A few people have asked me recently, “What? You’re a portrait photographer now?”
I don’t quite know how to answer this without going into a long story. And you and I both know that what they are really asking has little to do with wanting to hear “my journey” and more to do with their surprise at me supposedly jumping from the “writer box” to the “photographer box.”
After all, if everyone is a writer these days, then everyone and their brother is a photographer. These passions attract lots of airy types, of which I guess there is no denying, I am one.
Anyway, I started being a photographer a good 10 – 15 years before I started being a writer. Now I am both. Wow, is that allowed? I think it is a fact for many that as we get older, we become less this or that, and more our true selves. By virtue of having been around for a while we can’t help but defy categorization – in some cases, not for lack of trying.
I’m still pretty sure if I could sing worth a darn I would have at some point tried to be someone like Allison Krauss. If I could do accounting, I’d have been an accountant.
I bought my first SLR, a Minolta 101, when I was 13 with babysitting money. I used to sleep with it. Occasionally, I’d even take pictures with it. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it was that drew me. The closest I can come to explaining it is having the camera with me made me feel safe and gave me purpose, which I felt I lacked.
It gave me something to do with my tendency to enjoy looking at things other people didn’t seem to see. In the end, I think the things we do, come Hell or high water, or spend hard earned babysitting money on, have little to do with choice and more to do with inevitability.
Okay. But why again are you back as a portrait photographer all these years later?
If you want the detailed, written version, these three things cover it:
The catalyst was a book, Playing Big, by Tara Mohr, which I read in 2014. In the book there’s a creative visualization exercise. After several days in a row of doing it, what came to me was different than what I anticipated. Out of what seemed like nowhere, I pictured myself as a fine art and portrait photographer. This scared the crap out of me, as apparently these things are supposed to.
I had totally missed the fact that while I was busy being an unhappy creative/freelance writer, pushing myself to finally complete writing a book and to score another underpaid assignment, writing an article I didn’t want to write, I already was becoming a happy photographer.
I bought my first DSLR in 2009 on the eve of a trip to Provence. A Nikon D40, which was on sale and already being phased out. The sites inspired me as if I were on visual steroids. I found myself hardly able to sleep at night, I was so jacked to get up the next morning and see this part of the world through my camera.
Photography basics were in firm grasp where I could concentrate on things other than f-stops. Of course, in that self-deprecating way so many of us default to, I took this for granted and assumed this was minor. After all, all these people with $2000 worth of camera gear on them must know much more about what they are doing than I do!
A few years later, I went on a small cruise in the Sea of Cortez with a couple of expeditions led by an awesome photographer who did indeed know what he was doing. I’m pretty sure I was the only female and the only participant without a Canon 5d and a honking zoom lens. But the moral of the story is it turns out they were all shooting on automatic. Suddenly I didn’t feel so unworthy. Over time, while I was distracted worrying about finishing a book, I acquired what was shaping into a real portfolio.
I kept photographing things and people, and learning more and more, making the jump from analog to digital. Finally, I became adept enough where I didn’t dismiss what I already knew as already being enough.
One of my most favorite earthly possessions are photographs of my grandmothers from when they were young, old and somewhere in between. Photographs were much fewer and far between not so long ago, but having them taken was a much bigger deal. Anything short of putting on the fancy was unacceptable.
My own mother has always gone around saying she isn’t photogenic and that her eyes are always shut in photos. Frankly, this makes me sad, because I still think she is the most beautiful woman in the world. She will always be my first and last role model. I know if she were to really understand this, she would be much more excited than she probably is about me photographing her in a couple of weeks! I really can’t wait because I know we are going to have a blast and she is going to be beautiful.
Like myself and almost every woman I know, we don’t easily see how we “play small” in our own lives. I think it’s important to remember every day just how “big” we are to someone. And yes, I’m trying to work on practicing what I preach (random aside: writing is interesting that way.)
I understand that just like creating, being in front of the camera is an act of bravery, but I think it’s much much more than that. Having portraits taken of yourself is a way to honor your life, respect your inner beauty, and show love to your loved ones. And now is always the right time to get over ourselves and play a bit bigger.