For a long time, I envied people who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. My future was always changing, sometimes I wanted to be an actress; other times, a therapist. There was a period where I was going to be a gym teacher. I wanted to be a journalist, an artist, work in a zoo, work from a tiny house in the middle of the woods, be a jockey. Each time I found out a bit more about what possibilities existed in the world my imagination said, “Ooh, maybe this would be fun, a good fit, perfect for your life.”
Photography, oddly, was not something I ever thought about pursuing. My sister had an interest in photography. I had friends in high school who were interested in photography. They were all incredibly talented. I adored art in all its forms, and I listened to them talk and I spent time with them as they practiced, but I still didn’t entertain the idea of being a photographer myself. Even after I got my first Kodak point and shoot digital camera in 2005, I still used it only for fun. It went everywhere with me, but I never once applied “photographer” to myself, not even with an “amateur” or “hobbyist” preceding it.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I really fell face first into photography as a passion. My friend’s band needed promotional pictures on a deadline, so I borrowed a camera and went to their backyard to boss them around a bit. Several hours later, we had some usable shots and I was head over heels into a new hobby.
I then jumped head first into it. I probably became super annoying to everyone who wasn’t used to me infodumping on them, although the people used to me infodumping were probably relieved of a topic change.
In 2012, I decided to try for my associate’s degree in photography from an art school. This was especially terrifying due to my mindset at the time. I had flunked out of college once already due to a variety of health issues, a decline of physical and mental health that could be tracked by my grades. When I first started college in 2006, I made Dean’s list. A few semesters later I was struggling to pass even one class.
While I had self studied, putting myself back into an academic mindset and approaching photography from a different angle was intimidating to me. But I was so grateful, because it helped me to understand myself and my photography so much more. I was also nervous that my depression was going to flare up and I was going to have a repeat of my other college experience.
Depression is tricky, and takes many forms. For some, it’s genetic. For others, it can stem from one bad experience, or from several bad moments. There are ranges to it, and different ways it manifests.
For myself, it’s been around for as long as I can remember. It is low self esteem, it’s exhaustion of all kinds, it’s the fear of being seen, of not measuring up, of being ignored. It is chronic and ever present in my mind, even when I can push it to the background.
For the longest time, I kept myself quiet because of it. I could push through it long enough to do something, if someone was counting on me, but I couldn’t follow through. I couldn’t be myself, because I was terrified that who I was, was too much or not enough for everyone. But I couldn’t put that into words.
Until 2010, writing was the one medium I kept coming back to. Whether it was poetry or prose, I studied the art of writing and fancied myself decent enough. I shared notebooks with friends, and I typed up and published a few pieces. It was cathartic, but I didn’t use writing for actual communication. I didn’t know how to. There was something missing.
Photography was a way to visualize my perspective. Through the lens of a camera, I didn’t have to struggle for the courage to articulate my words, I could just say, “Look at this.” I didn’t have to explain myself, I could just post a picture and start a conversation. As I gained experience, I found that I was drawn to trying to capture emotions more than anything. As I learned how to process photos, I was able to recreate what I was feeling at the time and let others feel the same.
Instead of getting lost in my head, I was able to transform my thought process into something beautiful and tangible. As I began printing my work, holding it in my hands and placing it on my walls, that process only grew more wonderful--and more important. Photography gave me a way to slow down and really understand the world around me. Instead of just reacting and observing, I was finding what being creative meant to me.
I’ve realized that the “what do you want to be” question that children get asked over and over and over again had been answered for me since I was young, I just hadn’t realized it. Through photography, I began to realize it wasn’t just an art form, but a way to approach life. Opening up and being confident became a little easier for me, and I understood that I didn’t have to choose one thing. I also realized that my mental and physical health issues were difficult, but that I they didn’t define me, and wasn’t something to be ashamed of, or even something to blame myself for.
Photography, to me, is about telling stories. Whether that story is my own, or a client’s, or is just one of the numerous possible ways life can happen throughout the day, doesn’t matter as much as the fact that a storyteller finds the magic in that moment and shares it with others.