Happy Memorial Day!

May 28, 2012

I’d like to take a quick moment to wish everyone a Happy Memorial Day. I spent last night at a cookout at the house of one of my good friends, Brian – a Marine I met while studying abroad in Argentina.  A house full of Marines and their families – talk about a perfect way to remind yourself what Memorial Day is all about.

For my senior thesis, I had the pleasure of spending a year following the lives of the Cashion Family. Joe Cashion is a Sergeant in the Army and volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. I followed the family before, during and after Joe’s deployment. I learned so much from them and will always treasure the way they opened their lives to me.

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to re-post the multimedia project I created.

When I first came across the Lexicon of Sustainability project, my first thought was “Damn this is so cool! I wish I had thought of this!”. This project combines some of my biggest passions in life: photography, travel and food. I love that the photographers are using their skills to educate themselves and the public on the complicated terms used in the modern food system. I agree with their philosophy that “people can’t be expected to live more sustainable lives if they don’t even know the most basic terms and principles that define sustainability”. More information is never, ever a bad thing – although you can choose to ignore it at times (like when a funnel cake at the State Fair seems like the best idea in the world). Access to education, learning, knowledge is how change and improvement are born and I love that these photographers have found a creative way to do that.

My lovely little herb garden, on a bookcase in my apartment.

This is a subject that I have become more and more passionate about over that last few years. In many ways, it feels very natural. As a Midwestern girl, I come from a long line of farmers and “sustainable”, “local”, “real” foods are what my grandparents (and parents) grew up eating. They just called it “dinner” or “food”. I grew up eating from gardens and homemade canned items – not because of a “food philosophy” but because my brothers and I thought it was pretty cool that you could plant a carrot seed and a few months later have a carrot (and because my grandmothers lovingly kept our pantry full of home-canned tomatoes,  yummm).

The point of these ramblings are to say that I think the Lexicon of Sustainability is a wonderful project. I love that they’re educating the public. I love that they’re supporting small farmers. And I love that they’re using their photography to improve the world (in their own way).

Below are a couple videos from the Lexicon of Sustainability project. Enjoy.

What do you think of the project? What words would you like to see added?

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If you’re interested in learning more, these are a few of my favorite blogs*:

100 Days of Real Foods

Take Part – Food Blog

Deliciously Organic

Poor Girl Eats Well

Food Babe

*To be clear, I didn’t write these blogs so I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of the content. But, I think they’re all doing good things by encouraging people to know where their food comes from.

Some of you may have wondered what happened to me after my Argentina Adventures. Well, I cried a few days over Malbec and Tango withdrawal, then I spent a couple of months of quality time with my family in Ohio (which was pretty great). And this past December, I packed my things and moved to Charleston, South Carolina to start my life in the “real world”.

For the past couple of years, I’ve worked as an intern with Microburst Learning, an e-learning company based in South Carolina, and after my graduation in December, I started with them as a full-time employee. My job duties have increased in both quantity and responsibility level and I’ve spent the past five months adjusting to those changes.

So far, I love living in Charleston (who wouldn’t?!) and I have really enjoyed the new challenges my new role has offered me. When I’m not traveling to film, I work from home – which is pretty freakin’ awesome, but it also means that I don’t spend a lot of time with my fellow employees. A few months ago, I decided I wanted to organize an event that the whole Microburst team could do together. Which brings me to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

One-half of Team Microburst Learning (we split into two groups for the walk) with our fabulous sand castle.

My mom is a nurse and has worked with Cystic Fibrosis patients throughout her career. We also have a family history of the disease so my brothers and I grew up with a broad understanding of CF. And, I remember going to functions and camps run by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as a child. So, when I was looking for a group to volunteer with when I moved to Charleston, the CF Foundation came to mind.

Every year CFF does a walk called Great Strides to raise money for CF research. Luckily, I convinced my coworkers to start a corporate team with me and we just participated in the walk a week ago. So far, our team has raised $1000! And, just as importantly, we had an awesome time at the walk!

Enjoying some downtown with the daughters of two of my co-workers.

We opted to participate in the “Challenge” Course which involved ten challenges such as sand darts, charades and sand castle building. All the activities were really fun and I’m proud to say that our team WON the Challenge Course!

Team Microburst Learning working tirelessly on our sand castle. Doing this challenge with so many creative people was a lot of fun!

The husbands of two of my co-workers enthusiastically accept our Challenge Course award.

We topped off the day with some good ol’ Southern BBQ and ice cream. Yum, yum!

Moving forward, I plan to continue working with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (we’re in the middle of planning a bike race!). Have you been to any fun charity events lately?

The below photo is one of my journal two months ago. I believe I was feeling frustrated after yet another cold shower (due to a broken gas line that stayed broken for quite awhile) and felt the need to vent.  Looking at this entry inspired me to write about what I will miss when I leave Buenos Aires this Saturday night. While I still stick with the statement that I will miss “everything,” I’ll try to be a bit more specific here.

