Photography is this amazing physical representation of our lives. A photograph can show us what it looks like and means to be loved, who people we've lost were, just how heartbreakingly beautiful and ugly this life is. So many of us today think about photos in terms of how enticingly unrealistic and idealized they will be, and we link our estimation of their worth to their aspirational glory. But aside from 'insta-worthy' or 'pinterest-worthy' images there is a whole world of photography that serves an entirely different purpose. To speak ourselves back to each other. Raw, true, real, to evoke the feelings of a time, place or person as it was felt. And that second group of motives is why I use photography. I'm awake to the ethereal realness of being alive. Sensitive and honest, my photographs are telling a story of beauty and wholeness and the truth of feelings. I'm not a documentarian, not a lifestyle or editorial photographer, I defy these categorizations because I am a poet of photography.  



feel this


you are mysterious and lovely and totally yourself. No one else can claim you. It's up to you to be true.

Creative Authenticity

I've found that many creatives, myself included, feel a disturbing sense of inauthenticity over their medium choice. While some feel certain that one path or another of creative outpouring was always the one they wanted to pursue others can feel called in many directions, earnestly dabbling in all kinds of media. Having a splayed set of interests is a challenging hurdle. How do you grow proficiency when you keep changing your mind? After leaving the world of dance which I heavily invested in for about 10 years of my youth I was struck with a feeling of lack. As though I would forever be a jill of all trades master of none. Somehow finding a new creative outpouring was frightening in it's insecurity. What if I had left what I was meant to do? Were all those years dancing instead of everything else just wasted? Had I thrown it away? Would I ever be able to do anything else well enough to make something of it? The answers were all over the map and I thought for many years that my true creative life must be over. But recently I have realized that when you are called to be creative there is not a singular path to letting that light shine into the world. There are probably many paths to a true expression and they all are achieved through hard work. Deep diving on any media that you feel excited about will teach you either that you don't like it or that you do. And all that's required of us to succeed is hard work. Put the time in to studying and finessing your craft and you will be able to use whatever that craft is to express your creative truth. So the quandry isn't 'what should I be doing?' it is in fact what do I choose to do first. And then you just keep plodding along. Learning, honing, diving deeper, changing course when necessary. The only way to do the correct thing is to do anything at all as well as you possibly can. Do the work and the beauty will follow.  


Source: yolaowensphotography.com/blog


I desire to make portraits of women so badly because women are our first relationship. We all come through women, they are our windows into this world. It's the first nourishment, the first love, the first disappointment, loss, emptiness we feel. The first satisfaction, joy, intimacy, responsiveness, are all from this first relationship with the woman who bore our bodies to the world. Both sides of that relationship are so intensely fraught with needs, desires, ambitions, hopes and fears. I believe that there is a way to begin to see ourselves with more compassion that can also spread light onto our own mothers and even our children. And the most powerful way I can see it is through photography, specifically portraiture. A true, vulnerable and honest portrait of a woman tells you about her. How she feels in the sun and her capacity for loving another. How she stands on her own and claims her right to stand by the complexities and power she embodies. How she has a sovereignty that has nothing to do with how she interacts with others but only to how she exists as herself. How she is valued by those who love her beyond her physical capabilities or appearances. How she is a treasure with a trove of gifts inside her.

Women. What a wonder. What a surprise to turn and see that each woman is not just the reflection of what you hoped she might do for you but is actually a whole shining representation of just herself. Beautiful unto herself and truly so much better. Imagine what your relationships with women could be if you could only see them apart from expectation. Who are they, what are their gifts, what vision and understanding are they bringing to the world? I believe there is an important separation between what is the best for our selves and what is the best that we can give to another. When reflected onto our mothers perhaps this understanding looks like seeing the ways in which they are not perfectly formed for you as an opportunity to see how they are truly formed. What wondrous and satisfying thing do they bring regardless of how they may have let you down. Can you see them apart from your own wounding? And reflected back on you...can you see what you bring apart from the ways that you do not fit the mold? Can you see and rest in your strengths using those to feed your relationships while letting the rest go.

