Can you feel it? [artist series]

INTRODUCTION::  Sometimes, my blog posts are to everyone. Sometimes, more specifically, they are addressed to those artists among you.

 I love artists. I know how hard it can be to think like one and try to make a living as one… so I like to share things to help on that journey, as I learn a few lessons myself. Most often, I’m not posting so much from the ‘been there, done that’ perspective (after all, I’m only 30)… more from the AM there, DOING that perspective. I like hearing from others going through the same things I am, so I’m hoping you feel the same.

If you’re not a creative person, I hope you get something out of these posts anyway… especially this one, because I think the main point applies to everyone.
And if you aren’t an artist and rambling posts like this don’t do anything for you… (certainly don’t blame you), more regular photo posts are coming soon, and I’ll try and at least warn you from here on out by putting this at the beginning of the artist posts:


So here goes today. I posted some of these thoughts in the facebook page of a small artist group I’m really close to. We’re pretty honest with each-other. Sometimes that can be hard. But it’s (almost) always a good thing when someone can bring truth to your life, real truth- as long as you’re ready to hear it. My biggest lesson lately (I notice in others, but worst in myself):

emotion is not a truth just because you feel it strongly.

I first started thinking about this while reading ‘the Screwtape letters‘, a creative and playful work of fiction by CS Lewis in which one demon writes to another on how to keep a human from truth. “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy,’ writes the elder uncle to the less experienced nephew, ‘the enemy’ referring to God. Regardless of your beliefs, you can take that quote and easily apply it toward inspiration, or productivity.

That book keeps on as a sort of instruction manual on how to get a mind so wrapped up in itself that it can’t see the bigger picture for what it is anymore. ““Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind,” says the uncle.

How much of our life- the ‘creating art’ part, the day-to-day part, the spiritual part (if you take that into account)- is ruled by emotion?


As artists, we are more susceptible to this issue than any other group. Because no other group can claim emotion as an excuse  so easily… others even hand us this excuse, ALL. THE. TIME.

‘well, they’re an artist, aren’t artists supposed to be emotional?’

‘artists just FEEL so much more.’

‘I know he’s an a**, but he’s a creative type, you know? He can’t help it…’

…and then we hand that same excuse to ourselves. 

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My favorite example of this, is the movie, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. It’s a very quiet, unassuming little film from the Coen brothers, a director duo who typically tell crime stories (Fargo, No Country For Old Men). They ventured out of their usual genre to tell a quirky story about a 1960s folk singer. It’s a film that I personally believe to be a love letter/slap-in-the-face to artists everywhere. And we all kinda need it.

Take a look at the picture of the guy with the cat. That’s LLewyn. Kinda just looks like a lazy, mopey, loser that hates people, right?

Ah! But wait… now he has a guitar…. and suddenly our perception shifts… he’s a tired soul, full of pain and suffering and emotion and creativity. He’s a guy you want to love, for both his talent and for his pain.

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So he’s a little troubled. Part of his charm? Yeah, moody… Doesn’t always think about how he’s treating others. Ok, sometimes he’s downright selfish and mean and ridiculous. But it’s ok. You know why? He’s an ARTIST. He’s down on his luck. The world is against him. He’s not getting anywhere in his career.  That’s hard, and none of it his fault, and he’s perfectly ok to sit and revel in each troubled emotion that pops up, right?

You get so far into the movie and realize… no, not really. It’s not ok. Everything that’s wrong in his life… in terms of both his success as an artist and his proficiency in relationships… whoops, it’s all actually kinda his fault.

That’s a hard realization. It’d be different if, oh, he suffered from severe clinical depression… but no, that’s not the issue, (or at least, that’s not ALL that’s going on)… in the end, he’s just kind of a jerk. The perfect example of a person that got wrapped up in his own feelings for so long, he can’t feel anyone else’s anymore… nor can he even see how he’s sacrificing his own opportunities for the sake of keeping his bad attitude.

I am Llewyn. Not all the time, but more of the time than I should be. He’s all of us, as artists. We get down on our luck, things don’t go the way we want, we get scared of going any further, and then we succumb to the feelings that come as a result. It’s not that those feelings are wrong in themselves… there’s no stopping them from happening. But if we keep going the direction of actually believing those feelings and letting them control our actions, we stop making the work we should be making, we treat others poorly, and we become too overwhelmed with fear to take the opportunities we should be taking.

