It is no secret that Ashley Thalman is no longer LDS. It is also no secret that some of my most profound memories, relationships, experiences, and growth came as a practicing true-believing Mormon. And I was true. I served a mission and deeply felt the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation and it gave me hope, helped insulate me through child abuse and neglect, a parent's death, and a painful marriage.
It has been a hard and rewarding road learning to navigate spirituality on my own terms while wrestling with the pain points that very aggressively, very unexpectedly destroyed my foundational belief in Mormonism's core concepts and culture. I did not "fall away", nor was I "lead" from the paths and prescriptions of Mormonism or the Gospel. I did not read "anti". I just took my gospel doctrine calling seriously and leaned in hard to what I thought Christianity was.
It would be an understatement at best, and dishonest at worst, not to say that my faith crisis hit me with the force of war. I felt like I was exploding, imploding. I collapsed under the weight of it. I aches with screaming and sobbing and moaning. This went on and on for well over a year.
Groaning in heaves of crying, praying, begging. "Please, let it be real." --- "What is the point anymore?!"---- "What happens when we die!" I ran. I ran so hard and far and fast that I ran my knees ragged and the torn cartilage evidence is audible.
I tried, I read and researched hoping to find a loophole, a wormhole to bring me back all my assurance and knowing. I versed myself on the finer points, the broader foundations, the intentions, the culture, the history and yet, I could not unsee what I had seen. I wished I could and still I couldn't. I was not wrong but I didn't know that. I made myself wrong and felt deep pointed pains of loss and grief.
There is a difference among the disaffected, between those of us who never felt the true-blue depth of Mormonism, and those who did. It is the divisible difference between leaving a casual boyfriend/girlfriend and divorcing a person you were deeply in love with and committed to for 20+ years.
I taught gospel doctrine for about 6 months following the collapse of my belief because I hoped that somewhere in Ashley was a spiritual gift to reconcile not only myself, but all the pain the church and its culture had caused, with all the good of all the people who relied on it and were committed to it.
But then I mercifully moved. I left the branch I had belonged to for 6 years and I stopped going. I have never been back. I started telling friends, told my family, experienced a lot of freedom not having to hide anymore and once my divorce was final, I sent in my official resignation letter and had my records removed from the church. This entire time I had an army of ex mos, jack mos, liberal af mos, mo mos who all loved me. But even still I had to learn to love the me I never planned on becoming. I had roadmaps of unorthodoxy, exit, resignation. I had Reddit. I had tools. I had a therapist but some are not so lucky.
I know this hurts to read for some of you. It would have hurt and worried a previous me. I do not share this to "leave the church, but not leave it alone". I share it to humanize something happening that is not one dimensional. You see, I never foresaw this path for myself. And because of the alchemic work I have done to accept, embrace and grow from all this I have become someone I was always afraid I could never be. And I love her. And I'm grateful that I'm not LDS and at the same time I am grateful that I was. And that's flippin' hard to work through and not everyone can say that.
So, here is the point of this long long share. And a little invitation... Our culture of Mormonism is filled with countless people who, like I once was, are running and aching and sobbing and begging and hoping to reconcile their faith. They are everywhere. For some, even once reconciliation and relief comes, they stay. The reasons are myriad and each one is real and worthy and shitty and isolating and painful beyond what I can explain here.
These people are teaching gospel doctrine, they are bishops, they are your daughters-in-law, they are leading auxiliaries, working at the COB, at BYU- all wearing the costume, walking the walk, because it is too painful to leave, too expensive, too emotionally costly, too dangerous. And sometimes if may be because of things they have heard you say. It may be that they are so certain that your love is limited to their 10% and temple recommend that they keep this huge grief from you, resigning to live as a shadow. And you don't know who they are because this is a well-intentioned culture that encourages us to "doubt out doubts" and therefore we erroneously "doubt the doubters" and that hurts people terribly.
