i have never been one to be overly sentimental about new year’s. i don’t make resolutions, i don’t cry when the clock counts down to zero, and i don’t jump up and kiss everyone around me. these are all things that matter to my dad, though, and so they do matter to me, because they make him happy. so maybe i do some of them… i do all of them for him.
when i’m surrounded by people posting all over instagram and facebook and tumblr about the people they were versus the people they will be, blaming 2018 for everything that went wrong and deciding to walk into 2019 without all of that baggage, i can’t help but reflect on this past year and resent the “clean slate” mentality that accompanies new year’s.
i recently revamped my website (if you noticed, thank you), which led me through a bunch of pages i’d forgotten i had, or pages that were incomplete that i’d forgotten to add photos to. it also reminded me of shoots that hadn’t gone as hoped, whether that disappointment lay on my end or on theirs. it reminded me of all of the beautiful people i got to spend time with, the couples that trusted me with some of the most precious moments of their lives, the high school seniors who decided i was worthy of capturing the photo that would go in the yearbook with a quote they decided defined them at 18, the people who asked me to immortalize their childhood homes that they had to sell when they lost the people to a world they were born out of.
i think about all of this, and it makes the moments of disappointment quiet down a bit. i do not forget those moments, though—i accept that they happened, i feel some guilt, and i learn to breathe through it each and every time these feelings come up. it’s like learning to breathe anew every time i forget how to breathe. “things happen”, i’ve learned, is not something you ever tell your client after a dozen emails coming at you from their end making you feel horrendously guilty. sometimes disappointment also comes in people calling you out of the blue and raising their voices at you because they forget that there is a human being on the other end of the phone. sometimes people don’t see themselves in their photos the way they’d seen others in your portfolio, and sometimes that’s your fault, but i’ve learned to remind that self that, despite my fallibility, 99% of the time it’s not.
i don’t say any of this to complain or moan or cry. i’m not gossiping, and i’m not soliciting anyone’s sympathy. i say this all because, while revamping my website, i was reminded of the first time i’d organized a shoot, and shot it, and edited it. i remember deciding that i didn’t want to work 25+ hours of retail a week to make ends meet, that photography would keep me artistic between acting jobs. i was studying in oxford that summer (which you can read about on my personal blog), and had three beautiful friends (amongst many beautiful friends) who volunteered to be my models without a second thought. it was the most pressure i’d been under in a while.
i don’t know what it is about england, but the light there is gorgeously unparalleled. perhaps it’s being able to count on it being overcast in the middle of the day and being able to shoot anytime. perhaps it’s the cobble stone streets, oxford’s haunting charm, or the small shops that the locals had inherited from their great-grandparents, minuscule cottages they were born into and would die out of. or maybe it’s the bike-lined, narrow streets adorned with pastel doors and flowers. it was the most beautiful place in the world, and sung of bees and lost loves and ghosts of a time forgotten.
as i put together a montage of photos for my instagram story to recap my year (j was weak, i gave in, i regret nothing), i thought of the photos i’d shot of my friends. i thought of how terrified i was to disappoint them, and i sigh with longing for the ease they brought to my first organized shoot, how much fun i had, and how much joy they lent to me, to my camera, and to my vision. we were studying shakespeare, and their fairy-like, girlish charm and joy radiated. the photos were beautiful, not because they had pretty faces or i edited them well or dressed them in ballgowns. but because the people behind and in front of the lens took a deep breath and said yes to being present. we didn’t have a plan, we just made everything up as we went along and there wasn’t anything we weren’t afraid to try. we skipped and bounced… a lot.
outside of the world of creative portrait shoots, where i am so clear on my inspiration or the story i want to tell, i sometimes feel stuck. with the couples i photograph, i often end up working in the same handful of locations, using many of the same basic poses to ensure success, or sharing the same pinterest boards over and over and over again. all of this makes me feel stagnant, stale, or like i lost the charm and creativity i discovered on that shoot in oxford, the one i had worked so hard to cultivate. i get nervous about showcasing some of my best work (which is so special to me), because i’m worried that prospective clients will get me on a stale day, or a day where i am not sure how to capture them as they are.
out of this fear grew hope, though. i have learned to ask couples right off the bat about how they met, how long they’d been together, and what they loved about each other. i ask them if they have or dog or if they both listen to the same music, read the same books. i learn to ask people whose childhood homes i’ve photographed what their favorite rooms were, where they played most, and what their first pet’s name was. i ask girls what they love about their horses, the kind of ponies they want their children to have, or the weirdest sound their horse ever made. i ask seniors where they want to go to college, what they want to major in, or how they imagine their first college boyfriend/girlfriend to be like.
i’ve learned to trust that i know what i’m doing, that the raws that come out of the camera are only the foundation, the skeleton for the lives i get to flesh out in photoshop. i’ve learned that being a photographer is not about imposing your idea of what your portfolio should look like unto anyone’s photos, but that they inform the style and storytelling of their shoot. i’ve learned that a strictly client-photographer relationship gets you nowhere fun, because that is where staleness lives. i get on the phone with my clients, i learn their middle names, and i try to imagine what their favorite songs are. i take all of the focus, fear, and pressure off of myself so that i can put my best foot forward to tell their story.
photography is not just a job, not for me at least. like my first shoot in oxford with three of my favorite people on bike-lined streets adorned with pastel doors and shops and cottages that people are born into and die out of, beauty comes out of the souls present.
i don’t resolve to accomplish anything this year. i think resolutions are stupid and only set us up with a massive potential to fail. i do hope, though. i always hope. i strive to continue on my journey as a photographer, and artist, and a human being. i want to shoot less and less, in the hopes that my acting career takes up more and more of my time. i am limiting the number of shoots i take each month, but making the most of the time i will continue to spend with the people that have put so much trust in me. this year, i want to leave every shoot feeling the way i did on that darling day with my three favorite girls in a hauntingly charming, imaginary world.
thank you to everyone who put their trust in me, who looked at my style and storytelling and said, “yes, i know that voice and it sounds like mine”. thank you, thank you, thank you.