The ways women may be imperfect are not failings, they are just indicator lights that can point us towards ourselves. These may not be areas in which we fail even, but areas in which we feel used or sad. A place where we feel dull or stifled. Pointed another way we are one step closer to being where we may really shine our light. And then we must shine it while being humble about the things we are not doing, cannot do or choose not to do. Resting in our gifts we can acknowledge the ways in which we do not shine more humbly, and gratefully see others in their gifts and their weakness. I find myself able to parent (and be a child) better when I acknowledge that these people (parents and children) are neither supposed to fit me or me to them but are potential complimentary fellows. They do not belong to me nor I to them in the sense that we must satisfy each other. 

A portrait is the first place that I began to see my mother (and my father as well) as a human apart from me. As someone who did not exist solely to meet my needs but as an entirely separate human. Someone with a separate path and gifts that, while I may benefit from them, were not designed for my benefit. And it was also the first place I saw myself apart from my performance as their daughter. Why am I here, what am I formed of, what do I bring to this world are the core questions and they were buried so long under what am I expected to do, be and have. Oh women, when we stop trying to be everything to everyone we can truly be ourselves. And that can be hard to accept but it is the most beautiful use of our time. I make portraits to speak women to themselves, and those who love her. To expose with compassion who we are and to sow the seeds of just how beautiful we truly are. Portraiture is a part of my journey towards my own light and how I may bring my gifts to the world. I intend every portrait to be a gift to the woman in it and to everyone who sees it. 

with love, Yola

Being Seen part 2

Being seen is so much better than hiding. And I'm not talking about just being exposed, I'm talking about someone looking into you for what makes your particular brand of beauty. Someone seeing you, not as a representation of a group of people, as an individual, as a beautifully heartbreakingly unique individual. You've got something wonderful in you that nobody else has. So don't hide it. Come be seen.

Portrait Soirees are just that - a place to be seen, compassionately, with curiosity and respect. A place to discover that you are photogenic and not awkward at all but in fact beautiful. I can see beauty in you and I can show it back to you through photographs. I can't change our conditioning to see beauty in only one shape or type or expression, but I can promise that I will see your beauty and i will depict it. Even if it feels raw when you see the photos they will show you, with honesty and compassion that you are beautiful. And these will be a treasure in 5, 10, 25 years. These will be a treasure not only for you but for the people who love you, the ones who you care for and who care for you. For kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, lovers and partners these will be a treasure. 

These photos are from a portrait session, not a Soiree but they evoke the same feelings and desires that are brought forth in a Soiree. The same story of individuals carrying their own beauty and me drawing that forth with light. This is the tale of an intimate portrait session either solo or in Soiree form. 


Accidental Paradise

I felt brave and solid yesterday so we took off down highway 26 to Cannon Beach. Me, three girls, and an old dog. I expect that no idyllic day at the coast will come without some serious drama and misadventure, and I was right. The eldest cried bitterly for an hour when she realized that she had soaked herself in seawater and then rolled thoroughly in sand and was now coated in sticky granules both inside and outside her clothing. "Well, these are the choices you made" doesn't go very far with a ten year old. Cue face palm for mom. Every time we are at the ocean it goes this way and yet it always surprises her. Ah to be young and oblivious and generally to expect that your comfort and desires will be attended to at any moment. But it was a gorgeous day and we loved every second that we weren't crying. I didn't allow anyone to bring a swimsuit (because of the strange combination of too many clothing changes in a day coupled with a randomly interspersed refusal to change clothing for days on end and general dissatisfaction with swimwear. And finally I realized I don't really care if their clothes come back sandy and wet) so we went in the water fully dressed and it was perfect.

We were finally all retrieved from the beach, lightly dusted off and settled in the car for a mere 30 minutes of our whiny/tired/happy/sunburned drive home when we arrived at a terrible crash that closed down highway 26 for the rest of the day. A sobering reminder that our best intentions are never the final word. There is so much we cannot anticipate that alters our course or ends it. All we have to be secure in is the knowledge of love and the tenacity we cultivate to keep doing the next right thing. So we turned around to settle in at the Elderberry Cafe for an early dinner, which was pretty much exactly like I had always pictured it, orange vinyl seats, a teen behind the register and an overly friendly elderly owner included. That kind and very helpful man informed our four year old that her hair would turn gray if she didn't eat her veggies. She took that in wide eyed before turning to us and repeating in an astonished tone "That guys hair used to be the same color as mine, but then he didn't eat his vegetables!" 

