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INSPIRED BY SAINT LUCIA | Scandinavian Christmas is my favorite Christmas


INSPIRED BY SAINT LUCIA | Scandinavian Christmas is my favorite Christmas

I can’t claim any Scandinavian heritage of my own, but that doesn’t stop me from loving so much of the art, culture, design, and history from that part of the globe. Especially at Christmastime! Who doesn’t love a good Scandinavian Christmas? This shoot was inspired by Saint Lucia and the December 13th holiday that honors her. I MAY OR MAY NOT have first learned about this tradition from Kirsten, my Swedish immigrant American Girl Doll. Anyways.

Lucia was a young girl who helped persecuted Christians in Rome around 300 AD. As they hid below in the catacombs of the city, Lucia would secretly bring food for them. She wore candles on her head so that both of her hands would be free to carry as much as she could. Lucia was martyred for her efforts in 304 AD. St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl wearing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head on December 13. This Scandinavian holiday coincides with Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, so her feast day has become a festival of light. 

I put together this Saint Lucia inspired shoot and loved learning all about her story along the way. I loved spending the afternoon with my former bride, Leanna, as my Scandinavian model. When you see artistic depictions of Saint Lucia, you see why Leanna was obviously the model I picked! Another lovely former bride of mine, Jana, lent me her vintage stole for the shoot. The tulle skirt was a originally a wedding dress from a thrift store (my sister and I chopped the top!). I crafted the wreath of candles and I’m actually kinda bummed I didn’t keep it to be a part of my holiday decor.

Happy Saint Lucia's Day! 

INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists
INSPIRED BY THE TETONS | a wind-swept periwinkle bridal wonderland thanks to our gal Faith Hill


INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists


INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists

Are your childhood memories scattered with odd, fragmented pieces of family stories that you've never quite heard in their entirety? You're not even sure it's factual in the slightest? I love those little nugget stories. I love all stories and the main goal of my photography is to preserve stories - those of couples, spouses, families, all of it. So when the idea popped into my head to turn one of my own family's nugget stories into a very loosely based theme for a portrait shoot, it didn't take long to get the ball rolling. I told my sister about the idea, the next day we were thrifting for the outfit and the vintage camera, and the next day we were shooting. In the middle of all that, I finally had the conversation with my mom to confirm whether or not GRANDMA KAISER AND THE NUDISTS actually happened... so here's the story.

MOM: Grandma and Pop Pop didn’t like to drive. Pop Pop would fly, but Grandma didn’t like to fly… so they basically didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t go anywhere growing up… [but] they decided to take us on a family vacation and it was only in Middletown, which was like a 45 minute drive.

EMILY: Like to the beach?

MOM: No, it was in Middletown.. like in the middle of the state. And they had this little family resort there-

EMILY: OOOH. Like in Dirty Dancing.

MOM: Yeah! Yeah.

EMILY: Awesome.

MOM: They had cabins, you know, kinda nice cabins. They had a lake and a pool, and they had a lodge, and it must have been about 1969.

MOM: *Looks directly into my eyes*

MOM: And that was the time of the hippies.



MOM: And they happen to be marching through Middletown when we were there - oh! And it was called “Happy Acres!” You can Google it. That was the name of the resort.

MOM: And so… we were, you know, there, and all of a sudden these hippies came marching down the road and they saw that there was a pond off to the side and they... some of them... took off all their clothes… and jumped in it!

MOM: And Grandma snapped a couple ‘a shots of ‘em.

EMILY: That's a really good story.

EMILY: …what did she do with the pictures?

MOM: She put them in the photo album!

MOM: And you know what too? It was like off in the distance, the people, and you know back then we didn’t have good cameras, you know, so it was like a little fuzzy and uh, the guy was like, you know, he wasn’t like..

EMILY: Up close?

MOM: Yeah, up close.

EMILY: That’s a really good story.

