A few memories from yesterday, all in black and white.
Thank you to Thomas Gardella and Kat Bevel for shooting with me, Fox & Darling for the photobooth, Piper & Muse Events for impeccable planning and decor, as always, and Belle Mariee for killing it with hair and makeup. And to Ilsa and Ricky, for being so completely in love and just as sweet as can be.
I measure my worth in pink patterned pyrex bowls passed down through someone else's generations. Mismatched socks on toes that grew behind my belly button. Teenage leg hair and a fridge filled with forgotten film, and the outline of a song gone silent.
I met a girl once, who drank a cup of chamomile tea each night to counter the cost of a life spent just inside the comfort zone. She had big lips and a French accent and a million dollar mansion, a head heavy with regrets and addictions insurmountable. You can worship false gods if you're not careful. I could have seen past her pain and thought she was perfect because she was so polished. It could have been so easy to do.
And all I want to do is write books. And all I want to do is take pictures. And all I want to do is hide inside my knitting basket and pry purls from the sealed shut mouths of sailors and scaredy cats.
Sometimes I am afraid that the things that matter most to me don't matter. Sometimes, I wish I was motivated by money. I wish I was motivated by popularity. I wish I didn't love my tiny two bedroom on the third floor with no elevator so damn much but it forces us to share bedrooms and biographies and beginnings.
It's confusing this wanting to spill it all out with others, but wanting to stay safe at the same time. The game of hide and go seek out the comfort of swimming lessons and soccer practice. Mother/artist/animist with paperthinskin and a will made of (dande)lion's teeth.
I wish so badly I didn't care so much what you think of me and my collection of crocheted afghans woven by stranger's hands. Is it possible to care so deeply about the world around you but shut off just the part of what the world around you thinks about you caring about them? Can I get a map from triple a with the route hi lighted in yellow, please? The easy way, please.
Lately I've been wondering, at the end of it all, will I be proud of the choices I made to stay small? Or, will I count the shooting stars outside my bedroom window, no longer able to walk, wondering what it would have been like to dance in the stratosphere and burn in bright hues of orange and ego? Is a fall from grace any less graceful than a fall from mediocracy?
Yay! I cannot even begin to put into words how incredibly awesome it is to see these presets out there in the wild!
This feature is by Ashley Elsmore. Ashley is also a student in my online class, and witnessing her reach deeper and explore new ways of seeing and editing has been such an honor.
I really love this image before and after because it's a perfect example of vision. She knew that in order to craft the image she saw in her mind's eye, she needed to shoot against a darker background with the beautiful freckled face well lit. Next, she brought the RAW color file into LR and applied the Stormy Waters presets. I absolutely love the transformation here.
Black and white has my heart. Every single time.
Here are some words Ashley shared on instagram @aephoto20 about her experience, "I'm taking a black and white photography class from @thedefineschool. It is taught by @michellegardella who is AMAZING! It has made me fall in love with black and white photographs all over again and has made me realize I crave to be more real and honest in my photography! You're going to see a lot of change from me from here on out. If you're in your comfort zone you're not growing!"
Head's Up: This post is personal in nature. If you are looking for Stormy Waters black and white presets, more information about them, and where to buy them, visit the shop here for all of those details. This blog post is me spilling my guts about my process, my journey and my why.
I have an evolving to-do list that gets updated each Sunday night. While Lily is in the bath, I sit and map out the week, moving the things that were left undone from the week before to a new spot, with a hopeful heart. Having things left undone, by the way, is kind of torture for my OCD heart, so it truthfully doesn't happen too often. When people ask how I got to be someone who always does what they say they're going to do, I now realize it's because I simply cannot leave things un-done. I'll skip a shower just to make sure the proposal is emailed, or, stay up super late just to finish an edit for a client. Or sell my house and everything in it, to live in an Airstream.
But there is one thing that has been on my to-do list for the last three years: Sell Your Presets.
Without exaggeration, each and every single week it'd just get bumped, circled, circled twice, but never crossed off. At one point I reached out to a larger company to see if maybe they'd want to partner up (way before that was actually a thing) and they said yes. But it didn't feel right because I wouldn't be selling my personal, favorite, every-single-shoot presets that I made from scratch myself. So I just kind of hid, and promoted others, but never crossed it off and always, each Sunday night, added it to my weekly list of goals.
Each time I would go to complete it, something would stop me. Sometimes it'd be a voice in my head saying I was bananas for letting my secret recipe be known. Sometimes it was a belief that I couldn't just release black and whites, that I had to also add color. And other times, most times, it was the sheer overwhelming amount of computer work that it would all require. There is SO much more that goes into this process than one would think, and it's no secret that I am a woman hopelessly in need of being outside as much as possible. The thought of sitting on my fanny for weeks on end staring at a screen doing technical things, had me mortified.
