A love story. by jami milne

This is the story of love.

This is a love story.

This is the story of young lovers and old souls and souls entwined.

This is the story of heartache. The pain you feel when everything finally feels so right.

This is the story of a lifetime of lives lived up to this moment when lives converge.

This is the story of love.

This is the story of fleeting moments and late morning marriage at the courthouse.

This is the story of pen and paper and poetic vows.

This is the story of rings that ring true in every chamber and every chamber of the heart.

This is the story of good days and bad days that lead back to good days and forever days.

This is the story of the beginning that never ends.

This is the story of love.

This is the story of love and light and friendship.

This is the story that reminds us all these stories are worth telling and retelling.

This is the story that reminds us that life is worth living. Together.

This is the story.

This is the story of love.

This is also the story from six years ago, on this very date. This is the story of a best friend trusting a best friend that had a photographic eye but no camera of her own. This is the story of not knowing how to use the camera she borrowed from her mom but praying she’d still be able to see what the story was on the other side of the lens. This is the story of a lost hard drive. This is the story of a found camera card in the back of a bedside table drawer. This is the story of that card found one day before a sixth anniversary. This is the story of the universe doing its thing to make sure stories are remembered and retold. I love you guys. Thank you for trusting me with your friendship, your love, your ongoing and forever kinda story.


I first met Abbie Sawyer outside a favorite coffee shop earlier this summer, meeting one another to discuss her upcoming portrait shoot for the City Sounds’ ICON project. Although I had seen her on stage several times, (the most recent as the opener for Rufus Wainwright) like many circles that should entwine, the universe had yet to overlap ours.

We both believed in creating imagery that told a story you don’t find on stage. Her audience knows the crooning songstress with the soul of New Orleans in one of her band’s name and her refined vibrant vocals. But with all artists, there’s more to the story than the final production.

Have you ever worked for an idea to come? Have you paced, struggled, scribbled working toward what’s next? Have you reached the point where you stopped running and scrolling long enough to stop and think thoroughly? Have you closed your eyes and allowed the breeze to softly whisper the spark of an idea when you least expected it? You should consider giving it a try.

Abbie and I met to explore the blank canvas. The artist stripped down and vulnerable, working hard to be still and trust the process. We sat together with the quiet knowing that what we could create through the lens, was a beautiful work of art. It’s just a matter of good timing.

Thank you for trusting me with you, Abbie. As someone beautiful once sang, I’m keen on you.

You can find more portraits published in the Sept/Oct 2019 issue of dsm Magazine and at the City Sounds website here.

ballet dreams do come true by jami milne

When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream of growing up to be a ballerina. (This dream would manifest itself a mere 30 years later.) But after meeting Maura… I quickly learned that there are some magical young women whose dreams of dancing are very real and do, in fact, come true.

There wasn’t a bad image of this beautiful dancer because she is so incredibly talented at what she does. My top ten faves can be found below.

Wishing you all of the success the stage can hold for you at Richmond Ballet. I have no doubt they will fall in love, just as I have.


When incredible people support incredible people, incredible things happen. A huge shout out to Jen Carruthers and her ongoing drive to turn dreams into [drag king] reality. And kudos to the performers and supporters who built up and then brought down the house. Another incredible #DKDSM in the books.

What does it take to be happy? by jami milne

When was the last time you saw something beautiful and just let it be?

In a world of complexities, of pop-ups and notifications, of likes and loves, love and hate, death and decay … in a world in which layers of meaning can feel overwhelming as one sifts through their own personal narratives to arrive at a storyline — there sits Jennifer Leatherby.

Calm. Beautiful. And happy.

I sat on her cardboard covered studio floor, searching for something else. I was searching for a deeper truth, a hidden meaning. I was searching to uncover the despair that led to the creation. I was asking leading questions I thought would unleash the anguish. But there sat Jennifer Leatherby and her art.

Calm. Beautiful. And happy.

Sometimes it’s not about a greater meaning because the meaning is already right in front of you. And the meaning is great without trying to further unpack it. (You were just to self-deprecating to see it.) In this case, it’s flowers and they’re brilliant. So is she.

It’s Art Week in Des Moines, Iowa. And there doesn’t have to be a cross to bear. There may be for some, but sometimes, if you let your guard down and lift up your veil and you drop your cloak of overburdened self-consciousness, you’ll find Jennifer Leatherby and her flowers.

And you, too, might also find yourself calm, beautiful and happy.

Visit Jennifer Leatherby’s flowers in all their beauty at her Open Studio on Wednesday, June 26 from 6-9pm. Because it’s Art Week. And because you deserve to feel this way.

