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Lens on Life

aurie and charles kay • 15 years of capturing moments

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The story of Livingston Wills is perhaps a fitting allegory for the couple’s life behind the camera. Leaf through their portfolio and you’ll see Omaha’s humble Broom Man juxtaposed against the likes of Tiger Woods, other celebrity clients and spreads in such publications as Condé Nast Traveler and the New York Times.

Review the visa stamps in their passports (careful, that ink is almost perpetually damp when it comes to these frequent fliers) and a dizzying array of exotic destinations may be found.

Their fine art pieces are held in public and private collections all over the world.

Theirs is a life that many would describe as ‘glamorous.’

And yet each junket ends with them unpacking their bags back home in Omaha. Always Omaha.

Theirs is a homegrown passion.

“Glamorous?” Laurie said with a chuckle under arched eyebrows.

“I’m more concerned with PTA and how our kids (Evie, 9 and Miles, 11) are doing at Dundee Elementary.”

“Or with the work we’ve done,” added Charles, “with the Omaha Children’s Museum or the Rose Theater.”

“Helping at school is definitely our No. 1 passion these days,” Laurie interjected as Charles nodded in agreement in the way that loving couples do in punctuating each other’s thoughts. “Working on programs, projects and fundraising at school; the list is enormous and the work is important to us.”

Omaha wasn’t always central to the vision of those who would go on to open Laurie and Charles, the studio now celebrating its 15th year. Both had begun their careers elsewhere; she in Chicago, he in New York City. And both ultimately returned to their hometown and happened to meet (where else?) in a photography studio.

It was a romance that could have been captured only with the fastest of shutter speeds.

“I asked Laurie to marry me three weeks after our first date,” Charles said. “I’m sure many of our friends thought we were crazy. We were married less than a year later in 1997.”

“The camera can be said to be a metaphor for our lives,” Laurie added. “It’s a metaphor for our love story, for that visual journey through shared experiences. It’s kind of funny, but Evie and Miles want to be writers. They’re looking at a different path to the same place. They want to do with words what we do with a camera.” 

And both parents hope that their children can follow their dreams right here in Omaha.

“This town has changed dramatically since I moved back here in 1995,” Laurie said. “I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay back then. Now we can’t wait to get home again every time we travel. From its great people, to having more and more trails to ride my bike, to the Farmer’s Market, to all the thought going into the design of the core city, Omaha has become a really cool place.”

Like their paths back to Omaha, both artists arrived at a career in photography by way of decidedly circuitous routes.

Laurie had started as a painter in art school, but soon discovered the allure of the lens.

“I was hooked after taking my first photography course,” Laurie said. “The idea of working with people and getting that almost instantaneous response by viewing the world through a camera was magical,” she said of the decidedly social endeavor in contrasting it against the solitary pursuits of her medium’s canvas-based, slow-drying cousin.

Charles’ introduction to the darkroom had come much earlier.

“I grew up with photography,” said the son of the noted Omaha photographer of the same name who passed away in 2006. “Later, as a teenager, I didn’t think it would be ‘cool’ to follow in my father’s footsteps, but I ultimately found my way back and am glad I did.”

Any notions of perceived jet-setting glamour aside, Laurie and Charles have their feet firmly rooted in the everyday rhythms of Omaha and
its people.

The Broom Man passed away in 2008, but lives on forever in giclée in the couple’s studio. They dine out at the Thai Pepper, the restaurant owned by Charles’ mother. They spend lots of time in anything but glamorous activities with their children and at Dundee Elementary School.

As for those celebrity clients, glossy spreads and international recognition that their artistry has brought to them?

“Those are great experiences,” said Charles, “but we’re equally concerned with what we do closer to home, with those portraits scattered all over town that we like to imagine as being the one thing someone might grab if their house ever catches on fire.”


-end- metroMAGAZINE





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