As Christmas gets closer and the beginning of a new decade is upon us, I know that I am not the only one who is feeling a little extra pensive. I have seen so many of my friends posting their "10 Year Challenge" photos on Facebook and several of my favorite photographers sharing the growth they've experienced with their businesses and their art. I don't want to miss out on the fun, and I think there is a lot of good that can come from looking at one's personal growth. So I want to take some time to reflect on what the past ten years have meant for me.
Ten years ago I was fourteen and in high school. The 2010's were very formative years for me, so, as expected, I've changed a lot. In 2010 I was obsessed with The Twilight Saga, Hot Topic, emo punk music, and drawing. I was not interested in photography at all, but had my heart set on becoming a manga artist in Japan, or some type of illustrator/writer. In 2012 I was given the very generous gift of a desktop computer and an engineering textbook by a family friend. He had heard I was good at math and wanted to encourage me to become an engineer instead of an artist. I'm stubborn though, so this did nothing but help me sink my heels deeper into the idea of having a creative career. Even back then I knew that I wanted my career to be more than just paying the bills, it had to be something I was passionate about. I wasn't passionate about engineering. This was also the year I started talking to my husband online. I graduated high school in 2013, and somehow managed to convince my parents to let my online British boyfriend come visit me that summer. The following Christmas I went to visit him in England, and we spent the next 6 years flying back and forth to see each other.
Since I had no intentions of becoming an engineer, and no set plan as to how I could progress a career in drawing, I went to community college to start my associate's degree to buy myself some time to think about what I really wanted to do. I took several drawing classes, and started using my phone to take really terrible cheesy photos for my Instagram. I started following a lot of cool photographers on the platform and it became a fun hobby of mine to try to create images similar to theirs. Without fully realizing it, my desire to create was slowly shifting from drawing to photography. In 2014, I moved with my family to a different city, about two hours westward to a small town in the middle of nowhere. While I didn't love living there, there was an abundance of abandoned buildings that I became obsessed with exploring and photographing. The theme of nature taking over forgotten places is a theme that I have been using ever since. I completed my associate's degree at the local community college, and was feeling the societal pressure to apply to university in order to pursue a Bachelor's degree. I still had my heart set on a creative career, but after completing several tedious drawing classes, and being in a relationship with someone who was a much better artist than myself, I started to realize that maybe a career in drawing wasn't realistic nor completely suited to me.
After a lot of deliberation, I decided to go to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, one of the only schools in my state that offered a photography course. The course required me to take a ton of other art classes like web design, sculpting, and life drawing (my personal favorite). During my two years on campus I learned a lot about art and life and what it actually means to be an artist. I learned how to work my camera properly, how to use studio equipment, how to use different editing software, and even some alternative processes to digital photography. I really started to fall in love with it, and for the first time I felt like I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I know going to university for a trade like photography is quite a controversial topic, and while I don't think it's necessary, I don't regret it at all because it set me down the right path and I think it gives me quite a unique approach. During my years at UNCG, I was also studying journalism, and took on a position as a staff writer for the art section of my university's newspaper.
I finished all my in-person lessons in the spring of 2017 and moved back home to finish my last set of online classes. This is when I started my own portrait business. Things started off slowly, and I ended up taking a lot of photos of friends and people within my social circle. During this time I also took on a couple of small "internships", one with the local newspaper photographer, and another with an inexperienced wedding photographer. I didn't particularly enjoy either of them, but learned a lot about how NOT to run a business from both of the experiences. I received my Bachelor's Degree at the end of 2017, and decided that instead of trying to force myself to be a wedding photographer or a photojournalist (because I was told those were the only ways to have a profitable career in photography by people who knew nothing about photography), that I could run my own business by myself as a portrait photographer. I was lucky to have a slowly growing client base at this time that made the whole idea plausible.
In January of 2018, while still growing my portrait business, I started working for a company called Bella Baby Photography. At first it was just for a little extra income, but it ended up becoming a formative part of my career. Bella Baby was a newborn portrait company based out of a hospital in Greenville, North Carolina. I spent a year and a half there photographing day-old babies and selling the photographs to the adoring parents. Doing 4-6 portrait sessions a day and having to deal with ALL sorts of people in a stressful hospital situation taught me more about people and photography than anything else to date. It felt like portrait boot camp. Ninety percent of the time it was the best job in the world, but there were also a lot of infant losses and other tough situations that I photographed while working there. They are heavy burdens that I am grateful to have experienced as both a human and a photographer.
Overall, I thrived during 2018 as I perfected my skills as a portrait photographer and continued to learn all sorts of things about running a business. On New Year's Eve 2018, after over 6 years of dating, my online British boyfriend proposed, and by August 2019 we were married. Right after the wedding I picked up my life and joined him in Amsterdam where he had moved a year earlier for his career. I chose to leave all my clients that I had worked so hard to reach, and to quit my job at Bella Baby that I had grown to love so much. I've never viewed it as a negative though because even though I was getting into a good groove with my life and business, I didn't want to stagnate. I knew that moving to a bigger city would be an amazing opportunity for me to push my photography and business to the next level. I am already having so many amazing experiences in Amsterdam, so I know that by the end of my time here I will have grown even more (can't wait to read THAT blog post).
Looking back on the past decade is surreal. 10 years ago I never would have guessed I'd be writing a post for my photography website from my apartment in Amsterdam where I live with my British husband. Life is wild. I still like many of the same things that I liked back then: The Twilight Saga (fight me), punk music, drawing. I'm still as stubborn as ever and determined to tailor my life to my desires. So I'm not sure if saying I've changed is as accurate as saying I've progressed or matured, but I'm excited to see where 2020 will take me.
Below is a photo I took in 2016 and a photo I took a couple of weeks ago. If this doesn't show growth, then I don't know what does.