#047 – Seeing Differently with Kelly Wagner

How are you my friend? Welcome back! In the last episode, you heard a whole earful on practicing awareness and why it matters. That convo continues here with a story from Kelly Wagner— who has been photographing all her life!

Ok, let that sink for a moment.

She shares how through going through The Preservation Project expanded her own awareness and intentional connection.

I’m so ridiculously passionate about us having a mental break from the to-dos and the attempts at “getting there.” At the end of the day, THIS is the work that matters that we mistakenly think we’ve got a grip on for various reasons.

Enjoy the story.

Full transcription (& Gut Check Questions for you at the end):

Marie: Kelly, thank you so, so much for agreeing to come on to the podcast with me today. I know this is your first podcast episode, so welcome!

Kelly: It is. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Marie: Can you give a quick introduction of who you are and what you do?

Kelly: I’m mostly hobbyist photographer. I do photography a little bit for some friends and family when they need it, but I don’t really officially have my business all set up, so mostly, it’s just hobby photographer.

Marie: You’re in Maryland, right?

Kelly: Yes.

Marie: Awesome. Kelly, you sent me an email in the middle of February that made me just about fall off of my chair, and part of what you wrote and why, it was this:

“Since I started listening to the Intentional Documentary Podcast and have taken your Preservation Project course, I’ve been more diligent in documenting my life and the people, moments, and memories that mean so much to me. I have found a new and better appreciation for my photographs.”

For those of you listening, this is not a big old success story for The Preservation Project. That’s not my intention. I want to highlight that last sentence that Kelly said:

“I have found a new and better appreciation for my photographs.”

Kelly, what was photography and documenting like for you before you crossed paths with the podcast and the program?

Kelly: I’ve always had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember. I love taking photographs, mostly of my family. I have tons and tons of pictures on my computer, on my smartphone, and all these different devices… and I don’t feel like I was really doing anything with them.

I wanted to have some kind of meaning to my photographs.

I wanted my kids to be able to look at those photographs and look at them and kind of think, “Well, why did my mom take this picture? What was so important about it?” or even when my family, when they look back at the pictures, too, having them look at them and think, “Why did she take the pictures? What was the meaning of them?”

Marie: Would you say you already had this mindset of documenting the things that are important and that matter for you?

Kelly: Yes.

Marie: Yeah, and so that, the problem was then just that they were kind of collecting and collecting and collecting, and they didn’t have a real purpose.

Kelly: Yep.

Marie: Okay. My next question is, what would you say, before crossing paths with me, is different in how you were seeing versus today, after going through … just listening to the podcast and the program?

Kelly: I was just kind of just taking pictures each day, day in and day out. I knew the kind of pictures that I like to take. I like to do documentary style, so, I mean, I feel like those kind of pictures have a story to tell, but it was just a different way…

After doing the Preservation Project, I found a different way of using those pictures to tell a story, to have a deeper purpose or a deeper meaning to the photographs that I take.

Marie: I love that. I’m finding that a lot of people have this mentality of, “Well, I’m already documenting my life, and I know that I’m supposed to print my pictures. I know I’m supposed to organize my pictures. I don’t need to spend money for somebody to tell me to do that.”

They look at the Preservation Project with an assumption that they’re already doing what this Preservation Project is supposed to give them. Going back to what you had said, “I have found a new and better appreciation for my photographs,” and what you just said—that you’ve found this just different way of using them that has this deeper meaning…

What would you say to those people looking at The Preservation Project like, “Well, I’m already doing that. I don’t need it.”

Kelly: I would just say just, it’s not just your pictures. As far as the Preservation Project, it’s taking a second to just reflect on what your life as a whole means to you—your family life and the things that you do day in and day out that you enjoy now, that maybe five years from now is going to be completely different.

I mean, it’s worth taking the time to just document that, just silly things that your kids do or fun things that you do as a family. It’s not always about taking photographs. I mean, it’s nice to have the photograph there to tell the story and to have it to remember, but it’s also being present in the moment and just enjoying the time right then and there.

Marie: There was another participant named Matthias. He shared a photo of his wife in the nursery for their daughter, or her bedroom, I forget exactly. She’s pregnant with baby number two, and she fell asleep. He shared in the group how going through this (TPP) process, instead of just that autopilot mode we get into so often as photographers—see moment, grab camerahe actually paused and felt something first. He talked about what a big shift that was for him. Did you experience moments like that, too?

Kelly: I did. Yes. Absolutely.

Marie: You already kind of touched on this with just how it’s about looking at your life as a whole. It’s not just about photography and documenting, per se.

This carried over into connecting with your family. Can you share the story about your time spent with your uncle?