The reroute home took us a ridiculously long time but man oh man was it gorgeous. I did not see a detour onto highways 202 and 47 coming that morning but I sure am grateful we went that way. At every turn I exclaimed "that's a little slice of paradise!" and then the girls would say "I see the paradise too!" which just made it even more ridiculously lovely. Horses, cows, goats, flowers, rolling hills, forested areas and tiny homesteads in pastel pinks and yellows. Cow parsley and asparagus ferns crowding the roadways and low fences, and bridge after tiny bridge carrying us criss cross over the Nehalem river. Towering train trestles and gorgeous sun drenched meadows in shades of yellow and purple alternating with stands of Cedar and rolling fields of baled hay. We neighed at the horses, mooed at the cows and bleated at the sheep while blasting Leon Bridges' River and Real Love Baby by Father John Misty. It was pretty dreamy for a detour. 

I feel incredibly blessed today. Blessed with safety, a home to return to, an idyllic scenery not far away, kids that are safe in my arms (albeit a little burnt). And I hope to never take for granted these blessings, as mundane as they may be for some of us, these are unattainable dreams for others. So I hope to contribute my efforts more towards the Keep Families Together Act through fundraising and donating what i can. I'll be putting a session up for auction through Still We Rise in just two weeks (check out @_stillwerise for updates on when and which organizations will be benefiting).

Photography is an expression of loving and showing love. When you step in front of my lens that is what you receive; honest, unguarded, kind love.  




Whenever i think there is just too much to bear with this small heart of mine I find that there is beauty in the light, and there is beauty in the places without light, and that I can describe it with my eyes.

All my heart wants to see this spring is daisies on pastels in grainy dreams. This winter it was all rainbows and the curve of cheeks. I love that the seasons change how I feel and how I see and what I want to make. And I see how each season will bring with it a new project and that frees me up to say that I will just follow my heart and eye. Ask people to lie down with their arms outstretched. Get weird and really close and invite people to my blanket. But it won't feel weird, it will feel lovely because it will be now. And I cannot repeat enough how important it is to do the thing now, the thing calling out. I know because I have walked away from so many things.

So come and lie down on my patchwork pastel quilt and make daisy chains and close your eyes into rainbows. We will bottle it up for a rainy day. We will both be happy to have done it and to look back on it well done. 

Feeling Vulnerable

Something about a photograph needs to speak vulnerability to me. In order for me to like it that is. A natural aspect, a candid moment, a direct gaze, a closed eye, outstretched hand....Lying down, reclining, dancing, breathing, a laugh. Each of these things can be constructed in a very artificial way but can still retain some vulnerable sensation. And when worked through with some surrender, some trust in the photographer, they can be truly and bottomlessly raw. I may be looking for that as an artist, it's true. And I may be pursuing a level of comfort with my own deep raw self that feels quite alarming to some. But I do understand what it is like to be seen by others, how scary and freeing that can be. How satisfyingly whole and real it feels to be yourself, just yourself and not the persona you have crafted but really just you. Just you. 

Repetition has the honor of being the best desensitizing tool. A photo a day. A portrait of yourself to view again and again until you accustom your gaze to the shape of your cheek, the width of your eyes and the length of your neck. Until you can see your whole dazzling self and not just a collection of parts. I look at people through my lens and I don't see a particular shape of elbow, a shape that I judge individually of that whole it participates with. I see a person who shimmers in a particular way. A being of emotions and a specific transparency. So when I look at an image of myself i have to practice this same way of seeing. Who is this person? Is she merely a collection of too wrong parts? Does this person have a wholeness that makes sense, a potential for beauty apart from a perfection of feature? Does she reflect light and can I feel what she is feeling? 

