The shots from the photoshoot I did with the beautiful Lilly Niemitalo. Conceptual portraits like this one are the direction I'm hoping to go with this year. Portraiture with with a message or an idea....Read More
It’s been a interesting three years in the world of freelance photography. Looking back, there are definitely things I wish I could have done better, but I'm extremely thankful for what opportunities I've been given, what I've experienced, and what I've been able to build. It has taught me a lot about myself.Read More
I first saw Sarah from a distance, and when I did, I couldn't help but notice something different about her: a modern day woman who could pull off classic vintage pieces. Some time later, I got to talk to her and complimented her on her style, and right then, we were able to set up a collaboration!
Sarah has been collecting and selling vintage pieces for years. We talked about different outfitting and possible locations and thought it would be great to do an outfit change mid-shoot. She was really excited and open minded, and I pitched the idea of "contrast," breaking out the lighthearted and the dark & heavy. We shot in Downtown Greer, SC, which still retained a classic old-time look and feel with its signs, shops, doors, and lampposts. It was the perfect location for this shoot.
My friend Hannah was a crucial part of making this shoot successful. For as long as I'd known her, she's always had a penchant for classic 20s, 40s, and 60s stylings and designs. Knowing her understanding and love for those eras, I asked if she could assist on the shoot and help me with posing...
...and her ideas were top-notch!
Unless you live in cities like New York or Los Angeles, I think it's rare to find people that have a bold, confident, and unique fashion sense. I've always admired people who know how to put great outfits together, make something their own, and break out of what's typical. Meeting and working with Sarah was such a joy, and I hope to be able to collaborate with her more and showcase her wonderful vision of bringing old classics to life!
Posing Assistant: Hannah Lyn Roe
Copyright © Aerial Jay Photography 2016
The ongoing pursuit of personal work continues with another #PeopleFocus Project entry! I've been so busy with client work lately that I haven't had much time to work on and release projects from my travels or from what I capture in my hometown. I'm learning the balance of working on and creating personal work amidst the ongoing grind, as well as making sure that the work you do make for other people is work you love, believe in, and are passionate about. You have to love what you do.
In last few months I've refocused on the people and relationships my life. I've met new people and built new relationships, reestablished old friendships, repaired broken ones, and am making an effort to maintain all of it. Spending time with friends and family and remembering what's it's like to just enjoy a person and spending time with people you highly value and who value you, it reminds you that you have to look outward more.
In the last year, I've gotten to know a lot of different kinds of people - broken people, accomplished people, quirky people, spiritual strong and established people - and in light of everything happening in our country, I'm placing higher priority on spending time with, getting to know, and helping the people in my life. There's much to be learned and understood from the human beings we see day to day. I want to take more time enjoying those people and celebrating who they are. Because we never know; tomorrow that person might not be there.
Assistant: Colton Sherbondy
Copyright © Aerial Jay Photography 2016
In my ongoing effort to pursue personal projects, I want to focus more on spontaneous portraiture. As a long time follower of Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York, I was inspired to get up close and personal and take the time to get to know subjects rather than trying to discreetly photograph them from afar. But rather than the unique story focus of Brandon's work, I want to make the photograph...the features of the person portrayed...to be the main focus. I love small details, and I want to capture the contours and curvature of the individual faces, admiring the intrinsic beauty of a person and sharing my own experience and interpretation of who they are. I also deeply respect Brandon and his work, so I want to keep HONY uniquely his.
The #PeopleFocus Project I plan to make a long term part of my photographic journey. I intend to keep traveling and shooting, and as I capture landscapes and street life, I will be taking the time to photograph the people that inhabit those places. With 196 countries and over 7 billion people populating them, the people I capture on my camera will only be a thread of the tapestry that the people of this planet make up. Still, I find it to be a joyous and worthwhile ambition...to know people and admire the way they are uniquely created.
I have done many spontaneous portraits in the last 2 years that I've been shooting, but this marks the beginning of this project. I intend to theme groups of photos that I acquire, whether by location or subject. I want each photo (or group of photos) to tell a different story about where I am or what I am continually learning about humanity. I hope that this series can be a contribution to helping us understand more about each other and being able to see the value and beauty of each human being that walks this Earth.