1. My host family.

Not only will I miss the perks, like a home cooked dinner every night or a maid to clean my room once a week, but I’ll miss the extended family I’ve gained. Carmen always made me feel so welcome and included on any family activities.  As a result, I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with her brother and his family as well as both of her sons. Living with a host family was the thing I was most nervous about but it turned out to be a very positive experience and I feel extremely lucky to have been placed in this house.

My roommate, Stephanie, my host brother, Nico and I.

My host mom, Carmen, and I at the Teatro Colon.

2. My new friends.

I’ve met some incredible people here from all walks of life and it will be hard to say goodbye to them.  When I moved from Ohio to South Carolina for college, I met many people from various backgrounds and with viewpoints different than my own.  That was at times challenging but also very rewarding.  Coming to Buenos Aires, I had a similar experience but with even newer backgrounds and viewpoints. Knowing and loving friends with different ways of seeing the world is always a positive experience and I will miss the strange cast of characters that have become my friends here.

With my friends Kehala and Phoebe in Mendoza.

The ASA (my program) gang.

3. The ice cream.

Really, it’s indescribable. A creamy, gelato-esqe texture, but rich like ice cream. Just one more cone!

My friend Kehala and I enjoying some yummy Chocolate Mousse ice cream.

4. Spanish.

It sounds obvious, but I will really miss having constant opportunities to work on my Spanish skills. I love walking outside and being surrounded by Spanish (something that was a bit terrifying when I first arrived). I love the way Argentines speak Spanish. They speak with so much passion and exaggeration that it’s almost theatrical.

Answering trivia questions (in Spanish) during my first month here.

5. Traveling.

One thing this experience has taught me is that traveling is not nearly as hard as we pretend it is. There were multiple times here that I decided to take a weekend trip somewhere and simply went. It didn’t take months of planning, it often didn’t take a lot of money. I will miss that spontaneous thinking, but I hope I can bring it back with me. There are so many places to see in the U.S., why not go for a weekend?

Biking in Northern Argentina.

A Year of Changes

April 21, 2011

This past Tuesday I defended my thesis for the University of South Carolina Honors College.  I’ve worked on this project for over a year now and I feel both sad and incredibly accomplished to see it finally complete.  Although, as my director Denise McGill wisely said, “Photo projects are never truly complete, just abandoned upon deadline”.  That pretty much sums up how I feel about this project.  It feels complete, yet there are many things I would love to go back and re-shoot or explore further.  But, I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come in the past year and incredibly grateful to the Cashion family for letting me into their lives.

Below is the gist of what I presented on Tuesday.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me or post a comment below.

"When Emilee ran up to me in the airport, I thought 'Wow, she has gotten bigger'. I wasn’t gone that long, it was only about six months that I was away from the house," Joe Cashion said about his homecoming from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Intro to Project

I first met Joe and Lindy Cashion on April 13 of last year.  They graciously allowed me into their lives to document their experiences with military deployment.  I doubt they knew what they were getting themselves into because I proceeded to spend nearly a year photographing and videotaping their everyday lives and sitting down with them for interviews.

Joe Cashion, a Public Affairs Officer for the Army National Guard, volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. I wanted to document the struggles a soldier’s family faces during his deployment, to share the story of the Cashion family and their experience, and to give viewers a better understanding of the life of a soldier’s family.  Throughout the course of the project, I followed Lindy and her family through their daily lives, photographing both the simple moments and the big events all families experience, ultimately producing a fifteen-minute audio slideshow to tell their story

What I Learned/How I Changed

As a result of this project my photography skills, my interview skills, and my ability to connect with a subject all improved.  This project was very challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, in many ways.  One of the first issues I ran into was Joe and Lindy’s oldest daughter, Sarah’s resistance to being photographed.  While this was extremely normal behavior for a 13-year-old girl, it made it difficult for me to get to know her and to learn about her.  I finally realized that if I put the camera down and simply sat and talked to her, she was much more open with me.  I helped her with her math homework, I talked to her about school, what it’s like to be in college, I showed her my Facebook profile, we talked about boys.  All of this interaction helped me to get to know who Sarah is without needing to formally ask.  Once I started building that rapport with her, I noticed that she was much more receptive to being photographed.  That was a huge lesson for me – learning when to put the camera down.

I also became much more comfortable in my “photographer’s skin”.  Like many beginning photographers, I always felt uncomfortable getting inside people’s “bubbles”.  This project forced me to get over that in many ways.  First, at the airport when Joe left for deployment, I knew I only had one shot to get some good photos.  Therefore, I forced my apprehensions aside in pursuit of that goal.  Also, after a couple of visits to the Cashion house, I began to get very bored taking photos from the same perspectives.  To challenge myself and to enhance the quality of the photos for this project, I forced myself to try new angles and positions. I also learned to be more patient.  Rather than bouncing around from place to place, chasing a moment, I learned to wait for one to happen where I was.

