Sisters

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12. The year I shot these beautiful girls was when I learned to “pose” kids. Not overly pose them, but put them into positions that were more engaged, more connected. As my business ages, so do my clients, and as kids grow, they can actually respond to what I ask them to do. So I have to ask them to do things that make sense, that are accurate to who they are.

But that’s not what this is about. This shoot was compelled because their mother, in the last trimester of pregnancy with their little sister, was diagnosed with stage four cancer. This shoot was an hour long prayer. It was near silent, it was soft, it was meditative, it was connected. All four growing beings were consumed with acute awareness of the weighted unknown of their near futures. The baby, was, well, a cherub. Still connected to both worlds, slipping with time closer to this one.

This shoot, the tears in my eyes as I trained my lens on Mom as she watched her growing girls play, as she gazed at her newborn, on Dad as he watched her, this shoot will never fade. I can feel it as if it were yesterday.

Miracles upon miracles, Katie contacted me last year and asked me to do another shoot. Years had past. The newborn is now a fire-ball of spirit at 6 years old, and Katie has beaten all odds. She undoubtedly walked between those worlds in that massive struggle, but is solidly in this one now.

Slowly Flying By

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11. How can we we walk through the world surrounded by people and feel alone? Sam, another Seattle-ite, called into the radio station KEXP last night and said “I’m in need of music tonight because I’m so sick of being lonely”. It was the most pure truth spoken honestly. Singing voices could fill the void for him, momentarily.

I see that in this image I shot in London years ago. The woman in the backseat looks to me lost in thought, lonely. But I have a vision of this amazing contrast – her heading off to a party, full of sparkle and wit in her fur coat as she presents a bottle of champagne to the host. Or maybe she’s going to the hospital to visit her ailing mother. I don’t know. There’s just a separation between her and her driver that strikes me as so universal. Isolated in the company of others. Maybe content, maybe bored, maybe lonely. But alone in the world of our minds.

 

 

 

Amelia

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10. This is Amelia. She has pica, and a lazy eye. The pica was of great concern to her family, her grandfather Don Juan, and grandmother Dona Daria. Her big brothers Eustacio and Jacinto loved her so much. She sweetly and quietly would hang onto moms apron as she milled the corn and made the days tortillas, her dad farmed the plot, her brothers shepherded the sheep over acres, and her 86 year old grandparents sat in the cold mountain sun.

For over two years, I lived across the dirt road from Amelia and her family, on the top of an 11,000 foot mountain plateau in a very remote range in northwest Guatemala. It was one of the most intact and supportive communities I have experience in, here in the States or elsewhere. But also where poverty and the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” live side by side in a gritty, beautiful harmony.

I consider this to be the first photo I ever took. Although I had learned to shoot years earlier, this is the first that was mine, uniquely in the world. When I opened that sacred packet of prints and developed film from the lab, my heart caught a little and I thought: Yup. That’s Amelia.

She must now be 20 years old.

 

After the Shoot

9. My dad always told me “never put your camera back into your bag until you are in your car driving away from the shoot”. I’m so glad I listen to my Dad’s advice, because otherwise I would have missed this. It doesn’t all come together with effort. Sometimes it just comes together.

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Fierceness

8. That word, fierce, feels like a strange adjective to describe a three year old. Yet that’s what I see in this image. There is a directness, a bravery about her looking straight through that huge black lens and directly into my eye. It is very rare that I work with kids, or adults for that matter, who can make this connection when being photographed. When it happens, it is usually just a single frame where the self-protective layer, the ego, is stripped away and they are fully committing to being seen.

In life, we are each graced with and challenged by glimpses of bravery, fearlessness, directness and purpose. When there is that magic working in our favor and shining a clear-as-day spotlight on what is actually possible, it’s usually there for just a split second. And that’s the true test: feel it, see it, act on it, and let your self-protective layer take a back seat. Get out of your own way and the whole world will open up.

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Some Days You Just Don’t Want to Take a Nap.

7. Presented without comment. Once in a while, this is the mood.

Me, at 3.

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Photo credit: John Vaeth (aka: Dad, Daddy John Boy) and the Polaroid company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heritage

6. When I started this business, I thought I needed a bio to explain what made me qualified to live such a creative, audacious life, and to charge money for it. I looked at other photographers websites, and followed suit. Insecure on the inside but trying to be secure on the outside, I wrote my bio. It began: “Stacey Vaeth has been making photographs since the age of 15.” It was awful. It was insincere, and it was boring. And MAKING PHOTOGRAPHS?? Come on.

In the early hours of sleep that night, I had a thought obvious as day, but that which I was unable to see until then: Write what you know. Write what you truly feel, not what you think people want to hear. Make space for your uniqueness. I jotted into my journal:

“Throughout my childhood, the camera was a family member. My father was a photographer and worked at Kodak with the rest of town. Whereas photography was a novelty for most, it was a pastime for us. The picture perfect moments were so frequent, that my dad is forever known for his three famous words: Just one more. Just one more shot, one more moment, one more smile.

Being photographed not only made me feel important, it made me feel as if time slowed, as if that moment was somehow pivotal. No matter how ordinary, those moments that were photographed now stand out as markers in my life.”

From there I wrote my tagline, which I stand by today even more than I did in 2008: Stacey Vaeth Photography: Creating Family Heirlooms Through Fine Art Photography.

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This is an image of Jemina and her brother. She bought this session as a gift for her mother, who loves and cherishes her family in a way that brings tears to the eyes. I loved being able to do the shoot in Spanish to communicate with her mom. I loved her willingness to express her love for her children and husband so openly. I smiled softly watching Jemina adjust her mom’s cardigan, telling her how beautiful she looked. The ceremony of the session was as important as the images themselves, it felt then.

Jemina wrote me last month to access the photos again, as her brother was killed in a tragic accident.

These photos now gut me. This is the tenth time I’ve had a client come back for images because of a huge loss. And it never gets easier.

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What we do as both photographers and people investing in photography is important. We are collectively creating part of our legacy. If I can continue to create family heirlooms with my clients, this is a life well lived.