Kelli Hayden’s Best Of (and not so best of) 2020

Ok, here it is….Kelli Hayden’s Best Of (and not so best of) 2020!

My year in summation for 2020 and naturally, this is going to be a deeply personal one. How could it not be? I know 2020 was quite a year for all of us, some more so than others. I’ve spent the better part of the year trying to focus on the good it has brought. I try to get my optimism wherever I can.

I rang in 2020 at my friend’s house, on her couch, with a really bad flu in a cuddle puddle with her dog and some other friends, completely stoned on flu meds. It was a very mellow and relaxing way to usher in what I was preparing to be a very vivacious new year.

The beginning of the new year had me working a ton on shooting some new music promos. If you know me at all, you know I started out photographing music. This is my “punk rock” side. (see

I began shooting some merch for Rebel Rebel that licenses official Alice Cooper clothing. How awesome is that?! That turned into shooting more music stuff, but sadly, these promos and projects got shelved. Fortunately, Mel and I teamed up and she hired me to shoot a lot of her clothing for her shop, Rebel Rebel in Hollywood. She also hired me to help her design her new book, Eat the Rich. This little baby began in January! All we had was a giant archive of RAW images from her photographer and a list of corresponding recipes. She handed me a stack of Motley Crue books like Heroin Diaries and had me take some inspiration from their design and create something of our own…which we did but wouldn’t know what it was going to look like until October!

A few weeks into January, I received some heartbreaking news that our friend, Anjelia, had passed. She was my Alabama for my True Romance shoot a few years ago. She was insanely talented. I’ll miss her music and goofy laugh. At the time, I was too sick to attend her Hollywood memorial and I hate myself everyday for having to miss it.

The start of the year was a seemingly slow one with very few projects and shoots happening, but in a way that was good since Adrian and I at the time were in the beginning stages of fixing up the place we had just moved into in Hollywood and we needed all the time we could get to start painting and planning our home updates.

My friend Kathleen had two pieces of her writing in a book published and did a live reading at The Last Bookstore in DTLA. She’s a very talented writer and can really pen her sense of humor on paper that leaves any reader in absolute laughter. I feel special that she always has me pre-read a piece she writes before it gets published, whether it’s in an article or a book. I’ve even read one of her scripts she’s written…I cant WAIT to see where she ends up taking that!!!

One fun project I got to do was some lifestyle photography for my friend Oscar, a bad ass physical trainer and fitness expert. I’ve started training with him since the spring of 2019. This guy will get you the body you want! He’s one of the hardest working people I know. Everything he does is for his son, Rio. He’s an excellent father and has been such an amazing friend. We used to bartend together at the Velvet Margarita way back in its hey-day!

Eventually this day had to come – CPR training for certification for A Walk on Water! I was so excited to start the new AWOW season and be certified for CPR. Never a bad thing to know.

Later in the month, I did a brand shoot with Alex Hirsch of Signs of Our Lives. She’s a calligraphy artist and did my older logo on one of my leather jackets.

The start of February was awesome! I got to shoot my first Disneyland photo session of the year and it was SO MUCH FUN! I absolutely adored spending the morning with Miranda and Matthew for their anniversary. The entire day was fun and I’m glad it was, because at the time, I had no idea that this was the last time I’d get to visit the parks all year, and til who knows when.

You can see the entire session here!

For Valentine’s Day, Adrian and I drove up to Mammoth Lakes and June Lake. We don’t ski or snowboard, but we love the mountains and Mammoth happens to have some really legit bars and breweries, one of them especially being in June Lake. It’s always very low key and I love every trip I’ve ever taken out there. I also love the opportunity to shoot some stars and maybe even a potential Milky Way, given the time of year.

A week later was my friend Mel’s birthday, along with her business partner, Chris, with whom she co-owns Rebel Rebel. They share birthdays and always do a duo party. They squeezed all their closest friends inside the shop and had The Madcaps play…totally PRE-PANDEMIC, yet right before…

This day I was SO excited for! It was the A Walk on Water volunteer safety training and season kickoff event! I was realllllllly looking forward to another year of AWOW events.

