Reaching for the sky

It was when Abingdon Welch was 14 years old that she realized she wanted a career in aviation.

I told my mom, ‘hey mom, I want to be a pilot.’ She said, ‘that’s nice, pass the peas.

Abingdon Welch

Not understanding vocational school, Abingdon’s parents wished her to follow a more traditional path and that is what she did. After high school, she attended four years at the University of California, San Diego which resulted in a degree in psychology and film. During that time she did not forget her dream of one day sitting in the cockpit and flying a plane.

With saving every penny from summer jobs she was ready to jump head first into flight training the moment she finished university. Because of her diligent planning, she was able to attend the American Flyers Flight School without acquiring any more student loans. In 2007 she graduated with her commercial rating and was hired as a professional pilot.

It was also in 2007 that Abingdon launched Abingdon Company. On November 3 her namesake became the first watch company to meet the needs of female pilots, mechanics, and adventure women.  Born out of necessity, the fully functional aviator’s watch is fashionable, versatile, and most importantly, made for women.

I really wanted a pilot’s watch and since they didn’t make anything for women, I established the watch company

Abingdon Welch

It was that simple. Abingdon saw something was amiss and set her mind to make it right. It’s a wonderful way to improve the world. However, her impact doesn’t end at fabulously functional accessories. When looking back on her road towards becoming a pilot, she realized the struggles she had.

I didn’t come from a family that was in aviation. I really didn’t know where to start, so I just kind of found out things as I went along and it took me a long time.

Abingdon Welch

It was those difficulties Abingdon wanted a younger generation to avoid. She wanted a support system for young women and with that desire, the Abingdon Foundation was created.

I started Abingdon Foundation to help women figure out where they want to go, and not necessarily in aviation. If they want to explore scuba diving. If they want to explore maintenance becoming a mechanic and they don’t know what to do or where to go, we can help.

Abingdon Welch

The Abingdon Foundation supports women to find their way through scholarships, community outreach, and networking opportunities. Like the lack of aviation/adventure watches for women, Abingdon created something that women didn’t realize they needed. With these tools, she hopes to make the journey for the next 14-year-old girl a bit easier to reach their dreams.


Love to Explore

Many of us spend most of our days trapped inside four walls with a window, if we are lucky. While pounding away at a keyboard, we sometimes allow our minds to drift away to fantasies spending the day outside in the sun with the sounds of nature as our soundtrack. Yet, there are some who don’t have to dream of an escape because the outdoors is their office. One of these lucky individuals is Mia Anstine.

Mia Anstine

Mia grew up in a small town in southern Colorado. It was there that she learned she loved to explore the nature that surrounded her. Mia’s natural instinct to explore isn’t a surprise. She comes from a long line of hunters. Growing up her father hunted for food and her mother grew a garden and taught her how to fish. Their lives were simple and focused on the basic necessities of life. But it wasn’t until Mia and her mother moved to San Diego that she realized how fortunate she was as a child.

Many people in urban areas never notice birds, plants, or trees. But I quickly learned that looking hard enough led to finding wild places and outdoor areas to explore.

Mia Anstine

As she grew up her life began to take her further away from nature but no matter where she lived there were always places to go, explore, and learn about. Sometimes it would just take a little longer and she would have to wander a little further. Shortly after college Mia realized that she missed the country life and after moving to Texas and then Oregon she returned to her hometown in Colorado.

near Durango, Colorado

Even though she returned to her small town life in the mountains that she greatly missed she didn’t pursue a career in the outdoors.  As a highly successful salesperson for a building company, she worked tirelessly to stay in the top ranks. This left her little time to do what she loved, hunting. She was a single working mother like so many others that wanted to provide for her family. She wanted to be able to put food on the table like her father and his father before him. So, Mia began to head out on solo hunts on the weekend.  Sometimes her little girl would tag along and carry her shotgun for bird hunting.

The mother-daughter time was priceless, and the outdoors was a welcomed break from my non-stop commissioned sales job. The outdoors is good for your soul.  

Mia Anstine

It wasn’t until Mia met her now-husband, who owns an outfitting business, that she began to transition away from sales and into working in the outdoors. It all began when he was short a hunting guide.  Knowing that Mia was a good hunter he asked if she was willing to help. She agreed to fill in and that was the first step in her career as an advocate for the outdoors.


These days, I make a little less money than I did when I was the top salesperson for a large corporation, but everything I do to encourage others is empowering and brings me joy. It’s so rewarding. In all things I do, my mission is to encourage others to get outside, hunt, fish, shoot, cook, eat, survive, create and live life positively.

Mia Anstine

Baking with LOVE

They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach and if you were armed with Georgetown cupcakes your crushes heart would be in the palm of your hands.

