Across the Threshold

Those gorgeous, lovely locks… gone. Originally I told her she couldn’t cut her hair until the end. Cadence Ashley is a namesake from my dear friend Ashley McCaleb who passed away from a rare cancer weeks before I found out I was expecting her. She donated it to Locks of Love in her memory. Some sacrifices are necessary. The past few months have seen so much dramatic chaos in my life, and I think that’s how I know my heart is really in this project. Over the last few months I have found my little muse, the heart of this project and my life humming quietly, crafting and doodling and putting little pieces of her soul into this as much as my own. We’re making as many memories as we are props these days.


Deployed husband, 2 kids, unexpected surgery; and both of them home with a stomach bug the day after surgery. Being married to a soldier has taught me to be a warrior.


So as Michael is serving in Afghanistan, I’m leaving the hospital, and recovering from surgery at home, my sister in law is heading into the hospital to add one more to our family.


This year has been one for major changes. I have always been a hopeless romantic, but no one can hold their children on the day of their birth and not believe in love at first sight. This is my new Nephew Alexander and I am in love.


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It was meant to be April before Michael returned to us. I was overjoyed when I learned he’d make it home in time for Christmas, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present for my family. I love the idea of surprises, but I’m the girl that goes shopping on December 23rd otherwise I’ll give you your presents early. So it was both ecstasy and agony keeping this secret for weeks from them. They look properly bored for a 9 and 7 year old sitting in the airport waiting for me to pick up a client.


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I get a lot of compliments on my strength or courage as a soldier’s wife, in truth there is nothing special about me that makes me able to endure, I simply have something that is worth the wait. Every time. Experiencing, witnessing this moment, watching my children and the indescribable joy that erupted onto their faces when they saw their daddy, and his very manly soldier tears that might have welled up momentarily… it was quite simply: Worth the wait.


For 232 days our children faithfully wrote their daddy a letter every night while he was deployed in Afghanistan. Many of you followed us in this journey. So when they got him back they wrote a final letter to thank all of you for the love and support.


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When I first bought my camera I sat in on a class by one of my most revered mentors still, to this day: Dane Sanders. When I bought his book he inscribed it “Lead Us” and it filled me with a desire to rise to that call… This year he invited me to a private retreat in Maine and I bought his second book and told him that for the first 5 years his inscription had been my personal mantra and had seen me through to where I was now, so the second one had to be just as good. He took a moment handed it back to me and with a proud grin said “It’s good” and he was right.


It’s an amazing thing how some people have the ability to tell us what we need to hear when we need to hear it. How easy it is for me to cheer others on, to push them, plead and demand they follow their passion and to rest assured that will lead them to their purpose, and yet how timid I become in finding the courage to do the same. This year I had a conversation in a group where I was sharing information on how I ran my wedding business… I don’t do it anymore I figure anything I learned might at least be of use to others; and was told in no uncertain terms that I was obviously a liar because no one making $10000-120000 a wedding would just set them aside. In truth it was an immensely difficult decision, that’s a lot of income for us. Time is a more valuable currency for me though. I am already a third if not half way through my time here, and money will not create a legacy for me, I want to leave something behind that was worthy of my time. I spent a lot of time on that trip talking Dane’s ear off about what I want to do, and how I honestly have no idea if the Reliquarian will become something financially successful, it certainly won’t be easy, and how as a parent, adult, teacher and mentor now myself that perhaps I should focus on “responsible choices” Perhaps I was negating my own expertise as an educator if I walked away from a very financially successful business for no reason other than I want to create something that I love.
He handed me his book and inside was simply: “Jess! Be you. And don’t apologize for it.”


Coming home from Maine I wanted to write… after all this project is about the marrying of two sides of myself, that of the writer and that of the visual artist. I can not accurately convey how important it is that you find your people, your tribe. For me one of the most important members is Remy, who incidentally is playing a character called Deception in this series. She reads what I write, she helps design props and wardrobe, she models, and she is one of my dearest friends. Being around my people like her inspires and motivates me.


