Welcome

The boys pooled their money to buy a garage sale motorized ferris wheel, which needed a lot of input from Dad to put together. (Kristen Schmid)

Hello and welcome to my blog. I post updates on my personal and commissioned work, and share links to projects I think are excellent. Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me with questions or comments. – Kristen

Posted in Domestic Life, Father to Son, Fine Art

Back to School for Grownups

The Illinois Center for School Improvement gathered Decatur school system participants to analyze data about the district and decide on the most important findings.

The Illinois Education Association’s Summer Leadership Academy at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill.

Lutheran Day 2014 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Statehouse and The Statehouse Inn in Springfield, Ill., for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois.

Posted in Advocacy, Education, Politics Tagged , , |

Outdoor Family Portrait

Family portrait at Jubilee Farm in New Berlin, Ill.

No family picture, no wedding portrait, daughter leaving for college, everyone on vacation together – this family was ready to be photographed.

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Portrait gallery

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Dinner, An Aerial View

My husband and I provide simultaneous mealtime guidance to our two sons, ages two and five, during dinner. (Kristen Schmid)

One of my main photographic goals is to reexamine things that happen all the time, events that we take for granted. So a few years ago I tried photographing my family at dinner, using a remote switch with a timer to include myself in the photos. I tried from every angle, but wasn’t satisfied with the results. My husband, also a photographer, suggested mounting the camera above the table, an idea that I suspect came from his experience using remotes to photograph basketball. This aerial view of our nighttime meal was used to illustrate a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article about memory and identity.

The photo, as well as several new ones, is in my domestic life collection.

I wrote the essay below during the same time period that I took the dinner photo.

How Dinner Serves

I used to feel embarrassed for making dinner. A smarter woman would figure out how to get it done more efficiently. Chopping broccoli myself, what a chump! A more successful woman would pick up takeout on the way home from her high-powered job.

A better cook would make soup faster.

A better mother would not allow the three-year-old and the 10-month-old to play out of sight while she cooks.

Growing up, I thought the “what’s for dinner” dilemma endlessly dissected in my mom’s magazines would be outmoded by the time I reached my own sophisticated adulthood. I was ambivalent about cooking as a legitimate use of time even then. I actually enjoyed it, and chose cooking as my 4-H project. But when an elderly man told me I would make a great wife someday, I felt all the indignity that a 14-year-old feminist can muster.

When I got married, the inner conflict continued. I liked to cook, but resented the time it took, feeling that each meal delayed my professional advancement.

Now that I am a mother, cooking has taken on new meaning and purpose.  It isn’t just about food anymore. Making dinner is a stabilizing force when my child is in his room for screaming and kicking at me, and I sit dazed in the living room, wondering what to do with him, with my life, with that moment.

There are always things to do, of course. But what can I accomplish while also supervising child no. 2, a small creature with no sense of safety or impulse control? The list of possibilities quickly narrows. I can’t do “real” work. I will make dinner.

It is not easy. The interruptions are relentless. Recipe preparation times do not account for corralling a toddler using his walker to crash open the bathroom door.

Cooking allows a delicate balance of supervision and benign neglect. My sons get independence just shy of anarchy.

When everything is quiet, too quiet, my vivid imagination makes me leave the kitchen and go check on the boys. Once I stopped a diaper box toboggan ride just before it hurtled down our steep wooden stairs. My older son, exasperated, reassured me: “Mom, I’m going to go with him in case he gets hurt!” Another afternoon, though, I rushed in to find him teaching his little brother phonics.

The time and activity required to prepare a meal help me gain perspective. My children are being children, and they are (most likely) not making me crazy on purpose. It is natural to be homesick for my family in California after returning to Illinois in February. Using a recipe to make dinner is reassuring. It has to be done, I know what to do, and if I follow the rules, it will be a success.

Therapeutic benefits aside, the whole dinner-making process is an exercise in futile optimism. I plan, shop, prepare, cut up, serve, pray over and clean up a meal I know full well my kids won’t eat. I do relentless dinner PR, excitedly talking about how delicious the food will be. It does not work.

