Years ago, a love of photography brought Leah Zawadzki and Deb Schwedhelm together.

Over the years, their friendship developed. They worked on photography projects, they taught workshops together, their families spent vacation time together, and they became best friends. They learned that they had¬†opposite personalities, but their differences strengthened rather than separated them. They balanced and inspired each other. When¬†Deb and her family moved 5500 miles away to Japan, it was a loss for both of them and they wanted to stay in touch with each other. They started a project called “Here and There” to connect through the same thing that originally brought them together: photos.

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Here and There

Throughout 2015, Deb and Leah¬†are taking pictures and pairing the photographs into diptychs (two photos placed side by side). Deb had been suggesting this project to Leah for quite a while, but¬†Leah hesitated because she thought it would take too much time or thought. But when Deb moved to Japan, it became the perfect time to start the project. Their photos compare and contrast the two countries and cultures they are now living in, as well as¬†give each other a glimpse into their everyday lives. This project has given the friends¬†a way to stay in touch, peek into each other’s lives, and continue to inspire each other.

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“We often scroll through the pairings, excitedly looking again. We have been friends since the beginning of our photography journeys so this is a very special collaboration. Living across the world and having such a large time difference, this has been a special way for us to stay connected.”

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Serendipity is effortless.

Once they started the project, they were surprised at how effortless and fun it became. Originally, they set a modest goal of one diptych a week. But as the project gained momentum, they enjoyed it so much they would quite often surpass their goal, and at times they even post a diptych every day.¬†As they go about their lives, and as they keep each other in mind, it creates a connection that shows in their photographs. Leah says the photos began to flow in an¬†easy¬†rhythm almost immediately.¬†“The [project]¬†has given me a newfound excitement to pull my camera out and shoot whatever I see. Charley the dog who encounters restrictions in Japan vs Oliver the American dog who is free to roam and poop wherever he wants. The mysterious figure of a person that just appears in both¬†our frames without planning it. The horizon lines that just magically line up. Her kids exploring museums and my kids exploring their neighborhood. Randomly and unplanned we both take a photo of an open storefront on the same day. Each pairing seems to have some story to tell. A story not only for the viewer but one that unfolds for the photographers as well.”¬†Deb says they thought¬†the project would go¬†well, but never imagined¬†they’d love it so much. They have even discussed continuing the project after Deb returns to the U.S. in the summer of 2016 because they’re not ready for it to end.

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“Each pairing seems to have some story to tell. A story not only for the viewer but one that unfolds for the photographers as well.”

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Connections strengthen us.

You may think that the photos would show vast differences between life in Japan and the United States. What’s surprising and appealing¬†about this project is the great similarities that abound. The connections outweigh the contrasts. Even¬†when there are differences, the photos’ patterns or lines¬†flow together with a sense of serendipity that enriches each photo, just as the differences in Deb’s and Leah’s own personalities strengthen their friendship.

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“Almost all photographers, at one point in their photography journey, experience some feelings of competitiveness. This Project has helped reinforce how crazy that is. Once we started pairing images, it was obvious that one image was not better or stronger than the other. Instead, when the images were paired together, they actually made each¬†other stronger.”

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Oceans apart, side by side

As their careers in photography have progressed, Leah and Deb have¬†both experienced times when they became so focused on photographing others that they failed to capture the everyday moments of their own lives. They’ve reached the realization, both together and separately, that while they love taking pictures for a living, the pictures of their own families should never take a backseat. Through this project, they’ve continued to make those connections and realizations, and inspire each other, even from across the globe.¬†

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Over the years,¬†we both realized how very important documenting our own family is.¬†Our children‚Äôs lives are filled with so much more than a beautiful portrait. We hope that our documentation of our family sparks memories, stories and adventures, to then be shared for generations to come.”

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You can connect with Leah and Deb in the following places:

Follow along with the  Here and There Project

Leah on Instagram¬† ¬†‚ÄĘ ¬†¬†Deb on Instagram

Leah on Facebook¬† ¬†‚ÄĘ ¬† Deb on Facebook