I started writing this post five years ago. Suffices to say it might end up kind of lengthy. I was inspired by Gina’s Zeidler’s New Years blog post: A Year of Self Portraits + A Letter. It made me think about my own life, and how the images I take, and the images others take describe it almost as accurately, if not more so, than my own memories. Over the years, my friends and family have become accustom to me always having the camera around, whipping it out at the most inappropriate moment, and capturing things we want to remember, or in some cases we’d rather forget. As you can imagine, my cameras are all a little larger than your average point and shoot, so many people are too intimidated to ever pick it up and use it themselves. But then, I have a few friends who love messing with my equipment. Thankfully they are always careful even though they have no idea what they’re doing. A few months ago, as I was going through my hard drive cleaning off old projects, I ran across some of these ultra-candid-somewhat-accidental photos. They are all completely random and completely beautiful. As I continued clicking through folders upon folders, representing not only clicks of a shutter, but also months of my life, I was astounded at all the random snapshots of the most mundane things. Somehow altogether it became beautiful. These pixels on a screen represent more than just a place, an object, or a person. They evoke feelings and memories I could never retrieve otherwise. These things may mean nothing to you, but they mean everything to me.

The last five years have been a crazy roller coaster of people, places and emotions.  These are the pictures that tell the real story better than I ever could.

If anyone tells you your first semester is an easy, smooth transition you’ll know they’re lying. In an effort to get away and do my own thing I set out at The University of Tennessee, not really sure of what I was getting myself into. It was such a whirlwind of a time, and I was just hanging on and trying to take all of it in. If I had to choose a time to do over, it might be this one (despite how difficult it was the first time around). Your first semester is such a make or break time in college. I’m not sure if I made it, I wasn’t prepared. But to this day, I wish that I had even just ten percent of the wonder, curiosity and insatiable creativity that I had at that time. I spent a lot of time in the library, looking at Corbis annuals and the UTK course catalog trying to figure out how I could get out of there any faster. I dreamed of moving to New York and being famous. I also gained about twenty pounds from my diet of Pizza Hut breadsticks. UT, fix you’re dining halls, they’re broke.

I left the 305 that year with a hope for a better next year, a handful of awesome new friends, and a new boyfriend in tow. Yes, that is Jordan, and yes we are still together and I’m still convinced we’re the only couple to ever survive a 4.5 year long distance relationship unharmed. Kelley and I went to Hawaii. We were the only ones who swam in the waterfall, people just don’t know how to live.

At the time I was still messing around a lot with photography. Always experimenting and trying new things. I probably picked up the camera everyday. I wish I could say that now (tisk tisk). As you can probably tell, I did a lot of my learning (and expressing) through self portraits. It’s funny because I hate taking pictures of myself or otherwise being photographed now. Where did that confidence go?

My second year at UT I took Baldwin Lee’s advice and started shooting some film. To this date these three rolls contain some of my favorite pictures ever, and somehow they seem to have more reality in them than anything I could have taken digitally.

Given my social difficulties, mounting issues with anxiety and panic attacks and what I know recognize as depression, my academic and personal life began to suffer. I was a pitiful person, I couldn’t make myself do anything. I stopped trying to make friends and had to force myself to go to class. I spent most of my time alone in my room and I felt like I was in a hole I could never get out of. I was convinced I would die before I ever felt truly happy again. It’s a weird time to think about because there were a lot of good things about that period, but it’s hard to remember them for what they were now. They became completely overshadowed by this black cloud over me. I stopped taking pictures for the most part, I felt trapped in my apartment. When I could no longer force myself to go to class I decided I couldn’t continue this way. I made the difficult, embarrassing decision to leave Tennessee. I felt that I had let myself and my parents down, and that everyone would see me as one of those people who just gave up. But at that point I didn’t really care about those things, it was that bad. If every week had been like my last week in Knoxville, there is no doubt in my mind I would have stayed, but something in me didn’t know how to make it that way. I have almost no pictures from the following semester because I worked and went to school full time and lived at home. I felt like I was missing out on something that everyone else was getting. Something about me just wasn’t fitting in with this whole college life. I made plans to attend UGA in the fall.

I started taking pictures again and it felt right. I realized then what I know now, which is regardless of what path I take in life I will always have photography and I’ll probably always need it too. I moved off to school again with a new hope, but also a new fear: I hadn’t gotten into my major yet, so there was a chance that I could continue in school and not make it into my program, thus prolonging my college experience even more. Let the graphic design stress begin…

My first semester at UGA was spent trying to carve out my own life and my own destiny amidst the swarms of familiar faces from back home. For me it was a comforting thing having just been at two different colleges where I knew no one, but it was strange getting used to. The art school helped provide me a niche that was my very own. Thank you Lamar Dodd and your small class sizes and intimate settings.

With one erroneous email, I was accepted into the graphic design program at UGA, and would therefore be selling my soul to the moon for the next two years. The following summer I got my first bite from the wanderlust bug. I travelled to Seattle with Jordan and to the Mediterranean with my dad. My wallet is never going to forgive me for my incessant need to travel. It all opened my eyes to a greater world than my own. I finally felt positivity creeping back into my life, and I was comfortable. No matter what anyone tells you, it’s okay to be comfortable once in a while.

