I received a lovely email from a high school student the other day. Alexis, from Shakopee High School, wrote,
"I am doing a project for my photography class that is due Friday. I would really like to use you for my subject! I looked at your work and I liked it a lot and I was hoping you could answer some questions for me (not very complicated ones I swear). If you could, please let me know! Thanks! :)"
How could I resist?! I thought it would be fun to share my answers here on my blog. Thanks for asking Alexis! And good luck with your project! (Hope you pull an A!)
What inspired you to pursue photography and how did you start?
I've always had an eye for photography. I always remember seeing things in a certain way and thinking it would make a good photo. I had wanted to take photography in college but it didn't fit with my major and being a broke college student, I didn’t have a SLR camera or the money to buy one so I skipped it and stuck to a more “practical” degree in Business. Which actually worked well in my favor as it’s more important to have good business sense than artistic sense. I had always had a drive to own my own business - even as a teen - so it was a good foundation for what I’m doing today.
Later in life, when digital cameras came on to the scene, I was itching to get one. I got the first Canon Digital Rebel for Christmas 11 years ago and I was so incredibly excited. I was determined to learn to use it so I took a basics class. And then I read, researched, joined message boards, read more, practiced, failed, practiced again and found I still had an eye for it. And a love for it.
I mostly took photos of my own children to start but then I started taking photos of friends’ children and one of them said to me, “I want you to photograph my son for his 9 month photos.” And a light bulb went off and I thought, maybe this could be my business that I’ve always wanted.
Was there any family/friends that influenced your career in photography?
My biggest influence early on was an online message board filled with other photographers who were also just starting out and finding our way with creating businesses, learning photography, sharing business ideas, finding workshops and seminars to learn from, and critiquing each other’s work. If I hadn’t joined that group, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. One of my favorite photographer and a mentor to me has been Audrey Woulard out of Chicago.
Frankly, I have family and friends are super supportive, but they never really “got” the whole photography business so it wasn’t easy to bounce ideas off of and get quality feedback. You have to find a tribe and that type of support is far more valuable.
What is your favorite type of photography to do? (Babies, seniors, adults, etc.)
My favorite always has been and always will be children. I connect with children. I see their sparkle. I love their personalities and I’m very tuned into to children. Even at the grocery store, babies will often lock eye contact with me and smile. I love that! I love the chubby 6-month old that is has a toothless grin, I love a wobbly 1-year old learning to walk, I love a 2-year old with their fierce independence, I love a 3-year old who is happy and curious, I love the early elementary ages when they have a zest for life that is unmatched, I love the pre-teen awkwardness and shyness that starts to develop and cracking that facade, and I love the early teens who are just coming of age and hovering between childhood and adulthood. I love all ages and children will always be my favorite.
A close second, is to photograph women — all ages. I find we are so critical of ourselves and having our photograph taken is almost painful for some. I love having a client come in and sense her nervousness and visibly seeing her relax during the course of our session and having her walk away feeling so good about herself. Because we are all beautiful. We are human, that makes us beautiful. I recognize it’s a vulnerable thing to have your portrait done so I work very hard at making my subject look and feel her best. And when she sees how beautiful she really is, that’s why I do what I do.
What is your Faces of Autism all about and what got you started with that?
My Faces of Autism project is a new personal project for me. Not new in the sense that I’ve worked with many children with autism in the course of my business. But new because I’ve recently decided to take it in a new direction. The purpose is to feature children with autism and showcase their inner beauty, celebrate their magic and demystify autism in the process. There is so much negativity surrounding autism — the facts, the statitics, the prognosis, etc. — and it is hard. No denying that. However, it’s not all hard and I want to show the world how amazing these children are and what incredible things they have overcome or their remarkable skills.
My youngest son was diagnosed with autism when he was 3-4 years old (he’s 10 now). I spent a lot of time at his therapy center when he was younger and I started getting to know other families. I’d see many of the same children day after day and I was so impressed by the improvements they were making. As a photographer, I was feeling compelled to get my camera on them and celebrate these kiddos! I can’t explain it other than I HAD to photograph them. But I had to figure out a reason why — approaching parents and asking to photograph their child for no real reason other than I just wanted to seemed a little creepy. :) So I created a calendar project and asked for volunteers. I did the Faces of Autism calendar for three years with all the profits benefitting a local charity. I decided to end it last year for various personal and professional reasons. It was the right decision but I knew I wasn’t done with it yet and that it needed to evolve. So after some soul searching I came to the conclusion that Faces of Autism needs to be a book. And that I needed to rethink how I’m photographing these children. Instead of having them into my studio for ultimately one shot for the calendar, instead I’m going to their homes and photographing them in a very lifestyle editorial type of shoot. Focusing on telling their stories through their parents words, my words, and through my photographs.
Right now I’m in the content gathering phase and taking applications for people who want to volunteer. I’ve had about a dozen or so inquire and I’m working on photographing all these amazing children right now. Their stories and photos will live online for now until I can work out the next phase of the project - publishing. I’ve never published a book so this it new territory for me! This is a labor of love right now, meaning I’m not making any money off of this project at this point. I’m hoping to once the book is published and I would like to donate a portion of the sales to a local non-profit but I haven’t determined that at this time.