Other days, something happens to tip your axis. Someone gives it a nudge at the right time and in the right way and before you know it, life is spinning in a different direction.
That was my day yesterday.
It was a day of dichotomies. The first half of the day was filled with life and self-affirming positivity and the second half with professional frustration and challenge. Yet, strangely enough, both situations were closely linked.
Let me explain. (it may take a bit but hang in there.)
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to her favorite photographer, based here in Sacramento. (For a few reasons, I'm going to keep the photographer's name out of this post but email me if you want to know who she was.) Anyway, I of course checked out said photographer's site. To say her work was unusual for the Sacramento market, was an understatement. There is really nobody else I have found like her in this area. Put your feelers out to the Bay Area or further afield - sure - but here, in good-ole Sac, notsomuch. Which is not to say that there aren't great photographers here - there truly are - but this lady is an artist. Everything about her work and her branding have a distinction and style that is clearly and personally defined. Her entire body of work has a voice. It slapped me around the face quite quickly that she was unique. (I'm also guessing that, since my friend is in the sales/marketing field, she got slapped similarly.)
After perusing the website, I found a paragraph about the photographer herself and part of that addressed budding photographers who were looking to pick her brain. While she doesn't host workshops or mentoring sessions, her words suggested that she was open to sharing some inspiration with me, if I got in touch. Which I did. And she was.
She agreed to meet me for some coffee. Yesterday was our coffee-date.
I admit, I went in almost without agenda. I had a short list of questions I wanted to ask but no clear goal for what I wanted out of the session. Honestly, I didn't know how much she would be comfortable sharing and I wanted to be respectful of that fact; it's one thing to nurture new, local photographers in your community, another to give-up your hard-won experience and insights for the price of a cup of coffee. If nothing else, I thought I would get to meet and learn more about the person behind the work and come away having had a nice chat about photography.
Man, did I underestimate this lady.
In many ways, our conversation was very esoteric, which is typically not my comfort zone. At the risk of stereotyping our deeply complex and multi-faceted personalities, she is a calm and thoughtful owl and I am a panting, over-enthusiastic puppy dog. I don't know if that makes sense, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't but without 500 words, I don't know how else to boil it down for a blog post. But that's how I felt during the conversation. She speaks slower than me; she has a steady gaze to my darting eyes; and her body language is calm while I constantly fidget and gesticulate. And, while I have spent the last fifteen years of my life learning to say fifteen words when only five will do, in order to package every question or thought for public consumption, she discards the package, removes the fluff, and dives right into the issue before her. Her ability to read between my words, digest my randomly expressed thoughts, and interpret my body language within such a short period of time and then poke me in the ribs with her laser-focused and spot-on insight, was uncanny and a little unsettling.
In many ways, I felt very jealous of her path to her passion and saw starkly, in just that short time, how our lives had shaped us. She went to art school, has been mentored by great photographers, and has followed the artist's path through her life, being positively encouraged to nurture the expression of her innermost self to feed her art. I, on the other hand, have spent the last 15 years in the corporate world, being encouraged to suppress and/or change my expression of my innermost self to suit other people. The fact that we approach photography through different lenses is therefore unsurprising.
I am not ashamed to say I left in tears. Good tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear and never even knew it.
Like I said, it was a tad esoteric so some of it was "you had to be there" dialogue, however, let me summarize what I got out of our hour together:
- I need to stop looking at other people's work. I am overstimulated and distracted by it and it is preventing me from defining who I am as a photographer.
- I need to work from within. Forget (most) workshops, classes, guides, actions, presets... what do I really want to get out of them? How to learn to be someone else? What I have to offer as a photographer is already inside me. It's my own artistic vision not someone else's vision, it's who I am when I'm with my clients not who I think I should be, that will help me be the best that i can be. I can't get that from someone else. I have to spend time nurturing it within and pulling it out of me.
- The words that resonate for "my style" are: contrast, color, drama, warmth emotion, clean lines, and a little whimsy. Make everything about these words from the way I take the photo, to the way I edit it, to the way I brand myself.
- Don't blog every session, only your best work.
- Spend less time editing. Significantly less time. I mean like, cut it down by two thirds. Whoah! This one smacked me in the face. What am I fixing? Either I took a good photo or not. Either I know what my editing style is or not.
- Find beauty in the world around you. Be content in yourself and thankful for your life and express that through your art. Beauty comes from within. (This isn't something I can just turn-on, granted, but it's worth remembering.)
- Learn off-camera flash. (I've been wanting to do this anyway.)
- Take pictures of 30 things that are ugly and make them beautiful.
- Take one picture a day, every day of the same thing, from a unique perspective.
- Breathe and slow down. Get out of my head and into the moment. Focus on being present with my surroundings and my subjects. (#1 will help with this.)
- Forget weddings. Not forever necessarily but for now. Go back to why I got into this in the first place - I love taking portraits. Quite apart from anything else, being gone at least one full weekend day every weekend during the summer, does not work well for my family.
LOL. I know, you're thinking: that's a lot for one coffee date. Like I said, I was surprised myself. It was quite possibly one of the most valuable hours I have ever spent with a stranger.
And wasn't the timing perfect, given my post of just the day before?
Clearly, I have a lot to think about. At the same time, I feel more focused and am generally re-energized. I can't wait for my next client session, truly, because each session opens up a new opportunity for me to work on all this stuff - as well as, of course, delivering some cool images for my clients!
Speaking of which, right when I say I'm going to do fewer sessions, I get three inquiries from my website and schedules three new sessions this week. Isn't that how life always happens?
In terms of the other half of my day, I can't really share too much because it's a work thing and I don't blog about work things for a multitude of reasons. Let's just say that something went down that has big impact to the company and to me , was not my fault, and where the responsible party will not take ownership of the problem or the solution and is, in fact, placing the "lesson" on my doorstep. There is history and back-story here that would take forever to explain but the long and short of it is that I'm fed up with overcompensating for other people's weaknesses.
Not only did it result in one of the most challenging phone conversations of my entire career, the eventual outcome wound up telling me a lot about the priorities of the company I work for and I can't say I'm too happy about them. Such is life, I guess.
How is this related to the first half of the day? Well because the message of being true to myself resonated here too. I ditched allowing myself to be the punching bag, treading on eggshells for a quiet life, and dealing with the issue from a place of "I'm bound to be wrong" (and by wrong I mean ME as a person being wrong, not me being wrong about something. Different things.)
Instead, I was authentic and honest in my response to the situation. It made it harder work, more emotional, more challenging, and ultimately I'm sure there will be repercussions. But the one thing I can say for sure is that I am not second-guessing my decision to handle it the way I did and I will not apologize for it in retrospect either.
I have no doubt that this will only further entrench certain people's opinion of me as being overbearing and stubborn or however I have been previously pigeon-holed but I actually just don't care anymore. Here am I in one area of my life being called upon to nurture who I am and bring that out in a positive way and it only calls to attention even more the other half of my life where I am constantly being negatively judged for who I am asked to be someone else. Like I said, dichotomies.
Not sure where that leaves me but there you go. I'm just going to let this loose-end flap in the breeze for a while and be ok with it.
In the meantime, me and my camera are gonna have some fun.