Cockfight. Shewolf. Worms. Nipples. The Natural Progression of Artist Hannah Sung by jami milne


I had roughly 11 minutes to spend with Hannah Sung one afternoon in which we were both to blame. But we met with two hand-squeezed rose lemonades and a giant, sparkling, sequined nipple between the two of us and somehow, we were lost in time. It feels unfortunate there was not more time or hand-squeezed lemonade or sequins.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock the past year, or have zero connection to the art scene in what the Des Moines Partnership affectionately refers to as DSMUSA, you’ve heard of Hannah Sung. You’ve seen her nipples. They’ve strutted through Mainframe Studios and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, down Court Avenue and for the well-traveled, they’ve been in Bangkok and Cuba, which give them both literal and figurative street cred. Have your nips been there? Didn’t think so.

Hannah’s chops come in the form of riffing about a commercial career in Los Angeles but as any Iowa transplant can attest, we’re here now, so what. She’s moved on and so has her work. She left behind the stringent upbringing and the successful paycheck to create for herself. 

  • I asked Hannah about her childhood and the hours of forced illustration growing up in a strict Korean household. But I wanted to know more about how she’s adapting to a life in Des Moines vs. a life in LA.

  • I asked Hannah about her concept and who she was confident was and wasn’t her audience. But I wanted to know more about her vulnerabilities.

  • I asked Hannah about her journal and if I could take a quick snapshot, when instead I wanted to ask her more about her journal and if I could take a portrait of every page.

  • I asked Hannah about the dog in the picture but instead I wanted to hug her and hold her and cry about the dog in the picture. It was her dog, but it was my dog. Maybe it was all of our dogs.

  • I took a photograph of Hannah sitting next to her art in a coffee shop but instead wish I could sit across from her for hours in her studio, taking photographs of her talking about her art and illustrations and nipples and dog and childhood.


The thing about Hannah is that her art is arresting and disruptive. She is clever and cunning and curious and just damn funny. But beneath the authentic comedic presence, beneath the boobles and beneath the journal on a bag of USDA organic coffee beans, is something frighteningly familiar: that young child we all once were — and we all are fighting for the chance to be once again: loved, inspired and free.

Get to know the nipples and the greater story they hold on Thursday, June 27 during Art Week Des Moines, at Hannah’s Open Studio from 6-9PM. In addition to artistic boobs there will also be a rapping pirate so really, what excuse do you have to not be there? None.

I see you. by jami milne

Our friendship is so woven together now that I’ve had trouble recalling lately how we first met. (It’s a funny story involving stalker-esque precision in two parking lots, complete with two fingers pointed back-and-forth between eyes, accompanied by an “I see you.” Courtney tells it best.)

I see you is still a phrase I’d use to describe our relationship. It’s less so mouthed across a parking lot and more so implied in a night-before-Thanksgiving-without-your-firstborn text.

I see you working hard to make life right — for you, for your wife, for your sons and for the many deserving communities you serve.

I see you keeping it all together, like every mom does, juggling boys and soccer balls and practices and pickups.

I see you struggling to be best, and to sometimes just be okay with being okay. (You’re both, by the way.)

I see you living a life without regret, that doesn’t come easy, but lays the foundation for transparency, honesty, authenticity. Your boys will someday thank you. My boys will someday thank you. I thank you.

I see you with Kate. I see you smiling. I see you trying as hard as you can to create a beautiful life with a beautiful human — full of life, full of adventure, full of a yard that has picture perfect lights on your evergreen trees (and a large elf). But most importantly, full of love.

It was fitting you had a plaque on your wedding day that said: you, yes you. It’s fitting that simple phrase is made up of just three words. Just like: I see you. Just like: I love you.

Both of you. Happy original wedding day, Courtney and Kate. I am as honored today to have had the privilege of sharing that most sacred space with you as I was in September.

then / now by jami milne

throw•back. noun. a reversion to an earlier ancestral characteristic: a person or thing having the characteristics of a former time.


STELLA by jami milne

Reflecting on the years spent with this beautiful young woman who graduates today. Thank you for being a part of our family. Thank you for holding Margaux as a baby, swaddling her to sleep. Thank you for encouraging Finn's imagination when we were away. Thank you for the walks, the swims, the laughter and the love. We can't wait to watch you continue to move mountains in your next chapter. 

TO YAYOI by jami milne

Perhaps much like you found solace and inspiration in the success of Georgia O'Keefe, here's my ode to you, Yayoi. Here's my homage to part creative | part crazy. Every dot, a representation of a new idea, a new cause, a lost cause, a lost love. A found love. For the love of art. Every circle another success and another failure. Here's to feeling on top of the world. Here's to feeling hidden. Here's to hiding on purpose. Here's to being on the top of your game and here's to feeling you've got no skin in the game. Here's to being a woman. Here's to feeling passed over. Here's to being found. Here's to making work others will steal. Here's to selling out. Here's to lines that prove age and wisdom. Here's to clarity. Here's to you, Yayoi. 