When my boys were younger, the baby shoveled his food into his mouth with shiny pudgy hands, bellowing when his tray was empty, yelling when he saw my food even as he ate his own. Meanwhile, my older son ate like a rushing Pi Phi, all chatter and no chewing.

Now neither of them eats.

When my older son was four he tried very patiently to explain dinner to me. He stared down at his plate, disappointed once again. Trying to speak slowly and clearly, with a hint of frustration, he listed the things he does like to eat: pancakes, mints, tomatoes NOT the kind that have been in the oven, orange, pear, and on through other fruits and breads. Three days later I was having dinner in a fancy restaurant, and after biting into my giant scallop on a baked tomato, realized he had a point about the tomatoes.

The dinner table atmosphere is its own challenge. One evening with the boys, trying not to be grumpy after wiping up yet another milk spill, I said, “What should we have as our dinner discussion?” The five-year-old: “How bad guys fight.” The two-year-old: “Poo poo butt fight.” They were each delighted with their conversation.

I began playing music CDs during dinner, thinking it would soothe and edify the kids. It was my way of bringing in a missing adult when my husband was gone, or, when I played religious Christmas music in February, of calling for divine assistance. The angelic voices contrasted with the purgatorial sounds of eating alone with two small boys.

At the end of some days all I can say is that I kept the kids alive, and just barely. Making and serving dinner gives me a sense of tangible accomplishment, and ensures that no matter how bad things have been, or how briefly the meal lasts, everything will stop and we will all sit down together.

As an adult, I realized that eating nightly wasn’t becoming obsolete. I thought the only person who had completely evolved away from the dinner problem was Gwyneth Paltrow, and that sometimes even she tossed together some expensive organic macaroni for her beautiful children. Then I found out that she is a fabulous cook with great knife skills, and has published her own cookbook.

Maybe I’m more sophisticated than I thought.

Posted in Domestic Life, Editorial, Image licensing, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , |

Truth and Beauty: Jon Lowenstein

Photographer Jon Lowenstein lives and works on Chicago’s South Side. He chronicles the epidemic of violence in the area, how it impacts people, and how residents and law enforcement personnel respond. He also photographs community gatherings, daily life, gentrifying cityscapes and his neighbors. Lowenstein’s unique way of seeing, and his immersion in his subject matter, give his images the originality of art and the informational content of good journalism. Sometimes the photos are tangled blurs, sometimes isolated elements of a scene. He uses a large format Polaroid camera, which makes the photos look distinct, and allows him to immediately share prints with people. He talks unabashedly about trying to make the world a better place. PBS NewsHour interview

Lowenstein’s Chicago project is over a decade old. Like many people, I follow it on Instagram. I enjoy seeing not only the images, but also the dialogue between Lowenstein and his audience. People appreciate his work, and also ask hard questions about it, which he answers.

I respect Lowenstein’s willingness to be accountable for his images. I think that his collaborative approach, in addition to his long-term presence in the South Side community, creates an authenticity and an intimacy that makes his work stand out. This style of working carries over to other places. Lowenstein’s Instagram images from Ferguson feel close and personal, with layers of symbolic meaning. His photograph of a man carrying a baby into Michael Brown’s funeral, white shirt contrasting with a row of black suits, hit me in the gut, making me think of the mother who lost her baby. Back in Chicago, he photographed a sign that said “Change will come when WE go get it” after a nine-year-old boy was shot, and then fans celebrating with the U.S. Little League Championship team, Jackie Robinson West.

But the best work I’ve seen in recent memory, by Lowenstein or anyone else, is his short film “A Violent Thread,” about the impact of social violence on his adopted home. It has all the successful elements present in his still photography — meaning, relevance, freshness, beauty — but with a special addition: South Side residents’ voices. Hearing a little boy describe what shots fired sound like, a young man recall his violent upbringing, a mother tell how scared neighbors claimed not to know anything about her murdered son, another mother express her frustration at not being able to walk down the street in the community she loves, “we drive everywhere,” and an elderly woman explain how she accidentally “tagged” a neighborhood miscreant, will stay with me a long time. Lowenstein has received many grants, and I hope he continues to do so.

