By srianthi perera, GSN Contributor

“Capturing your present, creating your future,” is Gilbert photographer Elaine Kessler’s photo motto.

It also fits her own life.

Kessler’s present is jam-packed with various professional and volunteer activities, while her future holds as many promises.

The two parallel threads that govern her professional life – photography and activism through the arts – have both grown exponentially during the last few months.

“I believe in seizing the moment. That’s why I want to make the most of it,” she said.

Kessler just completed a master’s degree in creative enterprise and cultural leadership at Arizona State University, partly to reinforce the argument that the arts support the economy and elevate the quality of life.

Her community engagement project, titled “Created Equal Trigger Exhibits,” aims to generate conversations on difficult topics.

She took a bite into leadership when she became one of this year’s 36 Flynn-Brown Fellows after attending an academy housed under Arizona Center for Civic Leadership.

Until it folded, Kessler chaired the town’s volunteer Human Relations Commission, which seeks to engage and empower Gilbert residents.

Recently, she opened a photography studio in the northeast part of the town in a two-story building with an indoor courtyard with a water feature, wraparound balconies and lake views.

In between, she’s also a wife to bank forecasting analyst William Johns and mom to Adela, 13, and Elise, 10.

“I love having a studio,” said Kessler, who started her business eight years ago and used to operate from her home.

Now, she can use the courtyard for indoor-outdoor portraits of individuals and groups alike. She also uses a whole office there for meetings and various photo sessions, including fitness, senior and boudoir.

Kessler, who is known in Gilbert’s business and civic circles, has developed quite a following with her portraits and headshots.

“She does beautiful work,” said Alice Woodard, an entrepreneur who used her services for head shots and family photos in Sedona and plans to employ her for more. “Just the way she poses you, she makes you feel very comfortable and makes you look better than you do look.”

Kessler’s artistic eye plays a lot into her captures. Self-taught for the most part, she began photography when a friend who saw baby Adele’s photos wanted to pay her to shoot photos of her own children.

“When I’m photographing people, I have an inherent belief that everyone is beautiful,” she said. “I think it depends on how you see them.”

Photography is Kessler’s bread and butter. But her arts activism looks to the future.

The trigger exhibits are to be trademarked and turned into a for-profit organization. She plans to take them to municipalities across Arizona and beyond.

Since graduation, she has already done four events for the Valley of the Sun United Way’s Project Connect on the topic of poverty; American Family Insurance on Hispanic Heritage Day, “Dream Fearlessly;” and the Local Initiative Support Corporation on “Stand up for Place.”

The exhibits bring together artists, design thinking, maker stations that create answers in art and facilitators to generate conversation. They may be used by municipalities, often to hash out issues if it involves transition, tension or trauma.

“The opportunity to take the temperature of a topic for a community is built into the nature of a trigger exhibit,” Kessler wrote in her thesis. “The data can be used in a number of ways including to inform and shape policy; to generate support for or defend a strategy; to garner attention to a cause.”

The next Created Equal Trigger Exhibit, “Love Without Limits,” is themed around immigration and will be held Feb. 21 at The Falls Center in Gilbert. Fifty artists, including performance, music, dance, installation and painting, will ponder the theme using their own medium.

“The idea is that people are people no matter where they are. They don’t have borders, it’s made up,” she said. “You can have a conversation about stuff with art: your experiences, what you see, your interpretation. It’s broad, positive and art-based.”

Another project in the works is called “Swing,” a collaboration with Scottsdale painter Joan Collins.

In it, Kessler creates a photograph, and Collins creates a response to the photograph in a painting and they go back and forth. The work will be on display at a spring show where they will create the final items onsite and also provide an opportunity for people to participate.

She said she tries to “infuse some of the exhibits” with her view of the way things should be in the world, explaining:

“This is where I think more of my personality gets to show up.”

Elaine Kessler’s studio is at 3651 E. Baseline Road, Gilbert. Information: elainekesslerphotography.com