These undisputed delectable treats have tantalized taste buds for over a decade. Sisters and owners, Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Berman, officially opened their doors over a decade ago in Washington, DC on Valentine’s day in 2008.

Georgetown Cupcake – Washington, DC

Since then they have expanded Georgetown Cupcake to six cities, ship cupcakes nationwide, and have developed a cupcake and frosting mix baking line in partnership with Williams Sonoma. With a menu of over 100 different flavors, they now bake over 25,000 cupcakes a day and have over 300 employees across the country.

Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Berman

As an addition to our ongoing Women’s Work project we asked the sisters who inspired them to become the cupcake queens they are today. Sophie and Katherine’s love of tiny cakes started early in their lives.

Sophie and Katherine

They spent much of their early childhood with their grandmother, Katherine Ouzas, watching her bake during the holidays and special occasions.

Katherine Ouzas

Not only did they develop their passion for baking from their grandmother but learned the importance of hard work. As a non-english speaking immigrant from Greece, their grandmother created a life in the United States with her husband. She had achieved the American dream and with those skills passed down, Sophie and Katherine had the confidence to follow their dreams.

Love comes in so many forms and places. From their grandmother, Sophie and Katherine learned and experienced the joy that they could bring to others through baking – the notion that something that they made with their own hands could bring happiness to others.  And thatʼs ultimately what their business is about – spreading love, comfort, and joy to others.

Personal Work – A cure for what ails you

By Chris Crisman

Did anyone play the lottery this week? Our team certainly did and a $10 ticket turned out to be less about the chance of winning a gazillion decimal points. It became a time to share the possibilities of a future. Some of us would shut it down and coast, some of us would devise a plan to share the wealth and give back to everyone that could use it, some of us simply dreamt of just taking a break. It’s a tantalizing exercise to contemplate the opportunities you could have, the challenges that would arise, and just how you would find ways to balance it all.

We are approached to work on so many jobs and it is hard to deny the randomness to how each year shakes out for us. We try to move forward on as many opportunities as possible and they need to have the right values to do so. When looking back on a year we seem to strike the right balance of projects. To be able to find creative fulfillment and financial stability with our work. Sometimes we are presented with a special Unicorn project that we dream of working on but no matter how much we fight for the job it still gets away. Even though you think you have dominance of the situation, there will always be a number of variables that are out of your control. Embracing this reality has really kept me from going insane.

Another aspect of our work that helps balance the inevitable presence of impending insanity – personal work. It is as easy as putting a pin on a map. Just you and your camera traveling to beautiful locations can be unpredictable magic waiting to happen. 

 Alternatively, you can dedicate your time and other resources to hone in on exactly what it is you want to express; this is my preferred method. With these projects – or singular images – you can easily give you and your team back the control, vision, taste, and your calendar that often seems out of your hands.

It all sounds simple, but I still struggle. I struggle with the where, the when, and the how. I struggle with whether I am choosing the right concept or idea to focus on. Will the small detail of a coat on the guy actually ruin an otherwise perfect image? Above all else, I struggle with the why. If I make this picture, will anyone care? Will it inspire someone who sees it? Anyone? Beyond all else, is there a chance that this work could possibly change the way people see the world? I think about all of this with every project that I undertake – especially the ones where I am able to have complete control of the end result.

I’ve already mentioned embracing randomness- this idea goes both for things you can and can’t control. Alt-country artist Sturgill Simpson who was right when he said, “Some days you kill it, some days you just choke”. The reality in this sentiment rings clear for me. I won’t always be a winner, but If I keep my head down and focus clear, I will continue to find a balance throughout my career. One last thing, don’t spend more than $10 playing the lottery, even if I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

Liberating the Lands

Anna Valer Clark

When Anna Valer Clark first arrived at South East Arizona, a place she would call home, her first question was “What do the cows eat, rocks?” The land she stood on was exhausted and the only thing thriving in the unfortunate barren landscape was the tiny rocks scattered across the view. She had left her life as a New York City socialite to become a Permaculturalist. She wanted to stimulate or directly utilize the patterns and features observed in the natural ecosystem to revive the terrain.  She saw the potential of the land and dreamt of restoring it back to its original grandeur. Many years of poor management, over-grazing, and logging in the hills had left the earth unable to hold the rainfall causing monsoons like floods and severe erosion.

Valer believes where there is water there is life and with barely any life remaining on her land the key was to avoid further damage. She realized she could hinder the erosion and capture water in the hills by putting rock dams across the places that been affected in hopes to return this area to its former glory.

 As she suspected the areas where the dams were established prevented further devastation. The soil did not wash away and that gave the native plants an opportunity to grow roots and thrive.

With each year the natural vegetation grew and established itself with vigor. To see the lands today one could not conceive that this was once a place of dust and sun-soaked earth. Anna Valer Clark has brought back balance to her lands and the harmony is magnificent.