But through my OCD exposure therapy, I learned that sometimes things have to be extra awful so that they won't be awful at all anymore. It's a stupid truth, and one I wish weren't true, but it's the truth nonetheless. And so, with my newfound courage to do awful things, away I went. I know that's not the most joyful of things to share, and I could have instead slapped up a photo of me laughing while at my computer with my daughter wearing a vintage dress spinning in the fading day's sunlight, but that's just not how I roll.
The truth is, never in my life have I worked so hard on something so outside of my comfort zone. I've heard the saying, "Do what you love and success will follow," but I've realized it's not so cut and dry. I love helping others, empowering emotional storytelling, elevating my peers. I love black and white photography and presets and image making. But sometimes, in order to do what I love, I have to do a bunch of things along the way that I don't love at all not even a little bit. SO many mistakes and fumbles and tests gone wrong. So many long hours in front of my computer, listening to birds chirp outside my window, singing songs to me like, "Bitch what on Earth are you even thinking?" That kind of thing. But in the end, as cliche as it sounds, love won, and all of the damn-this-sucks-my-eyes-are-burning-off hours, became worth it. Because in the mud, beautiful things grew that I can say, with all of my heart, I am so eternally proud of. And, these beautiful, magical things that I made, will help others not have to sit in front of the computer so much. And that's just the best thing, ever.
Since announcing that I was releasing these, the number one question I have gotten is WHEN?! The second is, why black and white?
I am going to borrow some excerpts from my online class to best answer this.
It is no secret that I am madly in love with the primal nature of things. It sometimes feels like my life is a constant evolution and devolution happening at the same time. The more success I achieve, the more time I need living in a trailer in the backwoods. The more civilized I feel, the more nights I have to spend covered in clay hunched over my pottery wheel. I get a new house, but I throw handmade granny afghans all over the place. I need a new truck, but I buy the used one that’s already dented. I’ll make art, but only if it doesn’t feel trendy.
I have an undeniable need to feel tethered to the past in a way that feels tangible and visceral, while still feeling like I am growing.
“What I love about black and white photographs is that they’re more like reading the book than seeing the movie.” -anonymous
I try super hard to not use the word balance, but the truth is, I can’t really function from a fulfilled place unless the feral side of my heart gets lots of love. I could write an entire dissertation on why this all is, and the importance of reaching back to move forward, but for now I just want to provide you with a context for this class.
This forward/backward simultaneous momentum relates directly to how I have found (am still finding) my way in the world of photography. I enjoy the convenience of digital, but I find that by focusing on as much black and white as possible, it keeps me rooted in a place that feels timeless, consistent, and proven. It feels more intentional and mindful.
Black and white photos are not real. I have never woken up seeing only in shades of grey. Yet, these images, others and my own, feel more real to me than any other art form I’ve encountered. Even when I am looking at an old polaroid with yellowed corners from the 1950’s out of the remote corners of India, I still find pieces of myself in a way I just can’t say I do with color images.
Photography is an example of evolutionary technology. There’s no denying that. But for me, it feels do-able as long as I am getting lost in estate-sale black and white albums and creating new black and white presets that make my heart thump. That balance; that nod to the past; that primal way of moving with the times; it’s kinda my jam.
So, in creating the Stormy Waters bundle, I feel like I'm creating something that will still help people long after the latest color editing trend du jour has passed. I feel like I am remaining true to what really matters to me. And more than anything, I feel like I am helping others create photographs that will stand the test of time.
Photography gives us the ability to slow down our breathing long enough to drink in immortality. When you pick up your camera, or your phone, you are telling death no thank you. You are telling the rules of being forgotten to sit the hell down. You are resetting the privilege of others back to zero and exchanging your negative equity for a fresh start. In art there are no rules, there is only courage. I think it’s time to be brave, then.
Images, especially those in black and white, live longer than our heartbeats, and so, in the spirit of gratitude and the divine promise of our voices echoing in the eardrums of strangers who will sit in similar bone structures 300 years from now, I think the very least I could do was to do what I could, to help.
These presets are not for the pretty photographers. Not for the ones who whiten teeth or airbrush skin. Not for the ones who only post images of models half naked. There's enough of that out there, I think. Stormy Waters is for the ones who embrace the imperfect, the mysterious, the deep and the brave. For the ones who celebrate the visceral human experience and all of the messy hair, freckles, wrinkles and real life beauty it brings. Some people were made to ride the waves, and others were made to make them, I think. These tools, are for the latter.
I hope you love them as much as I do.
(In the spirit of honesty, there are actually two things that remained on my to-do list for years: Sell Your Presets and Write Your Next Book. Now that one of them is officially crossed off...)