Utah State University senior Kristin Ackerman has had an extraordinary college career. From starting her own business as a student, to traveling the world with her husband, to raising a daughter, all while managing full-time school, getting her degree in photography has been anything but easy.
‘Conventional’ isn’t a word known to Ackerman. Initially, she studied special education and occupational therapy. This is where she met her husband and discovered a passion for working with individuals with disabilities, which she would return to in later photography projects.
After Ackerman was married, she and her husband moved to China to teach English.
“When I returned, I felt that although both of the previous degrees I pursued were amazing and still very much went well with my personality, by the time I finished the necessary school I’d be ready to start a family and perhaps never use the degree,” Ackerman said. “That’s why I decided to switch to photography. I had always liked photography and taking pictures on my adventures, so I thought an education in it would be fun and allow me to take good pictures of my life and future children if nothing else.”
Ackerman and her husband have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter named Edelweiss. Having her daughter while being a full-time student challenged Ackerman, but only made her grow stronger.
“Having a child made it so that I was busy all of the time. It changed my priorities,” she said. “It made it so that it was more than about creating beautiful work but about creating meaningful work. If I was going to be sacrificing time away from my daughter then it needed to be worth it.”
Ackerman got special permission from her professors to have her daughter in classes and jokes that Edelweiss has already completed two years of her own degree. “I took my second sign language class when she was about six months and she learned a ton of sign while I was taking that class.”
Ackerman’s daughter has, understandably, had a great impact on her perspective on life.
“Before I had a child, I always thought it was a little bit strange to see children on campus,” she said, “so when I had her, I always felt awkward carrying a child around but I quickly had to get over that as she would talk to everyone that we passed on campus or whoever we were sitting next to on the city bus to campus.” Being a mother also impacted her perspective and passions within photography.
Chantelle McCall, who has been friends with Ackerman since they were both accepted to the photography program, points out Ackerman’s Fertile Footprint project as one of her most striking works. In this project, she highlights the physical effects childbirth can have on a woman’s body.
“This is what I love about her work,” McCall said, “her passion to show the everyday struggles of the remarkable people in our community.”
Ackerman said the project was inspired by her own journey of pregnancy and her postpartum body. “I think there are so many beautiful details of women’s bodies during the maternal journey that represent the journey it takes to create a life,” she said. “Sometimes these marks are looked at as ugly by society, but I wanted to show the beauty and empowerment in these marks. They create life.”
Empowering women is a common theme in Ackerman’s work. She focuses on birth photography, a project in which she photographs the vulnerable, raw moments of childbirth. As explained on her website, “Birth photography preserves the long awaited first embrace you share with your child, the moment that has nine months of sacrifice leading up to. It shows the support shared between you and your partner during labor, the first time you see your baby, the first time you hold their hand.”
Ackerman explained part of the reason she is drawn to this is the authentic nature of it.
“I honestly think it is one of the only situations that a photographer can capture something that is fully authentic. During birth a mother can’t focus on the fact that there is a camera present, so she can’t put up walls or present a more beautiful version of herself,” she said. “In short it feels empowering.”
Ackerman said the process is not only empowering to the women giving birth but to her, as well.
“Going forward I hope to continue to create series that promote the importance of relationships, diversity, and personal identity,” Ackerman said. “I think that these are such important messages during this time. I also plan to continue work as a birth photographer and continue to empower women in that way.”
Ackerman’s work, passion, dedication and perseverance are inspiring. She will undoubtedly continue to be successful as an artist, individual and a mother beyond graduation from Utah State.