Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kelli: Hope Rises {Northern California Portrait Photographer}

My friend Kelli is a woman of many talents.   She's a gymnast, an author, and the popular blogger behind Mini Vans are Hot.  Her posts feature a humorous (yet insightful) outlook on life that keeps her over 10,000 blog readers coming back for more each day.

I first met Kelli close to 13 years ago.  She and her husband Lee led worship for our young married's Sunday school class up at church.  They are both funny to the core!  I'll never forget the time they did an 80s tribute in class - complete with 80s garb.  If laughter is good medicine, then these two have to be the healthiest couple around.

They are a lot of fun!

Kelli and Lee have since relocated to Florida with their family.  Thanks to Wendy, we've had the past two summers to reconnect during our Creative Retreat.

Kelli's biggest project at the moment is her novel.  She's in the editing stage of an historical novel set in World War II Soviet Union.  It's a tale of life, death, love, pain and redemption.  I'll be sure to let you all know when her book is published so you can run out and grab your own copy.

During her college years, she studied abroad in Russia to learn the language - which she now speaks fluently.  And, while learning a second language was a great skill to gain, her time in Russia gave her so much more.  She left with a genuine love and passion for the country and its people.

So much so, that she and Lee even hoped to adopt a child from Russia.  Kelli has long had a sense that God was calling them to adopt a little Russian girl.  And, late last year their hearts were full of anticipation and joy as they began the adoption paperwork late last year.  Their three children were excited as well.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Russia closed it's doors to foreign adoptions.

Their hearts were broken!

Their dreams were shattered!

Understandably, these past several months have been very difficult for Kelli and her family.  She felt herself sinking into a dark pit of depression - not understanding why God would take this dream away from them.

She felt helpless and empty.

Strangely, it was her novel (set in Russia) that God would use to bring Kelli out of despair.  Words saved her.  Writing saved her.  As she spent her days writing and creating, she felt the clouds of depression lifting.

She felt hope rising!

So, when Kelli shared her story with me, I knew this theme of despair and hope needed to be incorporated into her portrait session with me somehow.  If at all possible, I was going to do my best to illustrate in a creative way how words helped to lift Kelli's spirits.

Kelli had already given me her five words for the creative assignment I had given her, so I did my best to create my concept around those elements as well.

Here are her 5 words.  Three were used in her concept shot:

Color - white, blue
Setting - Vineyard
Prop - book
Wardrobe - hat
Theme - vintage, artistic

Our friend Wendy steered us away from Ciego Vineyards to this "delightful" abandoned 1920s home.  We saved the hat for some fun images later on.  I have to say (other than the over abundance of rat feces that covered the floors and walls of the indoors of this "charming" little house), Wendy's discovered location lent itself very nicely to portraying heartbreak and despair for Kelli's concept shoot.

This is what we came up with.

I've titled it Hope Rises

And it does.

Kelli's family is still holding out hope that Russia will lift it's ban on foreign adoptions.  Until then, they spend their time caring for their three children and using their creative gifts to serve God wherever it is He may lead them.  Most recently, they took a family mission trip to Domincan Republic with Servant's Heart Ministry.  You can read about their experience HERE.

And, though all Kelli's questions haven't been answered and her dreams are still waiting to be fulfilled, she can smile again.  She has hope!

And that's what we celebrated during the rest of her portrait session.

Her increasing joy!

Her beauty!

Her strength!

Her laughter!

We know from scripture that God uses the bad times in our life to mold and shape us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.  He refines us!  He teaches us to turn to him and to rely on him for strength.  And though at times it seems too difficult to bear - he knows just what we need - and when we need it.  And, when we surrender to his leading in our life, we take on His beauty and His grace.

That is true beauty!

And, Kelli, that beauty shines through you each and every day!  You're not just another pretty face, my friend.  You're a treasure!


 And then...Wendy arrived!  

She knows how to drive out the Bonnie and Clyde in all of us!  Love that girl!



It's all about the profile!

And...the HAT!

 Right about this time, I was itching for some color.  This beautiful flowering tree in the background was the perfect fix (for me, anyway)!

Wendy walked up wearing the outfit you see below.  I thought it would look perfect on Kelli against the aged white backdrop of our 1920s abandoned home.  Gotta love a woman who's brave enough to change in the great outdoors!

When I showed Kelli this next image on the back of my camera, she was super excited.   She knew without a doubt that it would be her daddy's favorite!

I thought she looked like she had just jumped off the pages of an Anthropologie catalog.

A huge shout out to Kelli for braving the disgusting condition of this "charming" little house!  

I knew Kelli could make this rat-infested dump look glamorous!

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Kelli through my lens.  Thank you for taking a peak!

Love you, Kelli!

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Before I sign off, I wanted to share just one more image with you.  I had my heart set on trying out another concept I had in mind before we left our newfound location.  My goal was to create a swirl with Kelli's face smack dab in the middle by "tossing" my camera.  I was hoping to illustrate a "Kelli amidst the storms of life" type image.  

It didn't quite go as planned, but I share my results with you today anyway to make a point.  Sometimes it is just as important to try something new.  You might not get it right the first time, but at least you can hold your head up high knowing you made a valiant effort!  

I was a little off the mark, so I'll be researching this technique further.  Next time, I'll get it right.  

And if not the next time...I'll keep trying.

After all, it took Thomas Edison more tries than that to get the light bulb right!  He tried 10,000 different substances before finding the right one!  Now that's persistence!


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  1. Thank you, sweet friend, for your kind words and for making me feel like a princess for a day. It was an honor to watch you hone your craft and to get to be your muse for a couple of hours. You are truly amazing at what you do! Big hugs!

    1. Thanks, Kelli. It was my pleasure. You know I had just as much fun as you do - maybe even more!!!! How generous of you to be my muse! Big hugs right back at ya!

  2. WOW, these shots are amazing! You are such a gifted photographer. I even think the swirl one turned out cool.


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