These two followed the path of many couples before them. They met in high school, dated for four years, got married and lived happily ever after. The end...... We love a happy ending don’t we? However, without the complexities and twists of life, we also lack intrigue and adventure. I believe Kylie and Casondra are well on their way to a happily ever after, but their story started out as Kyle and Casondra.Read More
It's that time of year when we all remind ourselves what we're thankful for. I've gotten in the habit of picking and focusing on just one thing. This year experience popped into my head. There are three definitions in the dictionary and I'm talking about the last two. 1) The knowledge that you get from life and from being in a lot of different situations. 2) Something that happens to you, or a situation that you are involved in.
This year I chose to showcase one of my favorite experiences from last year, the elk hunt.
One night as we all relaxed in the tent, warming our hands and feet over the stove, Uncle Hal told me the story of the Golden Bull. Over fifteen years ago my grandfather came on this trip, while he was in his seventies. While up on the flat top, near a knob, he saw a flash of golden color and as his eyes came into focus, he saw a bull with golden fur and a red mane. He didn't get that bull that day. In fact, the hunters on this trip tracked him for years, only catching glimpses of him through the trees and adding story after story of the Golden Bull evading them.
Six years passed before Hal got a clean shot. At that point, he was a six point bull and had no teeth left. They estimated he was about 12 years old and wouldn't have survived another winter. Hal spoke about the bull like a worthy adversary and did say he was a little sad when they finally got him. The hunt for the Golden Bull was over.
Now the story within the story is that knob where my Granddad Jack first saw the Golden Bull was renamed, Jack's Knob. Here I was, two years after my grandfather passed, riding by that hill nearly everyday. I never knew it was named after him and I never knew or paid attention to him attending this trip. A lump formed in my throat and tears welled up. The rest of the trip I kept looking around thinking that I was laying eyes on the same scenes my Granddad had, all those years ago. Even though death separates us, up in the Flat Tops I felt a new connection to him. I wouldn't give up that experience for anything.
Atlanta Magazine editorial job on The Giving Tree Intergenerational ProgramRead More
There's no tactful way to tell a big ol' wrestler that you want to photograph his backside. So that night at a wrestling match in Villa Rica, Ga I just told Bulldog, "Look, if you're going to have words on your booty, I'm going to want to photograph it.". He laughed and turned around.
Sometimes people question why I photograph the subjects I do. Hanging out in honky tonks til the wee hours, riding horses and camping out on a weeklong elk hunting trip or spending an evening in a high school gym with wrestlers... And the simple truth is, I love it. I really enjoy spending time with powerhouse CEOs and up and coming fashion designers but there is something special about telling the stories of those that can be overlooked. I love finding out trucker's CB handles, I love drinking bourbon with cowboys around a campfire and I love that moment where someone reveals something extraordinary about their "ordinary" lives.
Just think if I hadn't been there that night with Bulldog, I never would have known who let the dogs out.
When it's over, goodbye is weighted with finality. I think there has always been love and so therefore I think there has always been it's contrast, heartbreak. So it would make sense that artists have found inspiration in both. Today I share my own creative therapy coupled with some of my favorite lost love songs. I've even made a Playlist for those of you with spotify. It's a collaborative playlist for those that want to add your favorite break up songs.
In my adulthood I have become enthralled by the late 1950s, early 1960s. I love the fashion, furniture and architecture of that period. It's all very visually appealing, beautiful in fact. To me it's a pretty picture to cover up a time of great political and social turmoil. Creatively I like that idea. A bright, colorful image with a heavy idea behind it. Something you can look over and find hidden meaning.
Mad Men was definitely an inspiration visually and the novel, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, helped build the storyline. In the novel, women were entering the workforce and moving away from the expectation that a woman's place was at home caring for her family. In each image I strived to have the couple moving in opposite directions. Two people being pulled down different paths.
I took the majority of these images in a friend's home that was frozen in time. I was very lucky he gave me and a crew a couple of days in his home to stage these images (Thank you Barry! Thank you!). I did not bring in any furniture, only props to help build the scene. Do not delay when you have a perfect location! This home has been sold and modernized. I'm sure it's gorgeous but when you walked through these doors before the sale it was a time machine and having access to something so authentic was priceless.
Now if some of you expect me to go into personal details I'm sorry to disappoint. There is a lot of personal experiences in these but they are not literal interpretations of my relationship. That's one of the beautiful things about art. You can draw inspiration from numerous relationships, experiences and ideas to create and release some of your demons.
Later on I created a second part to this series using the playfulness of Dick and Jane books. You can see those images in my 1960s section.
Thank you to all the talented creative minds that helped make this one happen!
