November 01, 2013

it was no surprise that a hurricane was coming – in this age of the 24 hour news cycle and bottom-of-the-screen panic feeds, it was impossible to ignore that a major storm was a brewin’ and it was heading straight toward the eastern shore. obvious evacuation plans were being made at the beaches and along the chesapeake. here in snow hill, the residents did what we do and stocked up on the essentials, put away the patio furniture and planned to ride it out. because our studio is located only 30 feet from the pocomoke river, we took some additional precautionary steps down there. in retrospect we were perhaps foolishly optimistic, but we weren’t stupid. important lighting equipment was moved to high shelves and covered, all image files were put onto additional storage and hard drives and removed from the studio – negatives were tucked neatly into a fire safe at my house. if anything we thought this would be more a wind event than rain and so we put our computers atop a high counter and under a large drop ceiling that would stay put if we lost a portion of the roof. we sandbagged the doors, we taped the windows and then we all went home.. and waited.


hurricane sandy made landfall on a monday and because I live here in snow hill, I walked down the 2 blocks to the studio that morning to look at the river. although I didn’t grow up here, the prior 5 generations of my family did – so before moving here 11 years ago, I had already been here during all seasons, through several major hurricanes and even a freak snow storm here and there. and never had I seen the south side of the river flood… it had gotten high and ‘ponded’ but the north bank of the river is much lower and as a result, they always get the water… even from a thunderstorm. so all morning and early afternoon I kept looking across the river to the north side and told myself that until it flooded over there, we had nothing to worry about. later in the afternoon the storm really started to get nasty and my dogs basically lost their minds when a large crack and boom was heard in the back yard.. I had lost a major tree that thankfully fell away from my house but another one was leaning precariously toward the lower roof. walking was now out of the question, so I ran to my jeep and again went down to the studio. I saw that the iconic willow tree at the riverhouse inn was gone. hundreds of weddings and dare I say thousands of family portraits had been photographed under that tree over the years. across the river, trees were falling left and right as the town tried their best to get them out of the way to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles – but still no water over there. so maybe we had been correct, this would be a crazy windy day and we’d probably lose power due to downed lines, but that was going to be the extent.. right? high tide that night was at 11:30 so I made my last visit to the river at midnight. the winds had begun to calm and miraculously most of the town still had power and although she was high, the pocomoke stayed put. I came back home relieved, happy and I’ll admit, a little smug.

the next morning I leashed up my dogs and we headed into town to see everything in the daylight. a block into the walk, sampson stopped and stared down the road… he wouldn’t budge. as booker and I encouraged him to keep walking with us I followed his gaze and saw it.. the river.. flooded… everywhere. the walk turned into a jog and then a run – I tied up their leashes to the post office flagpole and kept running into the water. every step I took brought deeper water and once I was to the front door of the studio, it was to the middle of my thighs. the sandbags frustrated and taunted me as I tried to get the front door open and once I finally got in.. well, I was basically standing in the middle of the pocomoke river. several large canvas prints were bobbing face side down across the room as light boxes had blown apart and now looked like sails with no wind. at a loss as to what to do, I took a photo and sent it to kris. seconds later she called ‘what the hell is going on?? are you okay?!’ I told her I was fine but that the studio was completely flooded and we just sat there on the phone – both of us silent, trying to wrap our heads around it. for the next 4 days we had over 3 feet of standing water in the studio until the river finally receded. the weekend before the hurricane had been our busiest of the year so we had to all work from home, trying to accomplish separately what we did most efficiently when we were together. we were so humbled and grateful for the constant outpouring of support and love that never stopped rolling in, literally from all over the world. local photographers offered their studios and equipment if needed, people in town were ready to help with clean up as soon as the water was gone, and then there were our clients…. god, we are blessed to work with the best people in the world.  although we had made assurances on facebook and via email to them that we had taken steps to protect all images, their only concern was us. some offered from as far as missouri to drive in to help and everyone expressed that there was no rush for edited images from recent shoots. we also saw all of the footage from new jersey and new york and realized just how lucky we were. we do love the studio, but it’s not our home and it wasn’t destroyed. in fact, it’s a converted napa auto parts shop and as a result it has concrete floors and cinder block walls – we didn’t even have to deal with carpet removal or drywall replacement. as frustrating as our situation sometimes seemed, compared to other folks affected by sandy… for us it was merely a hiccup.

we got everything cleaned up and put reasonably back together by our annual santa paws event in december but once that was over we all worked from home until february. finally kris and I knew that we had to deal with it and soon we were picking out fabrics, paint colors and redesigning our space. we decided to make it more of a computer/office work and consultation space as we rarely shot there and we wanted each area to serve a purpose. we choose colors and patterns that directly reflected our brand and then we headed out to flea markets, antique shops and ikea to replace the all of the furnishings we had lost. by april, while it wasn’t exactly where we wanted it to be, it began to feel like home again and we moved back in full time. during the season, we have made some tweaks here and there and now have it exactly as we imagined – every day when I walk through the doors, it never fails to make me happy.

the past year has brought so many changes..  mel moved to chicago and then shortly moved back :) liv, who had been married only a week before the hurricane hit, is now expecting her first child with her husband drew who is currently serving overseas. we have also welcomed 3 new full time members to the team: laura, curt and jillian who we are thrilled to have as part of our GPA family. as for me and kris, this past year has been one of a few lows, but many many highs! we have traveled all over the country as our client base has expanded. we have begun working with national brands. we (well, I) have become yoga-dependant –  kris finds her zen during runs in the city park. we are together practically all day almost every day and haven’t killed each other yet – haven’t even come close. in fact, I can’t imagine anyone else I could have or would have wanted to experience this past year with. we keep each other sane, we keep each other focused and we keep each other laughing… every single day. as this season comes to a close in november, we are so excited for all of the new opportunities and experiences that await us next year. if anything, the challenges of the past year have made us a stronger team, as close as family and grateful… more than words can ever express.