When I asked the question, I wasn't sure if she would answer it. I mean, she offers full workshops on this very topic. Year-long online ones I think, and surely weekend ones including a big trip to NYC. Would she actually reveal the answer I was looking for, or just plug one of her workshops? And hey - I respect that. I've read reviews of people who've been personally mentored by her. They say it's a life-changing experience. She is wildly talented; gifted, really. A photographer whose work is recognizable by all and able to be copied by none. An artist with a true and unique voice. Why would she give up the goods that easily? During a little editing webinar?
"Amanda, let me get back to yours..." And she continued to answer other questions.
At the end, I reminded her. "Oh yes, right..." And then she answered. Honestly. As concisely as she could, but I heard her.
"Let me know when you start." I scribbled down her answer and stared at my paper. Then I cried. Because I knew that she knew. I suspected she was probably right. And I was, and am, terrified of what might happen if I actually follow her advice.
I'm going to email her tonight. That was two weeks ago. I hope she remembers me. I hope she will sprinkle her magical fairy dust upon me.
You see, a couple months back I made the most difficult decision to give up the business side of my photography. I regret it every day. I miss it. It's been hard. But, on the other hand, it's been good. Really, really good.
I've made pictures for me. Shooting my kids pretty much. I'm no longer trying to impress a client. I've been able to take more chances, try new things that I wouldn't have had time for in the past. I've found inspiration in my deep knowledge of them and their little quirks and expressions. I know them better than I know anything else. It's stretched me. I like the photos I've taken over the past few months so much more than any I've ever taken.
With this growth has also come the whispers that there's more out there. Much more to learn. I just need to find it.
When I started this photography thing, I was learning and everything was new. I tried so hard to be like everyone else. I thought I wanted to do newborn photography. (I do love newborn photography and have a deep appreciation for it, especially since I'm keenly aware of just how difficult it is.) But we all do the same poses - in fact, I could talk to another newborn photographer across the country or across the world, and we all know the taco or the froggie pose. We all know tushie-up and side-lying. Because we all do the same thing. Now, there are those who are amazing at it and those not so much. But we're aiming for exactly the same thing. The same goes for all photography genres. Doesn't matter - landscape photographers take the same exact shots of mountains and buildings. Wedding photographers have a shot list and posing guide. They all take Jasmine Star's CreativeLive class. (Ok, me too.) Child/family/senior photographers scour Pinterest for "new ideas." (Guilty.)
My own personal view started changing after I watched Kirsten Lewis' CreativeLive class on documentary-style family photography. Yes, this. This makes my heart sing. This is what I want to do. While documentary-style is certainly growing rapidly, I can tell you - it's much, much more difficult for me. Kirsten talks about how hard she works during a shoot and I can attest, I work way harder when I do documentary than a typical portrait session. You can't direct anything, but it's your job to capture the scene in a beautiful and interesting way. I've been practicing ever since.
Then I discover Kate T Parker's work. I'm stunned. Here's something...Different. A photographer who's been able to stand out from the sea of family/child photographers because she's found her own unique vision. And it's amazing. So I take her class and all my photos start to look a bit more like hers. Cool...but that's... not really the point. I'm never gonna be Kate T Parker. But what if I figured out how to take a picture like Amanda Myers? This is getting corny, I know. Bear with me.
Ok, so fast-forward several months. I keep having this sneaking suspicion that maybe I could figure out how to uniquely capture my life. In a fresh way that hasn't been done by everybody else. I'm no longer shooting for Pinterest clients.
So, I ask the question late one night after an editing webinar.
And she answered. And I knew she was right. After all, if there's anyone who might know the answer, it'd be her.
That night, as I brushed my teeth, my husband asked how the webinar went. My eyes got real big. But I said nothing. "What?" he asked, thinking it was bad or something. (It wasn't.) "I think I need to do some soul-searching" as I held back tears. And then it hit me. That's her freaking tag line! That's it!
Last Thursday night, I prepped for a family beach session (yeah, I know I'm retired, but I do come out of retirement for very special occasions!) I re-watched as much of Kirsten's class as I could. She also taught on this subject of finding one's voice. Her answer was also through soul-searching, but digging back to your roots, your childhood, your core personality traits. How can I convey who I am, only me, through the lens of my camera? Will my personality shine through? She gives specific steps and I plan to do those. She offers a beautiful workbook that is now on my Christmas list. Ahem.