If that title comes off too strong, you're probably not my audience for this post. That's not to say you won't read it, but it is to say that you already get it.

My son goes to an elementary school that teaches Cognitive Guided Instruction. CGI in this instance, refers to a child's intuitive approach to problem solving. I first became familiar with this methodology when my son shared with me his math worksheets in which he was drawing bags of apples in order to multiple how many he had in total. 

I was thinking about this ability to problem solve through visualization as I was placing 164 balloons within the Des Moines Social Club last night. Perhaps part of our problem, as a society of adults, is that we've forgotten how to problem solve through visualization. To those who don't get it, let me help you see:


Are you a mother? Is your wife or partner? There's a funny thing that happens when you became one. You sway. You hold your baby in the safety of your arms, and you sway. Back and forth, in what may have started as a move to a lullaby, but forever remains long after the music is gone. You never stop swaying once you start.

The first balloon swayed when placed. I visualized a mother, that never again gets to hold her baby, never again gets to sway. Did you know 20 six year olds were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012? Twenty mothers who swayed now stand still. Twenty six year olds, twenty tiny bodies, were shot between three and eleven times each. Can you visualize that?

Can you still tell me we don't need stricter gun laws?

The interesting thing about balloons is they exhibit anthropomorphic qualities, much like that sway. When they're held within a bag, if the bag is not too heavy, they begin to float away, almost ghost-like. The ribbons attached to keep them from floating away is made to curl, not unlike how my daughter wraps her tiny hands around my finger, since she has since birth. Some balloons, for seemingly no reason, lean on one another, even though 162 of them stand still. 


Will this installation save one more child or teacher from being gunned down in the safety of a school? No. Will this installation change our gun laws? No. Could our Republican representatives? Yes.

Call your representatives. Write more letters. Show up in ways that are right for you. And don't stop visualizing positive change. 

The answer comes when we consider what pressure is will be installed through March 18 in Viaduct Gallery at the Des Moines Social Club. An artist talk will be held alongside Nancy Gebhart, Curator of ReAct Gallery on March 8 at 7PM.



Witching Hour 2017 by jami milne

The Creative Confessional, presented in partnership with the Iowa City Downtown District and Witching Hour, was a free public portrait booth and exercise in creative intimacy.

I had originally intended to share the parting thoughts I'd asked participants to write before leaving the booth. But they were too personal. Too thoughtful. Too honest and open and intimate. I hold space for those thoughts just as I held space for those beautiful souls brave enough to sit across from me and open up to a stranger. To each and every one of you, thank you for sharing that space with me. I believe in you and your light. 

You can find a description of the Witching Hour portrait booth below. And you can find the body of work that ranged from daylight to evening and lighthearted to longing, here


Enter the booth, share your confession and have a beautiful portrait taken of you, dear creative soul.

Tell Jami, a photographer with a few creative sins of her own, about that poem you never published. The business or community project you keep thinking about starting? The person you never followed up with. The art supplies you bought but haven’t touched. The song in your heart you still need to sing out. The time you didn’t dance and wished you had.

Confess the creative endeavor you never followed through with or the idea that never came to fruition. The Creative Confessional will allow you to speak it into existence… or finally let it free.

Look for the booth in the Iowa City Ped Mall during Witching Hour 2017, Friday October 20 and Saturday, October 21. 

How do you feel? Life's Leading Ladies via dsm Magazine by jami milne

Sometimes you create and let it go — "ship it," as my husband says, and you have to know that it will end up in good hands. You have to believe that what you made will be understood. This is a scary proposition as an artist... for multiple reasons. Sometimes you don't want to be understood. Sometimes you need it to remain unknown. But sometimes you create because you know it is your responsibility to tell a story for others to understand. 

Christine Riccelli gets it.

In the Editor's Note of the July/August 2017 issue of dsm Magazine, she asks the question "How do you feel about the cover?" But her follow-up statement is just as important. "I'm not asking what you think about it, but how you feel."

These women made me feel. On a rainy Saturday, we met to find out that instead of shooting on the main stage, we were in the basement theatre. The group shot I planned couldn't exist as I needed it to. The concept I had in mind had to be scrapped. Our collective nerves were as high as the energy. 

But these women made me feel

And as Ken-Matt Martin, Pyramid Theatre Company's co-founder and executive director describes, these are the "kind of who are born to do what they want to do."

Shooting with them that rainy Saturday, they gave me their attention their attention and their presence. They gave me hope. They gave me more than what I can properly express, in words or photographs.

