Any advice on beginning to explain what it feels like to know your soul mate?

I met Jennell on the first day of my years at Bastyr University in Seattle.  My life was about to change that day.  Retrospect provides this kind of insight and it feels like watching a movie in reverse when I think of that time in my life.
As friends and classmates we were in deep and as thick as thieves from the first second. I loved her deeply and our friendship would grow to be inspirational for me on many levels.  Jennell is honest and real and hilarious and absolutely self deprecating and brilliant and insanely talented, and by god if she wants you to like her you best watch out.  She will win that battle.
When I say our friendship was inspirational, Jennell taught me how to be a friend.  I loved the way it felt to be so deeply listened to by her so I vowed to be exactly like that. She taught me how to be truly present in a conversation with someone.  When she would give me feedback or compliment anything in my life I hung on every word. Her words are mindful, observant, and so wicked generous.  It feels so good to be appreciated so I try to never miss an opportunity to love on someone.
 
You may be wondering what it feels like to be adored by someone like this.  It's royalty. I was with her this weekend and ask me how many times I introduced myself as, "...Tara.  Jennell's* best* friend." Then they would ask if I had ever been to Lopez Island before.  My East Coast comes out occasionally. 
'Have I been to Lopez? Only about 100 times. I said I was Jennell's best friend.' 
Fucking hippies, right?  So hard of hearing.
   
I live here, she lives there.  I think I'm a rock star, she thinks she's a witch. We've come a long way, but it's the same  every time we're together: no time has passed, we confirm that we still have the coolest chick in the room as a best friend, notice we still have all our old neurosis, and then at some point I'm on my knees bawling telling her how important she is to me.  I don't even think she looks up from the stove at this point.  She smiles deeply, "I know, darlin. You've mentioned that."

Jennell was diagnosed with cancer in January.  There was a 4-inch tumor in her right breast and sure enough the news everyone fears was true.  By the time she discovered the tumor it was large enough to require a full mastectomy. 

Chemo and radiation start next week and the whole treatment plan will take the year. She'll burn her forest down to the ground so that the beautiful body can start to replant, grow, and flourish.  She is a hippie, ya know?  It could happen. 
Jennell, I hope more than anything that these photographs will bring you back to this time in your lives for years and years and years. I hope you use them to see how beautiful you are and how much love there is in your life.  Thank you so much for everything and all.
You will get through this year and you will be fine.  You will have learned so much about yourself and your children and Brian. You will feel invincible because you will be.  You will grow very old.

You have to get ugly with me, dude.  Sorry.
 
(small facts:  Jennell, Brian, Freda, and Sam live on Lopez Island, a small island in the San Juan Islands in Washington state.  You can buy Canadian weed from dudes smuggling on kayaks. I'm kidding. I don't know if you can.... They live in Lopez' version of community housing, it's a small cluster of smurf houses that cost like five cents a year for like a million years...Jennell and Brian own Blossom Organic Grocery which is the brothel in town. I kid, it's well..the organic grocery store on the island. Rough translation: they're the mayors......Freda is six, Sam is four.... ironically, or maybe not so, Freda is the smartest person I've ever met and she's a drama queen charmer like her mother. ;).... Sam named the family cat: Billy Boom Alligator Orange Carrot Cheese stick.... Sam is so rad....Brian is smarter than the internet and nicer than good god, Brian is like nicer than everyone you know.  There ya have it.)
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Matt Mills says:

Great photos! That was really nice of you to go out and do this, too. It sounds like they have a cool set-up out there...


Hopefully chemo goes well!

(04.28.12 @ 10:32 AM)
Nancy says:

A-mazing, Tara! It is hard to wipe the broad smile off my face. A wonderful gift for Jennell, and for everyone who loves this family. Enjoyed spending time with you...hope our paths cross again.

(04.28.12 @ 05:01 PM)
Renee Showalter says:

Hi - Just wanted to say thanks for doing this for Jennell, my sister-in-law and brother Brian. They are a very unique and special family and you caught them in their true light! What awesome pictures - sure to be treasured for years to come!!!

(04.28.12 @ 11:40 PM)
Renee Showalter says:

Forgot to mention that even the toys you took pictures of were toys of my sister and brothers when we were younger. Like the Fisher Price radio in Sam's hand and the picture of the the cupboard doors on the child kitchen cabinet made by our grandfather - lots of memories even for me.