Because we live off our emotions, and our emotions tell us we’re failing far more often than we actually are. 


Obviously, creating is emotional and we can’t just shut that off. Artists are made to feel things more strongly than some others. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t create. And I’m not dismissing issues with actual depression that many artists face… my dad was a woodcarver with severe bipolar depression, so I know those issues well.
What I’m talking about is letting the funk that you’re in, control the actions you take, because you’ve accepted the feelings that led to it as truth.  To paraphrase a quote I heard yesterday- what you’re feeling is real, but it doesn’t mean it’s reality.

The problem is, we mistake emotion as truth. It’s not. Even if it stems from a truth or leads us to a deeper exploration of one, or runs parallel to a real, concrete, truth. But our emotion, in itself, is not a fact just because it feels so much like one.

Which then leads us to my final question… what IS our actual source of truth?

For me personally, that source is God. I have to look to him throughout my day to re-establish what is truth, because I believe real truth can only originate from the one who set all this up to begin with, not those who live within this small portion of creation and can only base truth off the very little they can see and feel on their own.

That may not be what you believe in. But even if it’s not, I’d encourage you to still take this thought and run with it. How can you continually refresh your day with REAL truth, every time an emotion threatens to take over? Maybe you can do it with the help of loved ones or friends that you know that aren’t afraid to be blunt with you.


Maybe you need to refer to a basic list of truths about your life, or even about what you’re working on this week, that you wrote down when you had more clarity. Lists like that can help a lot. If you’re feeling ‘stuck’, clear a significant amount of time to sit down and look at the big picture and write down some facts that you need to be keeping in front of you.

I’m in the middle of a huge, overwhelming project myself right now, and I’ve had to frequently rely on my wife and close friends and prayer to remind me that, just because I feel anxiety right now… doesn’t mean that I’m failing. Doesn’t mean the project is failing. Doesn’t mean it won’t get done. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. No matter how much it FEELS that way. In fact, those feelings of fear and self-doubt probably mean the opposite of failure.

As Steven Pressfield says in ‘the War Of Art‘,

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
So I’m going to go in a corner and cry now.

But then… I’m going to make my list. And I’m going to get back to work.



playing in the snow

Got outside with my kids last night. It was getting dark…. the streetlights were kicking on…and it randomly started snowing, a lot. I always, whether I mean to or not, notice the lighting going on… and in that moment it was kind of magical.

Instead of heading in like I’d planned, I grabbed the camera for a couple of quick snowportraits (it’s a word. as of now).

Loving the new 50mm 1.4D lens I got a couple of weeks back… as well as the new camera (Nikon D810). My replacement equipment is certainly proving itself!

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Goings on with spiva

I think one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do in my career, is partner with Joplin’s local art gallery (Spiva Center for the Arts). It’s easy to look at photography as a commodity, a hobby, or even a necessity (‘We HAVE to get family photos done before our kids move out of the house’…) but not always as art. Spiva’s dedication to photography as an art form, is always inspiring.

This is the time of year when a lot of Spiva’s focus goes into photography. Not just encouraging folks to admire it in a gallery setting, but encouraging whole families to directly participate in it.

3 things I’m fortunate to be involved in right now:

#1: Teaching a class for photspvia tweens.

Here’s the description from Spiva’s website:

“If your budding young photographer was disappointed to age out of PhotoSpiva Kids, and is interested in photography, have we got the class for you! This class builds on photographic skills and introduces fun challenges that will make the PhotoSpiva Tweens exhibit in April especially fun. Two photos from each participant will be chosen and framed for the exhibit.”

The class is THIS Saturday (the 14th), from 11am to noon.  Registration is $35. I will, *gulp*, personally teach the class…. so it may be a little crazy. :) I’m so excited though… this is a super fun age, and I get to help the kids think about photography in a different way.

#2: Judging the photographs from photospiva kids.