It is my absolutely hope, that what I created, is understood in a way that realizes the rightful place these women deserve as leading ladies — both on the stage and off. 

http://www.dsmmagazine.com/2017/06/27/on-the-cover-julaug-17/ Full story here



STILL I RISE by jami milne

I took this photo of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a marble sculpture of Nike (the Greek goddess of victory) in Paris this past January. 

It struck an emotional chord and continues to haunt me. Not only is it the fact that it sits in an atrium within a wing of the Louvre but it embodies both strength and vulnerability, both fight and flight. 

When I was asked to create a limited edition print for Adore Your Walls that was rooted in inspiration and motivation, I knew exactly what I wanted to create. 

The Instagram Sale goes through 9PM CST tonight. If you're at all moved by it, I'd love for her to find a home in yours. 

Details here.

Dear Mama... This is how I see you now. by jami milne

Last weekend, The New York Times published an article called Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them. It was a beautiful essay describing how often times, seeing photos of our mothers before having children provides a snapshot into a personality we never knew. A carefree, life before firstborns, unbridled with responsibility, bursting with character and endless possibilities, kinda life.

It was a beautiful essay, but it's not the story I know. While I do recall seeing a picture of my cute teenage mother in a bikini standing by the kitchen sink at some point in my life, boxes of vintage-colored square photographs with the date in the corner don't exist. Instead, pictures of a young mother holding a little blonde baby came sooner than expected. Endless possibilities became endless diaper changes. Unbridled opportunities became a young mother to three and then six and then grandmother to thirteen. 

While I know it doesn't make up for the lost time as a young woman in early eighties snapshots, thank you for trusting me to capture you as I see you now: strong, beautiful, bursting with character and endless possibilities.

MS. LANG by jami milne

Every now and then, on a seventeen degree day on a Tuesday in March, you have the opportunity to share space with your best friend, intermixed in the sunshine and the shadows. Thank you for the many ways you let me create with you, Ms. Lang.

Ballet Des Moines for dsm Magazine by jami milne

I was honored last night to have one of my photographs chosen as the March/April cover of dsm Magazine — an opportunity only bestowed to an artist six times a year. It is amazing not only because of the ability to share my work in one of the most beautiful formats our city has to offer, but as I was thinking about it a bit more, because of the following:

1. As mentioned last night and in the story, I can't swim.* And spending hours being held underwater to try and get the shot was terrifying in the most thrilling way possible. Thank you to my water muses Brooks and Mae. And to my IRL life saver, Amy.

2. My dad always had "On the Cover of The 'Rolling Stone'" by Dr. Hook playing when I was a kid. And somehow, standing up on that stage in a packed hotel lobby to unveil that cover, felt like my Rolling Stone.** Thanks for all those years of motivation, Dad. I'm gonna go get five copies for my mother, but will send some your way, too. 

3. Hali was just one of the nine dancers I photographed during my residency, and I am one of three artists Ballet Des Moines welcomed into their studio this season. Please continue to support the arts. Buy a subscription to your favorite magazine or newspaper. Buy tickets to the ballet. Or contact me about purchasing a print (half of all sales of my ballet work goes back to Ballet Des Moines).

If you hadn't seen the underwater work I did with Hali Hutchison, during my residency, you can catch a glimpse below. A giant thank you to dsm, BDM and ABM. And thank you, Christine and Annabel for believing in my work and gasping alongside me at all the right moments.

*A shout out to Lisa Braden and the Urbandale Public Pool for the "opportunity" to take adult swim lessons last month. You guys: I can float! Treading water still TBD.

**It should be noted by anyone that knows this song, my experience couldn't be any more unlike these lyrics. I would perhaps instead put myself more along the lyrical lines of "Everybody's Making It Big But Me" and at the same age as Lucy Jordan. 


When I set out to concept the Urban Leadership shoot this year, I dug deep. Through bright highlights and dark secrets. Through laughter and pain. Through 37 years of layers that make up who I am today — a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter. An artist and creator. I'm brave and I'm scared. I'm hopeful and I'm hurt. I cry tears of pure joy and absolute sadness, often at the same time. I have emotions woven so deeply into the thread of my being that I can't shake them if I tried. And I've tried.

The portraits this year, reflect that emotionally woven tapestry in all of us. I see young brave men and women. I see contemplative and hopeful poets. I see uncertain and strong artists. I see layers of life too complicated for most to understand. I see vibrant color and I see iconic black and white.

I am proud of this work. But more so, I am proud to add another layer of having shared space with these beautiful souls. Thank you Emily Lang and Kristopher Rollins for your unending vision to the youth, to our community, and for believing in me. And to the students of Urban Leadership: thank you for your vulnerability. And thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable with you. I believe in you.

The world is in a strange place. Find people and movements to believe in and show up for them. Please consider showing up for these students this Saturday at the RunDSM Community Showcase. It is both free and life changing.

To see the full body of work, click here.