(04.28.12 @ 11:53 PM)
Gretchen Krampf says:

Beautiful photos and story about a wonderful family, terrific couple and amazing woman. How grand that you two shared Lopez time together. How blessed to be Jennell's friend. I love her muchly.

(04.29.12 @ 12:17 AM)
Billye says:

Absolutely beautiful and moving, Tara. You constantly impress and inspire me! Keep up the lovely work :)

(04.29.12 @ 01:07 AM)
Brian Kvistad says:

Tara, What can I say? You have a true Gift. So Glad I'm Here. So glad you are in this world, doing what you do so well. You help us see the beauty that is right in front of our noses. I am not always graceful, and I know you know that, but I see these pictures and I am knocked to the floor weeping for the love of what I see, in the pictures, and, afresh, all around me: my bowl-me-over-beautiful wife, my giggling-gorgeous children, even my not-so-bad-looking mug. Is my world really so beautiful? My God, so it is. What is it about your work that breaks open my eyes and heart and soul to peel away the sneaky cataracts of familiarity? Happy Easter indeed. God brings us new life.

(04.30.12 @ 02:04 PM)
Terri says:

I learned of your website/bog through your book that i recently purchased - " Brave Intuitive Painting" These are such beautiful pictures and they have really hit home since I am awaiting results from my recent mammogram that needed to be repeated and more extensive exams. The way the pictures are portrait is just so refreshing, real and very moving. Congratulations on such beautiful work.

(05.15.12 @ 10:36 PM)
Harmony says:

These pictures are amazing....I laughed, I cried....ridiculous!!! I will keep this family in my thoughts and prayers and please let us know how she is doing!!!

(07.06.12 @ 10:33 AM)
Sighhhh.... the Ouellettes....(heart bubbles emanating from my chest).  So... I was lucky enough to photograph Courtney and Chris' wedding in 2009 (which you can see HERE). That was a pretty big year for the newlyweds because they got a dog (Buddha), a baby (Charlotte), and moved (Austin).  I'm lucky enough to photograph them when they're back in Mass for visits, but this time I went THERE.  I stayed with these absolutely beautiful people while I was in Austin last week and I'm more in love than ever.  It's thanks to Courtney that I was able to photograph the other three wonderful crews in Austin.  Staying with this family was such...a...nice..time.  I hope I did their family and their love justice in this shoot. God, I hope you fall in love with Charlotte.  I hope you see how incredibly sweet and hilarious she is.  I hope you fall in love with Chris and Courtney, as a couple, as parents, and as individuals.  I hope you see how nice and loving and generous and fun they are.
The Texas Blue Bonnet flowers were in full bloom on the hazy and beautiful day we shot together so they're blue-ness is highly featured in the shoot. 

C, C, and C (and B)... I'll remember your generosity and kindness last week for the rest of my life.  I cherish our friendship. I adore you all.  I hope to see you again very soon.  Thank you so much for cherishing what I do for a living.  Your support means the world to me, I'm honored to be your photographer and I love you.

Let's look at some pictures...
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Turns out that southern California is a much nicer place to be in late December than Boston is. Who knew. I spent the day with the hilarious, gorgeous, smart, generous Shoemaker family. They rented a place on Balboa island near Newport Beach and we basically just hung out all day and watched little Emerson be precious.  If Emerson fit in a toaster I would slather her with butter and eat her. She's such a great little kid.
Enough of me, let's look at some pictures.  Meet The Shoemakers of Newport Beach.  Rockin.
Thank you. Enjoy. Love.
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Bethany says:

TOO CUTE!

(01.19.12 @ 05:07 PM)
Gina says:

OMG, Tara, this child is so stinkin' cute! The ribs-sticking-out-in-my-diaper pic is my fav. Great job!!!

