You know that week between Christmas and New Years where you don’t know what day it is? And you’re supposed to just not do anything but vegetate on the couch and eat your weight in cookies and Christmas leftovers?
Well, that’s not me … or should I say, us.
This photo is the last “professional” photos we took together back in 2017 … we are working on getting new photos taken!
Let me give you a quick backstory of the past before we jump into the future, though.
I started this photography business in the summer of 2010 when we lived at Minot AFB. Randy was in the Air Force, and I had a couple friends who had photography businesses and I thought: hell, if they can do it, so can I! Randy was (and still is) my biggest cheerleader and supporter, building me sets and letting me take over half of our house on base to devote to a studio since it snowed 9 months out of the year in North Dakota.
When Randy separated from the Air Force a year later in 2011, we moved from Minot to Colorado Springs, and I hyper-focused my business on serving families in the area and women as a boudoir photographer. We bought our first house a year later, and devoted the entire basement to my studio. Randy built the whole thing by hand, and life was freaking awesome. In 2014, we decided to move to Southern California (where we grew up) because we wanted to be closer to my family because my kids had never really had the chance to experience life with family nearby.
We lived in the deserts of Southern California in the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree area for nearly 3 years and it really was the adventure of a lifetime. Randy took time from his corporate day job to work with me, but he always had one foot in and one foot out because California living expenses are stupid high. Boudoir and families took a backseat to serving brides and grooms, because that area is such a hotspot for destination weddings. I rebranded the business to Randy and Ashley Studios, and we were photographing 30-40 weddings a year. Our business hit six-figures and we were getting nationally recognized for our work.
We hated the desert. The heat, the cost of living, the politics, the traffic, the crowds … and did I mention the heat? 120 degree summers are literally my worst nightmare, especially since my thyroid was severely malfunctioning and I physically couldn’t tolerate the weather. I got heat exhaustion on more than one occasion at weddings, which was not only embarrassing but dangerous. As much as I loved living near my family, Randy and I both decided that California living was not what we wanted for our family.
So, we moved back to Colorado in 2017. In order to do that, Randy went back to his corporate job full time so we could buy a house. Even though we made damn good money with photography, mortgage companies don’t like working with small business owners like photographers – especially when they’re new to the area. Poor Randy spent the next two years working over 40 hours a week at his ‘day job’ and then 30-40 weekends a year shooting weddings with me. Not only were we shooting in Colorado, but we had obligations back in California and across the country with our national recognition. I had to do all the parent stuff essentially alone because Randy was busting his ass at his day job when we weren’t busy shooting or traveling.
The day after Thanksgiving in 2018, Randy’s brother Ricky was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer out of the freaking blue. It brought into sharp clarity our own mortality, and the fact we were not doing a great job at prioritizing our family. In one weekend, our entire world changed.
We wanted to move closer to Ricky and his family, because we knew our time with him would be short and that his wife and kids would need love and support in the months to follow. For a few weeks, we thought about moving to Texas so they’d only be a day’s drive away in Florida. We planned to move to New Braunfels and was working with a realtor to buy our dream home. But Randy had a change of heart, and wanted to be an hour’s drive away from his brother instead and that’s how we ended up in Georgia in 2019. We didn’t want to live in Florida because of the school systems (they’re notoriously terrible in northeastern Florida), so we lived a mile from the Florida border.
I stopped shooting, I stopped booking. My entire focus was on Randy and our kids, and doing what I could to help Ricky’s family. I honestly can’t remember most of that time because I was struggling to breathe, let alone live. Randy drove an hour each way to work, to support our family. On his off days, we’d spend time with Ricky and our family. I rebranded to just me (“Ash Durham”), took photography off my website, closed my marketing accounts with Yelp, Google and all the wedding sites and permanently deleted my photography Instagram. I used my blog as a place to share my life, process my grief, talk about marriage and parenthood.
Four months after we moved to Georgia, Ricky died.
Six weeks later, the doctors found cancer in my thyroid.
Three months later, I had a total thyroidectomy in March 2020. What was supposed to be an hour-long surgery ended up taking over four hours because of the intricacy of my cancer, and the surgeon finding three additional tumors in the area (all cancerous). Thank God it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and it was the most easily curable/treatable type of thyroid cancer (papillary carcinoma).
Six days later, the world shut down from Covid-19.
A month later, I went through radiation to complete my cancer treatment.