New Yorker article and historic photos

Education Week

Posted in Photo community, Truth and Beauty Tagged , , , , , |

Corporate Portraits

Very few of us enjoy having our picture taken. But inevitably we need an official photograph for an office wall, website or publication, and it’s nice to have a picture that you actually like.

For years I’ve tested portrait lighting on myself. I discovered that the pose that feels most comfortable to the person being photographed isn’t always the best choice. My default was standing slumped and not making eye contact. That didn’t make for a great photo. I learned that I needed to push myself a bit, to adopt a more open and confident stance. I explained this to a female doctor I was photographing, and she instantly knew what I meant. She told me she has to be a bit more assertive and confident with her patients than feels natural, in order to have the authority necessary to give them medical care. When I photographed a female attorney, she carefully calibrated her smile so that she would look approachable to prospective clients, yet still formidable to the opposition. Some people have a favorite side; some people are worried about missing hair or extra pounds. (Free advice: turn your head so that one ear is visible and not the other.) We all want to look like the best versions of ourselves.

These portraits are from some recent work that I did for the Illinois Center for School Improvement.

 Portrait Gallery

Posted in Business, Corporate, Education, Portraits Tagged , , |

Lake Springfield Events, One Week Apart

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Two family gatherings in June, one with golden light and fancy clothes, one with rainstorms and green t-shirts. Wedding guests watched the sun setting on Lake Springfield. The family reunion relocated to a hotel breakfast room. Both parties had food, drinks, cute babies and funny stories. A good time was had by all.

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Posted in Portraits Tagged , , , , , , |

Custom Publishing Portraits

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Optometrist
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“You should go inside sooner than later.” I knew that this text was my low-key husband’s way of saying that a big storm was headed my way, without trying to alarm me. I was already packing up from photographing optometrist Angela Johnson at Washington Park in Springfield, Ill., for Focus magazine. Part of the fun of photographing Dr. Johnson, who wasn’t fazed by the increasing wind and darkening skies, was learning about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into her job, and how the field is changing. McMurry/TMG is the custom publisher for the American Optometric Association’s new monthly.

Portraits gallery

Posted in Editorial, Health, Portraits

Living the Dream: Mom POV

A self-portrait of me in the kitchen just before I leave to get my two sons from school. My husband frequently works a late shift, meaning that I am on my own with the boys. (Kristen Schmid)

A self-portrait of me in the kitchen just before I leave to get my two sons from school. My husband frequently works second shift, meaning that I am on my own with the boys.

 

I was always a middle-aged Midwestern mom with glasses, I’ve just grown into it.

When I was a college senior, in the middle of studying for finals I suddenly pictured myself in front of a kitchen window, making lunch for my kids. At the time I didn’t have kids or kitchen. The image was vivid, unexpected, and then forgotten, until recently. During a Skype interview with a current college senior, I noticed my kitchen. The cabinets are white and not brown, and the light isn’t golden, but otherwise the scene is what I saw in my head twenty years ago.

Once I switch into parenting mode it is a full-court press until bedtime. Here my older son is getting a snack and I am telling him to get down from the counter. (Kristen Schmid)

Once I switch into parenting mode it is a full-court press until bedtime. Here my older son is getting a snack and I am telling him to get down from the counter.

 

My younger son stands on a kitchen stool, threatening to turn off the microwave timer because he doesn't want to have a time-out. (Kristen Schmid)

My younger son stands on a kitchen stool, threatening to turn off the microwave timer because he doesn’t want to have a time-out.

 

I like the idea of saying yes to requests and creative ideas, and sometimes regret my optimistic idealism. The boys floating a Lego creation in the bathroom sink while I made dinner led to maniacal laughter, screaming and water on the walls. (Kristen Schmid)

I like the idea of saying yes to requests and creative ideas, and sometimes regret my optimistic idealism. The boys floating a Lego creation in the bathroom sink while I made dinner led to maniacal laughter, screaming and water on the walls. 