If you asked me what the best year of my life has been so far it would take me no thought at all to tell you it was my senior (ahem, fourth) year in college. I did a lot of traveling (Tampa, Orlando, Nashville, and Europe 3 times), and I had a lot of fun. School was still hard, design school always is. If I could have talked to myself at that time, I would have told me not to worry so much about the school stuff.

We froze our asses off on that trip, but we have more memories and hilarious stories than any inebriated Destin trip could afford.

I finally got to know my 13 other designer counterparts and through the late nights, demanding teachers and crashing IStopMotion, we made it through another semester. Then I went and lived in Italy, the place where dreams are made. What an amazing summer of beauty. I got to be creative in ways I hadn’t been in years. I got to step back from the computer and TV and phone and car and experience life in the raw. I wish that everyone could have this experience. I knew that I was going into my final year, and then after that it would be jobs and careers and family and marriage, and maybe this might be the last selfish moment I would have. I took it all in, and I was so thankful everyday for the beautiful view out our window even when it was freezing and I didn’t have the right clothes and all my electronics died and I was (as an only child and admitted introvert) tired of being around people. I met a lot of really great people, and got super close to my fellow cohort members. We danced to Single Ladies with our teacher, got lost on multiple occasions and ate way too much gelato and pizza. When we weren’t busy doing those things, Melissa and locked ourselves in the bookmaking studio to get up close and personal with our new favorite art form.

Jordan toured around Italy with me for the last week of the summer. It was great getting to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar setting. We explored and saw it all together, I can’t wait to do more of that. Even though I really wanted Mexican food and a functioning laptop, I really didn’t want to leave Italy. I wanted to stay in that moment, in that mindset, in that childlike wonder forever. But alas, the crazy man in the Mercedes drove us to that random restaurant and morning came and the plane came too and the next day was the first day of my senior year. I don’t think I remember any of it.

My last fall semester was filled with work work work with an occasional guest appearance by a weekend football game or outing with friends. Most of my friends graduated the previous spring, so I was very focused on getting out and being done at this point.

All that work work work did not ultimately make me happy, it just made me very busy, and kind of blind. I was abandoning any personal notion of photography in order to spend more time working. I realized that in all this work I was losing the essence of what made me good at what I do in the first place. I was losing my passion and my love for it. I launched the Reclaimed Project. The aim of the project was to get me to produce some new work suitable for gallery display. I’m not sure yet whether it met its goals, but I also question if those were really the goals in the first place. I think the real goal of the project was to get me out of my shell and force myself to do something difficult, something scary, something new. The Reclaimed Project helped lead me to a hotel by the airport and to 20 amazing women at the Making Things Happen conference in January. What a game changer at just the right time. I wish everyone could receive this kind of challenging encouragement right before they head out into the real world. MTH prevented me from quitting photography altogether and gave me a new lease on my life creatively, professionally and personally.

Despite my new lease on life there was work to be done, and boy did I work. My 13 cohort members and I leaned on each other with porch design sessions, Taco Stand bitch sessions, late nights in the studio and Save Javad’s diet potluck nights. I took on more than I could have ever imagined, and thanks to the tools with which I had armed myself, I did all of it. I knew that the more that I accomplished, the more accomplished I would feel once it was all over.

And boy did it feel amazing when it was all over. The last picture is me two weeks ago at the beach, a trip Jordan and I rewarded ourselves with as an accolade of our achievement for graduating. I’m still working on adjusting back to the real world where not everyone knows what a bezier curve or a clipping mask is.

As I was sifting through pictures for this post, I found myself seeking out certain ones because I remember them so vividly. These are some of my favorite pictures from the last five years.

Perugia, Italy

Vienna, Austria

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy

Siena, Italy

Florence, Italy

Athens, Georgia

Cortona, Italy

Roswell, Georgia

Navy Pier, Chicago

O’Hare Intl Airport

Somewhere on the Juan de Fuca Strait (can’t take credit for this one, way to go Jordan!)

Honolulu Intl Airport

The past five years have been such a crazy mish mash of highs and lows and all the confusion, elation, sorrow and joy that lies between. Looking at all these pictures reminds me of every little piece of what the past five years have really meant to me. I realize now that despite all the difficulty, the big decisions, the bad decisions, it couldn’t have ever been any different and it shouldn’t have been any different because it was perfect just like it was. It was meant to be this way just like I was meant to live my life with a camera in front of my face. This is a photographer’s life, and this is why I do this. To remind myself, that at the end of the day despite it all life is beautiful and meaningful and purposeful.   It is a gift and it is a responsibility. I thank you all every one of you for supporting me, for helping me and for helping me continue to do what I do. Looking at everything in hindsight, I can see how everything was laid out to lead to the next thing and the next, and somehow it all came together as if divinely organized and fit perfectly in the end. It is with this insight and this attitude that I continue forward with the rest of my life, no longer concerned with the trappings of day-to-day life, but rather trying to keep my eye on the big picture.  My greatest hope is that I can continue this disposition, and go through life with the same child-like wonder as the girl who left Georgia, bound for Tennessee, five years ago.

Welcome to the new Suburbanite Photography, I can’t wait to get started here. I’ve got a fresh look, a fresh perspective, and I’m ready to work! Thank you all for your love and support can’t wait to see what we can do!