In May, Ricky’s widow moved her family to Tampa, I was deemed cancer-free and Randy put in for a job transfer anywhere with snow. Remember how I told you we hated the heat in southern California? Pssh, that was NOTHING compared to the swamp heat of Georgia! But the truth is, as much as we didn’t like the heat, being in Georgia just made us both too sad. It was too hard to see the oak trees knowing Randy’s brother was buried underneath one, the ocean made us think of Ricky and his career as a submariner in the navy. It was just too much.
Randy’s job had an opening in Gurnee – but we knew we didn’t want to live in Illinois (taxes, taxes, taxes, holy MOLY the taxes there are awful). So during the pandemic, recovering from cancer, surgery and the trauma of the events in our life the previous 18 months … we bought a farmhouse, sight unseen, here in Wisconsin.
When we first arrived in Wisconsin in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, in the midst of our grief – I honestly was in no place to serve anyone. I needed to be a wife and a mother, and Randy worked tirelessly to financially support us. He worked over 50 hours a week, with a two hour a day commute, working for a store that treated him like shit. 2020 and the first half of 2021 was some of the hardest times Randy and I have ever faced, but we made it through by the grace of God and by tirelessly being each other’s pillar of support.
In April of this year, we flew down to Texas to photograph my friend Danielle’s wedding and it was like a deep breath of fresh air. I realized how freaking much I had missed weddings and the industry and serving couples. It felt like my purpose in life had been renewed, and when we came home from Texas, I decided to get back into photography full-time. Over the summer, Randy transferred stores to one even further away (a 2.5 hour a day commute with tolls now) in order to get away from the terrible coworkers he had, and we fell into a routine.
For six months, we were basically passing ships in the night. I’d be off shooting and working with the most amazing people and building up the photography business again for the bazillionth time it feels like, and Randy would be off at a thankless job. On our rare days off together, we’d squeeze in as much family time as we could but it honestly wasn’t enough. I’d be off shooting weddings and sessions and while I had a blast by myself, it wasn’t the same without my best friend there with me.
Just before Thanksgiving, Randy and I had a serious heart to heart. He wanted to quit his job. I wanted him to work with me.
We did the math, we did the planning, we prayed about it. And then Randy put in his two week notice.
We woke up on Thanksgiving day and thought holy shit, we’re really doing this. All in, no backup job like before when we were in California.
The last several weeks, we have been brainstorming and talking about what we should do. Should we keep the name Ashley Durham Photography? Should we rebrand to something totally different? We even considered several names using our old “RAD” branding (get it? Randy and Ashley Durham) like RAD Photography (taken!) or This Love Is Rad (too broad!) or Rad in Love (too weird!). It didn’t feel right with either of us to just stay under my name, since we are both lead photographers and equal partners. It’s been stressful for us to figure it out, even though I know it matters more to us than anyone else. Do we want to be clever? Do we want to start over? Ahhh, so many choices.
In the end, we decided we needed to just brand ourselves as a couple like we did before when we lived in California. We are The Durhams.
Unfortunately, some jackass stole our old URL for “Randy and Ashley” during the midst of the haze of 2019 or 2020 without us realizing. When we discovered the theft and confronted them, they tried to extort us to get the URL back and like our great country, we do not negotiate with terrorists. It’s gone, even with GoDaddy trying to mediate and get us our property back. It stinks, but, it’s an important lesson in life for us. Auto-renewal is a freaking lifesaver and if you don’t have your URLs set to auto renew, pause this blog and go fix that. I’ll wait.
We decided instead of “Randy and Ashley” or “Ashley and Randy” or some other reiteration of our names or some made up name that doesn’t have a deep meaning to either of us … that we’d brand under our last name officially. And we’d add in a little bit of our RAD selves to our social media profiles, become @TheRadDurhams on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Pinterest!
The business name is changing from Ashley Durham Photography to The Durhams Photography.
Gonna update the website to feature both of us.
I am still gonna be the principal blogger, social media poster and communications guru.
Randy is gonna be gaining more experience with editing and taking over finances (if you should know anything about me, I totally suck at math).
We’ll be photographing everything together, except boudoir, which is still my baby.
We’re dipping our toes into films in 2022.
And mostly, we’re going to be busting our asses to serve the couples and families of southeastern Wisconsin and live every single day to the very fullest.
This week we are going to be updating our social medias, our website, our URL and everything in between … so you’re going to see some changes! But don’t worry, it’s the same amazing team that’s been with you all along!