Me, caught eating a burrito…typical…

On a Saturday evening the first week of March, while I’m covered from head to toe in paint, I get several missed calls and frantic texts from my friend Laura Grier, who was on a plane to Peru, telling me (not asking) to get on the NEXT plane to Lima ASAP. There was an opening in her group on the women’s retreat she curated that started in the Sacred Valley and ended in the Amazon. It was the fastest international plane ticket I had ever purchased. I had NO time to fully look at the itinerary she sent me. I had to just toss whatever was clean in my suitcase, only guessing what I’d need. Adrian handed me $200 in quick cash, a flashlight, some hand sanitizer, and an external battery charger…exactly the things that would VERY much come in handy on this trip. You can actually read ALLLLLLLL about it here. What a trip this was!!! It was purely life-changing…in more ways than one….

On our last day in Peru, we left the Amazon and docked at one of the ports where we were going to take a ride over to the floating restaurant, Al Frio y Al Fuego. Before we left the dock, there was a TV on; our first contact with the “outside” world in days after being in the rainforest with almost NO reception whatsoever. This is where we learned just how badly the Coronavirus had escalated. This is also where we learned that Peruvian borders will be completely closing at midnight…and my flight was scheduled to leave at 12:45am! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and what I was seeing. I’m gone for a few days and suddenly the world turned to hell! It was SO surreal, as if we had arrived into an altered dimension.

After our last fun day of partying out on the water, it was time to face reality and head back to LA and deal with our new reality. It was chaos at the Lima airport – hundreds of travelers unsure if they were able to fly back home that evening before they shut down the borders. Once in Lima, I had enough reception to communicate with my mom and Adrian on how I might possibly be stuck in Lima and what our options would be. Adrian had begun telling me that his restaurant was closed, and everything was closing…just completely SHUT DOWN and I need to take everything that’s going to happen seriously. At that point, everything was beginning to sink in and I started to secretly panic on the inside. How would I survive in Peru? Where would I stay? Was it possible to even get an AirBnb or even a hotel room? I waited over an hour and half to finally talk to someone at the counter and was relieved to hear that I’d be on the last plane out of Lima to Mexico City, where I’d change planes to fly home to LAX. Our friend Pats who lives in Lima handed me a disposable paper face mask before I went through security, gave me a hug, and wished me luck.

That was the very first face mask I had for this pandemic. I didn’t take it off once after putting it on. Not on the plane, on my layover, in the bathroom or even to drink water. I just simply didn’t. So many thoughts were swirling through my head. How long would everyone be out of work for? What does this mean for me, a freelancer who owns her own small business? Would we never have weddings again? Disneyland closed until further noticed?! They haven’t even done that since 9/11! How would we make money? Do I already have this virus? Have I already been exposed? How dangerous is this exactly? My brain just wouldn’t stop.

When I FINALLY landed on American soil, I immediately texted my mom and Adrian to let them know I made it home. Adrian didn’t sleep all night long, he just waited for any updates on my flight. Would I be stuck in Mexico or actually make it back to LA? How tightly are they closing the borders exactly? Texts from some friends came pouring in, telling me to actually STAY in Peru because of what was going on back home. I felt like the main character in a zombie apocalypse film. If you’ve ever seen the film 28 Days Later, there’s a scene where the main guy (Cillian Murphy) awakes from a coma to find his world has succumbed to the Rage Virus and it’s completely apocalyptic and finds his parents had died in their sleep and left him a note in their hands that read “Now we’re sleeping with you. Don’t wake up.” Coming back home to what felt like a dark, parallel universe makes me think of that scene, and all the texts from my closest friends, encouraging me to stay in the jungle, one of the cleanest and pure places on the planet.

Once I got off the plane, I was excited to finally use my new Global Entry to breeze through customs, except, I didn’t even need it – there was absolutely NO line for returning citizens. I walked through and made my way to baggage claim, grabbed my bag, walked through a completely empty LAX, and walked out to Adrian pulling up with no one outside. It was a total ghost town. If you’ve ever been to LAX on any given day pre-COVID, you’re familiar with the shit show it usually is.

