conveyed in her story. My issue is that as the viewer of such work, we were left there with her in the muck of it all with no way out. I walked away from that body of work feeling distressed and like there was no hope for any of us who struggle with such issues. This rubs me wrong. Perhaps this is my personality—some people say I’m optimistic to a fault at times—but still.

As I think on the direction I’d like to take in photography, one area is actually infertility. Although most people who know me know it’s been a struggle of my husband and I, we don’t really talk about it publicly until recently with the miracle of my current pregnancy. What has made me consider exploring it photographically (and publicly) is the above story of the hopeless woman, struggling with infertility. I believe that there is a different ending to that story than the one she presented. Even before finding out I was pregnant in March, I finally was at a place of contentment and hope and feel compelled to share my story with others.

This is not an easy topic for me. It will require honesty and vulnerability to share my heart on the matter. But this is the thing that compels me to do it—if I really want to create work on this topic that focuses on storytelling, hope, and transformation, I have to be exposed on an appropriate level. Real stories of transformation and hope are only conveyed whenever conflict or a struggle exists and is shared.

So. I have several ideas of how I will work on this project and I hope to document them here. I hope to bring in other women who struggle with infertility and share their stories as well. I have no idea how far it will go, but I’m excited at the prospects. I do feel a transition from just sharing photos from my travels. This has been good and helpful for me in my photographic process, but I don’t think I want to stay there. We’ll see where I go. Regardless of what happens, I hope to enjoy the process. :) Hopefully you’ll enjoy it with me!

-Ashley

My Infertility Journey

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As you’ve likely discovered from other social media channels, I am miraculously pregnant! I have decided that it would be beneficial for me to process some of my journey and also share it with you, as I think it gives more context as to why this is so special. So without further adieu…


Joshua and I have been married for 12 years and have wanted kids for practically the entire length of our marriage. Even before marrying we had chosen names for a boy, buying a Build-A-Bear and giving the bear that name. Children have always been a major desire of ours, to the point where we joked about having 13 kids and it’s now dwindled to somewhere between 4-10. We might be a bit insane; I guess the verdict is still out. :)

In 2011, we found out we were pregnant. I actually blogged about it on this website and you can read it by clicking here. We were so excited—our dream of having kids were finally coming true and we were starting in our 20’s, four years into marriage. It was perfect. Our dreams were shattered when at 14 weeks, I began to miscarry. I remember holding the baby in the palm of my hand, marveling at how much even at that little size it was a precious baby. God gave us the name Rose and she was buried in a memorial garden; one that we still visit to this day. It was an extremely painful event to go through and it followed us for several years.

In 2014, I had a breakdown. We were in the process of adoption and began to work through home study questions and I just lost it. I was so bitter at God, at my friends who just easily got pregnant with barely trying, with all the Facebook announcements of new babies on the way, and I felt alone and hopeless. Would this dream ever happen? Besides this, we were living abroad in a culture where value is placed on the woman because of her children. Due to us not having any, it was often a topic of conversation. I didn’t know how to deal with comments like, “What’s wrong with you?”, “You must be weak since you can’t carry a child” or even, “You will be blessed once you have children.” I was absolutely fed up with all the condemnation, all the disappointment, and the feelings that something was wrong with me. I was so broken, discontent, and I lacked joy that I should have had for my friends. During this time, I reached out to a group of women who I asked to pray for me. I didn’t know what to do anymore and I knew that it wasn’t something I could change within me. So my friends prayed. And to this day, I honestly don’t know what happened. Perhaps it was simply processing these emotions with others and getting them out, recognizing where I was at and moving on. Or perhaps God just took the pain away. Either way, I distinctly remember feeling utterly content and finally decided that it was okay that I didn’t have kids yet. That my value wasn’t determined by my kids, or lack thereof, but by the value God placed on me. I didn’t realize this change until some friends visited us with their three kids in tow. Halfway through the trip, I realized I once hadn’t asked myself, “Why me?” and I enjoyed my time with their kids. There was a mental, emotional, and spiritual shift that happened, which allowed me to be content with my lot in life. It didn’t remove the desire for kids, but I felt at peace about it all.

Over the next five years, Joshua and I did a multitude of things, including traveling, working abroad, and master’s degrees. During this time, we both didn’t forget our desire for kids, but we had full plates. Due to the season we were in, we waited patiently until some things slowed down before we jumped into anything next. Finally, this year in 2019, we decided that it would be the year. We couldn’t wait anymore. We’re not in our 20’s any longer. We’re not so young and spry anymore and can wait another 10 years. So, with all the testing we’ve done in three different countries, our option was IVF, so we decided that’s what we were going to do in August of this year. We honestly weren’t sure how we’d pay for it or the exact timeline of things, but we knew that this was our next step. And we both truly were at peace with that and knew it would be hard, but worth it if it all went well.