When I am alone with the boys it is hard to have the fun of silly moments without things escalating out of control. Here my older son wears underwear on his head to the dinner table. (Kristen Schmid)

When I am alone with the boys it is hard to have the fun of silly moments without things escalating out of control. Here my older son wears underwear on his head to the dinner table.

 

Every now and then I have a good idea that works, that is repeatable and popular with both parents and kids. Goodnight rituals from the hallway may be my only idea that fits all those criteria. I thought of doing a prayer and lullaby for both boys at once when they were younger, and it was harder to do the bedtime routine by myself. They thought it was fun. I am a terrible singer, but I remember how much I loved my mom singing to me. She made up lyrics to the tune of Brahms’ lullaby. My younger son will protest if I sing the wrong words, even though technically there are no right ones. I wanted to photograph this scene again, but now my older son has moved his bed and is staying up later to read on his own, so this ritual may have ended without my realizing it. (Kristen Schmid)

Every now and then I have a good idea that works, that is repeatable and popular with both parents and our kids. Goodnight rituals from the hallway may be my only idea that fits all those criteria. I thought of doing a prayer and lullaby for both boys at once when they were younger, and it was harder to do the bedtime routine by myself. They thought it was fun. I am a terrible singer, but I remember how much I loved my mom singing to me. She made up lyrics to the tune of Brahms’ lullaby. My younger son will protest if I sing the wrong words, even though technically there are no right ones. I wanted to photograph this scene again, but now my older son has moved his bed and is staying up later to read on his own, so this ritual may have ended without my realizing it.

 

I didn't call my husband at work for help at home in almost eight years, and then I had to call twice in one week. He took this picture. (Kristen Schmid)

I didn’t call my husband at work for help at home in almost eight years, and then I had to call twice in one week. He took this picture.

 

These recent photos, including some created while the camera was mounted on a tripod and fired wirelessly, can be seen in the Mom POV gallery.

 

 

Posted in Domestic Life, Portraits, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Truth and Beauty: Ruthann Mazrim

Last summer my younger son and I went for locust walks in the morning. He stored the crunchy brown shells in his hands, his pockets, in Lego boxes and in Tupperware containers. He brought them home and counted the growing pile. He perched one on his ear to be funny like his dad. We saw locusts flying, shedding, walking and being eaten by a roly poly. The insect bodies were hideously gorgeous, but their wings were pure delicate beauty.

We weren’t the only ones who noticed. Springfield, Ill., artist Ruthann Mazrim thought they were beautiful too. Her locust wing collection sparked an amazing body of mixed media work now on display at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery at the Hoogland Center in Springfield. Mazrim is inspired by Victorian botanical collections. She combines text, plant and animal matter, fiber and pigment to create original pieces that are visually interesting, thought provoking and well crafted.

I went to the artist talk at the show’s opening. Mazrim is an elegant woman who speaks in casual, unassuming terms about her work. She said that her hands couldn’t do the fabric art they once did, and that she no longer works several hours a day. I am inspired by the high caliber of her art and by her creative response to her circumstances.

Mazrim is doing a demonstration of her process at 6pm on June 6 at the gallery. Her work, as well as jewelry from Barb Maddox and photography from Rebecca Dupont, can be seen through June 19.

Prairie Art blog interview with Mazrim

SElocusts

Posted in Domestic Life, Fine Art, Truth and Beauty, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , , |

Ounce of Prevention Fund Early Childhood Advocacy Day

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When I photographed The Ounce’s lobby day at the Illinois Statehouse, one of the advocates asked me to photograph the letter he was carrying (top photo): “Dear Legislator, I’m a 7 years old girl, who attended ECDEC Programs and i would like to thanks this program, because it help me to developed a good habit Of reading and it really help me in my learning at early age. So I’ll ask for your support of this program, today and always. Your Friend, ARIANNA ROSALES MENDEZ

I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet the letter writer, but I’m glad for the chance to publicize her writing. I love that she signed her name in all caps.

Posted in Advocacy, Education, Politics Tagged , , |

The Paper Boutique

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It is nice to spend time with beautifully made work. Corynn Good, owner of The Paper Boutique in Springfield, Ill., creates a variety of custom invitations and other printed items.