(01.25.12 @ 01:44 PM)
Worrrrrd.  I've been besties with Kristen since we were three years old and if you follow my blog (and I can't imagine why you wouldn't follow my blog. It's not like the blogosphere is saturated) you'll know that I make an annual pilgrimage to Wisconsin to see m'girl and spend time with her (amazing, hilarious, funny, happy, silly, playful, talented, smart, gorgeous) family.
It's fun to see a family grow so here are links to the past three years:
Year One 
Year Two
Year Three
This year we had some new additions.  Kristen's big brother and two of his sons joined us for a fun afternoon.  And Kristen and Mark have a new niece who we visited.
I hope you enjoy watching this super sweet family grow over the years as much as I do.  I have the giggles just thinking about them.  Sighhh... Kris, I miss you. :(
Thank you. Enjoy. LOVE!!!!!
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Gawwwwwwwd I love these people.  I love them in a way that makes me want to check if Jet Blue is running any sort of free flight program from Boston to San Diego if you make the trip once a week...which they're not, by the way.
Isaac and Erin were friends in high school, started dating at 18 years old, and have been married for ten years.  Somewhere in their courtship they moved to San Francisco from San Diego.  They met Jon Gray in San Francisco.  I'm certain they met others while they were there, but they met a soul mate in Jon.  I too met Jon Gray in San Francisco, 11 months before Isaac and Erin met him, 14 years ago. Jon talked so much about these two people that their two names soon sounded like one: Isaacanderin.  Jon gushed pretty hard about the people he loved and he gushed CRAZY for this couple. They sounded awesome so I started asking about them every time I talked to Jon.  Though I didn't know them, I kept up with their lives through Jon. I knew they moved back to San Diego, got married, had two girls, taught high school theater and music.  I felt like I knew this family so I was always happy to hear that life was still rad with Isaacanderin.
Jon died suddenly in Brooklyn on April 21st of this year.  I got in touch with Isaac immediately. I introduced myself, he had heard of me. Without ever meeting each other, Isaac helped me endlessly through those first few nights of realizing Jon was gone.  Finally, after 14 years of hearing the lore, I met IsaacAndErin at Jon's memorial in Brooklyn. I loved them immediately.
As anyone knows who has lost someone they love, the sadness and loss comes in waves without warning. One particularly long and sad night in June grief hit like a sledge hammer. I was desperate to connect to Jon so I decided I needed to photograph Isaac and Erin and their girls in San Diego.  I asked if I could, they seemed psyched, we booked the trip.
I arrived at Isaac and Erin's home with my camera and plenty of luggage. I stayed for three days.  It might have been the most wonderful three days I've had in a very long time. They have a life I have never seen.  They have it all: a beautiful marriage based on friendship, love, and FUN. Their home is constantly full of musicians and artists making music together and having fun. Their GIRLS!?!?!  Their girls are kind, hilarious, smart, happy, sweet, adorable, generous...and they harmonize when they sing together!  It is truly one of the best families  I've ever seen. It's a harmonious, happy, low key, giggly, fun life.  The three days I spent with them showed me a life and lifestyle I didn't know was possible.  They truly have it all.
Jon has left us with such an incredible gift and this friendship will always be focused on keeping him alive, always celebrating him, talking about him and loving him hard.  All the way to heaven and back, baby.
Jon, your generosity has floored me.  I love all the people you loved.  You had such good taste, man.  I love and miss you.  We all do.
Tell the people you love that you love them.  Don't worry, you won't regret it and you won't scare anyone.  Being loved feels good.
The Langen family, baby... enjoy. I did. :)
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This is how Iris pees at the beach. Cute? I mean....kinda. (!!?!?!?)
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Zoe says:

Beautiful Tara! I'm at work, probably shouldn't be reading/looking at this stuff on their time, but colleagues are asking if I'm OK and I'm a little teary!! Your words and photos evoke such emotion and capture the best of people. Thanks for the happy tears!! xxx

(07.26.11 @ 02:55 PM)
Lauren says:

I have but one dream in this life: to be loved the way you love everyone. HARD. (Lucky for me I've found a darn good man; dreams do come true). The love you bring to everything, your work, your friends, your interests, it bursts forth from eveything like rays from the sun.

(07.26.11 @ 03:53 PM)
Marce says:

I was thinking about Jon and saw your link on his facebook page about visiting his friends in San Diego. How perfect. Of course, LOVE the photos, T...but even more than that, it's such a moving statement. To see something positive in the midst of loss is somehow reassuring. Maybe even uplifting. Thank you for that. Much love...

(08.03.11 @ 10:49 PM)