I sought the counsel and wisdom of close friends. One, who has taken a social media sabbatical during Lent the last couple years, chatted with me on the phone. "Was it worth it? Did you learn anything? Did you miss anything? Did your photography get better?" She answered, "Contentment begins when comparison stops." (I believe that's a Steve Miller quote, based on a quick google search.) Her answers were resoundingly positive.
I asked my mentor and counselor, a woman whose wisdom I respect so much, and who knows me better than almost anyone. We had her and her husband over for dinner one night. I told her everything. I needed to hear her opinion. She's a singer and compared one's "artistic voice" to a singer's voice. "It's a process, a journey, that never has an end-point." I was hoping at the end of 30 or 40 days I'd have arrived, figured it all out. But no. She set me straight. She sensed that I'd be disappointed at the end if I hadn't found it yet. She was right, as usual. "But what if at the end of 30 days, I think I've figured it out, but...it's no good?" (Ok, I was hoping she's say something encouraging and dishonest, like "Oh, no honey, everyone has an artistic voice and yours will be amazing....") Her husband jumped in, "Well, at least you'll know!" I didn't know how to take that - it wasn't what I wanted to hear. But he was right. That's why I can recognize a handful of photographers' work immediately, but not dozens. It's a gift. And I may not have it. And that's ok. It's the journey, remember?
So, I pondered all of these things, dreading this process, but knowing it was necessary. For me. This whole time, too, I've been rocking out (no really, seriously...if you see a crazy lady blasting music in a mini-van on PIB, you'll know it's me) to a new CD produced by amazing musical artists from my church. I love all the songs, but one kept hitting me particularly hard. Which is kinda weird because I had heard "Oceans" by Hillsong on the radio a few times, cool tune. Never paid much attention to the lyrics though. The first time I ever did was on February 22nd. I know this for a fact. I was home from church that day with my son, two days after his febrile seizure. Two days after holding my dying son, screaming; after riding in the front of an ambulance thinking I had lost what I love most in the world. My husband had taken the girls to church that day, as I watched the service online, while AJ played with cars. They sang "Oceans" and for the first time I sang along as the lyrics flashed up on my laptop screen. Later that day, I posted a meme on Facebook with a line that crushed me into tears, after the trauma of what I had just experienced. "Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You've never failed and You won't start now." I hear that line and I'm reminded of those terrifying moments every time. But as God has a tendency to do, He enjoys turning bad into good- and a song that I avoided because of that line and the memory it brings, He kept nudging me to listen to more closely. So I did. And I've become more and more and more convinced that what I need most right now is a journey. A soul-searching journey. I know what I want the outcome to be: "Amazing photographer who's found her unique voice and is able to convey it through pictures." But I'm open to whatever answers the process brings. That's the cool thing about God. About prayer. We pray knowing the result we want, but the point is to get in tune with what He wants for us.
So maybe I get to the end and realize I suck. Ok. Then at least I'll know, right? Or maybe I'll find, just as my dear friend taught me, that I'm only just beginning a life-long process. Or, maybe I'll find something entirely different. And maybe that's the whole point, I don't know.
So....Leave it to Andy Stanley to slam a nail into the coffin like no one else. His message in Part 5 of "Wish You Were Here" about our wishes for our lives, God's wishes for our lives, and figuring out how to get from here to there... God was seriously, y'all, like, "When are you just going to listen? How many people do I need to say this to you? I'm ready for you, are you ready?" The message is entitled, "Somebody Knows" as in, there is someone out there that knows what you need to do to get from here to there. Someone who either knows you and has told you already, or someone who's been down the same path and has experience to share. For crying out loud, one of the most famous, most incredible photographers of our time told me exactly what to do. What am I waiting for?
Okay. I'm listening.
Bye y'all. Nobody better get engaged, married, pregnant or have any babies while I'm gone, mmmkay? I'll miss y'all. I love my daily dose of photography inspiration, keeping up with my friends, learning that the sunscreens I'm using are causing cancer, who to call for swim lessons, where to eat out for dinner, or just getting a giggle out of some of the crazy stuff y'all post.
I'm hoping the time away will free my brain of any outside influences to allow my own voice to shine through. I'm hoping to have more time to be introspective, to pray. To listen. We'll see what happens...
(Updated 7/3/15 to add: I took a one-image editing webinar with Meg Bitton on June 17th. I want to give her the credit for speaking into my life exactly what I needed to hear. I also want to publicly thank her for sharing this post. I've been overwhelmed by the enormous outpouring of love and encouraging words from the people who've read this. Y'all...you don't know how much that means to me. Thank you.)