2015 Reflection

It’s taken me about a week to work up the courage to write this post. At first I was embarrassed that I didn’t meet my goals for 2015. This time last year, I thought that I’d be photographing full time. I would be pitching stories at a community newspaper or shooting assignments for many freelance clients.

I didn’t imagine that many hours of my year would be spent working double shifts in restaurants. And I didn’t want to admit how many times I found myself overwhelmed, crawling under my covers, wracked with too much anxiety to work on projects dear to my heart. I didn’t want to admit that instead of focusing on making pictures and growing relationships, I worried about money and work and doubted whether I was good enough.

I began the year hopefully in Jasper, Indiana, where I finished up a six-month-long internship that changed my heart and eye for the better. Surrounded by mentors and learning to shoot events that had been shot by more talented photographers before me in new, stylish and storytelling ways was an adventure I couldn’t have anticipated. 

Halfway through January I traveled to South Korea (where I studied abroad in 2013) to work on a story about the young North Korean refugee community in Seoul through the generosity of the IU School of Journalism’s Hazeltine Travel Scholarship. I was terrified.

I love Seoul so much and I believe I did good work while I was there. But I psyched myself out about the project so much that when I wasn’t photographing Kyung-ok, I could barely bring myself to do anything but lay in my room. I forced myself to walk the streets and make pictures.

While I was there I collected still images and footage a short documentary. I haven’t been able to share the project yet, because I haven’t finished subtitling and editing the video. This is the thing that fills me with the most dread. The girls I photographed let me into their lives and told me their most treasured stories and I let my anxieties keep their story from being shared. 

I promise it will be soon. 

When I returned, I tried to keep up the momentum, but there was absolutely so much to go through.

About a week after returning, I knew I needed to start making money again so I picked up a job at La Margarita, a lovely restaurant in Fountain Square, the neighborhood in Indy where Eric and Andrew lived. 
While living downtime, I managed to find some freelance work with the Indianapolis Star and a few other local publications.

In March I began shooting senior portraits of family friends and I shot my first wedding, that of Evan and Kenzie Hoopfer, who I met in Bloomington. I was so happy to be making pictures.

I continued to apply for photo work, and eventually landed an internship. I relaxed a little. I had my next thing planned. 

But it fell through because the paper couldn’t afford to keep the program up and running. It was another awakening to the business-side of journalism that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. 

Around the same time, things in our neighborhood in Indy were getting more dangerous. There were shootings on our street and our house was broken into. A couple weeks later, some kids set an abandoned house next to ours aflame, and our garage burned to the ground. 

Eric, Andrew and I decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona. 

Almost immediately after arriving, I panicked and picked up a restaurant job again. It would just be a stop-gap, I told myself, my parents, my friends. But five months later I’m still working 40~ hours a week and freelancing whenever I can. It’s not bad, though. The owners are Korean and I get to practice speaking with them every day. I’ve learned a lot about the community from regular customers and my co-workers. And it’s helped me to generate a lot of story ideas. 

While I complain too much about the boring work or rude customers, it’s a good place to work and the owner lets me take days off on short notice if I get a call from an editor. Her daughter is a videographer in New York City, so she really does get it.

In October, I attended the Eddie Adams Workshop, for which I had applied many times before unsuccessfully. It was completely surreal to be invited for a weekend of photo family and incredible lessons. 

After I returned from New York, I was able to freelance more and learn more about the culture here in Arizona.

I’ve continued shooting weddings and family shoots whenever I get the opportunity.

While I’m not where I want to be, I have to admit that I am probably in a better place than I give myself credit for. I’m about to enter my 24th year, and I have gotten to photograph for two of my all-time favorite newspapers. Additionally, the personal project Eric and I have been working on was published in Midwest-based Driftless Magazine.

Through it all, my loved ones have been my guiding light. Moving westward to the fifth biggest U.S. city from small-town Indiana roots has been tough. I’ve learned to be more flexible and kind with myself and my goals while still keeping my eye on the prize. I’ve learned to live a more balanced life and to combat my anxiety every day. I’ve made an effort to not get too wrapped-up in how well my peers are shooting and I am no longer embarrassed to tell people I’m a food counter cashier. 

As I look through my photos from the year I have to say it’s been an incredible 2015. Thank you all for your support, it means so much more than I can adequately express.

The Eddie Adams Workshop (XXVIII)

I have seen my version of paradise. Fresh air, passionate storytellers, uplifting community, autumn light, helpful critique, great food, bonfires and even a couple of wonderful dogs.

Much has been written about the Eddie Adams Workshop, a long weekend where professional storytellers from all over the world gather on a farm in Jeffersonville, NY to share their vision with 100 eager young photographers, and the experience holds true to the hype. It’s a truly inspiring, magical (and yes, tiring!) few days where you could be crawling through mud at 8a.m. and sharing dinner with your photographic idols at 6p.m.

It can also be a point of stress with students of visual journalism. The admission is famously selective, but not meant to be exclusionary. To that end, I would like to point out that I applied multiple times before receiving word that I would be a student, and I encourage my peers to keep applying! It may not make or break your career, but you may meet a best friend or a future colleague and return home refreshed, inspired and ready to get to work. 

The community surrounding this special event is what makes it so special. I found myself surprised at the lack of competitiveness between the students and surprised at how willing the seasoned journalists were to talk to us newbies. There was no ill will, only the desire to lift up young storytellers and encourage open and honest mentorship and friendship. I’m so thankful for this spirit in the photojournalism community, and look forward to (hopefully) passing it on to another generation some day.