I think everyone that has siblings remembers screaming "You started it!" at their brother or sister as a parent is informed of the infraction. There is a twist to this statement and most photographers know it very well, the photograph that starts a project.
Years ago I had the most fantastic family as neighbors. Their two kids with twisted golden curls, cherubim cheeks and mischievous eyes offered hours of entertainment while we sat on the stoop together. I quickly became enthralled by how angelic these kids looked and how much destruction they could cause, especially to their most loved things.
Watching this interaction between child and toy I kept being drawn back to the words of the Skin Horse in Velveteen Rabbit.
"You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
Since I was being dogged by inspiration I put up a set one day and photographed the kids and their toys. At one point during shooting Alora's mom got her to sing and I snapped this frame. When I started to edit the images I noticed how Alora's mouth in song resembled her baby doll's. I couldn't stop looking at them side by side, so that's how they remain. A little girl and her most loved baby doll. That is how the Velveteen Rabbit project began and Alora started it!
Along the way I showed the project around and someone said "You'll never get an image as good as that one for this project.".
I do love a good challenge.
You can see more at KaylinnGilstrap.com/velveteen .
The Story behind the photo.
The first time I met Alice and Jody was at a storytelling event in Atlanta. A girlfriend and I had both recently went through a break up and we were helping keep each other's spirits up. We spotted a couple of empty seats at a table where two other ladies were sitting so we quickly headed over. We exchanged names and then Jody asked "How are you doing?". Having had a good day and feeling upbeat I responded "Great!". Everyone then turned to my companion. She was not in high spirits and was giving Eeyore a run for his money. She sighed deeply and said "Fine". Alice and Jody, noticing the gloom, started asking her what had her so down. I jumped in not wanting to start the evening out going further down that road with, "It's a man. Isn't it always a man!?". I still remember the edges of their lips slowly creeping up into a smile and Jody's chuckle, as Alice simply said "Not for us.".
We still laugh about our first meeting and my bull in the china shop introduction.
We all have an idea how love should look. There I was that winter evening right in front of it and for a brief moment, I didn't recognize it. When we have set expectations or don't allow time to truly see others we're at risk of missing out on meaningful interactions and experiences. Luckily, Alice and Jody have kept me around (probably for comic relief) and I have witnessed time and again their love for each other and those around them. I was an honored guest at their wedding and years later they were able to keep my spirits up when I could say again "It's a man. Isn't it always a man!?".
I photographed Alice & Jody for my Odd Couples project. Alice identifies as a beatnik and Jody is an Episcopalian priest.
I don't specialize in event photography therefor I don't photograph a lot of events. However, when Maggie Blair Boyd, party planner/interior designer/illustrator/a million other things, asked me to photograph her tea party it was an easy yes!
The tea party's attendees would be none other than the women of The Super Royal Tea Society for Fancy Ladies, a group in Atlanta. Imagine a costume party with a wide variety of creative minds and talent, then add tea. Kind of a classic tea party from the 1950s with a costume twist. This particular social event was called the White Rabbit Tea giving a nod to Alice in Wonderland.
After each lady received her invitation (illustrated and written by hand) she started planning her outfit. Some ladies had flower wreaths, mushroom or teacup rings, spectacles, pocket watches, pinafores, crowns and there was even a pair of bunny ears. Hair was coiffed, nails were painted and lips were reddened. Everything had to be just so.
As the ladies planned their attire, Maggie planned an afternoon that none would soon forget. Everything was planned to the T(ea). There were delicious goodies including meringue mushrooms and teabag cookies. Everywhere you looked there were flowers, little trinkets, signs (some that were of no consequence at all!) and even a live white rabbit. It was a lovely afternoon of camaraderie, merriment and imagination. If this event sounds a little over the top but you still find yourself wondering what it would be like... and then you start to wonder if you have gone mad for wanting to attend then remember the words of Lewis Carroll. "Have I gone mad?" "I'm afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are." Alice in Wonderland
Check Maggie's work out through her instagram.
The story behind the photos.....
I am completely inspired and enthralled by old mugshots. Hours can (and will) be lost digging them up on the internet. My contact photo is a nod to Frank Sinatra's mugshot with a little embellishment to make it my own. The Australian mugshots from the 1920s is where I found the inspiration for my project Mafiosa. I loved the defiance of the subjects and the artistry of the photographer. If mugshots were still that beautiful I'd be more inclined to be arrested!