Copyright © Aerial Jay Photography 2016
"Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak." - Thomas Carlyle -
It's this very quality I want to display in my photojournalistic work and my portraiture work...and especially in people like Brandon Nelson.
I've known Brandon since early 2015, getting to know him through working with him and hanging out with him. I've had the privilege of hearing his story and learning about the various trials that have developed and strengthened him on his journey. His honesty about his shortcomings and struggles yet continual push to be better while seeking truth and beauty only exemplify the rarity of his soul.
Brandon has a good balance of the philosophical, the emotional, and down-to-earth humor that make him easy to get along with. But the depth and complexity of his mind and heart aren't mainly displayed in just talking to him (I believe), but are seen in the variety of art forms he expresses himself with. That being said, I chose to display him with different color emphases, angles, and back drops.
Brandon is a spoken word poet, a writer, a painter, a sketcher, and a barista. He has an affinity for hip hop, crump dancing, and freestyle rapping. He was once a vocalist for a metal band at one point! Because he has a reserved and unassuming disposition, I wanted to somehow display his personality by using the back drops themselves. I wanted to tell the story of a complex thinker and feeler and ambitious artist.
The best way I know how to describe what he does is that he's a true 'craftsman.' He's constantly sharpening, always pushing his limits, seeking greater and understanding of the complexity of his art, and strives to be the best in all that he does. He dreams big, looks for the order and rhythm in the midst of the chaos, and seeks to bring a message. And he does so with a genuine spirit of humility.
His best quality isn't in his humor or talent, but is his spirit. He has a contagious amount of hope and faith, making him uplifting to be around, and he shows genuine interest and concern for the lives and struggles of others. He's the type of person who takes life one day and one moment at a time and genuinely enjoys being in the presence of God and other people. He smiles, and wants you to be happy with him. Over time, I learned that I not only found a friend in Brandon, but a brother.
Copyright © Aerial Jay Photography 2016
"The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities." - Benjamin E. Mays -
Having taken the leap and ventured out so much this year, there's no way I wanted to lose that momentum. I wanted to keep growing and developing my eye for my trade and understand the world we live in. New York City seemed like the logical next step to my photographic journey. Having started as a street photographer, New York's history, diversity, and relentless flow sounded like a dream. It would be good to have my passion rekindled, to rediscover why I love photography and accept the challenge of capturing life as it is.
I'm extremely passionate about photojournalism, the lifelong endeavor of dedicated historians and documentarians bringing distant world issues to light and making them feel real and relatable. I've developed an even greater amount of respect for those who take on the challenges of capturing the world's happenings and face dangers of those doing so. Though it is difficult, it is (to me) one of the greatest kinds of work a man or woman can do in light of all that is happening in our world.
I feel as if street photography is like photojournalism for the layman. It's the unofficial chronicling of history as seen from the eyes of the common man, and his interpretation of his surroundings. I want to call what I do "independent photojournalism," if it can be called that. I might not be able to get close to the bigger things happening in our world, but there are things happening in my back yard. And I feel compelled to tell that story.
Arriving in New York was like a like being a thrown into a fast moving stream. Because I was an outsider, I would have to get a feel for its flow. Because it's a place I had never been able to explore in depth until then, I knew that the first jump would be into the shallow water. It'd be learning how to navigate the subway, learning to budget my time and money from day to day, and taking in the sights that one must see before he dies. Once those things were out of the way, I could really get to know the more intimate side of the city in later visits.
New York City has grown to have a population of over 8.4 million people from almost every possible people group you can imagine, along with an increasing influx of new residents...not to mention tourists. It has been a hub of culture and controversy for almost 400 years has seen some of the worst of tragedies and resilient of triumphs. It's truly like a condensed version of humanity crammed onto a few tiny islands.
I'm a follower of Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York. If anyone knows how to learn the story of another human being, it's him. His simple, yet profound, idea of portraits with a story encapsulates the uniqueness of each individual person's soul, history, and struggle.