Years ago when I was very "in" and I was hoping to gain insight on how to empathize and create safety for those who were out, or verging on it, a therapist invited me to "BE CURIOUS"- be empathetic.
That is where the magic begins. And if that feels safe, and you can follow the inclusive lessons of Christ a bit deeper you will deepen. It will profoundly enrich you to embrace others. Maybe you will find that you would be okay having a family member or friend who is changing shape. Open your mouth and reaffirm their place and security as someone you love and trust who can love and trust you.
My dad said the most beautiful thing a few years ago, "I trust that you had good reasons for leaving and I still think you are great." That is ideal! If you can't say it with integrity, start by withholding your judgements about those leave because you never, ever know who will leave next.
How much have we hidden to show only one side? How many parts have we divorced, and where did those parts go? What does it mean to make a welcome home for ourself, after we sent her away?
Woman, you do not fit into narrow prescriptions.
You are an endless landscape, an ecosystem entire of light and dark, rot and flowering.
You are the seed breaking forth, angry and determined.
You are the dark soil parting and nourishing.
You are the gift that the world called forth, you are whole and holy, you don’t need what you don’t already have.
You are sprout and root, stem and leaf, not a mere flowering part.
You are all the death that hides and the life that brings you back, again and again.
This is the true story of woman. Don’t let them tell you any different.
“It came at a time where we knew it was the end of her life. I knew I wanted it documented even though it was such a painful time. In and out of knowing what was going on in her life, she had stopped constantly only showing happiness. It was sad. Leaving this world is just as hard, messy, and painful as it is coming in.”- Meikel remembering her grandmother. This photograph was taken just a few days before her death.
“She makes me happy. I see a kind, strong woman but behind her layers complicated, intelligent. You captured her grace and love. I look at this picture and see a regular human but with wisdom behind her eyes. You wouldn’t know it but she stood in the Oval Office many times. She met world leaders and conversed with some of the most powerful people in history countless times yet she still appears approachable.”- Neena honoring her Grandmother Usha.
What do I see?
I see strength. I see confidence. I see weathered, dry hands that are physical evidence of hard work. I see arms that are small but mighty. I see lovely, wind blown locks. I see a woman standing tall, feeling proud.
Who is she?
She is a woman who was built with a strong foundation and support system. She is a woman that is willing to take some risks, but not all; who is proud, yet humble. I see a woman who thrives when working hard and creating. She is a woman who cares a little less about what other people think than she did years ago, and is content. Grateful. And happy.- Amanda Green
Portraits of Mother by Ashley Thalman
7 Sessions Available
Email for Details
M O T H E R
“How do I feel about the person in the photo? I would say. Forgiven, embraced, connected and loved. A person who is looking toward the light and forgiven the past of its darkness. No longer sweeping it under the rug or dwelling on its hardship. Embracing the light of all possibilities to come.
How do I feel about how she looks? Stunning. Look at her strong body and capable mind. Those eyes and that smile. Wow. Hair of a goddess.” - Audrey Christensen
Portraits of Mother by Ashley Thalman
8 Sessions Available
Email for Details
M O T H E R
“I see a woman determined to do the inner work necessary to heal from the betrayal of a religion she once would have died for. I see a woman consciously healing from the betrayal of a partner she thought would stand by her in good and bad times. I see a woman who was just beginning to realize the ultimate betrayal was to herself – being so wrapped up into the labels of wife and mother that she forgot who she was.
I see a woman willing to fight for safety, both for herself and her children, not knowing if that meant a new home 500 miles away in the familiarity of Arizona desert. I see a woman who was prepared to raise four kids on her own - shifting into a new co-parenting paradigm.
I see a woman who believed in magic. A woman who watched the 2017 solar eclipse in totality, with her children at her side, believing magic would come. And it did come. In the form of a good, gentle man with a kind heart and willing hands who physically built back the pieces of a broken, abandoned home.