The cover photo in this post is one such photo (photo credit to Addison Teeter). Here’s another (this one will receive a ‘most likely to make you laugh’ award, which will be awarded to Kathryn Hart):

My beautiful picture

These images were from the younger age group of kiddos, and it’s always so fun to be able to see the world again from their point of view. It was a good exercise for me to ‘judge’ photos based not on technical ability, but on sheer imagination & the ability to capture what it means to be a kid.  Lots of laughing and ‘awwwww’ing and moments of surprise as I looked through them.

The reception for that event is March 8th… you should come if your’e a Joplinite, if nothing else to see the looks of pride and excitement on a bunch of little kids’ faces as they see their work on a real gallery wall. :)

#3: Two of my own photos made it in to the main photospiva exhibit this year… I’ve made it in before, but never with more than one image, so that’s pretty cool.

For those unfamiliar with Photospiva, it is an annual, national photography competition, the longest running competition of its’ kind, and happens to be based here in Joplin, MO. Photographers from all over the country submit work- last year’s 1st place winner was from Brooklyn, NY. It is, of course, my favorite exhibit of the year at Spiva. My pieces are being mounted and framed this week to prepare for the show, which kicks off March 7th- in the meanwhile, you can take a peek at the digital versions of the winners below.

This is a photo from a family session I did last fall, with some of my very favorite ‘regulars’. I’ve been taking pictures of this little girl (Caroline), her big sister, and her little brother since they were born; and while the madness increases with each shoot, I continue to be inspired by these little ones just as much, every time I work with them. I’ve joked about them being ‘muses’, since many of my favorite child portraits have come from sessions with them.

This quiet, ‘in-between’ moment caught my attention when I was trying to decide what to enter this year. And I love bright colors…


This next photo I’ve showed a couple of times… it’s actually a senior photo I took, of an aspiring young composer with a lot of talent. Alex wanted something creative and original for his photos- basically, portraits that didn’t FEEL like ‘senior portraits’.

When he told me about his love of making music, the idea for this image popped into my head. No photoshop, by the way, for those who are wondering… just  his mom and sister, just out of frame, throwing papers. over. and over. Until we got it…

and yes, I know, it also looks like a Harry Potter tribute photo. We’re ok with that…

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That’s all for now. Hope to see you around Spiva! :)


Of Course Not…

I’ve meant to post about this for awhile… better late than never, right?

The title of this blog post is actually the name of the client I had the pleasure of working with late last year: the ‘power pop’ band, Of Course Not.

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The group’s front man Luke approached me last  year and told me that the band wanted to work with me… primarily, because they were looking for something really different, and wanted help fleshing out some pretty ambitious visual ideas to accompany the new music they were making.

I hadn’t done anything quite like what they were asking, but I said yes, and we got to work planning. I secured the location thanks to my very good friend Jason, who had an empty old house on the market that worked just perfect for our shoot. And I called in my friend Jordan to model since I knew she had the perfect retro look that I wanted.

We started with some simple band photos… some casual, some formal…

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The house came with an ancient player piano, a very fun prop indeed…

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For the new music the band was releasing around halloween, they wanted something a bit otherworldly… yes, even creepy, to accompany a new single that told a ghost story.  So I broke my ‘I don’t do photoshop’ M.O.’ and played around a bit. The outtakes are fun, where you can see how goofy Luke is- and the items being moved around (I photoshopped Jordan out later).

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finished shot:

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Then came my favorite challenge; in which I needed to portray a girl levitating over a bed in a ghostly sort of way. This was one of those shoots where I still wasn’t 100% certain how I was going to do it beforehand; but I knew we could. Can you guess how we did it, before scrolling down? :)

Luke, helping me figure out how Jordan could achieve our levitation look:

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20 takes of Jordan jumping- backwards, off the chair- while Luke held the chair in place. For those who guessed I photoshopped and for those who thought I got away without photoshopping… you’re both half right. The actual position of Jordan in the picture is NOT faked; she really was in a horizontal position above the bed, that high, frozen in that split second in which her backwards jump planted her in that spot.

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But I did cheat by photoshopping Jordan into a pre-staged shot that I took before bringing in the model and chair.

You have to cheat sometimes….

