2018 Reflection: The Building Year

Going into 2018, I had a feeling that this would be the year that I laid the groundwork for great things to come, the year I did the behind-the-scenes work for 2019. I’m an athlete, so I looked at this as the building year. Boy, was I ever right.

In no single year have I ever changed so much. The difference is striking. Last night I lied in bed reading through an old journal and while I clearly remembered writing every bit of it, I hardly recognized that person anymore, in the best of ways. I spent the majority of this year going to weekly therapy sessions for close to a decade’s worth of personal trauma; I cried a lot, I questioned everything and week by week, day by day, I let go of all of that painful past and finally grew into the person I had always hoped to be.

Why is this relevant to my business? Why do I talk about such personal things in a professional sphere? Well,

A. It’s MY business and I can do what I want.

B. To me, there is nothing more personal than photographing someone. To tell someone’s story, to get to know them so deeply that you can make a tangible image capturing their essence (or, inversely, get to know someone on a soul level by seeing the image you’ve captured) is a process that requires care, empathy and vulnerability. I have been open about my journey of self discovery - I don’t use this term lightly, that’s exactly what it was - because I want to both empower others to take the same steps and because it has been the single greatest educative experience for my work.

I like to use the changing of the calendar year as a start- and end-point to evaluate my metrics and to reevaluate my goals. This is the first time that I ended the year with a very different sense of achievement than I began: I entered hoping to bolster my bookings and set my goals accordingly. But I ended having learned the true “why” behind my drive to do each of these types of photoshoots. In essence, my work has become not just about the end product (typically a storybook photo album) but the entire experience of the session, and by extension an enjoyment of life.

Therapy helped me to build a healthy love of self and of life, an enthusiasm for even the littlest things. Everything I went through and everything I learned this year built the foundation for a much more compassionate, curious and content future in my personal life. Which translates into how I see the world, and thus how I photograph it.

So, without further ado, I’ve listed out each of the goals that I posed at the beginning of 2018 and how I faired, as well as how I grew.

More full day weddings

It seems obvious that having a lot of time to photograph means being able to create a wider variety of images as well as reduces stress when sticking to a timeline. This was my original reason for transitioning into offering longer coverage.

But what I learned was that this additional time also allowed me to create meaningful experiences within that timeline specifically because of the photography. I began working with Emmaleigh Argonauta of Just Bloom Together as the detail stylist for my weddings and one of my favorite experiences was from Alicia and Dave’s October wedding. We had scouted Mountain Magnolia Inn a few weeks previous and knew that looking into the dining room window from the front stairs could make for an interesting angle. So we set up the shot right as the sun was setting, “posing” Alicia and Dave as if they were simply sitting and having a casual conversation after their ceremony. Funny thing - they were! Then, a waitress brought out a plate of snacks for them since they were sitting right there. We were dead on schedule-wise without any need to make additional portraits, so rather than hurry them to their reception, we suggested they share 10 minutes of quiet together. Seriously, who gets to actually do that at their wedding?

I could go on and on. But this one in particular stuck out to me as it illustrated the importance of my role as a wedding photographer - not only my couples’ storyteller, but their advocate in truly enjoying every minute of their day.

More elopements, particularly destination elopements

While I myself didn’t travel anywhere for these elopements, each of my eloping couples did travel to the mountains to make their vows. I think, in part, I made this goal with the idea that traveling to a different state or country would give me a different background to work with and thus help me expand my creativity. I had that backwards.

But, more than that, I was again able to see the beauty in the experience I could create as an elopement photographer. For instance, as we were nearing the end of Brianna and Nick’s portraits after they’d made their vows, I knew it was time to get them under the waterfall. We’d stayed dry long enough. I brought my umbrella with me so that we could make some romantic backlit portraits under the falls, thinking they’d probably want to keep their hair and clothing dry for their family dinner afterwards. But as they laughed, danced and kissed under the falls, Nick suddenly dropped the umbrella and pulled his bride in close. I snapped away, myself getting completely drenched for lack of umbrella, and we all laughed in exhilaration when I yelled “YES!” over the roaring water after I got the perfect shot. Obviously, I was psyched about the photo, but I was just as happy that this couple was comfortable enough to be totally in the moment.

More family portraits

Ideally, once I get to know a family through shooting their wedding, I want to continue that relationship. It’s difficult to make friends with people throughout their planning process (photographing someone’s engagement and wedding really allows you to know them well!) and then losing touch. So I love it when I get to make portraits for people I already know, and then get to tell the story of their growth year after year.