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I believe very strongly in soul mates, but not in the sense that each person has another counterpart that they are destined to be with and no other. I think they are friends, they are family, they are lovers, they are a stranger we pass one day on the street and have a conversation that changes our perspective. They come into our lives when we need to change pace, change our minds, change our direction, change our perceptions, change our hearts. Once upon a time when I was a child I fell in love with this very charming boy and he taught me an awful lot about what it means to love and be loved. We parted ways and my way went far, away to school, away towards my career, and marriage and family, and 16 years passed between us without running into each other or sharing a word, and then one day he came across this 150 year old book and antique skeleton key I had given him when we were kids and reached out to me… while I’m taking on the biggest project of my life that centers heavily around books and keys, and while I’m struggling to find my footing with this project and the courage to pursue it. Coincidence?
The mark of kindred spirits: When the paths again converge it’s as if you haven’t missed a day. That’s exactly what this was, we simply picked up as if we had seen each other a week before rather than 16 years ago. Life gives you who you need when you need them I guess.


I am either apathetic or obsessive. Everything I do, is done with incredible passion. So when I chewed Matt’s ear off about the Reliquarian, He thought I should know of this museum and castle I’d yet to see.


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My soul was born in a library, and it would be quite content to sit among old books eternally and reside within their stories and pages. There is also an incredible library in the Reliquarian and a Librarian named Elegy that I have been focused on lately so this excursion could not have come at a better time. Aside from the correlation to the Reliquarian, quite simply where others might prefer flowers and jewelry, or to be taken away to a resort, I am quite content to meander through stacks of books, particularly enticed by the perfume of old parchment, I am romanced by words especially when steeped in Nostalgia.


Rune is another character that has yet to make an appearance, in honesty I have yet to cast her… want the role? I think creating characters is like forming friendships with anyone else, you have to get to know them, introduce yourself to them and let them become someone you are familiar with, and I was not yet intimately connected to her. The library of books, some 300 years old was housed in a castle owned by a tile artist, who placed in the pillars some of the oldest “Books” known, with runes etched into tiles they were more bookkeeping notes, a sort of IOU to the people. While I wouldn’t include receipts in my usual list of things to be enamored with it was a stunning realization to stand face to face with words written thousands of years ago, and I think in truth my hope for all of this is to create something with equal potential to last beyond me and speak to the minds of people I will never have the privilege of meeting.


I can not adequately express the excruciating agony of being in the presence of these beautifully bound books, some so old they were hand written and being unable to touch them. We write because we have untold stories within us, we write because we have something to say, we write because we have no choice, were we to not write every unshared word would claw its way through our skin until it burst out from within us and found its place in the world. With years, decades, and centuries passing as with all things books age, and become frail, but I can’t help but think their purpose is to be read, were I a book, I’d rather you tear my pages accidentally than never know my words.


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In later years I am grateful to come from a broken home, where I felt unloved and unwanted I learned now as a mother to never cause that sense of self doubt in my own children. Even as a child though what was perceived as a hardship was in actuality a blessing. When I was 5 Nicholas Bucci came into my life and I think I fell more in love with him than my mother did.


From childhood I was surrounded with old and interesting things. He loves the story of everything, the history, the nostalgia and he taught me the importance of knowing them. I would spend hours in his shop while he repaired antiques, and listen to everyone chide him for all the “junk” he collected. He collects lost things, abandoned things, forgotten things, and he has made amazing, beautiful things from them. The epitome of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure we would literally drive around on pick up day and rescue things before they were sacrificed to the landfills. I think most of my ability to “see” comes from this upbringing… and it causes just as much frustration to those around me as it does to his loved ones. And yet, in equal measure people are amazed watching the little things I set aside and how they become the beautiful art pieces that props like the door have become… I have inherited from him the ability to be an oracle of the ordinary, to see what is unseen by everyone else… it’s a rare gift I’ve found, and one that his teaching has made my life so much more full of beauty and wonder as a result of. Once while at a lecture of his someone asked me to describe my father in 2 words, I replied “Charmingly Eccentric”


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My husband is not a reader, I often tease that the Reliquarian is meant to be a picture book so he’ll actually look at it. I introduced him to Paulo Coelho and while he was deployed he read The Alchemist. When he sent it home to me I found this inscribed on the inside cover. If nothing else I genuinely believe that: More than talent, more than resources, more than skill, more than tools, success comes from courage to pursue what you want, and for me having him support and encourage me has always made me brave. It was something in short supply as a child, and as a result I am grateful that I know to never take it for granted.


Not that I am at all biased but seriously… how cute is my girl!? She was quite amused by the concept of hair extensions to fake her gorgeous now gone locks that she had in the previous images.