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It was fun. Looking forward to working with more musicians in the future… they can be kinda crazy, and so am I. :)

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whiskerino flashback:: inspiration comes from the weirdest places

If you’ve known me for awhile, then you’ll remember me having mentioned this awhile back. If not, let me introduce you to one of the weirdest things I was ever a part of: WHISKERINO.

Whiskerino was an event of sorts that happened every 2 years. The originating concept was kind of like ‘no-shave-november’ on steroids… a couple of creative dudes in Nashville decided to promote creativity and beard growth by starting an online beard growing competition. The rules for ‘members’ of the online community were simple:

#1: shave your facial hair on november 1st
      #2: don’t shave (or preferably, even trim) again until February 28th. 
      #3: post daily pictures of yourself and your ‘progress’.                                                                                                                              

      #4: post the photos, comment on others, enjoy the community!

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I started working at starbucks in Joplin in 2007, a few years after the thing had first started rolling. Somebody brought the website to the attention of the barista brotherhood, and now you know why every male that worked at the 4th street starbucks during that 4 months looked like a hobo….

There were members of the online community in Nashville, Joplin, California, the UK, Australia, and beyond. At the end of the ‘growing and showing’ time there was a big party in Nashville, with over 300 attendees.

(see if you can find me. I don’t think I have yet…)

So why was this a thing?

What made it fun?

Why did people even take part in such a ridiculous idea?

Two things…

Community and creativity. And these two things are never strangers to each other…

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Any time you can set up a (no-pressure) community for creative folks, you are also fostering creativity. The setup of the website- with (healthy) competition, some loose deadlines, and a simple element of goofy fun- was the perfect recipe for getting a lot of folks to do something unique and original. Even if it was silly.

I still have fond memories (2009 was the final whiskerino, as it had outgrown its’ creators and was becoming a monster to admin). It got me outside of my box, and solidly gave me my first thoughts about creating a cohesive series of images. That kind of thinking and experimenting later led to projects like ‘cold brewed‘ and the current photonovel I’m working on.

There’s still so much to be learned from this ridiculous little exercise of growing a beard and snapping pictures of it.

Sometimes, as an artist, you have to stop taking yourself so seriously. Remember why creating is FUN (when you let it be). And be intentional about community, whatever the reason for its’ forming.

I’ve including a few images from my whiskerino series here, from 5 years ago in 2009, when I decided I’d just take a picture with my (then) 1 year old son each day. I thought I could hold that up for about a week… but it went all 4 months. :)

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You can see the whole 4 months’ worth of photos here.

After the jump (just click ‘continue reading’) is a brief series featuring film noir and robots (and the accompanying captions). Hope you enjoy seeing these shots and my sons’ very chubby little cheeks from back then…

Continue reading

9art:: 2014/15

Hey, interweb-land. It’s been a good month since I’ve posted a thing… and some of you are still heaving your sighs of relief in response to the silence.

I’m not going to spend a super long time reflecting on 2014. Here’s a rundown, for those who are curious what’s up with me:

– The first 2/3ds of the year was fairly quiet and fairly slow. Summer was paaaaaiiiiiiinfully slow, in fact. Photography is always unpredictable I suppose, especially when you’re shifting the direction of your business (in my case, taking less weddings/families and pursuing more commercial work). And sometimes, you  need a slow season to figure out where the heck you are in LIFE. Talked (and sometimes yelled) to God a lot. Examined myself as an artist. Came out a lot better for the time.

I also read this book. It helped a lot:

-Then Fall hit. BAM!! 180!!! Busiest season I’ve ever had (I think). Up til’ Christmas week I was scrambling to wrap up editing, deliver orders, and plan for a major project. Exhausting, but certainly a blessing. And, my firstborn started kindergarten… whoa. (he loves, it BTW).

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-2 weeks before Christmas, my camera was stolen. An added layer of scrambling to get a new one in place & wrestle with insurance companies. I won half that battle….one company was nice (and payed 1/2), the other wasn’t. Ah well, close enough. While I don’t appreciate the circumstances, I DO have a brand spankin’ new nikon D810- which features 3x the megapixel count, better performance, and, I’m scared to say, really decent video capability. (I say ‘scared’ bc I’m afraid of the obsession that’s going to begin when I really start playing with MOVING pictures).