I really got to appreciate the importance of family portraits this year when I did my own family’s session. It was, you guessed it, largely about the experience. I’m rarely in Oak Ridge, so while we communicate virtually every day, we’re infrequently all together. Our session gave us several hours to be goofy together, and an excuse to go get tacos afterwards.

Even more, while I’ve always been close with my grandparents, I got to see a more intimate, lighthearted version of them during our portrait session - one I’d always glimpsed but never fully experienced. To watch them laugh with and make faces at each other after 55 years together was nothing short of moving.

Then, to create my mom’s photo album using these latest photos as well as film photos she’d taken of us throughout the years (and getting to relive those times in the process) was yet another eye-opening experience into the importance of telling a family’s story.

More personal storytelling shoots

This is the part where I tell you that photography has, once again, changed my life. At one of the most difficult and confusing times in my life, I found solace behind my lens. I’ve always done that. This time, however, it wasn’t just the act of creating art that saved me, it was the subjects in my viewfinder that played the part. These shoots for fellow GLTers started out as a fun way to location scout, but almost immediately turned into a personal project highlighting the strength and enthusiasm for life that each of these woman exude. More than that, through hearing about, sharing in, and capturing their stories I absorbed their wisdom. The common thread for every single one of these female world travelers - as well as those I know in my personal life - is a no-nonsense attitude juxtaposed with desire to love people and places for exactly who they are, themselves included (though in no way does this allow “that’s just how I am” to be an excuse for poor behavior.) The confidence and growth I’ve achieved through these sessions is invaluable, and there’s so much more coming that I can’t wait to share.

Grow my YouTube Channel

Well, it turns out that if you inadvertently delete your entire G Suite, you also lose your YouTube channel and all the work you’ve put into it. Let me tell you, that was a fun time. However, I do have all of my favorite albums curated into one playlist (Signature Album Playlist) with a structure in place for much more content to come.

Create an internship program

Again, losing Google Drive data was not my finest hour. Live and learn. I have the basic structure and duties in place for a 12-16 week internship which I’m in the process of working with UNCA to make sure will allow students to receive credit. I have some huge plans in the works this year which will determine the trajectory of this internship, so my new plan is to have it in place by 2020.

I’ve always prioritized teaching within my business, so I’m excited to be able to give back in a manner that reflects my thankfulness for the internships that got me where I am today. In the meantime, I did continue teaching this year leading my first summer class with the Asheville Art Museum. My 12 high schoolers and I explored pinhole cameras, cyanotype sun prints (which we luckily found out work just as well in the pouring rain), hand tinting, working with speedlights, using projections to create textured portraits and primarily how to fail gracefully (which is what a lot of learning analog photography is all about.)

More personal work

Experimental films, new cameras, a foray into medium format - this was a very good year. I learned how to develop my own C-41 film, set up a temporary darkroom in my bedroom, finally became proficient in loading 120mm film on the reel and began carrying a camera with me everywhere just in case. In essence, I fell even more deeply in love with my medium and with my own daily life.

Travel more

Whew, there was actually a point where I had to cancel or postpone a couple trips because I’d overloaded myself. Balance is key! I went to NYC twice (once solo!), Iceland, London, DC, Portland a couple times (once to photograph my first Portland wedding), Chicago, Nashville and all around North Carolina.

What I got most out of this traveling wasn’t just seeing cool places, but discovering just how much I’m capable of. Most of all, I became comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s a concept that as an athlete I knew (though have always struggled to put into practice), but never let translate into other aspects of life. Travel has done that and then some.

Be creative daily

This was the goal that would be easiest to write off as a failure. I work a lot. I work a lot of 80-90 hour weeks during busy season. It’s hard to put off important client tasks in order to pick up my violin, as much as I want to, because then I feel like I could be doing more productive things with my time. But, it’s also tough to pick up my charcoal pencil at the end of an editing marathon.

I’m carrying this goal into 2019, to find a better work-art balance, and one that allows for exercise and maybe a wee bit of social life.

If you asked me a few months ago, I would probably say this was one of the most difficult years of my life. Even now, that wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But the first 10 months led to two incredible months worth of clarity and growth that have helped me to completely reframe this year. I’m not particularly sad it’s over, but I’m thankful for everything it gave me.