a return to beauty





* evening photo experience

* practicing presence

* connect with light and environment both inside and outside of the home

* make ultimate space of subject and photographer

* individual attention on your work and process (in the form of a 40 minute creative counsel with me via video chat prior to the workshop)

* practical tips and tools for how to clear space for authentic beauty to unfold no matter what or who you are photographing

* guidance on how to find ease with your subjects and yourself as you shoot

* instructions on the four components of finding your unique voice

* one hour Q&A I will answer on any subject


Every human being’s brain is exquisitely, uniquely assembled by their biology and life experiences. And so, every human engages with the world in their own specific way. What is beautiful to one person may not be experienced in the same way by someone else. Beauty manifests itself differently in each of our lives and enters our consciousness through varying sensory pathways. Only then do we begin to make meaning out of it, which is the real work of beauty.

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By intentionally incorporating beautiful elements that encompass all five senses, A Return to Beauty Workshop will more deeply engage every attendee. My aim is to activate beauty in each one of your senses to involve more of your body in the beauty sensing & making experience. This practice will cultivate your attention to beauty and help you create the photographs you see in your mind.

We will soak in beauty, dip our hands in the mess of it, feel it any way we can. Beauty doesn't ask of us to show up perfectly or prettily. It can be gritty, sorrowful, and full of paradox, and it only asks that we show up honestly, including every part of us we assume beauty would dismiss. That is precisely when beauty can do its alchemy—when our limits begin to clear into windows for our essence to shine through.





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May we be attentive to each other and to the natural world.

May we examine the shapes and colors and lines that surround us.

May we acknowledge the light that moves between us and how by it we are all illuminated.


May we learn when to speak and when to stay silent.

May we hear the resonant beauty of our own voices and the music composed in their joining.

May we lean our ears down to the earth and listen to its hum.



May we join hands around the table and break bread together.

May we wet our mouths with water.

May we taste the salt of the earth on our tongues.


May we draw close enough to inhale each other’s sweetness.

May we experience the freshness of morning and smell rain wet the dry earth.


May we reach across the spaces between and again discover the truth of human skin.

May we touch the soft parts of each other and hold the faces of the ones we love in our palms.

May we feel the ground beneath our feet and the wind kiss our faces.

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“Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Our bodies and brains work to perceive beauty, but our hearts (and minds and spirits) translate it and find its meaning. The beauty of the senses, of embodied beauty, reveals a greater infinite truth when examined.

Real beauty can be difficult to witness. At the heart of it lies what is real and true. Beauty can act as a window into the life of another or a mirror reflecting a truth about yourself.

If we are attentive to it, the universe will open up and reveal its beauty to us.

beauty of the heart

“Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place.”

John O’Donohue

“To be alive: not just the carcass But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but...
If we’re not supposed to dance, Why all this music?”

Gregory Orr


beauty of the mind

“Beauty spins and the mind moves. To catch beauty would be to understand how the impertinent stability in vertigo is possible. But no, delight need not reach so far. To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.”

Anne Carson

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beauty of the spirit

“Beauty is the harvest of presence.”

David Whyte

“The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.”

Annie Dillard

Click below if you want to experience the magic of A Return to Beauty workshop

i've decided to go full "crazy"


because we use crazy as a word to describe those we haven’t managed to reduce to categories yet. because i haven’t figured out how to put myself into a category, only how to reject them like shoes that don’t quite fit.

its not because i’m fascinating, or all that different, i just don’t fully agree with most stuff. and i have a lot of trouble making up my mind.

this is partly because my mind is unreliable. my feelings also, can’t fully be trusted. there are diagnoses for these things. medication too. none of it works or helps just the way one would hope.

not even knowing that i am not my thoughts, or my feelings. knowing and believing i am something more, something whole and unbroken here to help others despite what my mind argues—-not even that keeps me sane all of the time.

if you live trying to effectively manage mental/emotional wellness too, you might know what i’m talking about.

also? there isn’t actually a cure for being human. we don’t get to skip any part of it. trying to only makes us more sick.