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Off to WPPI to teach a masterclass and speak at Ignite and of course the week I’m gone the kids get 3 snow days… perfect for shooting, cling to the branches, light fluffy snow. I did 9 presentations over the 4 days I was there and between that, jet lag, and a red eye flight that left at midnight and landed at 8 am I was completely exhausted. I was also utterly despondent watching the beautiful snow and ice laden trees shed their white frocks as we drove home, knowing it would be lost by the end of the day in the sun’s warmth and I desperately needed to reshoot her in the right dress in the snow.


I lamented to Sarah Jane, making excuses about how the snow had already fallen from the trees, how exhausted I was, how it wouldn’t work today anyway; and like the excellent friend that she is she said ok, and then showed up anyway to do Cadence’s makeup and force me to do it. You need people like that in your life, that know when to baby and sympathize with you, and when to push you. Sarah Jane is definitely one of those people that knows exactly what I need and when… With all the amazing benefit she has been as a partner in the studio on creating astounding images together, she’s been even more valued the last few years as one of my dearest friends. I am constantly humbled by the woman she is.


I loved the images from the First Failures, but they were deemed plain, and ended up being in the wrong dress. As with all projects I was overzealous in the beginning. I waited an entire year to reshoot the series which made me painfully aware how much Cadence had grown in less than a year’s time. I felt the sting of time’s quickening pace, this September I’ll have been a mother for a decade… when the same amount of time passes even more fleetingly I will have a 20 year old for a daughter… ten years younger than I am currently… What a strange relativity.


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I’ve been working for months on different props and wardrobe pieces. From the fruit of the Tree of Souls, to Elegy’s dress of books, and looking at the images after the session and comparing them it brought into very clear focus that the shots would need to be done out of sequence and with priority given to the images that Cadence’s character resides in. If this becomes a several year project as it is shaping into already, the difference of most of the models in their 20s-50s will be minuscule in comparison to how different Cadence will appear if she begins at 9 and ends at 14. So as I consistently find, the “failures” were simply a much needed shift in perspective towards the overall success.


I have no words, being a mother for how much everything in my perspective has changed. What is important, how I see things, where my focus is. She’s so beautiful and smart, and creative, and I’m humbled when people tell me the apple didn’t bother to fall off the tree, and how she is a miniature version of me, because she is the most beautiful little soul I’ve ever encountered. Of all my artistry, the most beautiful, important things I’ve ever created are her and Steven.


This year the most wonderful family helped care for the grounds while Michael was deployed, and beyond taking care of the lawn they tore out all the poison ivy and brush that plagued the banks the last 4 years… my beautiful, lovely, overgrown brush and poisonous plants that made the whole scene so forest-y… I didn’t miss it at all until I realized it was what was missing from the foreground when I got back to my office to look at the images. In the end I was grateful for keeping the original session and ended up compositing in elements of the previous year’s foliage with the current session. We’ll consider it ominous foreshadowing that poison soon falls into play against our young heroine.




It isn’t an easy thing: Creating a World. Steven told me once I was like a magician, because I create things that don’t exist. The truth is I create the world I wish I lived in, I’ve always been that way, through words, through painting, through photography. I design a world I want to live in lest I perish in someone else’s idea of what my reality should be. I find myself immersed in everything from the theory of relativity, to ancient mythology, to the history of writing, to how to create wooden gears. My pinterest boards are beyond ridiculous, I have an 8′ white board in my office that looks like it’s written in code, and sketch books abound. My studio has been overrun with props and dress forms donning half completed gowns, and in the midst of all the chaos that is a year in and yet still the beginning of the Reliquarian, on the outskirts of my periphery is the reminder that I still am a newly reunited wife, a mother of young children, a master artist in the Arcanum with 45 apprentices now hailing from 17 different countries, and a full studio owner… The amount of time it will take me to accomplish this… well, honestly it will pass whether I do it or not, so I might as well work towards it. So here we are at our second attempt of this image… to be fair it is a supporting role image, there isn’t much magic to it because it actually is meant to simply be a little girl wandering in the woods, but I still very much wanted it to be the kind of snowy woods you would find in a fairytale, where you expect magical things to happen… I’m still not sure if I accomplished it, but I do think it’s much closer than the original, and I also think that a lot of the majesty of it is lost in translation with digital and resizing, this one will look beautiful as a print when you can appreciate the detail of it.



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