A few weeks ago someone challenged me to dig deep and figure out my why. Why I’m a photographer, and why I feel it’s meaningful and worthwhile to run a photography business. It’s taken me a while to put this post together, partly because I wrote the first draft by hand into my notebook. In a car. While it was moving. So it did take some time to decipher what the hell it was I had written. But here finally goes.
The reason I started my own business was ultimately about a yearning to do something that matters with my life. Photography had been an artistic outlet for me for some time, so that was the obvious vehicle. But there are a lot of photographers out there for whom the craft of photography is enough… for me it was always about something more than just providing people with images. It turned out I had to go quite far back to really figure out what it is that I actually want to offer people.
Growing up I always felt like an outsider. I was a quiet, fat, awkward kid, and having been raised as the only child of a single parent, was always very happy in my own company. I found it scary communicating with others my age, somehow I just never seemed to quite know the ‘rules’. It was like I was always waiting for a permission, or a sign of some sort, which would mean I was OK before I would speak up. I have this one clear memory from the playground when I was still quite young, when another girl asked me ‘Why don’t you have a dad?’. While this incident, or the memory of it, didn’t define me (I had a dad, he just lived somewhere else), it was one of those incidents that added to the feeling of being ‘different’, of not being ‘normal’ like everyone else. And when you grow up with enough of these moments, you eventually start accepting feeling like an outsider as a fact.
I started drawing and painting at a young age, and it turned out I was fairly good at it. I soon realised that art allowed me to communicate on my own terms, and when people appreciated the work I did, that felt like the permission I’d been waiting for to feel accepted. Later on this transferred to photography – if people had seen my work and loved it, I felt ok to be in their company as an equal. But when I met people who didn’t know anything about the quality of my work, I felt awkward, not good enough as just me, certainly never cool enough.
When I started my business this feeling of not being cool enough sometimes got in the way of client interactions. I would turn up to photograph people I thought where hip and trendy, and I would instantly feel out of my depth, which I then tried to compensate by trying to appear more ‘fun’ or whatever I felt I ‘ought to’ be. The more known my work got, the more at ease I felt, the clients had after all hired me based on my work so had ‘pre-accepted’ me in a way (can we see a comfortable old pattern emerging…?).
Instinctively I did know my ‘why’ right from the beginning though. From the very first iteration of my website, the copy in my ‘about’ section started with ‘I find beauty in everything and everyone, and I love the way a camera gives me a license to explore that beauty…’.
But it’s only now that I’ve spent some time exploring what’s really behind why I do what I do, that I can truly connect the dots.
It might be a bit later than most people, but I have finally learned the secret. The secret that everyone, every human being out there, sometimes feels like an outsider and out of their depth, maybe even not worthy – just like that awkward fat kid that I was, and the quiet uncool adult that I grew up to be.
What I want to do in my life and with my business, what sets my heart on fire, is to show people how beautiful and worthy they are, how precious their love is, and how much they mean to the people around them.
I often hear comments such as ‘you always get such beautiful clients’. And yet, on the surface, my clients come in all shapes and sizes. If I can count myself successful in anything, I would love it to be that these comments mean that I have been able to provide my clients with a space where they have been able to show their true beauty, beauty which has nothing to do with what they look like on the outside. When someone lets their guard down, and you see a person in front of you as the special, unique creature that they are, external beauty becomes wholly irrelevant.
Personally I am finally at a stage where I don’t need that permission, which holding a camera (something that many of us photographers hide behind) provides, in order to truly see people and to give myself permission to communicate with them. Funnily enough that permission was always mine to give, not theirs. I can’t tell you how ground breaking and exciting that realisation is. I can now see that the things that are ‘different’ and awkward about me, are really my strengths – my quietness is calmness, my sensitivity ability to read emotional situations and to give people the space they need. I still battle with fear every day, I don’t think that will ever go away, but now I do it with the knowledge that fear is an opportunity for personal growth.
So there we have it. My why is all about an all-encompassing passion for showing people how unique, beautiful and loved they are – because that was something I didn’t allow myself to feel for the longest of time. And when I succeed… you know, it’s worth more than all the gold in the world.