Yes, that title is correct, I officially made the WPJA’s list as being #52 in the Top Wedding Photojournalists in the WORLD! Not only that, but I placed #18 in the United States! AHHHHHH! So. Damn. Cool.
I’m kinda emotional writing about this just because this hasn’t always been the easiest road – but honestly, like all of the other wonderful things in my life, the things I have fought the hardest for have been the most gratifying parts of my life.
My life hasn’t been overly difficult but all of the major milestones were a lot of work to achieve. And while I won’t bore you and get into all of them, I want to share some because I feel like too many of the hard things in life aren’t talked about publicly and I’m making it a goal to show that along with the highlights of life, there are definitely lowlights.
Screw this idea of curated perfection – we all struggle and there is nothing wrong with sharing that.
A big one for me was college. College was funded entirely by me and after being a turd in high school whose grades were juuuust scraping by in everything except English, Photography, Journalism and Art because I was a kid who didn’t care about the rest, it was something I had to fight to get into once I finally buckled down and realized its importance to me.
After a lot of hard work, I ended up graduating in the top 6% of my class and I did it Summa Cum Laude as well as having Presidential Honors…. and this was after I was told by a guidance counselor at one college that I should probably give up on college because I was never going to graduate from a good four-year school.
Yeah. Re-read that last sentence. A friggin’ guidance counselor told me that.
And this was at a time when I was making good grades in college but was having to overcome past schooling mistakes and I was having to go part-time because I had to also work full time. To him, graduating was a ridiculous idea for me to consider.
But proving him wrong became my fire – even though he never knew that was the case. I’m sure he forgot about me quickly after those stinging words in his office, but he was my drive to do it better than he ever could have imagined. And so I did.
And while I always had all the love and emotional support of my family in life, they didn’t have the finances that I could fall back on if I failed. Everything from when I moved out of my parent’s house at 18 had to be funded without their help. From apartments to cars to school to moving to food to vet visits with a sick cat to whatever – it was on me. And that too gave me so much strength.
There were checks I knowingly bounced to buy just the necessities so I could have some sort of semblance of dinner that night. There were struggles with health that I faced and fought through a few times in my life. There were times when I was stretching expensive medicine so I could still afford living expenses (I don’t recommend doing this by ANY means – but sadly due to our health system, it’s something a lot of us do) and I had to push through because there just wasn’t any other option.
I scraped, pulled, stretched, fought, and did whatever I could to make it through. It wasn’t easy, but every instance gave me so much strength.
And reaching this goal of Top 100 Wedding Photojournalist in the World from the WPJA is so damn beautiful to me because I fought like hell to get here too. I worked day and night, became my own publicist/marketer/accountant/business manager/whatever and I learned and learned and learned. I built everything from the ground up and funded cameras and lenses and flashes and gear with my hard earned money. I did it the right way like paying for business insurance and paying my taxes and I did it while I worked my ass off doing jobs I hated just so I could have this dream.
And I did it when people told me I couldn’t.
There was a time when a prominent photographer basically told me my work sucked – and not in a nice constructive way – it was definitely in a mean and purposefully hurtful way. The way it came about was this person offered to tell me and a friend about their experience working on a project we were interested in so we offered to buy them dinner as a thank you.
Over this short meal, this person felt – for whatever reason – it would be fitting to do and say a few things that were demeaning and not at all needed – especially under the context of our meeting.
I was newer to my business at the time and I always know there is room to grow – because anyone would be bonkers to think otherwise – so my work is certainly better than it was back then but I didn’t ask for an opinion on my work from this person and if even if I had, the way it was relayed to me was totally uncalled for.
And like I said, I can ALWAYS get better (in fact, as a rule I set aside business funds to go to workshops, conferences, classes every year because I know it will make me better as a photographer and, in turn, better for my clients), but I can tell you for a fact that I wasn’t the pile of turds this person wanted me to believe I was :)
So even though this was years and years ago and they too probably long forgot this conversation – they became my fire to get better and to prove them so very wrong.
And winning this designation, winning the awards I’ve gathered from prestigious organizations, and being published in magazines has made me so damn proud because it means that all of my investments in my gear, my continuing education in photography, and my pure excitement for what I do has been reflected back to me by an industry that’s full of some amazingly talented people.
To be on a list that has heroes of mine listed alongside me? PRICELESS.
So to anyone else out there that has been told you can’t do something or that you just aren’t good enough – ignore them. If you really want it and are willing to put in the work to make it happen, don’t let anyone stop you.
You can do so very much – more than you ever imagined – and you can do it incredibly. Don’t ever let the world stifle you and your dreams – because it will try – you have to work past it and push through to the next step. Do all the things you need to do along the way and don’t feel discouraged that it’s harder than you initially anticipated. Cry it out to a friend or family member you trust. Hike to the middle of nowhere and scream at the top of your lungs. Feel defeated. Question if this is the right thing to do. Take breaks from the fight and then when you’re feeling stronger, get right back to it. Get frustrated. Get mad. Get tired in every cell of your body….but just don’t give up.
It may take longer than others or the road to get there may be filled with people trying to sabotage your goals or giant cliffs you have to climb may appear in your way – but if you really want it, I do believe it can be yours.
Let the naysayers be the gasoline fueling your fire and not the water dousing your flames.
Keep your head up, fight for what you’re passionate about, and move mountains to make it happen.
I believe in you.