In late February of this year, I began to suspect something was off with my body. I just didn’t feel right, I had lost my appetite, began to feel nauseous at times, was more exhausted than usual, and other unmentionables were happening. Part of me wanted to suspect I was pregnant, but I had been down this road countless times, filled with disappointment and sadness when it wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for. So I blew it off, expecting life to continue as normal.

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Finally, life wasn’t continuing as normal and we bit the bullet and bought a pregnancy test. With great nervousness, I took the test and found the very thing I thought I’d never see…two lines. This was probably the ugliest cry I’ve ever had and thankfully Joshua was the only one who witnessed it. I was pregnant. How was this possible? I just couldn’t even compute what was happening. The next morning, I took another test and it was stronger even than the night before. We were so baffled that the day after finding out, we literally stared at each other the entire day, dumbfounded and not sure what to do. Apparently, our plans of IVF weren’t needed and God miraculously gave us a baby.

And this is now where I am at. Every day is a mixture of shock and joy as I consider what is going on inside of me. I don’t take this lightly; I feel that it is truly a special gift from God. I do struggle with the idea of miscarrying or losing this child somehow, but I am learning that this is the process of becoming a mom. Parents, I am learning from my friends who have kids, are constantly worried about their kids. It starts in the womb and never ends. So, starting now I am trying to release this baby to God, giving Him my concerns, and trusting that He has it all under control. Honestly, just with what I’ve experienced in my life, how could worrying help this baby anyway? I have so little control over much of this process, including when the baby is outside the womb. So, this is good practice for me to trust God with this child’s life and not try to control. I’m sure I’ll grow much in this area over the years.

I have another post that will be shared shortly about a project I’ve been considering long before I found out I was pregnant. Infertility is still very much a part of my life and story and I feel a drive to do a photography project over it. More details will come soon.

Thanks for following with me in this journey, even if you are first hearing this story. If you are struggling with infertility, please don’t give up. I have been there and I did give up hope. Thankfully, God didn’t give up hope on me. I don’t know what your story will be, but know your value doesn’t come from your children or lack thereof. Seek your identity in God and what He has to say about you, not what man says.

More to come soon in the following weeks. I have a crazy journey ahead!

-Ashley

A Look Back to 2015

There are so many things I have wanted to do the last couple of years, but I kept putting it off because I just didn’t have enough time. One of those tasks was to polish the galleries on my website. There are many projects and events that I don’t have shown which could be valuable.

For example, after my exhibition at FCC University, the images were used for the university calendar—which was not only used by the school, but by several other entities around the country. It was an honor to me that they used my work! I still have a calendar for my recollection, but I never photographed it and put it online. Here is what the calendar looked like:

I enjoy looking back at the things I’ve been involved in, as it brings back memories to how doors were opened to do things I thought I’d never get to do. Personally, I was surprised when FCC commissioned me for the exhibition and subsequently used the images in their calendar. What a blessing! I am thankful for these opportunities and hope for more in the future.

What surprising opportunities are in your past that you were excited to partake in? I’d love to hear about it!

-Ashley

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

 
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Whirlwind

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Life can be a whirlwind. So much can happen in such little time that it can make events feel like months apart yet they were only a week ago. This is my life lately. I can't keep up with what day it is, what time it is, or when things happened (or didn't happen in some cases). Is anyone else startled that it's already March 21st?! That is crazy! My parents always told me when I was younger that when you got older time went by faster--I hate to say it, but they're right. Life definitely feels more precious to me these days. Seeing that almost a quarter of the year has flown by makes me want to live every moment to the fullest. 

My grad program is going well, albeit I have found this module the most difficult of the program. We are finally at the stage of putting our ideas into practice, working to complete our final research project. I'm still doing a project over fatherhood, although I had to niche down to a specific aspect of fatherhood, rather than look at it comprehensively. I'll explain on this more later in another post.

The goal is still to complete a photo book which is very exciting. I'm also hoping to host an exhibition or two, we'll see. There are many milestones ahead of me, so I'm looking forward to seeing how all this pans out. 

I hope you follow along in my journey over this next year! I'm interested to see what happens. :)

-Ashley

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

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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. 

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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

Selfie Project Idea

Have you ever stopped to look around you in public places to see all the people taking selfies? Maybe it's more of a thing in South Asia, but I began thinking of a project idea while we were living there of taking pictures of people taking selfies. Like this one:

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When I took this picture, I could have easily taken 10 more like it. There were people everywhere taking pictures of themselves instead of taking pictures of the historic site they were visiting. It was such an interesting contrast of what people were giving their attention to and what they wanted to remember from their visit. 

I also had the idea of instead of me just taking pictures of people taking selfies, taking a selfie of other people taking selfies. That might be a more ironic twist. :) Anyways, it's an idea that I might pursue one of these days, particularly when my masters ends and I have a little more time to just try out different project ideas.

I have researched the idea a little and there are many people who have done selfie projects, so if I were to do it I'd have to make sure mine was relevant to society today, informed, and different than what others have done. I'd want to add something valuable, not just add more photos into the sea of images we live in.

What do you think? Good or bad idea?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

-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. 

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"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