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Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday

I always love and admire people who are concise.

Who can say what needs to be said in as few words as possible, and the effect works.

I'm not concise, and that's why when people ask me if I'm writing a book I say there is a time and a place to write a book and that's when I literally have nothing left to do in this life, because it would take a decade and I'm not ready to give up my time like that yet.

But some people are born with conciseness. And I think it's not only wise and interesting, but it makes for really good art.

My favorite concise person is Hallie. I have a feeling she'd describe herself as a rambler, which may be true, but the opposite is just as well.

Hallie is a photographer, a seer, a seeker, a voyeur, a traveler, a wayfarer, a writer, a poet, a kid, a woman. All at the same time and never one without the other.

When you look at her work, you seem to know exactly what she is trying to say and to what affect. And she does it with as little excess in the frame as possible. It's transparency seems at odds with it's shadows and the mood of the light, but that's part of the goodness too. Visually, it's incredibly calming. Her precision as a photographer is one of the things that I think makes it so beautiful. And I've fangirled hard for this one since day one.

Everything she photographs seems to be at the peak of youth, which is very good thing for a wedding photographer. But it's different. Every texture feels like a well loved flannel or running your hands through tall grass. And every frame seems like it could smell like your vagrant friend or a cabin couch or a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug. The photos are lived in, no matter if you're at the wedding or putzing on the beach the morning after, freshly loved. And I love that. It has the effect of being original and intentional when we live in a photo saturated timeframe where you wonder if it is possible in fact for a photographer to be original and intentional.

Where weddings are supposed to mean one thing, and love is supposed to mean one thing, and people are supposed to mean one thing, Hallie always seems to show the other thing. The thing just outside the frame, the thing that would have been missed had she not been there.

It feels like joy to Hallie would not be the brightly colored balloon, but the pop. Or that madness to Hallie isn't the scream, but the silence. Maybe color isn't really color at all but just the thing our eyes do to respond to heat. Everything in it's opposite could seem like anarchy. But if that's the case, then I like her world better than ours.

As everybody else gets ready to respond and react to the march of spring, to change their wardrobe and refresh their accent shelves and wax poetic about the birds and their daily rhythms, and infuse themselves with new oils and deep clean their kitchen cabinets, she'll kinda stay the same. Hallie's work will be what it is and Hallie will be what she is. Unwavering.

The Interview

Hallie Kohler

Photo credit: Gonçalo Cavaleiro

Hello Hallie Elizabeth. I like you. I like your work. What do you like about you? What do you like about your work?

Leading with the toughest question, I see. I like the color palette I exist within and the stories I can tell from places faraway and nearby. I appreciate the sense of calm I can summon from others (and myself on a good day) and how, in any given debate, I can almost always see both sides. My work rarely gets accolades from me, but sometimes when I can feel my subject’s energy coming right out from the screen it makes me smile.

You’re a mood. Definitely. What is that mood and where did it originate.

Ah, yes. It’s had a cumulative origin, building slowly, unspecific and indiscernible until the year I lived in the woods. We had cabin out there, 205 miles northwest of Brooklyn and 660 miles southeast of here. As the word “cabin” alludes, it was a place for chopping wood to warm the hearth and hot water down the shower drain in the winter when the pipes froze. In summertime, blackberry vines tangled amongst the tall trees, begging to be picked for pies, after a long slow walk around the pond (exactly 1 mile) at sunset. I didn’t really want to live there at first, which made the whole thing less romantic, and the mood I conjure is still tangled with this bittersweet. I’d followed my then-boyfriend out to the cabin, 30 miles from the nearest gas station, drawn by this very mood. Sun-warmed leather and freshly milled wood under fingertips rough from years of picking guitar strings. The yeasty smell of bread mingling with woodsmoke and cigarette smoke and gasoline residue from an earlier lawn-mow. Dusty light laid out in stripes over worn-through floor boards. This often-cultivated vibe was real back then, we lived it, and I’ve carried it with me in the well-worn (one could say vintage) objects I use in daily life -- antique furniture, a wooden cheese grater, an impossibly soft leather keychain, turn of the century silver rings. Less explicitly, I carry it into the colors I pull out in photos, a sense of calm, and the day-to-day regular-ness I see in life and am drawn to capture.

Where was your home before it was here?

Home has been an elusive thing for me. I’ve moved 16 times in the last 6 years, lived in 5 cities, a pickup truck, a school bus, and several long-stay hotels. Before any of that though, my home was here - I grew up in Traverse City. At eighteen, east-coast bound, I left without the faintest desire to return. Despite force of will and good intent, these lakes call you back (we all know it).

What is Traverse City a reflection of, today?

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer this one. It seems like a culmination of enthusiasm and collective appreciation for this place has helped to create a home we want to live in, and a community we want to be part of, year-round.

Are lots of photographers also camera shy? How does voyeurism begin? Are you skeptical of photographers who love being photographed?

For a portrait photographer, I actually think it’s really helpful to be on the other side of the camera. Becoming familiar with the feeling of being looked at through a lens has helped me to be a better photographer, and to relate to my subjects in a more personal way. I get that it can be intimidating, I know the hyper-self-awareness that arises, the unavoidable awkwardness. It can be scary sometimes to swap sides, but necessary I think.

Photo Credit: Jessie Velkanink

Documentary style photography assumes your subjects aren’t aware you’re taking their picture. Do photographers, especially travel photographers ever need consent or is that too PC?

I’ve got a good story for this one. I was visiting Jerusalem for a week, back in 2011, staying with an old friend who’d skipped out of college and taken up a position cleaning floors in exchange for Challah bread and hummus in a Jewish Men’s Hostel in the Old City. Being neither Jewish nor a man, I was not allowed inside so at night I slept on the roof under a plastic folding table.

This was a reasonable housing solution for me at age nineteen, apparently. We’d explore the city during the day, trying to pet the thousands of s