Contact me to discuss how photography can help personalize your business.

 

Posted in Business Tagged , |

INCS Lobby Day and big group portraits

INCS lobby day at the Statehouse in Springfield, Ill., April 8, 20142014INCSlobbyday-001 2014INCSlobbyday-002 2014INCSlobbyday-003 2014INCSlobbyday-004

I thought that 1500 people in a group portrait was a lot when I photographed the Illinois Network of Charter Schools’ lobby day at the statehouse in Springfield earlier this month. Then I saw Gregory Heisler’s “Boston Strong” Sports Illustrated cover with 3000 people. I was especially impressed by the way Heisler tried to put the entire crowd at ease. Maybe next time I’ll use a lift, a megaphone and a red coat.

More photos of lobby day

Sports Illustrated’s behind-the-scenes look at Heisler’s portrait, including a video of how the photo was made

Esquire interview with Heisler about the photo and his approach to portraits

 

Posted in Advocacy, Education, Politics, Portraits Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

UIS professor portrait for The Chronicle of Higher Education

Dr. Lynn Fisher, associate professor of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Illinois Springfield, is concerned about how she and other public university faculty will pay for retirement. Kristen Schmid for the Chronicle (Kristen Schmid)Dr. Lynn Fisher, associate professor of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Illinois Springfield, is concerned about how she and other public university faculty will pay for retirement. Kristen Schmid for the Chronicle (Kristen Schmid)

Professional success doesn’t guarantee financial security. Dr. Lynn Fisher, associate professor of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Illinois Springfield, is concerned about how she and other public university faculty will pay for retirement. I photographed Fisher, who is also chair of the UIS Campus Senate, for an article on associate professor pay in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Posted in Editorial, Education, Portraits Tagged , , , , , |

“Flying Objects” and a surefire interview question

Both of my sons, then ages two and five, stop mid-hike to dig in the dirt at Lincoln Memorial Gardens in Springfield, Ill. (Kristen Schmid)My sons, ages five and two, explore Lake Springfield near Lincoln Memorial Garden. (Kristen Schmid)My older son, then five, helps his younger brother, then two, out to the edge of Lake Springfield in Illinois. (Kristen Schmid / Millennium Images UK)

“What did you think this was going to be like before you started, and then what was it really like?” is Noah Adams’ fallback interview question, according to “This American Life’s” comic book “How to Make Radio.” The question is supposed to evoke two stories and a lesson. In re-reading the essay below, I realized that this rule held true for me. “Flying Objects” is about wanting to be a mom, and what it is actually like to be a mom.

Now my babies are growing up. My freelance photography business is ten years old, and both of my sons will be in school in the fall.

Flying Objects

In 2002, I photographed a mother and son decorating a pumpkin at a local fall festival. For the first time, I wanted to be the mom instead of the journalist. Six years later, I got my chance.

It was sweatier and more stressful than I imagined.

When my then two-year-old son and I arrived at the festival, I immediately had to visit the port-a-potty since I was pregnant with his little brother. I narrowly kept him from opening the door and exiting. After that I thought I could relax. I took him to the hiking trails, envisioning us happily walking through nature.

I failed to account for the cigarette butt can, the busy road, the machinery shed, the steep embankment, and the possible poison oak, all more attractive than the open grassy areas. There were three paths in the forest, but none were less traveled enough for my son. He repeatedly tried to run off course down to the rocky stream, with me in literal hot pursuit.

This anecdote should end with some morsels of parenting redemption, a few cute moments in the “and that made it all worthwhile vein” — maybe the skinny spider we watched, or the fighting squirrels, or the joy of sharing the woods’ cool peace with my son. Those things all happened. But after our outing he refused to nap. He yelled from his room, in bed early for beaning me with his shoe as I drove.

What I didn’t know before I became a parent is how badly things could go, and how often.

I’m still glad we went.

I’m still glad I’m a mom.

Now that my second son is two, I realize that my older son was just being a toddler. And that some kids are easier than others. Because three and a half years later, at the same location, the struggle was still with him, and not his little brother.