The slow path towards appreciation of a vulnerable portrait. Not just a pose but a revelation! A picture of a heart, a heart like no other, a heart with stories to tell. I see it in you. I work to see it in me.

Empty Space

I've been clearing the things out of my house. I need some space. Some empty space so that I can breathe while looking at a blank wall. I always have thought of myself as a maximalist but as it turns out, while I am surely as the sky seems blue an adorer of beautiful things, I feel hemmed in. I believe hemmed in by the stuff, the beautiful piles of stuff I have accumulated. The stuff I go hunting for when i need a break from my house, the stuff I run my hands over and read the labels with joy and feel excited to have discovered the existence of. The knicknacks and extras, all the bits I don't particularly like anymore but also many many that I dearly adore.

I look at these vases and coverlets, dresses and shoes, necklaces and dishes, artwork and these things I thought I needed in order to make my life beautiful. And I slowly put them into boxes and bags and the trunk of my car and they are carried off to donation. And slowly I see that all that is left are the best things, the ones that sing my tune and get pulled out day after day after day, surprising me with their usefulness and common beauty. I breathe easier when there is space around and between my things. Openings for the light and the poetry of them to interact. One playing off the next. The antique desk speaks to the goose print and the moon clock and the armoire hugs the whales and lotions. The hoops curl around the clay bird and the third ring and I reach for them each morning. 

It's all quite particular. It's quite me. I'm quite particular. But I do change, oh so much I change. And the boats that once pulled a peaceful breeze through my mind now are simply stuck on the wall. So it's time they too go. The purse I used to carry every day has stiffened in the closet and I feel it's sadness to be so disused. Things loved once and now put up are merely waiting for another chance to breathe, just as I am. So here I am, longing to breathe.


Being Seen


For the longest time I existed in a world focused solely on physical perfection. I looked at my own reflection and those of my peers most of the hours of my day.  We compared calories and workout regimens and waist sizes like those are interesting facts. As if those say anything about the quality of our time or imaginations or relationships. We were full of hope and ambition and fear. Fear of gaining weight, of not being enough in myriad ways (mostly physical), of spending time doing anything but practicing, of not being enough. When I began to feel that I could not stand any more time in front of that enormous mirror, I skipped class to go to the bookstore. I sat in the aisles with my forbidden latte and read poetry, let my eyes pour over volumes of photography and painting. And I found that I could hear myself a little in those stacks. I began to take my art out of the classroom and into the sun where I wore headphones and danced as if no-one could see me. And slowly it dawned on me that no amount of hard work was going to transform me into the ideal, perfect-bodied, blank slate that my training so wanted me to be. Then, though I ran from it, the truth pursued me that all I had left to do was stop. Even though it broke my heart I stopped. 

We have this gap, us humans (especially women, but I think it's true for all), between what we feel we are and what we see when we look ourselves up and down in the mirror, or as we reflect on photographs of ourselves. And that gap is painful, so painful that many of us decide we have no use for photographs, no use for mirrors. But I know that the most valuable things about being alive are being yourself, knowing yourself, asking questions of yourself, expressing yourself, finding yourself in relationship. And these things can't be done while we deny ourselves or hide ourselves. It can't be done if we destroy ourselves with a million tiny cuts of hatred or fear or not-enough-ness or regret or shame. You may not be able to see a photo of yourself from today and love it as hard as you should but know this...in five years you will want that photograph of you ugly laughing with your best friend, or making silly faces with your tween, or soaking in the sun with your belly rolls on display. You will want that photo of you dancing, or staring straight down the barrel of the lens, of you alone feeling yourself. You will want that photo because it shows a piece of you that is true and undeniably beautiful and it will mean something to your people. Your kids will want that photo. Your dad will too. It will tell them about you. About how you loved, how you wore your hair, what made you smile or cry, how imperfect and lovely and just right you were. So print those photos! You don't have to look at them now, you certainly don't have to post them to social media or hang them on the wall. Print them so you can tuck them into an album and let your kids or your parents or your best friends look. Just don't delete them, don't hide them or forget about them or tell yourself they aren't valuable. Print those photos love. 