And now to share some photographs. Below is the story I was assigned for the workshop. Our Green Team (fearlessly lead by Carolyn Cole, produced by Alicia Hansen, edited by Nancy Andrews and tech support provided by Gabriel Biderman) had the theme of change. My assignment was to document Shannon and Andy’s wedding day and how this ritual would or wouldn’t affect change in their life. Our collaborative edit is below. 

We also collected audio for the final presentation, which wasn’t required but gave our sources more agency in their story which I loved. 

In addition to the assignment, I also photographed some new friends and some of the events happening on the farm. 

And the last image I’ll leave you with my favorite outtake from our assignment shoot. Thanks for visiting.

Pup Adoption Portraits

I’m really missing having furry friends around, but it’s just not the right time in my life to adopt a pet. To get my fix I’ve teamed up with The Pet Knot in Phoenix to help them get some pictures up on their social media sites to attract potential homes for their adorable pups. If you notice that most of the dogs are black, that’s not a coincidence. Black dogs are far less likely to be adopted, and a part of that is because it’s more difficult to get pictures of them where you can see their friendly features than with light-colored animals. But really, who could resist these wonderful dogs? If you’re around the north Phoenix area, stop by the Petsmart at the Promenade in Scottsdale on Saturdays and Sundays to take one home. 

Forgotten film

Today, while de-cluttering, I found two sleeves of photographs I shot with fuji film on a 1959 Agfa Optima camera that I found in Zionsville, developed and did nothing with. Most of them have a scratch across them and are light fogged (user error?), but they feel wonderful to me. I took most of these during the week prior to my graduation from IU last year.

2015 Seniors: Emily

I’ve known Miss Emily since she was in diapers. She’s one of the kids in a few fellow British families that we created a sort of extended family with here in the Indianapolis area. We have celebrated holidays together for as long as I can remember. 

This spring, she’s graduating from high school. And I was lucky enough to capture some senior shots and family photos to commemorate. 

the thing

“There are certain parts of video games, especially RPGs, where the player must level up before a boss fight or go around collecting potions and items and training. Like when you train your Pokémon before you fight the Elite Four. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what being 24 is about, I think.” - Eric Ellis, my partner who keeps me sane.

May is Mental Health Month. It’s hella difficult to talk about mental health. But the more people do, the more we can reduce the stigma, be more empathetic toward one another and take care of each other. Those are some of my goals with my photojournalism and with my time on Earth. I thought it was time to talk about my own story a little bit.

On Monday, I’m seeing a doctor again to try to get my anxiety under control. It’s been two years since I stopped taking medication for it and subbed in yoga. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of managing with a healthy lifestyle. But it’s time to ask for help.

It’s not because my 23 years of life have been especially tough—I have a stable, wonderful life with a great support system. It’s just brain chemicals and the lack thereof. It’s The Thing that starts as a cold feeling in my stomach and crawls into my throat. It convinces me to sleep instead of work on my photos after a restaurant shift. It tells me I should have health insurance by now or be paying back loans. I shouldn’t eat that. I’ll never make it in photojournalism. Don’t seek out time with friends. Sleep instead.

And I’m not nearly alone. It’s the most common health problem in my county. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect 18% of U.S. population. They are highly treatable, but only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. We’re afraid of the ramifications of diagnosis because it seems different from a disorder that affects other parts of our body. It feels like we should be able to just stop the feelings (or lack of emotions). There is a shame that accompanies mental health care, but there shouldn’t be.

Part of my recent struggle with The Thing has been adjusting to life after university. I crave a life of steady, daily photography, but I’m not there yet. 

In the months between internships, I’m working more than full time at a busy (delicious) restaurant and freelancing on the side. I’m not making pictures enough to quiet The Thing telling me that I’m losing my reporting muscles. The last time I worked for a daily paper was early January. It hasn’t been that long, but still I miss the teamwork and support. 

Journalists my age may not ever have steady careers working for just one client. And that’s okay. It’s actually exciting. But when the anxious part of me takes over, it’s hard to get my work done. 

Going abroad and working on my own project was a liberating privilege. I should have been ecstatic and filled with gratitude. And I was, but paralyzed by fear and the pressure I put on myself as well. I am proud of the work I did, but I know I missed out on making pictures because of anxiety. “You could have done more.” And since I’ve been home, the whispering has ensured my work on the editing has been lethargic as well. “If you just don’t finish the project, the failure will be more bearable.”

Some weeks recently, Liminal has been the only project I work on, and It’s mostly because I don’t want to let Eric down. This personal project has been immeasurably good therapy. It keeps me accountable and keeps me making pictures, even when I don’t want to. 

Creative jobs are just that: jobs. We need to go to work daily, regardless of if we have other jobs as well. Even when we’re exhausted. Even when we’re afraid of failure. 

“Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” 
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

I won’t let my anxiety to stand in the way of the work I want to do. It’s not weak to ask for help or to admit all of this to whoever reads it. If anyone out there ever needs an ear or a hand, I’m here. Talking about mental health is important, and we’re just now coming into a culture in this country where it’s okay to admit to struggling with it. We’re fortunate—that isn’t the case in many parts of the world. 

Rock on, friends. Remember to be kind to one another and keep doing work that sets your heart on fire. Don’t be ashamed of working outside of the industry to make ends meet. Admire your peers work, but keep blinders handy to concentrate on your own path. And ask for help when you need it. 

Using Format