I am a professional photographer.
I have been published in magazines with worldwide readership, as well as full-color publications, a number of blogs, and billboards. I have been flown across the nation many times for my photography over the years. I was the bread-winner with my work while putting my husband through his undergraduate degree, and his masters/phd program. My work has been adored by clients, especially family members who lose their loved ones. I have taught hundreds of photographers how to use their cameras and shoot solid images. I have shot countless weddings and portraits over the last 10 years.
And I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life.
When I was young I would fill out questionnaires for school and when I got to the line to fill out hobbies, I would always run out of room putting everything I enjoyed to do. I think rollerskating would always make the list.
But as I got older my procrastinator/perfectionist combo was brutal to that child-like assessment of joy. How could I do something if I knew I wasn’t doing it well enough, or if someone was better than me?
But I loved art. As a child of a creative, I grew up surrounded by the finest art materials. My mother would give me a line and I would turn it into a picture. She taught me about warm and cool colors, and the angle of calligraphy brushes. She tutored me in painting my own replica of Vincent van Gogh’s starry night when I was in 6th grade. We practiced blind contour drawing while sitting quietly in church service. I had 3D birthday cakes and giant pop-up cards, amazing custom gifts to bring to birthday parties. Everything was exciting and everything was possible.
By the time I was in high school, many of my peers were only beginning to explore artistic techniques my mother had pushed me into years before. I loved the minutia of pointillism, splashes of colored ink on silk, my favorite color combination was mixes of blues and greens. I was in a special art program my senior year with local artists who came to teach us their craft. I learned cloisonné and metal working, weaving, and made my own in-laid jewelry. I loved everything. I was good at everything.
College applications to the art program were not difficult. Besides sending a portfolio, we had to do an exercise like I had done since I was small: a grid of boxes with a single mark. Our job was to complete a drawing in each box. I pushed the envelope, cutting the paper and having paper reveal behind, using an airbush on one, colored pencil on another. I think I turned one into a perspective 3d drawing. I have a photocopy in a box somewhere. I felt pleased with myself.
But what was everyone else going to be doing? Was it good enough? Should I have kept it simpler? Maybe my pushing the envelope wasn’t a good thing. What if I didn’t get in? This was the only school I wanted to attend.
One day I received a letter. I was accepted into the art program.
And I wasn’t even accepted as a student to the university yet.
Everything fell into place. I knew I liked math as well, and ended up taking math 112 even though I had gotten a 5 on my Calculus BC exam. I didn’t feel like I really knew it yet. Maybe I would do math too?
In my art program they had core classes to take, a little of everything. Ceramics, composition, figure drawing, lithography, sculpture, color theory. Some classes weren’t as “fun” as others, and I was my own worst critic. Eventually I was supposed to focus on one thing. All artists choose one thing to be good at, and then they became really good at that one thing. If lucky they’d become well known for it.
But there was a problem.
I liked almost all of it.
How could I choose just one thing? Could I be happy with just painting faceless figures like my figure drawing teacher did in her professional paintings? I had no clue how I was going to narrow my sights down.
For the perfectionistic overachiever I was, I found that my art classes weren’t mentally challenging enough. I liked to be pushed and strive for things… and sometimes sitting for hours in a classroom to make a little progress on something felt like not the best use of time. I had a hard time just chilling.
I took math class after math class. Despite feeling helplessly lost at times, I found that I actually really liked math. If I work really hard both sides of the equation balance out. All is right in the world.
As I kept taking my art and math classes, I met others in my math classes who were also incredibly good at music. I met art students who were brilliant with science. Interesting. But none of them were doing double majors.
The math classes mentally challenged me, the art classes released me. I couldn’t do one without the other.
Then I took a photography class.
We had to shoot with color slide film, and write our exposures down in a little notebook. Don’t forget to write down one, or your whole roll will be off. A little note about what was in the picture was helpful.
Once the slides were developed we wrote our settings in pencil on the upper corners in particular places so they could be read easily while in the projector. During class our professor showed them on the projector one at a time.
I still have my slides. Well, most of them.
I loved photographing my ceramic projects with my beautiful $200 1972 film camera. I kind of died inside making these huge ceramic forms which had no utilitarian purpose, and I wasn’t well-known enough to sell anything like those.
I think I ended up letting someone use them for shooting practice. But I created, and allowed myself to create.
I got to take the second and only other photography class I was allowed to take without being a Photo BFA student. We got to use the darkroom.
Can I just tell you there is nothing more magical than turning a white piece of paper into a photograph right in your hands? We learned about ACTUAL dodging and burning, not just a wave of a mouse to lighten/darken that you can just undo/redo. If you burn too much, then you have a permanent black spot on your photograph, but you won’t know until you put it back in the chemicals.
A humanitarian trip to Africa in 2002, and a unique encounter with the incredible photographer Mark Philbrick put a digital camera into my hands for the first time.
I fell in love.
I had to have more of this photography thing.
Mark told me about a communications class I could take shooting for the newspaper. I enrolled that fall and spent 10 hours a week up there volunteering for assignment I could lay my hands on (We were still shooting film).
The following semester I applied and was chosen to be Photo Editor of the school newspaper… in charge of my 4 TA’s from the previous semester. It was so exciting, and I finally got to shoot with some of their brand new digital camera equipment.
That summer I took a break from school to serve a mission in Taiwan, and when I returned I applied and got the same job back. After getting accepted, they handed me a camera body to play around with in the meantime. I had a moment of panic… what did I just get myself into? I hadn’t been shooting in that time besides recording memories with a simple point and shoot. But in a few hours I felt it coming back to me, and it was an incredible year.
I found that photography was the magical mesh of mathematics and visual arts that I needed.
I didn’t need to choose one without the other, they both could work together beautifully. My analytical mind thrived on problem solving the settings and problems I would face on different assignments, my creative mind loved thinking of ways to explore and create beauty.
So I began a business and 10 years later here I am. I sustained our family for 7 years with my income alone, and felt relieved to have more flexibility once my husband graduated and got a job. There were many pleading prayers for clients to come our way, stressful/anxious years of wanting to be better and more efficient, and failing at trying not to compare myself with others.
But just like getting fit is hard and progress can seem imperceptible at times, it can be easy to feel frustrated with progress as a creative. But I love the moments when I see my progress and what I’ve learned. In those times I am so grateful. I’ve learned from my (many) mistakes and from experience of others.
As we have moved to Mullica Hill, South Jersey, I am embarking on a homeschooling journey for the first time, and giving myself a business break for the first time in 10 years.
It feels so good.
Even with all the “success” in photography over the years, I still felt like I was just putting out fires as they came. I often still felt lost, just busy moving around while feeling that way. So now I am taking a sabbatical, and I am having to train my brain and body to not be in fight or flight mode with photography.
I don’t know what it will take for me to feel a sense of purpose or direction with my creativity, or if it will only be photography.
What is my creative journey? What will it include?
I don’t know yet.
But there is one thing I ask of you… would you join me for my journey?
I can’t promise any particular ending; I haven’t a clue where this will lead.
But I can promise you it will be authentic. It will be genuine and it will be real. I hope by being my side-line cheerleader, you can discover your own creative journey in the process.
Because everyone can be creative.