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It's a Living

Teacher’s notice leads to true callings


“Everyone and everything has a story and if you’re fortunate you may have more than one,” according to photographer, or more accurately, “visual storyteller” Kelli Abdoney. “My job is capturing the hidden stories of places, people, and experiences that define who we are and who we are becoming.”

Kelli traces her career back to a class trip in her native Scotland when a teacher saw something in a collection of photos that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. “It was an unexpected turn towards the light,” she says, “and nothing would ever be the same again.”

I am continually awestruck that one meaningful moment can change an entire life. An offhand remark, a glimpse of a particular landscape, an unexpected detour, and you are an opera singer instead of a surgeon, married with children instead of backpacking through Europe solo.

Kelli spent a year in her early 20s reflecting on what she wanted to do with her life and exploring various mediums. She took a trip to Italy and decided to take along the 35-millimeter camera her parents had given her for her birthday.

“Upon my return and after processing the film, it became clear I had an ‘eye,’ and my tutor encouraged me to use the darkroom and to print and produce final images for my portfolio. That’s when I fell in love with this medium.”

“I was accepted at Glasgow School of Art and decided to major in photography.”

The last two years of school found her working solely with her medium format film camera and completing an extensive photo essay on land ownership and management to complete her degree, all in the northern regions of Scotland.

“I incorporated my love of the natural environment with my love of photography and became inspired by similar photographers who had used their cameras to educate and inform people on environmental issues.”

She continued her travels into some of the most remote regions of northern Scotland to examine how the land was being used, and then placed this management in the historical and geographical context of each area.

Kelli acknowledges that photography became almost an obsession to her. “Everything around me became a potential photograph. My eyes had become attuned to the format of the 120-millimeter film I was using, and I was seeing photographs everywhere in my mind’s eye.”

She is especially partial to landscapes. “My love of Scottish landscapes originates from my love of being outdoors alone with my dog.”

When she was in a relationship with a “chap,” they sometimes would visit his homeland in far northern Scotland. Kelli came to love “the remoteness and silence of the land, the history and prehistory of the region, the rugged coastline and 180-degree skyline.”

After graduation, she continued her new career by exhibiting and doing personal commissions for three years and then traveling around Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia. Upon returning, Kelli accepted an internship at The Herald Newspaper in Glasgow, the oldest broadsheet newspaper in Europe, and within a year, she had become a full-time photo editor. (She has also taken photos for our own Bucks County Herald.)

Kelli immigrated to the United States 13 years ago when her then-husband was transferred for work. “We started a family and I worked with my camera when I could find time in between raising small children.”

After her divorce, she applied for a part-time position at Solebury School, and it was as a teacher that she found a true calling. “I loved the profession as soon as I started,” she says. “Teaching this craft has made me a better photographer and has given me a stronger insight and understanding of this subject on a learning platform.”

Taking pictures, Kelli says, “I feel a sense of peace within my soul. It’s a calming and creative experience that helps quiet my inner dialogue.”

She observes, “That is the ultimate beauty of photography, the potential of a story yet to be told.”

Brig O’Doon Coffee House in Ottsville is currently exhibiting Kelli’s work.

"It's a Living" is a weekly column showcasing residents who are making a living in an interesting way, or people who’ve reinvented their careers because they could no longer ignore the voice in the back of their heads telling them to start over, take a risk, chase a dream or set out on their own.

These are stories of bravery, persistence, resilience, and vision.

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