-Christmas break was a fantastic reprieve, from everything. Christmas is fun all over again when you have kiddos, so that’s always great.


Best of all, my wife and I escaped for a few days for our TEN YEAR anniversary. Good grief, I suddenly feel old. I’m so thankful for a caring wife that would put up with me and my erratic personality & business for that long. Fortunately, God came up with someone as weird as I am…


-January third marked PHOTONOVEL time. For those who haven’t heard- funding was finally approved in september for a  long-talked-about project that would creatively reunite my good friend Lance Schuabert & I (my co-conspirator for ‘cold brewed’). The project was produced by our friend Carrie Puffinbarger for the Joplin Convention & Visitors’ Bureau- it’s a new story told in words (Lance) and pictures (me). It’s all shot in Joplin, and features a fun ‘faction’ weave of real & imaginary characters, actual history and fictional story lines that work through past and present.

Maybe the whole thing was just an excuse for Lance & I to dress up with legit Civil War re-enactors… we’ll never tell.


Lance came in from Brooklyn, NY (his new home as of last summer) and we began shooting on Jan third, wrapping up on Jan 17th. I’ve never put in more packed hours of shooting as I did in that time frame, with a huge list of locations, a shooting script, hired actors, makeup artists, prop lists and many other characteristics of a full-on film production (just without the ‘film’ part). It was exhausting, but also a reminder that this is the scope of the kind of projects I want to keep doing.




There’s still quite a bit of work to be done on it- and, no, you won’t be able to see it any sooner than a few months from now- but I really think it’s going to be worth the wait.  In the meanwhile, if you never did, you can check out cold brewed (that last project we did) HERE.  Or, keep up on the facebook page with all the weird outtakes (such as the ones above).


– Now is a time of quieting back down (I’m safe and sound, back in my usual seat in the local coffee shop), wrapping up the last few shoots for the photonovel project, and planning for the new year. I think it’s going to be a great one.

Stay tuned for posts in coming weeks… I’ll be sharing some things I didn’t have a chance to show you all late last year. Til next time!


Merry Christmas….

Couldn’t let this very jolly holiday roll by without a quick blog post. And to properly commemorate the season, let me tell a little story…

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This is a photo my wife took 5 years ago. It was my sons’ first Christmas; your first Christmas as a dad is pretty amazing, even if your kiddo is only old enough to want to EAT all his gifts rather than play with them. That’s the year that all the holiday magic starts to flow back into your life, after an adulthood sets in that threatens to overtake you with stupid adult jadedness.

Pictured in that photograph, is an ornament made in 1985. That’s right, it was from MY first Christmas. My mom passed it on to me to hang on our Christmas tree that season, 5 years ago.

A lot of things have happened since then. Terrible things, wonderful things, and everything in-between. The most recent of those terrible things is my camera having been stolen, just last week. Not a fun way to enter into your holiday season…

And closer to the date of this picture, a tornado happened. No fun either…. and because of that tornado, the ornament pictured no longer exists (or if it does, it’s probably in a tree somewhere 100 miles away). So here’s what I said when I posted the picture on Facebook:
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My point was to say that this photo matters just as much or more than the THING in the photo. And I still want to make that point; I value photos like this so much. The power of a photograph is why I do what I do for a living. There’s a power to telling a story through an image, and God has blessed me with a passion for it.

My favorite part of this story, though, is what happened just this morning, when a very sweet client (someone I’ve worked with since the very beginning, who believed in me when my work kinda SUCKED) texted me to ask if I could drop by her workplace because she had something for me.

here’s what I pulled out of the gift sack:

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My client & friend had seen my facebook post, did a search for Christmas ornaments, found a matching one (yep, from 1985) and bought it for me.

That’s the kind of clients I have. Good GRIEF that’s amazing.

And now, I have a 1985 Christmas ornament that means even more to me than the last one… not because the object matters in and of itself, but because it is so packed with meaning. It’s something I can look at and remember not only my childhood…not only my sons’ first Christmas… but also an added layer of the kindness that God and people in my life have shown to me.

Still true… things are just things. But it’s what the things symbolize that counts; just like Christmas itself. We get distracted by the STUFF, when the STUFF is meant to remind us of the gift we were given in a savior that loves us and was willing to die for us. The things only matter if we remember what they represent. And if we DO hold on to that meaning, oh how much sweeter those things are.

