2018: 'Take your broken heart, make it into art'

Where to begin with 2018? It was, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life, starting with the unexpected death of my dad in January and followed by the infinite ripples outward from that moment.

But alongside the grief, pain, shock, sadness, fear, frustration and anger, there have been joy and love and kindness and hilarity and understanding and sympathy and so much more. Sometimes all at the same time.

Which brings me to the rainbow.

One of the first photos I took with my new lens and camera in February. Made the snow look magical with #nofilter.

One of the first photos I took with my new lens and camera in February. Made the snow look magical with #nofilter.

It was February, and I was driving home from Dallas (the Oregon one) after visiting my favorite camera shop, Focal Point. I’d been purchasing a new lens, and the woman helping me said how lucky I was to be getting this particular piece of equipment, that I’d be very happy with it. I started crying, explaining that I was actually using some inheritance money for it and that my dad had recently passed and that it all just felt so weird. She teared up too and told me he’d support the purchase knowing that it brought me happiness. I said he was one of my biggest fans. We agreed that he’d be with me whenever I used it to make pictures.

Minutes later, driving home, I spotted a rainbow. It brought a smile to my face, but it turned to wonderment as the strangest thing happened. I kept expecting it to do that thing where you go around a curve and the rainbow disappears or disintegrates or the angles of refraction just aren’t right anymore. Instead I just got closer and closer and closer to it, until what seemed to be the end of the rainbow was right alongside me as I drove. It stayed that way for the entire drive toward and across the Marion Street Bridge. Then it finally dissipated, but the memory stuck with me. I would have loved to tell Dad about it, but it made me think, maybe he’s here with me after all.

Since then, when I’ve been shooting with that lens (and my replacement camera), I’ve felt him there, cheering me on as I’m making my art. Lucky for me and my heart, my chances to create and capture have been many this year.

First, the b’nai mitzvah! Being Judaism-adjacent for the past couple of decades thanks to Judah, I’ve been to several such ceremonies. I have even photographed a handful over the years. But this year, our synagogue’s b’nai mitzvah class was huge, by Salem standards, and I ended up photographing five over the past nine months.

They’ve quickly become one of my favorite events. Seeing these kids’ hard work come to fruition as they lead services, chant Torah, deliver speeches regardless of their level of nerves and are the subject of speeches by their family … it’s just magic. And in a tough year marked by loss, it’s been glorious to see families celebrating and recognizing one another while everyone is still around (i.e., not at a memorial service).

Let’s not fail to note that I’ve gotten really good at shooting and bawling simultaneously. These events have become part of my grief process, both due to bearing witness to parents showering their children with love and joy and pride, and due to the Mourner’s Kaddish.

As I already mentioned, I’ve been Judaism-adjacent for a long time. But my dad’s passing was my first loss since being a synagogue member, so it was the first time a direct family member of mine made the list read before the prayer recognizing those who have had a loss in the past year or who are marking the yahrzeit of a prior loss.

I was shooting Jack’s bar mitzvah in March when I heard my dad’s name read from the bima for the first time, and I was immediately overcome. I stood, I cried, I said his name, I took it all in as we recited the prayer, and I cried through the rest of the service, even as I kept documenting.

During Isabel’s bat mitzvah, I thought I was a little more prepared, but the Mourner’s Kaddish was preceded by a speech by a father to a daughter that just grabbed me by the heart and squeezed. Cried through the rest of that one too.

His memory and some tears accompanied me through the other ceremonies this year, but I kept it slightly more together. Still, I felt him with me as I peered through my lens, as we recited the prayer, as I bore witness to and documented these families’ joy.

Speaking of joy, I had often talked with my dad about wanting to shoot a wedding someday. I’d shot *at* weddings a couple of times (always staying out of the way of the pro, of course), but never as the hired photographer.

This year, that wish came true, and I had the privilege of photographing four weddings, all so different, all so beautiful, and all perfect reflections of the couples.

In the spring, there was Forrest and Brena’s lovely short ceremony with family and then a party for friends.

In midsummer, Mari and Dan exchanged vows at the Reed Opera House in a gorgeous ceremony with some of the most hilarious and sweet toasts I’ve ever heard and a super fun reception.

On a beautiful September morning, Pam and Dan (different Dan!) stood before their friends and family in the gazebo at Keizer City Hall and pledged their love to each other.

And in August, my sister Kate married Russell at the headwaters of the Metolius River in a perfect window of clarity during a day of smoke and sprinkling rain.

How did I get so lucky to be the person documenting all these wonderful days?

That doesn’t even encompass the many wonderful family shoots (including the Bakkens for the sixth consecutive year and the new baby of one of my dearest friends) and two fun fall senior photo shoots and a couple of corporate head-shot sessions … and let’s not forget the sandwich on the side of a bus!


“Take your broken heart, make it into art.” That’s a Carrie Fisher quote that has been my guiding light of late. Making photographs for all these amazing people has nourished my creative spirit during this challenging year.

Thank you to all who entrusted me with this task in 2018 (and before!), and may we all find moments of joy to carry with us through 2019.