When I sit down in Starbucks (because that’s almost always where I find myself) to meet with a prospective client, one of their first questions is inevitably almost always: “How long have you been doing photography?” While I’m sure the question seems innocent and straightforward enough to them, it’s quite puzzling for me. I can search through my calendar and figure out when I first attended a wedding as a second photographer (Spring 2006), or when I shot my first wedding solo (August 2007), when I first touched a $25,000 Monique Lhuillier gown (October 2011), or when I first got punched in the arm by a church lady (Spring 2010), but none of those seem like the correct answer. I guess I’ve always been doing this, capturing things, creating moments, taking memories and filing them away, even before I had a camera or knew anything about the Inverse Square Law. If we want to get truly technical, 2015 will mark my eighth year of shooting weddings as a soloprenuer, and that fact alone is cray cray ya’ll.
Last year, I had the unique experience of going through this whole crazy wedding process myself. I got the pleasure of working with the amazing Kaitie Bryant, who photographed my bridal shower (which was like four times the size of my actual wedding). Kaitie came into the shower like she had been best friends with each and every guest her whole life. She was inquisitive, bubbly, interactive, and a little bit stealthy all at the same time. As much as I loved Kaitie (we had just met for the first time that day), I found myself thinking, “Why is she talking to the guests? Shouldn’t she be trying to blend into the wall as much as possible?” (Note: I understand how snobby and pretentious this sounds, just hear me out for a minute.)
You see, I came from a large high-volume studio background. When you showed up for a job, you were the hired help and you were to consider yourself in all aspects as such. You did your job, and you went home. You didn’t show your personality, your job was to stay out of the way, and always get the money shot at the same time.
There’s definitely some merit to this way of thinking (ie: don’t be the asshole photographer who thinks they’re the star of the show, don’t cause a scene, don’t get drunk at the reception, etc.) however, this way of thinking is in most aspects incredibly stupid.
I got the pictures back from my shower and LOVED what I saw. Kaitie had somehow both been a fly on the wall AND drawn out people’s personalities at the same time. Do you know how DIFFICULT that is to do?
Kaitie’s camera didn’t do that. Kaitie did that.
It was then that I realized, that in order to be a successful photographer, and to be the kind of photographer that I wanted to be, I had to move beyond my technical skills, my understanding of light, and bag full of expensive gear. I had to be seen.
Everyone who does anything has a why. Why do you do what you do? I’ve been asked what my why is in photography, and the best answer I can provide is that photography provides me a voice that I feel like I don’t have any other way. As a shy introvert, feeling heard, feeling important, feeling like I’m contributing to the world can sometimes seem to be an arduous task. Photography is like my microphone that amplifies the small voices inside of me so that I can be heard in a super noisy world. Photography helps me be seen. But after my experience with Kaitie, I realized I wasn’t really letting that happen. I was showing up, I was doing a good job, I was working really really hard, but I wasn’t letting people into my world, I wasn’t being vulnerable, and I wasn’t truly connecting with my clients on a human level. If you know anything about people photography, you know it’s all about connection (smizing, anyone?).
So this year, I upgraded some of my equipment and set out for another wedding season. I continued my stealthy fly-on-the-wall approach to shooting, but decided to be more candid, more open and more real with my clients. I wouldn’t say I’ve made the strides that I want to by any means, but I’m working daily to let more of me shine through in the images I create, to speak up, to risk looking silly, and to be seen.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” [Brené Brown, Daring Greatly]
I’m not sure any artist (Can I even call myself an artist? Feels weird.) is ever really satisfied with the work they do, but I’m really digging the direction my work is starting to go. There’s nothing better than looking into the back of the camera, and being truly happy with what you see. Below are some of my favorite images from this year. They are not technically perfect, sometimes the lighting isn’t the best, or there’s a bag of pita chips in the background, but they display a vulnerability all their own. I’m learning as I go that feeling something is not only okay, it’s super important to doing great work.
Thank you once again to everyone who continues to support me each and every year. Every year I’m humbled that I’m able to continue doing what I do and calling it work, this year in particular. I thank you for all that you do, and I promise to continue sharing this exciting wild journey with you.