Kelly: Sure. I found out last March that my uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I knew that I wanted to do something special for them, so I asked if I could take family pictures on their farm. They said, “Of course. Definitely. We would love that.”

I did that, and I ordered some wall art for them to have in their home. I also put together all the pictures and made a slideshow for them that was set to music.

It was so special, just seeing them look at the slideshow.

Finding wisdom in this ep? Pin this image: 

Seeing Differently with Kelly Wagner - Intentional Documentary podcast

It was never my intention to make them cry, but they did.

It made me feel really good, because I was able to give them that time in their life to take it all in. They knew that shortly after, their dad wouldn’t be there that much longer. Seeing them look at the pictures and everything was just really neat for me to see.

Then, them opening their wall art and seeing their facial expressions and to have them actually see it on their walls was really powerful.

Marie: Yeah. No kidding. You’d also said in your email about the time spent with him at the hospital, you had a conversation with him and even his daughter said, “I didn’t know that about you, dad.”

You wrote, “I’m thankful for having him in my life and for the Preservation Project to make it a priority to connect with the people that matter most to us.” I’m really curious around what was it that became amplified through the Preservation Project to make you show up a little bit differently.

Kelly: Mm-hmm. I would say The Preservation Project, the connection part was definitely what I wanted to share the most, and that was about my uncle with this terminal illness.

It (TPP) was a way for me to, just to connect with someone without having to take a picture or do anything like that or to have any kind of obligation to do it. It was something that I wanted to do.

I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to know what things he enjoyed in his life and the things that he disliked and just to get to know him overall as a person and to ask him questions that maybe his family wouldn’t even have thought to ask, or maybe they were questions that they’ve already asked him before and maybe already knew the answers to.

Marie: Yeah, and I can see how just being in the environment of our group can kind of make those kind of conversations front of mind. In a lot of cases, we’re just living our day-to-day life. We kind of forget about these kinds of conversations.

You know?

Was he on your mom’s side? Was he on your dad’s side? What was your relationship like with him?

Kelly: He was my great uncle, so it was my grandfather’s brother, and … I mean, we were pretty close growing up, but not really as close as I wanted to be, and doing this connection piece with him and talking to him and getting to know him better definitely made me feel like I took that time to get to know him better.

Marie: Yeah, to make the most of that. I look back now, in hindsight, and I’ve lost … My dad has lost two brothers, one in 2013, one in 2010, so it’s been a while.

I spent so much time with both of them growing up, in different ways. I wasn’t seeing them like every weekend or anything like that, but with the one, we always went over and had bonfires at his house, and he had a little pond, which was the best thing ever when you’re an outdoorsy kid.

We’d go out on the paddle boat and catch bullfrogs and things like that, and I used to babysit the kids of my other uncle.

I look back now, and I’m like, “I didn’t x, y, z…”

I didn’t go through the work that you guys are going through now, and it’s been a big lesson for me.

We all kind of have this knowing that we should have these deeper conversations and be more intentional about getting to know the people that we care about, but it’s so easy to just take time for granted and assume, “Well, I can do it later, or … “

Or maybe, in some ways, maybe we’re too shy to ask questions.

You had this wonderful conversation and time with your uncle. Have there ever been other times in your life where you wish that you would have taken more time to intentionally connect with people? Any stories that come to mind?

Kelly: Oh. Definitely.

In fact, I kind of wish I had heard about The Preservation Project about three or four years ago, because both of my grandparents had been really sick, and … I mean, I took the time. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents, but it wasn’t like the initial conversation and writing things down.

I had a lot of conversations with them, but if I didn’t document it, sometimes the memory of it faded.

With this one, in particular, my great uncle, I tried to make it more intentional, about talking to him, connecting with him, and actually documenting what we discussed.

Marie: Yeah. Yeah. That’s makes sense. I spent a lot of time with my grandma before she passed away. This was in 2008, so before I was a photographer, before all of this (TPP) stuff. I had so many wonderful conversations with her. In January of 2017, another photographer, Aniya Legnaro, was looking for stories of caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients.

As soon as she said that, I felt so much emotion around that, because it was with my grandma, who I was really close with, and I spent a lot of time with her.

All those feelings that I had around going through all of that resurfaced. Then, when I sat down to send her a Facebook message of the story, so much was fuzzy. It was so weird.

The emotion was still there, but filling in the blanks with the actual details was really, really hard.

I so hear what you’re saying about taking that time—kind of like in sports, like when you’re swinging a baseball bat, or you’re hitting a golf club, or you’re throwing a bowling ball. It’s not just like throwing or hitting something. It’s like the full follow-through.

That’s what we were doing with that Connection Week, anyway, in The Preservation Project.

Kelly: Mm-hmm. Yep.

Marie: I see your Iconic Photo. Can you describe that to us?