what else is there to do but talk about it? to share with one another? to find the holes in the consistently unstable process where the humanity and the light pour through, so unexpectedly pure?

i will be using this blog to share photo work yes, but to also chronicle my experience embracing my humanity. it will get light. it will get dark. it will be every shade in between because that’s what we are, a full spectrum of so, so many beautiful-terrible things.

the only rule i ask of anyone who decides to read along is this:

don’t take me too seriously or too literally. this is all an experiment rooted in survival. i witness my process as an antidote to shame. if i don’t get whatever it is inside of me out, it gets heavy, so heavy i am unable to function. i need to function. i have three children i’m responsible for. i have a life i’m saying yes to, no matter the price. i don’t know why i am wired this way, but i have worked hard to make peace with it. i create to live. to “stay in the game.” i know how annoyingly dramatic that sounds, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

so, of what you find here, take the parts that might help, oh god, please, that is my prayer —that some part of it might help, but whatever doesn’t help? just leave it right here. its not so hard to do.

remember, everybody’s right. and everybody’s wrong. depending on what point in time you talk to them and about what. the endlessly contradicting books on a single shelf of any library prove that. what i write is never THE truth, it is simply my truth. one i’m sure i’ll blush about and be inclined to reverse at some point when i am more mature. like next week.

sometimes, i use words the way i use my cameras, imprecisely. i do this because i can’t always find the right words and i’m learning. i also do it in an attempt to approach meaning that doesn’t fit neat into the most basic category of all: the words themselves. my imprecision, which you are welcome to interpret as laziness, i do in my more self critical moments, comes most naturally to me. i hope that embracing my inherent flaws will turn those same flaws into doors leading beyond their limits to somewhere real. somewhere new.

i hope you’ll come with me.


not going to lie, i miss it.

some of my last and fav images with a family i adore. 

i'm selling everything i learned about photography and finding my creative voice in my downloadable workshop teethkiss. its $200 from now until the end of may. then i'll be taking it off the market as i focus on other projects. i'd get it now by clicking below, cuz its really really really good.


not really a family photo shoot

i want to share a set of images with you that i don't consider a family photo shoot so much as i consider it a collaboration with a group of souls, and another artist i respect.

several years ago, i got a strange last minute addition to a workshop i was teaching in seattle.  jonya wrote to me and apologized for signing up so late, she had to check the weather you see, to know if it would be cool enough for her to attend. her body reacted in a not normal way to warmer temperatures, and she wouldn't be able to learn very well if the temperature shot over 70. i told her not to worry and that  i was glad it worked out for her to come. 

Odd, i thought. Fun, i thought.

as soon as she came in the room, i watched the woman with the ghosty skin, and the long dark hair. despite the oddness of her first impression, her demeanor was more normal than i expected, she was funny, and warm (though not in body temp of course). but her photo work held that bit of strangeness i first felt from her, a desire to explore more ethereal and in between spaces in the work she made. i liked it. i liked her a lot. fast forward a year or so later when she hired me to do her family photos, and i drove up to the most amazing portland oregon home i'd ever seen. i'd find out it was an original of some famous architect who's name escapes me now, and who she'd brush over, never one to flaunt. i played along as if it was no big deal to live in a space that felt like real life magic---shared with a husband who showed signs of a black comedy streak, and two children who seemed to be made more of spirit than they were of flesh and bones.

you can see that session here: http://www.yanpalmer.com/blog/cx71q1uuuaq6jyk95elm9nkz6r7d4o

i was so happy when a year or more after that shoot, she asked me to do her family photos again, this time a collaboration in her favorite place, sauvie island. it was less than 70 degrees outside. maybe even less than 60. but near and in the water was where she was meant to be. these are the photos we made. 

if you are similarly interested in collaborating on a photo shoot  to make something together (this something can include your family or loved ones or not),  please know that i consider this very different than doing family photos as you will very much have to show up with your soul and your creative input---reach out yan@yanpalmer.com. This will be a commissioned work, and i will be very selective about projects i take on.  but there will be no basis for selection other than resonance for the time and space we happen to be both in, and whether or not that could lend to making something that feels right together.