Today in my role as Education Manager at Tuttle Cameras a former student of mine I hadn't seen in well over a year came back to the store to take a photo class. I recognized her immediately in that familiar but it's been a while sort of way. She looked the same and different at the same time.
As she beamed at me, she began to share with me where she'd been and what had happened over the time away like old friends do. As she did my heart began to break.
This woman had conquered a mountain of illness and related health challenges. Some of her experiences were down right traumatic. I was stunned. And she was smiling. We hugged.
It reminded me that although these relationships start with a lot of camera talk, we move through the layers. I hear about their families, they hear about my passion projects and art. We so often become friends. And I like it that way. Because most of the time people are amazing beings; fascinating because of our differences, familiar because of our similarities. Bonded by them both.
I can't wait to see who else I get to meet and work with in 2016.
Today I read a story about a man, who after years of commercial writing failure, had an opportunity to ask his favorite author for some advice. He begged the author not tell him to merely “persevere,” saying he couldn’t take one more person giving him that same advice.
The author replied that he would not be so unkind to tell the man to persevere; instead he told him to quit. The author added that it appeared writing was giving the man no pleasure, for he was clearly in agony, and life was designed to be enjoyed. So the man should quit and pursue life. But if he found no other enjoyment after a few years away, he should return to writing and persevere.
Reading this story today I got chills. I've had many opportunities to throw in the towel; I've come close several times. By God's grace I haven't yet, and I'm still a working photographer (among a few other things) that pays the rent (mostly) with my camera or knowledge thereof.
After reading the story, and reflecting on my own, I started to think about the "Why?" Why do I keep doing this, as many difficulties as there are? What makes me not quit and go after an easier way to pay the rent? The reason, for me, was so simple it startled me: this is my craft. This is what I was made to do. As I recently remembered through an old box of family photos, this is what I've been doing since before I was 10-years-old. I am first beloved of Jesus, and my second identity is creator of contemplative photographs.
I don't throw in the towel because I can't. I mean, in the simplest terms possible I could pack up and sell my camera gear, and walk into a temp agency and get a job. But in the truest sense of those words, I can't abandon myself. And I am beyond grateful for the guidance, nurturing, wisdom of my husband, friends, and spiritual director who've continued to whisper my truth and truest self back to me when I forget.
And I wonder about you. I wonder my story is bringing up for you? I wonder if some part of who you are is sitting on a dusty shelf? I wonder if someone along the way told you it was impossible? I wonder if you feel like you never really had a shot? Maybe today you can take a chance, give yourself permission to type out your identity or your dream... to whisper it to me ::and the whole internet:: and give it a chance to grow restless within you until it comes overflowing out onto the world.
So share with me...
It's an old photographer's joke: in the middle of the photo session the client says, "Oh, it doesn't matter! You can fix XYZ in Photoshop!" To which the photographer replies: "Absolutely! It's how I make all my money."
As a professional photographer time is insanely importantly -- meaning, how well or not I manage my time directly influences how much money I make. If I charge $100 and spend 1-hour on the project, I made a great profit. If, however, I spend 15-hours on the same $100 project... well, then, there are easier ways to make a buck.
After virtually burning myself out as a wedding photographer by 2013 (I started in 2006), I knew I had to change how I worked. Weddings were costing me too much. The price tag made it initially appealing, until I realized how many hours I was actually working on each event. It was unsustainable.
I decided to go after more portrait work. It was my favorite part of the wedding day anyway, and I figured I'd have less stress, too, working outside the demands of a wedding day. So I did and it was.
Shooting families more and more I started to hear the joke above play out. I never quite gave the photographer's reply -- but I began to see how many people were afraid of their imperfections. Unconsciously I went on a mission trying to shoot my clients in such a way that would allow them to see the best parts of themselves without the idealism of perfection. I wanted to honor their quirks, personality, and flaws -- not gaussian blur them all away.
Without the backup plan of Photoshop-ing in perfection, I focused on shooting in a way that was honoring to my clients' personalities. And I developed a "let it be" attitude in my editing. I realized this is how I had always wanted to shoot, and I finally had given myself permission to be who I was as a photographer. In addition, it freed up hours of time for me from each session -- not spending it behind the computer wiping away every laugh line.
The result has been an increasing return rate for my portrait clients. I'm learning they feel safe to let me represent who they truly are as I honor that trust by creating beautiful and realistic portraits that embody their entire being, not just their best smiles. And they feel safe because they sense that I actually like them (I do!). I'm fascinated by each and every one of them and take it as a honor each time I get to help them see a bit of what their loved ones see in them: their amazingly true and beautiful self.