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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 stray cats and occasionally getting harassed for my camera or bare shoulders or Ryan’s proclivity to mutter insults under his breath. My favorite part of the Old City was the markets. I’ve always loved looking at the vast displays of symmetrical produce and spires of fragrant spices housed in these foreign bazaars.

One day, as we were wandering through the Shuk -- the expansive open air market in the Jewish Quarter -- we passed the fishmongers and a couple of young men with an absolutely giant fish. Like, a really really large fish. Spotting my camera, they held it up at face-level making kissy-faces and waiting to be featured on the roll of black and white Kodak I was shooting. I snapped their photo, we laughed about the size of the fish, and then they motioned to the man one stall over who was sporting a wizardly long white beard, like someone you’d see on the cover of a National Geographic. “Get a picture of him!” they told me. Okay yeah, great idea. I lifted my camera, focused, and right at that moment he looked up -- straight into my lens. Click. Then it gets a little blurry. I felt Ryan shove me from behind and heard shouts of warning from bystanders and the guys with the fish. I was told to run. First, I looked back at Wizard Beard to see him wielding what appeared to be a large saber and looking terrifically angry. I ran -- blindly, through the maze of market stalls and pretty fast it seemed under the circumstances, with Ryan right behind me. I have no idea how much ground we covered or if we just went around in circles but soon Wizard Beard had gained on us and at some point swapped his sword out for a (regular size) fish. Here was this man, no taller than 5 feet, swinging a trout above his head with one hand and slicing the air with the other as though he was well-trained in Taekwondo. He was also yelling something in broken English. We spun around to face him and I made out his words “Give Me Camera!!” No way. Ryan was ready to face off, fists up, and a crowd began to gather. I crouched on the ground behind Ryan’s legs and swiftly started to rewind my film, the man’s outstretched palm curled into an angry fist around the roll I placed in it and he disappeared into the crowd. We learned that day that apparently some older folks in the Orthodox tradition believe that photos will steal your soul. I guess I would have gone after my soul that fiercely, too.

Short answer: You don’t always need consent, but it never hurts to ask.

You are always transcribing literature onto photos you capture. I love it. What are some books you live and die by?

I love words -- I love words more than I love images. I am also really, really, bad at reading books. Well, I guess I’m bad at finishing books. I read plenty of short stories, New Yorker articles, other people’s well-written Instagram captions (yours included), and the first few chapters of each book in the half-read stack on my bedside table. It’s follow-through that I’m lacking. Maybe this is a good moment to throw in the Enneagram. I’m a 9. Hello, half-finished projects! Can’t decide which book to read? Start all of them at once! Consistently scatterbrained and multitasking, I’m not the best candidate for a Tolstoy novel. Okay back to the original question, and a few books that recently broke the norm:

  1. Just Kids, Patti Smith

  2. Tinkers, Paul Harding

  3. A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit (obviously).

I’m also a big fan of Miranda July, Jim Harrison, and Mary Karr -- in all of whom I find a refreshing brashness, a very honest way of seeing the world, that I appreciate.

Describe your love of Rebecca Solnit. (For those of you who don't follow Hallie's work or words yet, this is one of her oft quoted

I’ve read through A Field Guide to Getting Lost several times, which is a big deal considering my above-stated proclivity to abandon books. This one takes a few tries to absorb. The copy I own has so many marks and underlines that a reading of just the notations would take almost as long as the book itself. Each sentence Solnit writes is so carefully chosen, so full, and the book is packed with these head-nodding somewhat-clarifying but also mystifying moments. She said it best in an interview with the Times Book Review: “To recognize a pattern and a meaning and an order in the world you didn’t quite see before is exhilarating.” In Field Guide, she also talks a lot about travel and looking for light, which are two of my ultimate life pursuits.

I always feel like you see the things no one is looking at on wedding day. What do you see and pick up on that is most interesting?

I spend a good bit of time alone on wedding days, which might seem strange for such a people-oriented day. Looking for interesting nooks and windows and places the sunlight falls, stalking the best angles and waiting for people to wander into the frame. I’m drawn to overlooked objects, sunglasses and napkins left on chairs in a moment of excitement to hit the dance floor, bagel crumbs mingling with makeup brushes on the kitchen counter. I also search for behind-the-back hand squeezes, grandmas leaning over to whisper to each other during the ceremony, the bride absentmindedly picking thistles from the hem of her dress. These are all the in-betweens that put together time on the wedding day, I want to fill the spaces that fall between the expected captured moments.