Kelly: Okay. It’s not very much to it. It’s a picture of a bridge.

The significance of this bridge is that it’s a symbol of a pathway—a connection and unity—between all of my family.

My family, we’re very lucky in that we all live next to each other, and between each of our houses is a bridge.

The bridge is handmade, and we just enjoy each of these bridges. These bridges, it’s where our kids play in each other’s yards.

It’s where we go and have family dinners.

It’s where we have birthdays and celebrations and barbecues.

It’s where the kids go over and run over to where my grandmother and grandfather used to live and go fish in their pond or ride four-wheelers. It’s just a connection piece that we use to help all of our family stay together and connect with everyone.

Marie: That is such a cool story. I had no idea that you all lived so close to each other. That is really, really special! Who makes the bridges?

Kelly: Well, my dad made one, and then my brother-in-law made the other one. Then, my sister’s fiance made the other one.

Marie: Now that you’ve been out of the Preservation Project for a few months, how are you using some of the practices today?

Kelly: Since TPP, I’ve done two photo books of all the pictures… not all of my pictures, but at least two years. I put them together in two different photo books. Plus, all the pictures that I’ve had on my phone.

I’ve been really intentional about putting them in albums. For that, I use Chatbooks, which I can’t say enough about them. I just love them.

Chatbooks - Documentary Family Photography

Marie: I do, too.

Kelly: But it’s so easy. You can just simply add the picture and then add a story or something to the picture if you wanted to. I try to do that each, I’d say, one or two months or so, just to make sure that the pictures are off my phone and that they’re in a book.

Marie: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever added a story to my Chatbooks, but that’s something that I’ve been kind of regretting about a lot of the prints that I’ve made. I have this photo book that I love. I call the First 5 Years in Parenting book, and it really is from the day that my daughter was born until her fifth birthday.

I look through that thing, and I’m wishing that all of the stories that are in my head—the ones I tell as we look were inside. We just looked through this book two weekends ago actually, and there were so many things I was telling them. I kept thinking, “I’ve got to get this out and onto paper or onto something, because the photos are great, but they’re still missing details I want to relay.” 

So, that’s really cool that you are putting stories right into the Chatbooks! Are you doing that on your phone, or do they have a desktop app, too? Do you know?

Kelly: They do. Yeah. They have both. I usually just do it on my phone, just because it’s more convenient, but you can do it on the computer.

Marie: That’s cool. In your email, you said you have like 27 Chatbooks or something like that.

Kelly: Yeah. Well, my kids, they grab them all the time and read them, and I guess when I had sent you that message, that’s how many I had, but I found a whole bunch of them, so I have a whole bunch more.

They were hidden somewhere, so I actually have like 40.

Marie: Oh my gosh! Did you buy any of those bookend things or shelves for them? Meaning, do you have them displayed, or are they in a box?

Kelly: I don’t have any of those particular ones that they sell, but I do have a bookshelf in my kitchen, and they’re on there. My kids will randomly grab it, and they’ll want me to look at the pictures with them more so than just a regular book that they actually read.

Marie: Yeah. Yeah. It’s so nice, too. I mean, and even though it’s not a conversation like you had with your uncle, having that tangible evidence that you paid attention to something and then them reading it, that’s a form of really intentional connection, I think. It’s expressing yourself, so I love that.

Thank you so much for being on here. Is there anything else that you want to add before I let you go?

Kelly: Nope. I don’t think so. I’m just so grateful to have found you and the Preservation Project.

Marie: Thank you!

That was a short & sweet conversation.

It was really that line in her email that made me want to record this episode: “I have found a new and better appreciation for my photographs.” That coming from someone who’s always had a camera in hand!

Just like Kelly said, The Preservation Project is about looking at your life. Documenting is just a tool to anchor in the awareness habit, so that you see more of your stories + opportunities when you’re not looking for them.

So, I’m turning the table back to you.

GUT CHECK QUESTIONS:

  • Do you have a practice to slow down, deeply reflect, and respond regularly?
  • If so, are you practicing it regularly?

Most people reflect on their lives in terms of status: What are my goals and dreams? What do I need to do to get there? What have I accomplished?

That’s not what I’m talking about.

This kind of Slow Down Session is a mental break. Even still, people think about exiting the to-dos and the hustle and the consuming by physical exercise or Netflix binging or reading a good book or going to the float spa, etc.

They’re wonderful, needed forms of self-care, but we all need to give care and attention to our stories. They’re the gateway to richer connection.

I’ll leave you with that.

Next week, you’ll hear the behind the scenes of a recent marketing review I did for a documentary family photographer in our community. You’ll learn what I looked at, what actions I gave her, and hopefully, it’ll help you DIY your own marketing review.

Have a fabulous week!

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Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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