It should have been fun: a pancake breakfast, a walk in the woods. I expected smiles and exuberance from my energetic boys. Instead, while his little brother happily trotted along a mulch path, my older son threw himself down with sad fury, throwing an extended red-faced screaming tantrum because he inexplicably wanted to go home.

After some time, we managed to move forward, and both boys ran gleefully along the trails. The morning was magical, even better than I hoped. The air was fresh and cool, the sky and lake a beautiful misty gray. The combination of rocks, sticks and water thrilled the boys.

At one point my older son asked me to carry his sweatshirt, and I told him to tie it around his waist. He looked at me very directly and I took a photograph, later wondering if his expression was irritation with me for not doing as he asked.

Reality started to creep back in on the drive home. He threw a peanut at my head from the back seat.

By the end of the day, fatigue replaced my morning confidence. My younger son gleefully hit me in the face with a flashlight as I read a story. That’s when my focus shifted to How Many More Minutes Before Daddy Comes Home. Tears and chaos double every 20 minutes after 5pm, like food poisoning bacteria.

Sometimes kids’ bad behavior is just something to be endured, dealt with, and forgotten, like the exuberant flashlight whack. Sometimes there is more to it. Later that week I found out what my older son already knew. Things were going badly at school, and had been for some time. I saw new meaning behind his strange tantrum, and his facial expression in my photograph.

The incident reminded me of my 19th birthday. I went out to dinner with my parents. We went to my favorite restaurant. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t fun, why no one was laughing, why everyone seemed quiet. Soon after, they separated.

When I met with my son’s teacher, it was the first time I realized that I didn’t know everything about his world. Before he attended school, he had his private imagination, but now real things were happening, with real people, and I wasn’t there.

As a parent I am forced to realize, again and again, how little real control I have over the choices of another person.

As an almost-forty-year-old, I have to concede that careful planning and sheer force of will are not enough to control my future. I expected to have a husband with thighs bigger than mine, a life in San Francisco and children whose perfect behavior testified to my superior parenting. I am married to a thin man in the Midwest, raising boys that one grandma calls “pistols” and the other grandma calls “busy.”

Even when you get what you want, it is different than you expect. I thought parenting would be about physical and emotional caretaking. I pictured giving baths, making meals, reading stories and helping with homework. I discovered that it was also about dealing with the complex thoughts and feelings of people different from me. My sons are young children and I have authority over them, but they are also unique individuals, complete people in their own right.

The reality of being a mother is so much harder, and so much better, than I imagined. The blows to the head, literal and metaphorical, can’t erase the beauty, or the memory, of two boys running for sheer joy, delighting in being outside, and in being brothers.

Galleries where photos above appear: The Bubble, Domestic Life: Portrait collection and Brothers collection

This American Life/ Make Radio

Posted in Domestic Life, Portraits, The Bubble, Words and Pictures Tagged , , , , , , , |

Truth and Beauty: Matthew Avignone

Sometimes it seems like photographs are either cats or dogs. The first are smart, slick, cold and sometimes mean. The second are warm, kind, simple and less cerebral. As a photographer I hope for the best of both worlds – intelligence and complexity but with love and empathy.

I think that Matthew Avignone does this difficult balancing act well in his project “Stranger than Family.” His images of his family have an art photography aesthetic. They are not condescending or sentimental but truthful and loving. The quiet pictures show regular family moments, which is a statement in and of itself, because Avignone’s parents adopted him and his four siblings from India and South Korea. There is something very powerful about the way Avignone shows these former strangers as a typical family: “Nick After Shower,” “Dad and the Boys” and my favorite, “Mom, Aldi ($67.58).” As a photographer what you choose to place in the frame and make important says a lot about what you value and who you are. I love that Avignone made a 24” x 24” print of an image of his mother after a shopping trip to the discount grocery store Aldi. Standing in the parking lot with her hair windblown, toilet paper in the bottom of the cart, she is an ordinary hero seen through the perceptive eyes of a loving son.

“Stranger than Family” on Avignone’s website and as part of the Catherine Edelman Gallery’s Chicago Project

 

Posted in Truth and Beauty