Whose photos, if any, will you hang on the walls in your new house?

One of my 2018 “resolutions” was to buy more of my friends’ art. I want to hang things that have personal meaning, that I relate to more than just a well-composed photo I saw on Instagram or a fun geometrical pattern from Urban Outfitters. Luckily, I am friends with a variety of very talented people and am planning to continue this resolution into 2019 (while I save up the money these wonderful humans deserve for their work). Some of my photographer friends/inspirations and potential future wall-displays include: Chris Parkinson (@chris.j.parkinson), Sara Lincoln (@lincolnpictures), Jessie Zevalkink (@jessiebrave), Monika Frias (@latxina), Elle May Watson (@ellemaywatson), James Moes (@jamesmoesweddings) … etc. Now go look them up.

What’s your least favorite question about photography?

Photographers always talk about how they hate being asked what kind of camera they’re shooting with. Honestly, I don’t mind this question. I like talking about gear. Please don’t ask me “did you get any good ones??” -- Well, I sure hope so, isn’t that kind of the point?

Who do you want to make a portrait of, living or dead?

Amelia Meath (Sylvan Esso). Her candor on stage makes me want to just sit down with her on the couch for a glass of wine on a Tuesday, and her lyrics (like Solnit’s poetic prose) prompt simultaneous wonder and strange clarity.

Where are you at in your photography journey?

Getting lost and found again. In a cycle of joy and hate. But mostly, really excited and lucky to have met some of the best people in my life through the photo (and wedding industry) world.

My ability to keep things fresh, feel inspired and want to create is directly proportional to the quality of my human interaction and recent travels.

If you were selling a preset what would you name it?

Oh gosh, I don’t think anyone wants my grossly unorganized preset library, and I suppose the current names such as: PortfolioUpdate-Summer02-Backlight.lrtemplate or Wed_BW-02(NoGrain).lrtemplate probably wouldn’t market very well. I guess it would have to suit the rest of the brand vibe, something related to tangible smells, objects with history, and well-worn nostalgia. You’ll have to wait for the official names when my preset collection is released. (Note: This is not currently in the works).

Where do you like to shoot most, and do you have a favorite venue?

Photographing in nature, from the sublime to the mundane, is my comfort zone but I’ve been really getting excited about finding light and shapes in urban jungles too. Detroit is currently top of that list. National Parks, State Parks, roadside parks and backyards are my favorite venues, probably in that order but very dependent on the backyard.

Please predict three trends for the 2019 wedding season as if you were a commentator for Harper’s Bazaar:

Just had to google Harper’s Bazaar. Clearly, I’m neither up on the trends nor those setting them, but it looks like the 2019 season is forecast to include three things I detest: bows, scrunchy fabric, and applique glitter. Psyched.

I think you said you’re foraying into film/videography which is great. Because I’d really like us to start a horror genre film production company in TC. What should our first film be about?

Film/videography is where it all began! After creating a number of abstract films on mini-DV video tape in college, I became proficient with a digital camera when I made a very mediocre but also very extensive video series filmed on a roadtrip across the United States. Topic: local music scenes. Don’t try to find it online please. After that, I worked for a documentary filmmaker in Upstate New York and scored a super cool trip to Sundance. Somewhere along the line, the appeal of immediate wedding payments surpassed the chore of grant writing for docs and trying (failing) to get hired at video agencies in Brooklyn as someone with absolutely no agency experience. I recently wanted to circle back around to working with video at weddings and found that the editing schedule just doesn’t suit my workflow. I’d love to work on personal video projects again though -- I’ll be the DP if you wanna direct (not my strong suit). Bring on the haunted Michigan hospitals and homes.

If you were an hour of the day, which hour would you be?

A full hour is too long, I only want about 20 minutes. It’s more special that way. There’s a spark (you can feel it) in moments of change -- day to night, summer to fall, sunshine to thunderstorms. Dusk is living right in that current, those 20 minutes that the sun is down but it’s not yet dark, the world is soft and blue and electric lights glow a specific color of warmth. This is also, not coincidentally, my favorite time to take out my camera, to find the places where warm light meets the cool tones of dusk.

Follow the ms. adventures at @halliekohler and

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