The next day was St. Patrick’s Day…and there was NOWHERE to celebrate. No bars were open. It dawned on me that we needed toilet paper soon, at a time where EVERYONE was selfishly hoarding TP. The roads were empty. Hollywood Blvd. was a ghost town. People took the first stay-home order VERY seriously. The city could breathe, for once. It was kind of nice, I won’t lie. I waited my entire life to be able to drive all over Los Angeles without traffic in the middle of the week and that day came. I also really wanted several weeks off to finish all the projects around my house I needed to finish. Got that too. As much as a gift as that was, it was still anxiety-inducing thinking about what the future of wedding, travel, and event photography held. How would we stay in business? At the same time, all my 2020 bookings slowly cancelled, rescheduled, etc. and I had thousands in deposit fees to refund! All at once! I had to come up with custom payment-plans to accommodate everyone, which, thankfully I was able to! And more than happy to because I have NO idea what anyone planning a full-on wedding this year is going through.

Adrian and I spent the next few weeks holed up at home, going for walks and hikes in our neighborhood, something I’ve always wanted to do with him since we live right there and it’s all walkable. Since my gym had closed, I had to get creative and find other ways to get in a good workout at home.

I also spent some time visiting my friend Kathleen at her house. She was on the trip with us in Peru, so she was immediately already in my “COVID circle” and has been ever since so we felt safe being around one another since our exposure risks were low since we never really went anywhere. We had SO much time to kill. I even found time to paint HER kitchen! We survived on to-go alcoholic slushies from the bar down the street from her house. She even took in a feral cat who’s so awesome, I almost adopted her, myself.

As the summertime approached, I found myself safely being “social” and active as much as I could. This was obviously before the numbers started spiking. We’d go on day-long hikes to the Hollywood Sign, Blackstar Canyon…anywhere. Anything for a workout with closest friends who were also laying low and I felt safe around. This time felt like a gift. It was time to SLOW DOWN and unplug. LIVE LIFE…but safely.

Immediately when June came around, the death of George Floyd just set us OFF. It set the entire level-headed nation off. Cities all over the world marched in the name of racial injustice. I wrote a whole piece on why I marched alongside thousands of people, elbow-to-elbow, during a global pandemic. Risky? Yes. But is life worth living or fighting for if we’re being forced to live and suffer in a world without EQUALITY? What the hell are we trying to stay alive for? Black lives have to matter so ALL lives can.

A commissioned piece my friend Jenikah of Sooo Good Studios made for me.

In the middle of summer, it was decided that we needed some kind of vacation where we don’t need to take a plane and Baja, Mexico was where we’d be headed with my cousin Casey and her boyfriend, Parker. It was my first time driving into Mexico…in my AUDI. Yes, it was completely nerve-wrecking, even with Mexican insurance. We stayed in the private community of Los Gaviotas so at least my car was safe overnight. The real scary part was driving it through Tijuana. I wanted to surf there, but the waves were non-existent the time we were there, so I didn’t bother. It’s usually a great surf spot.

Shortly after our Mexico trip, I was able to do a socially-distanced styled shoot in Santa Ynez! It was SO gorgeous, and honestly, this was my only “wedding” content for 2020 so I was so grateful to get to be apart of this! I did indeed blog about it as well!

Throughout August and September, my friend Kathleen and I went on a few surf excursions in Leucadia in San Diego. I’m still a beginner, so I can’t say much about how “totally gnarly the break was” or anything. I’m still trying to perfect my balance and steering and would eventually love to graduate to a short board. It was really nice to be out of LA and stay in a boutique motel by the beach for a day or two and just wipe yourself out in the water. I even got to shoot with my Hasselblad camera that I bought earlier in the summer. I’m still trying to re-teach myself to shoot with it. Apparently, it’s not like riding a bike. I haven’t shot with one in over ten years and ruined my first roll of film by not loading it correctly!

After our surf trip, I had to see a doctor as it became apparent that I had a plantar fasciitis, hairline fracture situation that had hindered my ability to run or surf for the last few months. I just recently ran again, and I’m happy to report that my flipper is healed and I should be able to get back out on the open road and out in the waves again asap!

