Two weeks ago I participated in Amherst College’s first female athlete career student-alumni event. At it, we divided up into four panels : finance and business, medicine, law and social practices, and education and the arts. I was on the last panel, education and the arts, with about 12 other talented alumni. Most are involved in education as teachers, administrators, and researchers at all different levels (elementary, high school, college, graduate, private, public, etc..). It also included Neely, a fellow tennis alumni, who is now a top Boston-based life coach and counselor, and Liv, a classmate who is Producing Artistic Director of Bridge Rep and teaches at MIT. All in all, a very impressive group – something I would expect given the talent that Amherst tends to cull.
While I was saddened that no students who attended were interested in pursing a path in the arts (where are you!?), this event still impacted me greatly. I was able to reflect on my own career path – the goals, explorations, failures, realizations, and ongoing dreams I still have. Here’s the quick story of my life in the past decade:
When I left Amherst I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to do: I wanted to become a practicing fine art photographer who also taught higher education. To get there, I knew I needed an MFA. To get into an MFA program I knew I needed to spend a few post-grad years in the real world and develop a strong portfolio. I was able to find a job at an esteemed Boston gallery and took a continuing education at NESOP to keep me focused on creating photographs. I then got into SMFA’s post-baccalaureate program and continued on to SVA’s MFA program. I LOVED graduate school and reveled in the support that small critique classes give. I met so many talented photographers – both professors and students. They pushed me to photograph the things I cared about – my loved ones. They also pushed me to photograph what they found interesting – my privileged upbringing. I decided to make my thesis about both – I honed in on the ambivalent feelings I held in regards to such an upbringing and the world my family inhabits.
I was inspired, but also afraid. I realized how much competition there is out there. I also learned that putting personal work out there can be tricky – not only are you allowing others to critique your loved ones, but your own perception may be questioned. It gets confusing. I felt like I was in constant self and artist group therapy. While I was fairly aggressive in submitting my work to contests and group shows (and receiving attention for it), I became frustrated. I lost confidence in my objectivity, and I started to despise my project (although I still have such fondness for the actual imagery). In addition, I was losing tons of money on supplies, applications, travel, everything (it is really expensive to be an artist!!). My applications for the few teaching positions in the geographical area I was in weren’t accepted. Dan proposed and I focused on wedding planning. I played a lot of tennis (and kept hurting my back).
Along the way, my best friend Lindsey had me photograph her babies and sister’s wedding. Lindsey had always helped me always find side-photography projects including having me do her senior photos while we were in high school, engagement photos in 2009 (?), and even creating custom photographs for the walls of the private equity firm she temped at in NYC. She always told me how beautiful my images of my family were, how talented and smart I was, and that she thought people would pay to have me make similar images of their loved ones. I had always considered doing these types of jobs for side money and to help out friends, but never took it seriously. That attitude changed.
I started to envision a business model where I not only took traditional portraits, but ones with more truth. I decided I could put out some feelers to prior classmates and friends who had kids. I started to build a portfolio. I made a website. Strangers started hiring me! I took more photos and built a bigger portfolio. I decided to create a real business plan, ask for a business investment from my parents, invested in lots of samples and rented a studio space in my beloved Cambridge neighborhood of Huron Village. Business took off. I just completed my second year in this space, third year in business, and can’t believe not only how far I have come, but how happy I am. I love making the images I do for clients! I am fascinated in observing their personality and family dynamics. I like learning from them how to navigate life. I like hearing peoples stories. I enjoy seeing their gratitude, and feel confident they will continue to cherish the work I made. These photographs aren’t those that will be questioned and I like that.
That said, there is still a part of me who feels like I failed. That I gave up/”sold out”. When those voices start to come up, I try to remind myself that I feel better about life on a day-to-day basis. But I also try to remind myself that I shouldn’t drop those goals. I still want to create personal bodies of work. Though I currently have trouble finding the energy for these projects, I know that at some point the drive will return and I will start one. And once that happens I can decide if and how I want to bring it to the attention of the art world (I will go back to PhotoLucida!). Also, I will apply for teaching jobs. Perhaps it will be just for a community continuing education class. Perhaps I will continue to mentor like I am doing now for a middle-schooler, which I love doing. Maybe it will be more private lessons. I definitely plan to continue to use this blog to educate clients and supporters by featuring intriguing artists and culture in Fine Art Fridays. Oh, and maybe I will start to pick up the tennis racquet again for some dubs (or to teach Calvin).
To close, I want to bring up one more recent revelation. About a month ago I attended Inspire, a commercial photography conference in Maine. While there I received the same assignment in multiple workshops: think of three words to define your vision, your brand, your company, and your images. I have struggled over these three words but I recently came to them, and I think in relation to my past, present, and future they make a lot of sense. They are : EXPRESSIVE | RICH | INTELLIGENT . I am going to talk about these words mostly as they relate to my photographs. “Expressive” because I want my images to be honest and open, with emotion evident. I want them to portray the individual and group personalities of my clients. “Intelligent” because I want the images to be smart – to refer to established artists, tropes, genres, stories. I want them to be informed. At times, I welcome witticism. “Rich”. Ah – the tough one! On one hand I love that this is a play on my thesis. I like luxury (and I want my clients to experience luxurious images and products to present these images). I think “rich” is common vernacular in today’s culture to describe something as great, cool, desired, beautiful, etc. On the other hand, I also like that “rich” can be used to describe the quality of an image. Layered, complex, and visually delicious. “Rich” in color, “rich” in meaning. You get the idea…
Well this has been quite the ramble. But after the career event a couple weeks ago, I set the goal to write my thoughts down on this blog, and so I did! I guess I am a goal-oriented person. And I am pretty proud of where I have gotten, even if it’s not what I originally envisioned (which, by the way, was a current theme among alums telling students what to expect..). Life is a journey. Keep your eyes open, stay aware and positive, be grateful for what you are given, and be proud of your accomplishments.