With vision already prodding me day and night the next task was to decide on subjects. This didn't seem like the right project for models. I was inspired by the convicts themselves. How they posed themselves for the photos; pissed they'd been caught and defiant against those that held them. After seeing Sa Roc's remake of J. Cole's Fire Squad, the hook played over and over in my head... That I'm a rebel, rebel, rebel. Yeah I'm a rebel, rebel, rebel. I'm a rebel, rebel, rebel...rebel. The choice was made. I contacted three strong women in the Atlanta music scene that I admired and was honored they agreed to participate.
Just another example of art inspiring art.
There is a plethora of talent that made this happen... Thank you so much.
The Spinstyle - Art Direction: Darcie Adler, Production: Meredith Thornhill, Prop Styling: Kim Phillips, Wardrobe Styling: Kelly Martin, Makeup: Roanna Bales Akin & Hair: Katie Ballard
Ben Gamble - Retouching
The first time I saw Rita was in the communion line. She is a striking woman with soulful blue eyes, a kind smile and of course, there are her tattoos. Even though she caught my eye what really fascinated me was that the man holding her hand, her husband George, had no tattoos. I do love a good contrast! I thought they were perfect for my Odd Couple project and after months of seeing them I finally asked a friend for an introduction.
When the day came for me to go by Rita & George's house to scout I had an idea of how it would go. I figured we'd stroll around their home and chat about their lives and how Rita came to have tattoos and we did! Rita was 52 when she got her first tattoo and now at 67 she has spent around 100 hours in the chair. She has geishas, a skull on a roller skate for her roller derby daughter, DeathSkull, a portrait of her dad, dragons, flowers..... George just shrugs whenever someone points out the contrast. He loves the woman and all the artwork that goes along with her. But I was literally only getting to the surface of the story and these two people.
Survival has been a reoccurring theme for me this year. An organization I volunteer with stresses at training that we're all survivors. It's not a question of if we're survivors, it's a question of what we've survived. So when Rita started opening up to me as we sat on her front porch the theme continued. Rita and George have weathered some major storms. In 2004 their son (stepson to George), Chris (Christopher Paul Caldwell) disappeared off a cruise ship. In 2008, George was diagnosed with stage four tonsil cancer which was a fight for life and marriage. In 2010, they lost their daughter (stepdaughter to George), Stephany to a drug overdose. There is no preparing for any of these events let alone a series of them.
Rita is completely transparent about her grief and also how she survived it. She describes in vivid detail driving down the Oklahoma turnpike when she received the call about Stephany and hearing in the background the emergency crew trying to bring her back. Rita remembers almost a year after Chris disappeared telling her doctor if she didn't help her, she wouldn't be around the following month. She also recalls George's intense fight against cancer with thirty seven rounds of radiation and two rounds of chemo but is so grateful that he's had seven years now cancer free. Rita doesn't deny or hide the dark, low places grief and trials can take us and by acknowledging them it lets in some light.
She still misses Chris and Stephany. That never goes away. She just does her best to memorialize them by releasing a balloon with a note every birthday and keeping them present in her home. Besides that Rita embraces everyday she has with George, her other two kids, twelve grandkids and two great grandkids because she knows there is no guaranteed amount of time for any of us. Rita and George just keep moving forward; scars, tattoos and all.
"If you banish the dragons, you banish the Heroes" Andrew Solomon
Sometimes clients call with a personal need, when Amanda Kyle Williams called I could immediately tell she was tentative. She had an idea. An idea to put some words and photos together talking about her fight with cancer. She didn't want it to be a pity party or a look at me piece. She just wanted to talk about the experience and would I want to do some photos? Not only is Amanda a terrific writer willing to bare a little bit of her soul but she has a ridiculously perfect bald head. Sinead O'Connor would approve. I didn't hesitate for a moment and I couldn't be more happy to be a part of this. Here's what we came up with. BALD
Icarus Bike Build
You never really know how a job is going to come up.
On the second day of October in 2013, Kevin had a car cut him off while riding his bicycle to work. (Video below. If you're in a hurry start at 2:10.)
Surprisingly there were no broken bones but it did take a month of rehab to get Kevin back to walking without crutches or a cane. He marked his progress by how close he was to getting back in the saddle (seat). The bike Kevin was riding that October morning would never recover from the incident so he began the 5 month process of acquiring his dream bike. It never occurred to him to give up cycling. It simply wasn't an option.
Kevin contracted Icarus to build a custom frame, ordered 80th Anniversary Campagnolo carbon components and ENVE carbon wheels, stem, fork and handlebars and lined up a beautiful paint job. All to be put together by one of Atlanta's finest bike shops, Loose Nuts Cycles. Lucky for me, Kevin wanted someone to document the buildout of the bike and final beauty shots of his new baby. It wasn't a job I was going to miss.