I see a woman who worshiped Mt. Timpanogos from the view of her new kitchen, standing at the countertops she stained herself. It was a beacon of hope every golden hour watching the brilliant colors glow on the peak.
I see a woman who held and touched pain, who gave space to sorrow. I see a woman who was determined to rise above the valley of pain.
I see a woman who rose up from the ashes of what once was, transformed into a new radiant being. I see a woman who learned her value, self-worth, and identity are not determined by any religion, person, or labels. I see myself as whole. I see myself as good. I see myself as enough.
Now, it’s probably too long, but I wrote what I needed to.”- Vanessa Adams Kerr
Portraits of Mother by Ashley Thalman
9 Sessions Available
Email for Details
M O T H E R
”As I left the hospital with empty arms and a hole in my heart that was the exact shape of his body, I couldn’t help but once again, feel helpless: Who in the fuck was going to rescue me from this? From burying this child that had my eyes and my nose and that I never got the chance to know?
Having braved the journey through that grief, I know now that the answers to this question wouldn't be found in another book. It wouldn't be found in another class, or another person.
I know now that where I really needed to begin, where we always need to begin, is sitting on the floor, with our eyes closed. That the first step I had to take, the first step anyone must take, is inward".” - Maddie Beeton
Portraits of Mother by Ashley Thalman
10 Sessions Available
Email for Details
It was an October Monday in the quiet Edmonton airport where I met Mo. It was a chanced meeting and, like foreordained companions, we passed through TSA, through the sad terminal architecture, through the heavy-handed duty free gift shop- as a pair.
Taking cues from time and place, we chose a corner where the light was right, a place to talk and share. In that place we were seen and we saw each other. The truth is that Mo blessed me by being seen and showing up like he did. Connection, kindness, consideration, and fantastic light is all around us. And Mo, he’s experienced, artistic, deep, and funny. It has been so amazing in the last year and a half to see and watch Mo’s light and depth shine in a world that needs his voice, needs his generosity and humor.
Snapped these a few weekends ago after completing Javi’s professional headshots. Seeing a friend in love is a magic I will always follow and want to capture and know more about. Natty and Javi met on a day where he, riding his bicycle, wasn’t planning to turn right. They met in a place that if she’d left just a minute earlier, she would have missed him. But what could have happened, didn’t happen. What happened is that reality that brought them together, and reality got it right.
I love these images Amanda and I created for her brand, Amanda Green Pottery. Amanda married Jordan Green, my dear friend Natalie’s brother. A few weeks ago while making headshots for Javi, Natalie’s boyfriend, I mentioned my admiration and attraction to Amanda’s work and that evening Amanda reached out to book her first professional production shoot…with ME!
Just a few weeks later Amanda and I met at UItraviolet Studios for her production headshot session to highlight her work. A few minutes before her session she shot me a text, “Hey Ashley! It's Amanda, we'll be there soon with coffee.”
With her little Edie in tow, quietly sitting on a pile of quilts, tinkering with Jenga and oranges, we set up her wardrobe and earrings according to color and style. I loved seeing Amanda’s beautiful work in person. I’ve been a long-time Instagram fan but to see her work in person added another dimension to my admiration. Her earrings are unexpected, feminine, and unique and her pots and fruit basket are excellently crafted. I’ve been wanting to see her work in person and the experience did not disappoint.
Amanda and I utilized my studios’s organic color palates and backdrops to highlight her with her work and the results do not disappoint. The time we scheduled flew by like it always does with the right project with the right people.
I cannot wait for our next session Amanda. Thank you for trusting me as you grow your business and expand your craft and art.
I remember the first time I saw a photograph of Priscilla Bingham. The photo was a perfectly toned black and white image taken on Priscilla’s wedding day by my friend Kiera. I wanted to know her and talk to her. I called her in.
Over the years the concentric circles of life, interests, and the collective evolution of the women in my life who feel the charge of, “It’s time” circumstance drew Priscilla into my life.