Yes, a tornado took my house and everything in it once. But God provided, and people helped, and it was all ok…. in fact, BETTER in the end.

Yes, my camera was stolen last week and that’s a bummer. But God provides (this time through a busy season and an insurance company that did the right thing), and people do some really incredibly nice things.  So rather than lingering on what goes wrong and the things that are missing, I do my best to thank my creator and pass on the kindness and grace to others.

(and I finally get to update my camera).

Merry Christmas guys. See you next year.


PS: to properly close out this somewhat sappy post, here’s an over-the-top sappy picture, also from 5 years ago. pastel cardigan and feathered hair and all… yes, I can be sentimental and sarcastic all at once can’t I?

whiskerino Dec 23

A glimpse of the season

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I’ve been kinda quiet on here lately. Me being quiet means one of two things…

A. I’m hopelessly depressed
B. I’m super crazy busy.

I’m pretty incredibly glad it’s not A… B has been kickin’ my butt, but that’s B-ok.

All that to say, I’ve taken 1,0000,0000 pictures in the past few months that I haven’t had a chance to take the time to show. A lot of those pictures were for awesome commercial projects, and a good portion of them were for lifestyle shoots for 9art family & senior clients.

Before the next year is completely up on us… which is oh-so-near… I thought I’d share a few of my favorite shots from the past couple of months from those portrait sessions (specifically, those sessions that took advantage of the beautiful fall colors). More commercial work coming soon!

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Biaka & Lora’s wedding:: part 2 (dancy dance time)

We posted Biaka & Lora’s wedding day, PART 1 a week or two back… I’d really only intended one post to begin with, but when I started looking through all the dance pictures from the reception, I realized those dance moves needed a post of their own.

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Quick background; Biaka & Lora have a lot of friends, a lot of family members in other countries, and know a good chunk of the international students in town through Lora’s job. Folks from Africa, Asia, Middle East & beyond spilled out onto the dance floor for an all around fantastic time.

I don’t know what it is. but I really love capturing the frenzy of a happenin’ dance floor. The frozen moments of flying hair, outrageous expressions, hands being thrown up in the air… it’s so oddly satisfying for me to be able to get those.



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biaka & lora wedding by wedding and commercial photographer 9art photography in joplin missouri_0082

biaka & lora wedding by wedding and commercial photographer 9art_0083

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I’ve always wanted to say this…. 9art & the Joplin Convention & Visitors’ Bureau are putting out a casting call. A casting call, for those unsure, is simply a call for actors.

Remember that little project called Cold Brewed, released by Lance Schaubert & I last year? I can’t tell you a whole lot about the new project, but it will require actors as our last project did and will be an extended marketing endeavor like no other.
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This project is a big one, and WE NEED ACTORS. Do you need to have experience? No. You just need to be able to act in front of a camera… the fun part being, while this experience will feel much like a full film production, you won’t have to make a sound during production (since we’re talking stills rather than video).

Interested in trying out? Here’s the full press release, put out by the CVB today. Tell your friends. Tell your theater department. If you think your relatives can act… well, tell everybody. :) Excited to see what you’ve got!

for questions regarding the project, please contact mark at

December 1, 2014
SUBJECT: Marketing Campaign Casting Call
CONTACT: Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, 417.625.4789

The Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau will be conducting a casting call for actors/models for specific roles for a 2015 marketing campaign. The campaign, which will link parts of Joplin’s history with current-day points of tourism interest, will require photographic support detailing both specific people and locations.

Details of the campaign have been outlined but not publically released. According to Patrick Tuttle, Executive Director of the CVB, “With any campaign once we have a basic theme and idea, photography and graphic designs are developed. This will be an extended story where all facets of the campaign will link in a common theme.”

Supporting the project will be 9Art and LTMS.

The casting call will be held on December 8th from 1:30-6:30 pm & December 9th from 12:00 -5:00 pm, in the Joplin City Hall Basement Conference Room. For the complete casting call (including specific roles that will need filled) click here: CASTING CALL
Selected cast members must be available for photographic shooting between the 4th and 17th January 2015.