Kevin was so excited about all the passion and hard work that went into his Icarus that he wanted to showcase it. He'd have the bike forever but he wanted to remember the people and the process and he also wanted final pieces that these talented craftsmen could show off. So I spent the day at Loose Nuts snapping photos of Chris, head mechanic and owner, putting together Kevin's bike. While I was doing that, two sometimes three other cameras were taking photos for the timelapse (below). Then a few days later, when the sky stopped pouring out rain, we did beauty shots.
It's always a pleasure working with people that are driven by passion. With this job everyone involved loved what they were doing and why they were there. Chris built the bike on his day off and Kevin took off a day to be there. This story started with an awful event that anyone would gladly skip but I'm glad to have witnessed it's silver lining.
Sidenote: I have met very few cyclists that don't share the same passion as these fellas. They're not trying to hold you up on your way home or to work, they've just chosen a different method. So give a wave next time you pass a cyclist, it could be Kevin on his Icarus or me on my Salsa. We're more than happy to share the road.
We love what we do.
A few years back I was making a lot of trips home to Colorado to work on a very emotional and important project on the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition. I would work from dawn til dark photographing landowners all across southeastern Colorado and hearing their stories. It was a wonderful experience and it is a project I was and still am very proud to be a part of but I put everything into it and was exhausted. I decided when I returned, I needed a break.
So I started thinking of what I should do for this break... When I was in my youngest years of childhood, my siblings and I used to run around the ranch building forts, making mudpies and playing with Hot Wheels and Tonka trucks. We would find a good patch of dirt and make roads for the cars and trucks to speed around, even driveways to pull up and park. We lost ourselves in hours of play.
Now years after my last mudpie, I decided I needed to do a bit of playing. After a short hunt I found some old toy trucks that I thought would be just the right combination of fun and "work". I cruised the seventeen miles of gravel roads between town and the ranch to shoot some fun, no pressure photos.
One day my cousin, a cowboy a few years older than myself, came across me laying down in the dirt moving a semi truck back and forth trying to find the perfect place for it. He yelled from his pickup asking what in the world was I doing and I responded with a jovial "I'm working!". He chuckled and shook his head but turned his pickup off and strode over. He didn't stay long (ranch work allows for less playing) but he did look over the trucks and even move a couple around, I'm sure remembering his own childhood days in the sun and dirt.
Today can be one of those days we need reminding why we choose the careers we do. Somedays these creative endeavors actually do feel like work but most days all we're doing is playing or listening to stories or creating an image that has been floating in our heads. I can't imagine trading it in even if it would make April 15th easier to take. I still have some more trucks for the days I need reminding.
The Story behind the photo.
When Ms Anne was younger she had this portrait painted of her. As we stood around admiring the painting she stepped forward saying she liked it very much but the lips weren't quite right. As she gently rested her hand over her past lips, my heart leapt and then panic settled. I wasn't holding my camera. I quickly snapped it up but Ms Anne had moved away from the painting. After a moment I explained to Ms Anne I missed an opportunity and would she replay that moment. She did but immediately felt uncomfortable and dropped her hand. Quite alright. I had the one photo I needed.
Southern Comfort Moments
The first time I walked into Southern Comfort was also the first time I saw an exotic dancer perform. I also vaguely remember a birthday where I received a bottle of beer capped with a candle while standing on a table and having the bar sing to me... You never know what's going to happen there and that's one of the reasons I decided to do a photo project on the restaurant and lounge. The place and people were just too good to pass up.
Recently the project was featured on Slate's Behold blog and then Dailymail which was very flattering and it seemed to get a lot of attention. Some of the comments were, mildly put, unkind to the subjects and I'd like to address snap judgements here. These are three portraits of people that made me change a preconceived notion I had on them or the bar.
How the staff cares for Mr Tommy is the best example of family I've seen in awhile. The bottle exchange allows him to feel normal and hang out like he always has while the staff protectively watch over him. When you see Angel she exudes a toughness and I will openly admit I was intimidated by her. After sitting down with her for half an hour my mouth was agape and my eyes rimmed with tears. Angel has seen more death in her life than her heavenly namesakes. She has acquired a tough shell from these life events but her eyes remain soft and kind. Daryl showed me his injury unsolicited. He laughed as I cringed at the lack of protection his chest now provides his heart. I feel like this is Daryl's party trick and it works! I was drawn in like a moth to the flame.
I can't give you the full experience of being there with these folks but look these images over and make your mind up about them, THEN read the caption.
The other reason I did this project was because I wanted to know more about who these people are. Isn't that what we are all after? Someone to be interested in us?
A big thank you to Behold, David Rosenberg and the DailyMail for being interested.
Kaylinn Gilstrap © 2013