Saturday, June 12, 2010

Milk and Honey

Last Friday was Emma's "Spring Sing" show. Being that I am the official photographer for her kindergarten class, I was there to take pictures. She and her classmates sang many of the songs they have learned in their first year of school. It was precious and I got to be there to witness a moment in time that will never be happen again.

The Graduating class of 2022 singing in sign language during
the Spring Sing. My little Emma is the the girl in the second row.

If you know me, you may know I have been pulling myself through a struggle at this point in my life. I keep thinking I have to decide who I am as a photographer. What is my brand? What do I do, and how shall I market myself? Over the last month I flip flopped all over the place with this and even stripped my website down to bare bones with nothing but fine art images because "that's all I wanted to shoot." As soon as I did this I felt like I had cut off my arm, or leg, or whatever, I just felt like I had killed off part of who I am.

So, after Emma's show I stopped by the grocery store for a couple of items. As I walked past the cheese aisle I noticed a man that looked very familiar. It was Paul Gero! He is one of the nicest men I know and here he was in the grocery store with his camera hanging over his shoulder and a couple of yogurts in his hand. As we said hello, and began to talk we of course, started talking about our love and passion for photography. I have to tell you honestly that talking to Paul was like having him say, "Hey, Kelley, I have some milk and honey here in my pocket, would like some?" When I shared this allegory with my middle daughter she asked me if he actually said that. No, he did not actually say that but everything he DID say was like magic that watered my dry and dusty photography spirit.

Now, to really appreciate this you'd have to know that Paul Gero was, for 20 years, a photo journalist and very successful at what he did. From taking pictures of world leaders to Princess Diana, back to daily street news for the Chicago Tribune. He's the real deal. Now he lives here in Southern California with his beautiful wife and children and loves his life capturing images of children, families, and weddings.

Out of all the wonderful words of wisdom that Paul shared with me next to the cheese he said this one thing that stuck with me. "Do what makes you happy." Wow, really? I'm allowed to do what makes me happy? Enjoy the camera, the people, the moment, the post, the film, the processing, whatever it is that you love, just do it. (That was the compressed version) For some reason, this made perfect sense. Paul has been working on a project called One Camera, One Lens One Shot a Day. He does exactly this, enjoys the camera and the moments of everyday life.

You'll need to know this, I am retired. I have paid my dues of long shifts and hard work, both mentally and physically. I have worked in one of the top three most stressful jobs in America and I don't want to work like that again. I'm able to provide financially for my family- I understand this makes a difference. So, here's the deal, I am doing what makes me happy. When you look at my website you may be confused as to who I am or it may be perfectly clear. Personally, I don't care if anyone gets it because I do. I asked myself, "If I found out I had only six months to live what would I shoot pictures of? What would I show you?" I answered myself by saying this, "I would shoot everything that makes me happy, and nothing that doesn't!"
So that is who I am: a photographer who loves her camera, the process, the moments, and the taste of milk and honey.

I love shooting black and white film with a 4x5 camera. I loved opening the lens
and running around in my socks "painting" my husband with a flashlight.

I love shooting a wedding but knowing how to use a tripod and long exposures
to take unexpected images of the venue...

...and to still have the time to see the wonder in a child's world in the middle of the
hustle and bustle of the wedding

While still getting the images I came for.

I love the technical stretch of getting the interior shot while still understanding
how to use light that gives you this beautiful blue sky... in camera.

Lastly, I love sitting on the ground and staring at the light dance
around a group of bubbles floating in a fountain.

These things are ALL part of who I am and what I do and I plan on enjoying them all wether I get paid to do it or not. Now, that's liberating!


  1. Hi Kelley.

    Sounds like you hit a barrier with your photographic identity, tried a few things and now seemed to have found your way through. Glad to hear that and good for you on finding your photographic road to Damascus moment. We all gotta do things that make use happy / satisfied, especially in this field. Remember in previous conversation re: Kaizen - I can't see how you could get that when just going through the motions and not taking the types of photographs that your heart wants to do. May I ask what triggered this struggle re: brand you?

    Photography for me has also been a hobby to pursue, so I guess I don't have the stress that perhaps others have with it being their source of income and having to develop a brand.

    Now bear with me for going off in a tangent here, but reading your post got me thinking (as always). I had a similar 'who am I?' issue about 6 years ago. Work was fine but I wanted something more to do that just work. I had always been the type of person that friends would share their problems with and I would also try to give them some counsel help them to work through it. I've always been a people person for as long as I can remember and I'd been doing this sort of thing since teenage years. I guess I thought it was something I was good at, so I figured that I'd train as a counsellor and put my natural abilities to best use. So without knowing much about the subject at time, I set myself a 5 year plan to become a counsellor.

    So 5 years on where am I now? Well not quite in the position I thought at conception of my goal. I'm still working in the same job as my source of income but, after completing a couple of years of training, I now undertake weekly voluntary work as a bereavement counsellor with a charity here in the UK called 'Cruse'. No doubt it's not everyone's calling and it probably isn't the calling I exactly wanted (bereavement counselling is tough) but like you I'm doing the thing that actually makes me 'happy'. Now given the context I'm not 'happy' in the literal sense, but it always been personally satisfying for me to help other people, always has been, always will be. I've just now been able to find an outlet where I do that.