Another challenge I encountered with this project came in the form of interviewing.  I repeatedly struggled with finding the right questions to ask.  But, I was very conscious of doing everything in an ethical way – I did not want to lead them to give me the answers I wanted.  But, there were times when I understood what the Cashions were trying to say, but they said it in a way that made it either difficult to understand or gave an impression I was sure they were not intending.  I learned that there are many implicit things about human communication that cannot be portrayed through a video camera or a tape recorder.  So, it’s up to the interviewer to ask questions that draw out the most articulate and thought out answers. 

Speaking of ethics, I was very conscious of ethical standards throughout this process.  I wanted to be sure that this story was told by Joe and Lindy and their family.  I didn’t want to narrate it.  I wanted it to be their story.  To me, the politics of the situation didn’t matter, any personal feelings or beliefs, positive or negative, that I held toward the military didn’t matter.  It was about what this family experienced during a military deployment and how that experience was indicative of other American families.  Because of this decision, I was very careful during my editing to remain true to what really happened.  While the story is not told in chronological order, I believe that it is not misleading either.  Throughout the editing process, I learned that what material you leave out is just as important as what material you leave in.

I also struggled with feeling like I constantly “took” from the Cashions yet gave them nothing in return.  I came into their home, was witness to intimate moments of their lives and made pictures of them.  I could not understand why they were so willing to let me in while receiving little in return.  I began to understand that they wanted their story told and they wanted this important moment in their lives documented.  I also realized that the best gift I could give them was to tell their story honestly and fairly.

Finally, I learned a lot about U.S. military.  I have little experience with the military and other than a few distant cousins, I know no one currently serving.  Honestly, I could go days without feeling like the current war even effects me.  I think that is partly what drove me to this project.  I wanted to know more about the current war and who it was affecting.  I knew there were people making huge, daily sacrifices for my safety and I wanted to learn about them.  I think the American public is very distanced from this war.   This story gave me a way to feel more connected to it.

In many ways, the Cashions were not at all what I expected.  First, I thought they would live on the base.  Second, I expected I would be paired with a young 20-something, newly married couple.  Instead, I met Joe and Lindy, married for more than a decade with two kids who lived in rural Ridgeway, SC on land formerly owned by Lindy’s parents.  In retrospect, it was the perfect family for this project.  I got to witness and document how a 13-year-old and a three-year-old reacted to their father’s absence – fascinating in both the similarities and differences.  I got to speak with Joe’s parents about their disagreements with his decision.  I got to witness life in rural South Carolina – something I was missing out on while I lived in Columbia.

I look back at the photos I was making a year ago and am shocked at the progress I’ve made.  This story gave me both the time and motivation to make mistakes and learn from them, to try new techniques and take new risks – all of which greatly benefited my photography. 

In order the fulfill the South Carolina Honors College Senior Thesis requirement, I spent nearly a year documenting the lives of the Cashion family of Ridgeway, South Carolina through photography, audio and video, ultimately producing an audio slideshow to tell their story.

Sergeant Joe Cashion, an Army Public Affairs Officer, was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, a deployment for which he volunteered. Before, during and after his deployment, I followed the lives of his wife, Lindy, and their two daughters, Sarah (13) and Emilee (3).  I wanted to document the struggles a soldier’s family faces during his deployment, to share the story of the Cashion family and their unique experience, and to give viewers a better understanding of the life of a soldier’s family.  Throughout the course of the project, I followed Lindy and her family through their daily lives, photographing both the simple moments and the big events all families experience.

After working on this for a year, I feel both relieved and sad to see this end.  This has been a wonderful experience – I have grown so much as a photographer and I had the privilege of being a witness to this family’s life.

 

Meet the Cashions

July 20, 2010

Even though I haven’t done much posting this summer, I have been quite busy and I thought it was time I showed you some evidence.  As a student in the Honors College at the University of South Carolina, I’m required to complete a senior thesis.  Rather than write a 40+ page paper, I decided to put my visual skills to good use and do a multimedia story.

Sgt. Cashion walks with his youngest daughter Emilee, 2, to the airport gate. Cashion left in May for training before leaving on deployment.

After brainstorming for awhile, I finally found a subject that I found compelling.  Since May, I have been following a military family in rural South Carolina.  The father, Joe Cashion, a Sergeant in the Army was recently deployed on a volunteer, six-month deployment.  Joe and his wife, Lindy, have graciously allowed me into their lives.  I’ve been documenting the family as they prepared for Joe’s deployment, watched them say goodbye the day Joe left, and have watched Lindy adjust to life at home with their two daughters, Sarah, 13, and Emilee, 3, during Joe’s absence.  Once again, I’ve been amazed by the incredible willingness of people to open up their lives to me.

Sarah, 12, plays with her cousins at Joe's going away party.

Other than two grandfathers who fought in WWII, I have no immediate family members in the military, so this is a new and fascinating world to me.  I’ve enjoyed learning about the ins and outs of the military and, more importantly, how that impacts this particular family.  Most of all, I’ve loved getting to know this family as they share their story with me.

I will continue to post updates on this story, so stay tuned!

Lindy Cashion exchanges an emotional goodbye as her husband, Joe, leaves for a volunteer deployment in Afghanistan.