journalism

It Didn't Start With Instagram

I often envy the prosaic anecdotes other photographers share when asked why they began shooting. Although they often follow the same poetic tropes — a mentor loaned them such-and-such archaic piece of equipment, they developed a prodigious ability to capture images of droopy dogs and melancholy black and white portraits of their romantically depressed mothers — they always manage to entrance the listener in the same misty-eyed awe.

Lucky for them. I started shooting to impress boys.

As a 19-year-old, my priorities lay less in challenging the artistic and political presumptions of my peers, and more in appearing cute and interesting for individuals who didn't give a shit. The summer before my sophomore year of college, I picked up my then-boyfriend's camera, received a remedial education in the triangular concept of exposure, and shot a few mediocre frames of something I deemed worthy of immortalizing (a bundle of clothes next to a creek, if I remember correctly) on a hike in western Washington. 

I nervously anticipated the start of the semester, having recently enrolled in a class titled Photojournalism with a particularly adored professor of the university. I'd never picked up a DSLR prior to that day, and the weight of the body itself gave me a pointed sense of anxiety. There's a particular responsibility in carrying a professional camera. I'm not talking about a metaphorical weight of capturing the transient in a manner both accurate and compelling: I'm talking about carrying a few pounds worth more than your life. 

My companion walked me through the slogging process of editing in Lightroom, the endless adjustments of yellows and shadows that make your eyes grow salty and you index fingers ache. I wasn't especially impressed by the process, and as is true with any condescending masculinity, I felt learning from my male companion was needlessly daunting. 

My experience in a classroom was substantially different. I thrive in the rigidity of classroom structure, so the firmness of journalistic deadlines always elicit my best results. I was nowhere near affording my own equipment, so I shot on a crappy rental from the school that barely qualified as a camera. To this day, I attribute any success I've enjoyed as a photographer to the fact that I had to learn to shoot on the worst gear possible — without expensive tech to hide my creative weaknesses, I had to tune my eye faster, to adjust quicker to my subject. 

Also enrolled in my class were two professionals. Students still, but already making ground as pro photographers. Both men. I was naturally intimidated by their superior knowledge of the craft and visibly heavy equipment bags they carted around everywhere they traveled. I deemed my work as obviously insufficient besides theirs, and that was the end of it. My efforts, my self-education, and my desire for proficiency seemingly shrank in comparison. Self-doubt is a plague.  

As the course progressed, I began to notice something peculiar: My photos were not panned. The feedback on my images was critical, but never crushing. I recall hearing praise from my professor, causing me to simultaneously preen and shy away in confusion. I wasn't supposed to be a good photographer. This was a cruel prank, a reoccurring fluke. But still, it persisted. I completed project after project, lapping up the constructive feedback. Never satisfied, I took my shitty rental everywhere: I snapped images strolling across campus, in local cafes, and on lonely, meandering hikes. Everything was photogenic, and everything had a story to be told. 

I started selling images. Rather, I sold my first image: An editorial interpretation of Rosie the Riveter as a dialogue on the gender wage gap. The setup was naive at best: I corralled a friend of mine into her apartment, shooing her room mates away from their living room. I pulled the lampshade off my bedside lamp and put it beside her, just off camera, and shut off the rest of the lights in the room. I was an amateur director in every sense, but I managed to adjust her bit by bit until I had a scene I deemed interesting.

I sold it to a magazine for $500. I called it luck for years, not expecting another break.

Again: Self-doubt is a plague. But not an insurmountable thing.

A few months later, I landed a gig as an intern at a local music venue. Every weekend, I'd stand in the throng with a camera hung around my neck (my parents gave me a small, cropped-frame Nikon for Christmas) and snap photos of virtually anything that moved. I learned some of my most important photographic lessons in quasi-mosh pits.

Now, three years after taking my first photo on a DSLR, I've been featured in two shows, one magazine, and several newspapers. I've shot for jewelry designers, student publications, and Google. I worked countless jobs, at one point even three jobs at the same time, to afford my own gear; I finally bought a full-frame DSLR last summer. Ironically, I bought my gear off one of one of the two professional photographers in my photojournalism course. 

Photography has been a point of reclamation in my young adulthood. I don't shoot for boys anymore. I have made this creative realm my own simply by refusing to relinquish the space taken up by my own ambition. It's taken years to convince myself that my success has nothing to do with lucky breaks and everything to do with relentless hustle. As I continue to grow my portfolio, I am grateful for those who have granted me the opportunity to explore my potential. I will do my best to make this a platform for creative exploration, open conversation, and welcomed criticism. At a time when the media is under the most scrutiny it has endured in decades, I aim to be an active and honest member of this digital information hyperspace. I will share my opinion, but I will also share objective truths. I will offer information I deem valuable, but I will never disguise my attempts at persuasion. Above a photographer, I am foremost a journalist. 

Welcome to f/8 Media.

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