So there it is. As it turns out, that little nugget story from a vague childhood memory was..... actually the entire story. But I love it because it perfectly encapsulates the peculiar Grandma Kaiser that I remember. The main additional detail that really sparked our interest was that "Happy Acres" was akin to "Kellerman's" in Dirty Dancing. Even both in the 60s! My sister and I debated, "So, is Grandma Baby?" "Wait, no, she was the mom. That means OUR MOM was Baby." Omg.

Since our Grandma Kaiser would have been nearly 40 at the time, we decided to knock back her style a decade or so earlier - more alike to the style she would have been partial to from her young adulthood. Though it was made clear that Happy Acres was not a beach resort ("Middletown... like in the middle of the state") we took some artistic liberty there keep the whole scheme with a sepia-esque warmth all over, from the lighting, the sand, to the color palette of the outfit.

And because I have an affinity for any IMDB Trivia page, here's a few random fun facts...

  • We lucked out finding a vintage Baldina camera that aligns with the time era that Grandma Kaiser would have been buying a camera. Baldina is a German camera company and our family history is heavily German. My sister (in this shoot) is named HEIDI for goodness sake and I just got Emily?!
  • The old photos you see scattered through this post are from Grandma Kaiser and Pop Pop's wedding day in 1961. Grandma Kaiser passed away in 2008 and Pop Pop joined her almost exactly 10 years later.
  • My sister was the natural choice for this shoot, especially given the fact that out of the three siblings in our family, she tends to look most like our Kaiser relatives. 
  • And one last shout out to Heidi the German sister model, because as warm and glowy and gold these pictures look, it was SO COLD. The wind on the Long Island Sound in March is not kind. But I can't deny I love the way the wind tousled those grandma curls. Worth. It.
  • I have yet to see the photos that Grandma Kaiser took of the nudists, but somewhere in some box... they exist.


INSPIRED BY THE TETONS | a wind-swept periwinkle bridal wonderland thanks to our gal Faith Hill


INSPIRED BY THE TETONS | a wind-swept periwinkle bridal wonderland thanks to our gal Faith Hill

With big grey storm clouds hovering over the horizon, the Tetons turned to shades of hazy blue and periwinkle. The wind picked up, throwing dust and sagebrush scent through the air. Our periwinkle chiffon dress twisted in the gusty weather and I wish I could say...... YEP. TOTALLY PLANNED IT THIS WAY.

In reality, this should have been a sunrise or sunset shoot. You know, those times of day that photogs love and gush over non-stop when they can't think of any other Instagram captions. It wasn't realistic for us to get out to the Tetons at that time because myself, my sister (pictured here), my dad (our personal location guide and driver who knew the way to all these spots), my husband (reluctant camera bag carrier) drove about two and half hours to get here from our place in Yellowstone AND we had gotten home at nearly midnight the night before from a much anticipated concert in Bozeman, Montana to see Tim McGraw(!!!) and Faith Hill(!!!) perform together. 

That concert was our main event and putting together this Teton shoot was merely an afterthought, to be honest. We planned for literally months in advance to get those tickets and coordinate schedules, all for the sake of surprising our dad with a visit and fulfilling some dreams. (I'll put our video in the bottom!)

But my sister MADE THIS DRESS BY HAND and stuffed it in her luggage so we could do this, too. We had a groggy drive down, she did her makeup in the truck, we got there in the middle of the day (notoriously a terrible time of day for portraits) and the stars aligned with THE most grand, photogenic, epic clouds you could possibly ask for.

I look back at these pictures and think, "We could not have planned this any better" when really the truth is, "We did not really plan this at all and got freaking LUCKY". 

Insert pun about Faith (((Hill))) here. Wink. Praying hands emoji.

And here's that vid! Like I said, planning this Teton inspired shoot and making it happen was amazing. But 'amazing' doesn't even come close to how it felt to TOUCH. FAITH. HILL.

Floral hairpiece designed by Sheer Rose.