Right before we left for a trip, I did an engagement shoot with this AWESOME couple who also love to travel and we totally NAILED IT! …that is, until, at the end of the shoot we discovered that Adrian’s car was broken into and they fucking stole my entire purse with EVERYTHING personal in it. My $200 clutch bag, my wallet with all my debit and credit cards, ID, insurance cards, $200+ in cash, my prescription pills, my keyless entry car fob, and house keys…everything. REALLY fucking annoying to have to replace all that (I’m STILL replacing everything), but I’m grateful none of my camera equipment was swiped. Adrian only suffered a window replacement of $150. Me? Over $1000 in personal items. Whatever. The shoot went so well and the images came out so great, I got over this very quickly.

You can see the entire shoot here!

Shortly after my birthday in October, Adrian and I went to Chicago for Halloween. We love Chicago, it’s one of our favorite cities and we barely needed any excuse to visit. We braved the pandemic risk and went on an airplane anyway. Chicago is known for its food and nightlife, but this time was different. We arrived just in time for the second shut down and city-wide curfew beginning at 9pm…which meant all our drinking and eating had to be done in the day time. We passed out by midnight every night, but that’s ok. We were at least very well-fed and had MANY amazing cocktails, which is what we always visited Chicago for. In addition to that this year, we dressed up in Lemur onesies and got to see the fall foliage which I had never seen in person before! I was awestruck. It was like the trees were on FIRE!!!

Me, on the far right, channeling my inner Kamala!

When we returned home to LA, we new it was time to get real. It was election time. We already voted early, obviously, but it was time to really hone in and focus on what our reality could very well be in just a matter of days. Of course, this election took an extra FOUR DAYS to yield any definite results but I suppose it was worth it to get to finally celebrate our new president and MADAM VICE PRESIDENT. I’ll keep the politics to a minimum, but needless to say, WE PARTIED.

Sadly, this would be the last time Adrian and I shared a fun moment together in our almost ten years as a couple. At the beginning of November, he and I ended our relationship. We were together for almost ten years and engaged for 5. I’ll spare ALL the details, but as it turns out, this is for the best. Sometimes, you just know when you’ve outgrown someone and they’re not your “one”. Life is a series of obstacles and chapters and it throws surprises your way all the time – good, bad, and ugly. Your gut never lies. Always listen to your instincts. I thought this was it, but I was wrong. As it turns out, I was happily mistaken. I feel liberated and reborn and though I’m terrified to go back out there all alone, I’m also excited. I feel like this was meant to happen. I do feel the deep sadness of removing my engagement ring that I know I’ll never put back on (and I really LOVED that ring), but in many ways, I’ve already moved on with my life and none of it feels wrong. Fuck the rules. Fuck what anyone thinks or what they think you should be doing. Follow your heart and use your logic….and always, ALWAYS listen to your gut. It NEVER lies to you. Life’s too short to keep lying to yourself and to be lied to by people who you thought you knew for so long.

That being said, I’m pretty excited for my plans for 2021. I know we’re not out of the pandemic woods yet, but I’m pretty confident that the new year wont be as traumatic as 2020 was. If we can survive THIS SHIT, we can survive anything else life throws our way. Maybe the universe has a way of telling us that we’ve been on the wrong path for too long and it’s time to re-route ourselves and find where we really should be headed. Some people need to leave so that new people can enter. Whatever these life lessons are, I’m grateful for them, despite how ugly it was at first and how much I thought I didn’t want it. I believe 2020 was the year for change for EVERYONE, no exceptions. However it affected you, I hope it made you face reality in the best way possible. It certainly forced me to learn how to be resourceful, grateful, careful, and accept CHANGE. Change is inevitable and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. It’s all how you adapt to things we simply have no control over.

Oh 2021, please please be good to us…

I suppose it’s a good thing to close this post with something not just good, but GREAT: EAT THE RICH is officially a book that we finished and is now available for sale!!! You can get your copy here!!!









talk to you soon!