Priscilla Bingham is deeply creative. Her work as a Kundalini Yoga instructor and student, jewelry alchemist, sound medication and conscious eating guide provide an invitation for slow, deliberate and powerful healing.
I have been lucky to have a friendship of sharing insights, discussing the need for deepening morality, shared movement, conscious parenthood, and of course, and above all, the art with which all of these tender things need to be handled. I learn so much from Priscilla. She has helped empower me with tools to be a better, more free version of myself; from white tantric and golden milk to the energetic power behind chanting and laughter this woman has a mission and to know her uncommon outlook is to know power.
Priscilla has heard the call to rise and share her voice, her experiences, her humor and her strength with the world and I am so lucky to support her, witness her and feel the power of her immense artistry and compassion as it is shared with the world.
Portraits taken on at the shore of Seattle’s Lake Washington.
I met Dr Dee Frayne of My Yes Life at Audrey Christensen's Be Fab Launch event this January hosted at my space, Ultraviolet Studios. Dee’s fun-loving, magnetic, no-bullshit personality was immediately evident. As I’ve gotten to know Dee these last few weeks, it is clear that Dee shows up. She shows up for herself and others, for community action, improvement and the betterment of herself and her community. Dee shows up for self-love. Like all inspiring humans, Dee takes her short time on life seriously and she has structured her professional career around confronting and accepting powerful truths.
Dee and I worked together to create an updated headshot collection that complemented her hope-bringing, hard-working brand. We wanted to create images that highlighted her steady confidence, positive grounded demeanor, invitation for movement, and the competent professionalism needed to coach people to the higher-ground of self love.
I’ve been sitting on these images for a few weeks now while Dee’s latest publication went live. National publications often require images and copy that are entirely unique and never before seen. So we waited. Last week her article, “The Yes Addiction” was picked up by 50 publications including the Boston Herald. It is so inspiring to see women do huge things, share compelling, life-changing ideas. Thank you for trusting me to see you and support you in this next phase of your professional bad-assery, Dee.
My daughter took this photo of me at Andi Pitcher’s cabin. No bra, lounging around, yesterday’s makeup, wild hair. It was a lazy morning, the kind that I’ve given myself permission to have. The sun was so warm there. Dotter raised the camera and I had a choice to make. I could have silently protested the portrait by letting her take it overexposed or by shewing her away, “Not until I’m dressed” or “No, let me take some of you.” But I didn’t, I set her exposure and let her see me.
My daughter is 10, the age so many of us began to pull at our skin, to notice lines in the abdomen when twisting, the way thighs pucker, the way we didn’t measure “right”. We inherited this from the work not done before us and I’ll be damned. I’ll be damned to be another woman pulling at puckers and hating my body, demonstrating this for my children and friends. I will not pass this on. I will let her take the photo and I will take hers, and yours, and again and again.
Angel Castillo and I met to get to know one another in preparation for her upcoming headshot session with me, at Ultraviolet Studios. Angel reached out upon booking and invited me for a quick coffee date at Wasatch Roasting Company which let’s be honest, I am not one to turn down coffee. Angel recommenced the mocha because it isn’t “too sweet” because well, she gets it. We settled in for coffee and conversation, exploring the power and responsibility of leading a city that is growing at the rate Ogden is. I’ve seen it in Utah County, she has seen it in LA. She gets it. She does this place.
We discussed art, culture, diversity, what it means to move to a new place, friendship, food, and mountains. We talked about the power of honest portraits and about why she needed them. Angel’s campaign is built on showing up and protecting a city that is on the cusp of massive growth, she needs to be seen and shown as real. She needs to be shown as the competent, experienced voice that Ogden needs for our upcoming Mayoral race who looks forward to the opportunity and responsibility of Mayorship. Because the truth is, Ogden needs someone who sees this beautiful, growing place we call home, the way Angel Castillo does- with foresight.
I was so happy to make these campaign headshots for Angel and cannot wait to work with her again and see her leadership extended through this valley home we share.