Louisville photographer Chelsey Nelson’s life was forever altered when a tornado ripped through her family’s home.
“I remember I was in my childhood bedroom, asleep on the top bed of a bunk bed when the tornado touched down. I woke up to the sound of the wind of the tornado. The tornado shattered my bedroom window, and glass flew everywhere.”
Her parents survived by clinging to their bed posts. The tornado destroyed much of her family’s home. Thankfully, no one in her family was killed.
Life’s tragedies sometimes bring with them unexpected changes for the better. Chelsey’s childhood home was in shambles. But it was out of that experience that she would soon discover her life’s passion: photography.
Chelsey and her family moved in with a family from their church while they were displaced. She poured over the host family’s photo albums. She learned about who they were—in the special moments, and the mundane. “I think it helped me feel connected to them while I was sorting what it was like to technically be homeless, away from what was familiar,” Chelsey says.
From that point on, Chelsey was taken with photography and the stories photographs tell. She was enamored with the photo collages hanging in her grandmother’s house. When she was a young teenager, she spent hours going through family videos and photo albums.
The photos helped her appreciate her childhood and recall moments missed. “For example, in one family video, made when I was young, my older brother came over to me after I fell off my tricycle to ask me if I was okay. I had always respected my brother, but this made me realize how much he loved me growing up,” Chelsey says.
She received her first camera before a mission trip in high school, and a camera has been her constant companion ever since.
Louisville is Censoring Chelsey’s Speech
Chelsey eventually started Chelsey Nelson Photography so she could pursue her passion as her sole occupation. She photographs weddings, edits wedding photos, and blogs about the weddings. She is guided by her history in how she serves her clients. “My hope is to give that gift to others – beautiful images that will represent special memories, become family heirlooms, and tell the story of each legacy represented, because it matters,” Chelsey says on her website.
Chelsey is also guided by her Christian faith, which informs her belief that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.
Like other creative professionals around the country, a city law may force Chelsey to act against her convictions by requiring her to participate in, and use her photography, editing, and blogging skills to promote, same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Chelsey serves all people, but she cannot use her artistic talents to promote all messages. Rather than protecting Chelsey’s freedom to choose which messages to express, Louisville restricts this freedom. The city also forbids her from explaining the religious reasons why she can only celebrate weddings between one man and one woman to her clients directly, on her business’s website, or through the business’s social media accounts.
Photographers like Chelsey don’t surrender their freedom of speech when they choose to make a living by creating expression. Sacrificing one’s religious beliefs in order to make a living cannot be, as one New Mexico Supreme Court Justice wrote in the case of former ADF client Elaine Huguenin, “the price of citizenship.”
Chelsey found her calling out of the grim circumstances of a devastating tornado damaging her childhood home. The government must not be in the business of stamping out this calling or Chelsey’s freedom because it disagrees with her views.