I look back on photos of my parents when I was young, and photos of them before I was born and I learn things I never knew first hand. How my mothers long hair shone in the sun and was so dark, how her eyes twinkled and how she threw back her head to laugh even long before I came along. And I see how she was loved by the people around her, how they treasured her and held her up, how she was a person who mattered before she mattered to me. I see my father looking unsteady and young, gangly and effortful. I see him before his hair was long and gray, how he always loved standing in the sun. How he was once upon a time a rowdy child with blonde hair (who knew!) and parents who adored him despite all their imperfections. We all have limitations. We all have gifts. We all give what we can and we can't give it all. We owe it to ourselves to look at our parents through the eyes of compassion. To see them as fully human with their own foibles, quirks, passions and missions. And we especially owe it because when we see these icons of our lives as individuals apart from us we can begin to see ourselves compassionately as well. Our worlds are full of so many desires for perfection. The greatest compassion would be to step out of that race which is never won and see what we are, what we have, what we can truly offer in this short existence. I want photos of myself not for vanity, not because they only depict my greatest physical qualities or exaggerate my beauty, but because my children need help imagining that I am both imperfect and good. That I was a person before they existed and that I have my own life to live, my own qualities of struggle and triumph, my own imperfection and that I am valued by other people. They will have these photos to look at and see me, who I was, and I hope it helps them see themselves.

I choose photography for the way that it lets me see people and reflect what I see back to them. I don't choose it for it's lucrative - high demand - money bags - easy lifestyle qualities (they don't really exist anyways). I choose it because it is the right thing for me to do. The thing in front of me. The thing that is happening now. And part of the intensity of the challenge I have before me is to transform the way people see themselves. I don't photoshop features, smooth rolls, eliminate bits of the people I photograph. I look for their beauty that speaks to me and i try to capture that over and over again. But the thing I can't do with my camera is to change the way people look at these images of themselves. We are so trained to look for imperfection that usually that is all we see. Our uneven nostrils, laugh lines, freckles, dimples, belly rolls, the roundness of our legs or the flatness of our bottoms, the wrinkle in our nose when we really laugh. The tragedy of it is that we all have things we think we'd rather not have, and we all really look like humans, and our people love us anyway, they love us still, they love us including all those things we'd pick off if we could. And we can't see the thrilling wholeness of how wonderful we are because all we look for is the minutiae of our fears. So the truth is that I cannot change that. I cannot rewire each persons brain and create new pathways of loving ourselves. But I can say...please stop tearing yourself apart. Your people, the friends and lovers and children and family who love you, they need your whole self, arms and hair and flat chest and all. 

You are lovely and human and true friend. Believe me, I have a lot of practice with this, you are valuable and good and worth remembering right now. 


Why Photography Anyways?

Chapter one. I've loved photography for a long long time. I recall first loving Ansel Adams and Annie Liebovitz and then Imogen Cunningham. I had a camera and I loved it, the transformation from idea and film to image was thrilling. I would treasure and look at both my photographs and the family albums over and over. But my art was dance and the imagery I loved in photography always produced movement in me. 

Chapter two. I took a break from dance, both because I felt lost and recognized that I needed restoration in my body and soul. The world of dance felt full of criticism (not the constructive kind) and a constant struggle towards the unattainable. In my youthful passion I couldn't see the long game anymore. So I stopped. But there was writing and photography and sewing. Although I considered them private pursuits they consumed much of me and I recognize them now as necessary creative outlets  

Chapter three. Kids. 

Chapter four. I began taking steps to reclaim myself. First clothing and then writing and early mornings spinning poetry and beginning to toss it out into the world. While I did this I took photographs every day. And one day I realized that these images I was trying so hard to communicate through first dance and then poetry could be expressed in photographs. So photography. That's why.

Mama Sessions

Each mama is bringing a unique beauty and strength through her journey. I hope to offer a unique counterpoint to the glamorized maternity session or the stiff formality of the family portrait and instead offer women a chance to be seen in motherhood as their own powerful, beautiful, committed selves through gracious portraits.

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