I think one of the scariest things is starting. You don’t know where to start. You don’t know how to start. You see everyone around you with fancy cameras and all this knowledge and you feel inadequate. It’s the worst feeling in the world but the reality is…everyone starts somewhere. In the beginning, the learning curve can seem impossible. The amount of information that you have to obtain and process can be completely overwhelming. For me, I found it so helpful and inspiring to listen to other people’s stories. Stories of how other photographers started out. How they learned and overcame obstacles. So today I thought I would start a little series about how I got started. Starting with Day 1.
I was not one of those people who picked up a camera when I was four and knew this was my calling. When I was four I was hanging out with Barbie and Ken and channeling my inner Punky Brewster. In fact, most of my adolescence I was dead set on going to business school and becoming some big time advertising executive. Exciting huh? The closest I got to owning a camera back then were those disposable cameras from Walmart. I went through a lot of those bad boys.
When it came time to decide on college, I had talked myself into Boston. I didn’t know where in Boston…but I knew that’s where I wanted to get my college education. I had no clue what I was going to major in…but I knew where I was going to do it. After a bit of a roller coaster ride I decided on Northeastern University. So in September of 2004, my undecided major and I headed out to Boston. You know how people always say you have to make mistakes to learn from them. As soon as I got to Northeastern I just had this feeling. This gut feeling that it was wrong. I had begged my parents to send me to this school. I had moved everything out there. I was paying a disgusting amount of money to be there and I hated it. So in December of 2004 I left. At the time I felt like a failure. This was everything I thought I wanted and I quit on it. It was such a horrible feeling.
Even though I had quit on Boston I wasn’t quitting on school. I knew I wanted to be close to home but far enough away to feel independent. After all, I was 18 and independence was so in. A good friend of mine had been looking into this school in Chicago. Columbia College. I had never heard of it but he seemed to think it was the cat’s meow. So in my search for what to do next…I checked out their website. I stumbled upon a video that changed everything. The president of the college said this:
“There’s one thing that characterizes Columbia students. You don’t select a career because you should. Your mom and dad didn’t say ‘I want you to be a rock star.’ You choose your major because you have to.”
I immediately knew this was where I needed to be. I wish I could say I knew photography was my passion all my life…but I didn’t. I was always artsy. My visual aids in middle school were out of control. But photography…as a career…never entered my mind. Until I saw that video. I knew I wanted to spend my life being creative. Doing something that made me truly happy. So I decided to see if photography could be that thing.
My mom gave me my brother’s film camera from high school. With a broken light meter…which I had no clue about at the time. Mostly because I didn’t even know what a light meter was. I moved up to Chicago and in February of 2005 walked into the first photo class of the rest of my life. Photo 1. I was sitting in a room with all these people who just oozed creativity. They had their high school photography portfolios sitting underneath their trendy notebooks. Ummm…what? I was rocking out the show tunes in Showchoir in high school…not creating portfolios! I’m not exactly sure how people can look creative…but these people looked it. I was terrified. Everyone had their fancy camera bags and portfolio cases. Even their pens were cool. I had my broken Minolta and a roll of film. Also…let me mention…I had NO clue how to even load this roll of film. I mean…the entire back of my camera came off and I was just supposed to know where to put the film. Talk about stress. The professor walked in…introduced himself…and asked everyone to load their film before we got started.
I. Wanted. To. Die.
I turned to the girl next to me. She had this cool, alternative look to her. Her ears were pierced in like ten different places and had those things in them that make the holes stretch out. Her clothes were edgy but still cute enough that I secretly wished I was her. She was way cooler than I was…but I was desperate. I turned to her and quietly asked her if she would help me load my film. I’m not even sure how she heard me I was speaking so softly. I couldn’t possibly let anyone else in the class know how lame I was. I was waiting for an eye roll or extra loud sigh. Or even worse, her to let someone else know I was an idiot. But she didn’t do any of those things. She simply showed me how to load my film. Step by step. That was my first lesson in photo school. Not only how to load my film…but that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That edgy, pierced up girl not only saved me on my first day of school…but became my best friend. Who would have thought?
And that very roll of film is sitting happily on my desk…to this day…reminding me of the beginning.
I’ll stop there for now. Sorry this post was insanely long. I got a little carried away with my trip down memory lane. Part two coming soon. Until then…