My life has been a continuation of applying these same principles of harvesting water, revegetation of the land, and the restoration of water to dry areas. My mission has been to take severely degraded land and restore it. If one can accomplish this under the seemingly impossible conditions, then one can do it anywhere.

Anna Valer Clark

A Taste of Honey

Christy Wihelmi

The natural fear of a stinging bee is a threat that we often face when retrieving our desired honey. This fear was not lost on our team when we were faced with the challenge of working with these tiny soldiers.  However, there are many different roles that bees have and the bees we often see are the foragers. They have a crucial role in the hive and in nature in general. It is their job to search up to a 3-mile radius to collect nectar from the surrounding flowers while simultaneously pollinating the area. The nectar is then brought back to the hive to produce honey. They are the bees we typically see flying in and out of a hive and it is those bees that co-starred with Christy Wihelmi on our shoot on Cal Poly Farm.

Christy in her own right is a keeper of bees. She is an avid gardener and has become the rescuer of bee swarms that develop in her community garden. The word “swarm” sounds overwhelming and terrifying but it is a natural instinct for bees.  Once the population grows too large for the hive, the colony divides. This process involves a new queen to develop and the old queen leaves to start a new home. A swarm is created when a gathering of bees surround the traveling queen. The bees are particular docile during this time and their sole goal is to protect the queen. At this time it is easy to handle them to relocate or just wear them on your face like a beard of bees.

Bee Bearded Man

Even with Christy’s bee handling knowledge, they are as unpredictable as the weather and they don’t follow direction very well. This is a challenge you face when working with animal talent.  That being said, we had a game plan, all of the techniques first developed by ancient Egyptians, and a lot of PMA (positive mental attitude) which is always a good start.

Robert Luessen wishing he wasn’t surrounded by bees

This project was especially challenging for Chris and Robert who both faced childhood trauma regarding bees. Under any other circumstances they would have been with the rest of the crew some distance away, but instead, the two had to suit up and get acquainted with our tiny stars.

With the on-set beekeeper managing the bees with perfectly timed puffs of smoke to subdue, we accomplished beautiful photos that inspire. There was only one stinging incident which, ironically happened to one of the far away crew members. When we finally wrapped, we left that day with new found respect for bees and the people who keep them.

THAT ONE TIME WE WENT TO PRISON

A long narrow hallway lined with tiny barred cells enclosing angry men flinging obscenities is what we expected to find at a maximum security male prison. The entertainment industry depicts the American correctional system as a scary place. So, when we were given the opportunity to enter Oregon State Penitentiary we were filled with excitement and a bit of concern.

As you might have guessed, entering a prison is no easy task. There are several obstacles to navigate in order to be approved for entry. First off, background check for all members of the entire crew. Second, a thoroughly vetted equipment list. This list was scrutinized and whittled down three times. Each list included visuals of what was included. A location like this is only possible with the use of battery powered lights. Without them, it would be difficult to get down to three bags. 

The third obstacle was squeezing two portrait subjects into a tight schedule during the facility lockdown. We reviewed the Tour Guidelines for visitors which informed us of their hostage policy that states there are inherent risks in visiting a correctional facility. After several weeks of back and forth with Oregon State Penitentiary, everything was set and ready to go.

Oregon State Penitentiary is nestled in the sleepy town of Salem. Driving through the town you wouldn’t expect a maximum security prison would live just up the road. If there was a maximum security prison, you wouldn’t expect it to be lined with large, lush trees and meticulously maintained landscaping. The stark difference from the picturesque greenery and the castle-like exterior of the prison is striking. We stood on the steps of the Oregon State Penitentiary with nothing but our gear, our IDs and just a little bit of nerves.

Once inside we went through a series security checkpoints. Every step of the process was efficient. The staff was friendly and helpful through it all. We quickly moved to our first location and set up to shoot in cell block D. Once we were in the heart of the facility, it was evident how calm and quiet space it was. Unlike our chaotic expectations, we felt comfortable in the space. Of course, there was a bit of excitement buzzing around, we were a photo crew, something completely out of the ordinary. Even with our unusual presence the men lounged in their brightly colored cells patiently waiting for the lockdown to end.

Our first subject was Megan Lowe, a Corporal Correction Officer at OSP. She began her career at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) in 2014. She was inspired by her father to follow a career in correction. Megan’s petite frame was weighed down by the required gear but her presence was enormous. Watching her walk down the block you saw her confident control in the space. She was one of the reasons we felt so safe there. She provides the order needed for peace.

We spent a few short but fulfilling moments with Megan. She allowed us to collaborate in her domain and we could not have asked for a smoother experience. Wrapping up in the housing block it was time to pack up and move on to our next location to meet Patrice, another staff member of OSP.  She is also doing amazing things but that is another story for another time.

To Be Continued…