    Take care and good luck with the new (old!) brand you! :-)


  2. David,
    what a wonderful comment and thank you for sharing your story.

    At the beginning of this year I decided to go full speed into the business side of my photography. Being that I am a very driven and task oriented person I really enjoyed this process. However, at some point I had a couple of jobs that I really didn't like and I was disappointed thinking this was what I was in store for. After reading some of VisionMongers, I began to soul search. All the while I knew "branding" to be important because of my business classes and just from looking at really successful photographers, so I began to look in that direction. Glyn's blog really confirmed all of this for me. Everything he posted about websites and branding was totally right on.
    At this point I began to lose sight why I (and only I) started this path of photography.

    All my life I've done what I had to do to provide. I was a single mother for several years and really had to hit it hard to take care of our needs.
    Without going into my whole biography I came to a point in my life where I had to choose to keep my hands (which were in pain from arthritis) and career or have surgery and risk loosing everything. Well after 3 surgeries, I couldn't get them back to "Job standard" and lost everything that made me who I was.
    Photography was new life for me, and my hope for renewed purpose.

    I know I'm not the usual person who picks up photography as a career and I totally understand that I have more freedom than a lot of other people due to the fact I still have an income. But I really have to fight falling back into the hard hitting worker bee that drives me and sometimes looses sight of passion.

    So, there I was pushing myself to figure it all out. And now here I am. I may not be great at everything I do, but I love it all and I want to do it all. Life is short and I never want to look back and say, "wow, I love that, I should have done more of that." I want my daughters to follow their passions rather than live in other people's expectations and the only way I know how to teach them this is by example.

    Maybe it's morbid but I keep myself in check by imagining my funeral service. What will my children say about me? "She was a really good employee and always on time?" or "My mother taught me to love and be passionate about life. She taught us to be true to ourselves and focus on the things that last forever." Yeah, I like the second one best. It drives me.

    I guess you could say my new brand IS my true brand.

    Warm regards, Kelley

    PS I love that you counsel, it's so important and its in the category of something that lasts forever...

  3. Kelley, what an inspiring post - I was all set to do 'follow the red shoes... part two' but I am having a little re-think.

    I have been thinking about 'style' for sometime now and I just cannot put my finger on what I want. And then I realised that actually what I want is to be adaptive and as you say, take the photographs I want to take. i think this journey is much more fun.

    I still want to shoot in a particular way using light in a particular way, sometimes. Other times I will adapt to the situation. I am sure thats what most people do. Style doesn't have to pigeon hole you into a set genre.

    This is a great post and a great story. As is David's story too.

    I like the picture of your husband - I might steal that one!

    As for what do I do? I just take photographs.

  4. A truly great post Kelley; thanks for sharing.

    The subject of 'style' seems to be hot gossip at the moment. Now whereas on one hand I think it's vitally important to have a style on the other hand I don't think it's really something you have to force out of yourself. Your style is an extension of you and because of that it will naturally show in what you do. Take someone like joe McNally or Zack Arias...if those guys went off and shot a commercial job, a wedding, a school fete or whatever I still believe you would know who had shot what because their style would show through. It wouldn't be something they thought about, it would just naturally happen as they went about 'enjoying' doing what they do...does that make sense.

    Really glad to hear that you're feeling 'sorted' and I look forward to seeing many more posts here on your blog showing images of what you shot because you 'enjoy it'.

    Good on you,
    All the very best,

  5. Noel!
    Thanks for commenting! I imagine we all struggle with this a bit when we love what we do so much!! I always appreciate what you have to say. I agree with you and am sure I will still do things in a certain way too. But really isn't that just our "breath" we cast into our images through our own vision?

    I really like what you're doing with the red shoe, I'd like to see you carry on with it. It's beautiful and it is certainly part of you!


  6. Glyn,
    I read your post after I responded to Noel. I really think you nailed it! I would say the same about your work that you said about Joe's. I really think we all have our voice or signature and the more you shoot the more it develops and comes out in your work. I've noticed it in my own work, the images show up in places I didn't expect and I noticed them because I saw my color, or something in them that stood out as me. Its hard to explain but maybe you get what I'm saying. It surprised me when it happened.

    Thanks as always for visiting!!

  7. Interesting comment Glyn, actually we spoke about this a while ago Kelley; being and doing, if you are 'doing' something it is different than 'being' something and I think this is what shows through as 'style'. It is when you enjoy it and it isn't a chore.

    I think you would recognize a particular photographers photographs; their 'breath' and how they make the photograph. At the same time there is definitely a requirement to be adaptable to the needs of a client.

    Great discussion Kelley,
    All the best

  8. It was great to read all of your discussion and your post Kel. I'm so happy you ran into Paul that day, he's such a special guy and I know he's one of your "Jedi Masters" :P Anyway, I think his advice is right on, you will always be more passionate and do a better job if you enjoy what you're doing. Much like my cycling, I think if I had work expectations and performance standards I had to meet it wouldn't be so much fun to bomb the downhills and grind the climbs anymore. It would be a job. You have the unique opportunity to make money while still retaining your creative freedom, if you want. I think between the two, your creative and artistic desires should be first, though. Money is nice, but not if you have to sacrifice who you want to be to get it. Keep the faith girlfriend and go do great things with your camera. I love you.

  9. Steve, thanks for joining in and commenting. I'm very blessed to have you be so understanding while I fly around playing and dreaming. I'm a lucky girl!

    What's even funnier is that I just remembered Paul used Star Wars as an example when we were talking. He said to be like Luke when he was attacking Death Star and he removed his helmet to follow only his instincts and what he knew to be right...

    Good one.

    oxoxo, k.