I've taken a similar route to his in approaching and engaging subjects. But since I respect him too much to try to continually copy and claim his style, I'll stick to traditional street photography.
I spent two weeks in New York. I was able to eat amazing food, meet and get photos of interesting people, but, over time, I developed a feeling of lostness. I was one face in a sea of a unrelenting crowd. My voice and creed just one of many fighting for its own place. Photographers and artistic talent seemed to be everywhere. There seemed to be no way to stick out. I was (literally) 1-in-a million. After a while, I was strangely ok with that. It reminded me that on this planet, though I am one individual person, I am part of a whole.
Though the city is teeming with people, everyone has some place to go, and people aren't always openly social, there's a common respect people had for one another. Everyone faced common struggles and understood what it meant to simply live and get by in New York. To not consider the person inches away from them with even the most common of courtesy and kindness wouldn't cut it. As my travel partner put it, New York City is "like a ship with eight-million people, and the only way to make it is to help one another."
Being a great photographer usually means being part and being in the midst of it all. We can't resort to only being outsiders looking in. There are times when I feel like I'm an intruder or a voyeur...which makes me want to retreat, or even run. I've drawn into myself a lot this year, but I'm realizing how detrimental that can be to my calling. I'm relearning how important it is to be open, real, and vulnerable.
I say this is visit number one because I'm confident I'll return. New York cannot warrant only one visit, but a lifetime of exploration or a season spent living there. It's hard because I want to go everywhere and see everything. I know I'm probably called to touch only a fraction and witness only a handful of this planet's places and happenings, which only increases my motivation to keep moving. I don't want to fall into ruts of complacency, apathy, and ignorance. After all, we've only got one life. We've got to live it well.
Copyright © Aerial Jay Photography 2015
Earlier this year, I expressed to a friend my interest in using photography to help missions and non-profit work. He, in turn, told me about an opportunity: 2 weeks in the D.R., 30 people reaching out to orphans, prostitutes, people living in poverty, and using my camera to capture it.
Despite my growing desire to travel and to use photography in a photojournalistic capacity, I was on the fence about going for some time (mostly due to finances). But with the encouragement of many friends, I finally decided to just go.
Having gone to the Philippines a couple of times by that point, I was less anxious about getting used to the flow of life there. But this time I would be a little bit closer. I'd be amongst the people, seeing what they saw, feeling a minuscule fraction of what they felt, communicating, and getting to know their world...one that I only understood on a surface level.
We landed in Santiago, arriving to a very a rainy Dominican Republic. There was the familiar sight and feel of the humid, crowded pick-up area, people waiting for taxis and buses, and gearing up for the drive across the countryside to our destination. For us, that destination was Sosúa, a city on the northern coast, where we would be meeting with Mike and Terica Williams, missionaries to Sosúa, who have been serving the people there with their kids for over 5 years.
I wasn't entirely sure what to focus on when I looked through my viewfinder for the first time. As a street photographer, I defaulted to shooting from a distance, trying to get random candid activity. But I wanted to go deeper. I had to if I was going to help promote a cause.
Sosúa is the heart of human trafficking in the Dominican Republic. Russian mafia operate in the D.R. as a trafficking ground. A large part of Mike and Terica's ministry involved helping out to women and young girls stuck in the trafficking industry by teaching skills and trades as an alternative to working on the street. Young girls get caught up in, what Mike called, the "Dominican fairytale," that if they worked as a prostitute, they would meet a westerner who would take them away to a life in Europe or the States. It's a pull that has left many many young women enslaved to the industry.
Their ministry also consisted of bringing food and clean water to surrounding villages and the local garbage dump, home building programs, and mentoring youth in the local community center alongside two more missionary familes: Daniel and Judith from Mexico and Jose and Coralia from Bolivia. Their ministry, Cups of Cold Water, had a mantra: "Rescue a child, save a family, do it again tomorrow," the epitome of their mission and their commitment to it. For them, the realties of the hardships the people of the D.R. faced were real, close, and continually before them.
Whenever I explore a place for the first time, I feel like each place I see or person I meet is only a part of a story, one that I have to try to put together little by little. One merely tries to reconvey the affect how a place/person/subject had on himself. I wasn't exactly sure how I felt at that time, and I was still digging...
As we went from village to village with the rest of the team, I was able to use what little Spanish I had learned from high school and college to converse with the people and learn a little bit more about my surroundings. Families would invite you into their homes, shared food and drink, and took pleasure just in conversation and sharing their lives. I only wish that my Spanish would have been better so I could have communicated on a deeper level.
No matter where you go, there is a big difference between being a tourist and dwelling amongst the people. You never really know a place or a culture until you've chosen to venture into the thick of it, at least to some degree. Because of the nature of our work, it allowed us to see, in depth, the struggles that Dominicans and Haitian refugees dealt with on a day-to-day basis.
Our first weekend in the D.R., Mike had a special assignment for us in Muñoz, a village made up mostly of Haitian refugees. The village had recently burned down due to a fire caused by gasoline running through the village from the motorcycles. From what I was able to gather from the people there, this was the fourth time that a fire like this one had broken out in that village.
66 homes were lost in the fire. For some the concrete foundation was all that was left, and for others nothing but ash. The fires had eaten up literally everything that they had. Government did little to nothing to help those people in the direness of their situation. One could only get by with the help of friends.
Mike and the team brought food, water, and movie truck to the site. You could tell on the faces of the people residing there that the help was welcome and a relief to them. During that time I was able to converse with a couple of the men and one woman from the village. They were able to convey some of the hardship the people of that particular village faced, the basic needs that people struggled to have met, the lack of government involvement, and things that they wished they could see happen to help their people.
There was, though, a special resilience that those people showed. Despite having lost so much, they still managed to find joy. They had their families and their friends. Though their homes were reduced to ashes, their possessions lost to flame and smoke, they still held on to a hope and a faith. There was a worship song that the team brought with them from village to village.
It was called "Tomalo." translated, "Take it All."
They sang it at the top of their lungs...and it moved many of us to tears.
The Dominican Republic has always had a tense relationship with its neighboring country Haiti. The governments of both countries are corrupt, unhelpful at best. For the people, there isn't much that they can look to the government for. After the earthquakes in Haiti, many Haitian refugees came to the Dominican Republic in hopes of starting over. Many of those refugees end up being deported back to their own country only to be rejected by their government, leaving them to wander in a limbo zone.
With nowhere else to go, some take refuge in places like this garbage dump. The refugees are allowed to stay in the dump as long as they help provide recycling labor. They live day after day in material and human waste, trying to salvage a living off of what gets dumped by the trucks. The only clean water and form of bathing they receive is when it rains.
It was these realities that made me realize just what I had...and how much I was obligated to give back.
I can't remember when it hit me exactly, but I finally knew what story I wanted to tell.
Each one of the children, the parents, men and women, and the elders held something special. A sort of quiet strength...
Every soul is precious. Each person continued to live and fight.
They were the embers in the ashes, the burning coals that refused to go out.
Returning home wasn't easy. Needless to say, I'll never be the same after seeing what I saw so closely. I came back with a sobriety of spirit that I didn't think I had ever experienced before. The way I saw my own country, the things that are prioritized, fought over, debated, all seemed trivial and superficial. It's as if I had been living in a glass bottle, viewing the world in a twisted, misty, idealistic filter that obscured the more harsh and unjust world behind it. For a few days I wasn't sure I knew what to do with myself...except continue to shoot.
I was inspired. Using my camera in this capacity was the most fulfilling mission I'd ever taken on. In a wide world full of stories and souls, I want to continue spreading the knowledge of the things happenings behind and within our borders and promote causes that seek to genuinely help our world communities.
My hope is to return to my newly found friends in the D.R., to continue doing life with them. Every journey leads to another. Who knows where I'll end up next?
If you want to know more about the ministry I went with that helps the people of the Dominican Republic, or would like to donate, visit cupsofcoldwater.com.