On a very rare day I will shoot a commissioned portrait for someone. I am quite a shy gal and get very nervous with interactions so I usually cuddle my kitties and call it a day. I am going to put myself out there to do this more frequently this year. It is something that I have found to be very rewarding when it does come up.
I’m sure that many of you can relate to being nervous with: social interactions, client work, needing to please someone beyond yourself. My number one achilles heal is the fear of letting someone down, so you can imagine my anxiety around this type of situation. I believe it is good to feel some of that fear from time to time and to learn how to overcome it. Or at the very least, to deal with it better.
Every time I do, I come away with an experience that I treasure. That was particularly so with this photo shoot.
Adrienne contacted me with the sweetest email (it is going to be really hard not to say “sweet” over and over in this post) asking if I would photograph her. She had been through a tough time with the death of her parents and she had a story she wanted to tell. After a series of probing questions I discovered she feels most at home in the forest, that she loves blue and cream tones, and that a metaphor she identifies with is searching for the light, or being the light. It was a perfect jumping-off point to begin creating image ideas.
She had the tree roots image all thought up so I played on that idea and helped it come to life. I had three images planned for her, but got caught up in the moment (I feel like I am in a constant state of “caught-up-in-the-moment”) and we created six images together. She was so open to playing and experimenting and fully trusted my process. We spent hours together that day, talking and creating and talking some more.
While she was changing in a bathroom near our shooting spot I struck up a conversation with a woman who was also in the area. It turned out that she was also grieving and that was why she was visiting. What a coincidence! And further, she was an underwater photographer. The next day we met up with her and had tea at my favorite spot and talked for a long while before I had to leave.
These are Adrienne’s images. She is one of the most genuinely kind-hearted people I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with and I’m honored to share her images with you, with her blessing.
Thank you Adrienne for your kindness and willingness to explore.
I’ll be looking forward to the charity you are setting up and to seeing more of your art, life, and soul in the future!
I’m in the midst of creating a new video series, so while I process those thoughts and do some shooting for it, I thought I would share this little speed edit video! I recorded my editing process on a whim last week. It was a fun one to edit, and if you look closely you can see a couple of instances where I tried something and doubled back when it didn’t work. I love exploring through editing; trying one piece here or there and moving it around until it fits. That is the greatest thing about compositing – being able to explore visually while trying to create your most authentic vision.
Music: “Halation” by Evolv, licensed from SongFreedom
Since I didn’t shoot this underwater (I have yet to master the underwater self-portrait), it didn’t quite matter where I shot it so I opted for my usual blank wall outside. The natural light emulated the natural conditions in the world of the image, and the coloring was neutral enough that I could blend with it.
There are always many layers to think about with a composite like this. The most important one right away is making sure the focal points match as well as the lighting. Both of those things can be shifted slightly, which I did do in this edit, but for the most part they matched. Another consideration is color and making sure everything looks like it was in the same world.
The main tools I used in this edit were the background eraser tool, replace color, and toggling of blending modes. This video is about 2 hours of editing sped up to a couple of minutes, with roughly another 45 minutes that I cut out totally. All in all, it was about a 3 hour edit. I hope you enjoy!
“Let It Go”
Is there a part of my process you would like to see featured in a video? Just let me know!
If you want to learn some of these techniques in person, plus a whole lot more, take a look at my upcoming events!
Let’s get really honest really fast here. I consider myself a good business person. I make decisions swiftly and effectively most of the time. I have strong ideas with a lot of follow through. But the reality is that being a good business person isn’t all about gavel banging and big ideas; that is just the fun stuff. I’m good at the fun stuff. I can take pictures for days, post on social media endlessly, find topics to write about on my blog, etc. etc. etc…
But that isn’t the GRIT that it takes to run a successful business.
Let’s define successful business. I don’t just mean a “working” business, or a “bringing in money” business, or a “getting by” business. I mean a business that runs smoothly, is profitable in the ways that it wants to be, and treats clients in the most respectful way possible.
I started my business when I was 22 years old, and was 21 when I started laying the groundwork for it. I was very naive. I had no experience in running a business or in business at all. I never even bothered to take a class in college despite having that available to me (Oh what I would do differently now!). I would say that I entered into my business selfishly. Not in every way, but in some ways that ended up being really detrimental to my work. The number one way I messed up from the get-go is thinking that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. Let me explain.
My stubbornness in wanting to do only what pleased me was really good in some ways. It allowed me to focus like a lightning rod on the tasks that brought me joy. That proved to be helpful in starting a very specific business that eventually grew in only those aspects. I wouldn’t do that differently at all. I would never go back and accept odd jobs or different types of photography sessions because that was not my passion and therefore not my pursuit.
What took me six or seven years to learn was how to separate what I want from what my clients deserve. A business requires two types of respect: respect for your clients and respect for yourself. I had respect for myself, enough to only do what I loved. I lacked in respect for clients. I did what they asked for the most part, but I did it in my own time. I lacked respect for other people’s time, and in doing so, didn’t respect my own time.
For years and years I told myself that I simply got too many emails to deal with it. I wouldn’t respond to people, or I would take months to get back with people. It cost me money in jobs, but far more importantly, it cost me relationships. My attitude was that I was above it all – that I could respond whenever it suited me and I rarely thought about that person waiting. (Well, I might be exaggerating at how bad I was, but still, it wasn’t good!). I decided at some point that I wanted to change my behavior so I hired an assistant. She helped a lot and I was able to mostly stay on top of my work. It was a wonderful 2 1/2 years. And then that ended, and in October I found myself alone again working as a business of one.
Come December 1st I knew I wanted to make a change, and I didn’t want to go back to my old ways of being unreliable. I liked the feeling of being in control of every aspect of my business. In that way it felt the same as doing self-portraits. I love being in full control, so why not in business as well as creativity?
On December 1st I reformed. I became a totally new business person. I made these significant changes:
Email Labels. I have had email labels for a long time, but I really got to using them properly. I made two folders, one called “Fresh Greetings” and another called “Pending”. Every time I would receive an email I would put it in Fresh Greetings, and when I answered it, I took it out. When my Fresh Greetings folder was empty, I knew I had finished my emails. My Pending folder is for emails that couldn’t be responded to yet.
The 24 Hour Policy. I decided I would not let any emails go unanswered for more than 24 hours. I carved time out every single morning for 20-30 minutes to knock out my emails. I am a morning person, so I use my best energy on tasks that aren’t as much fun as taking pictures or writing, etc. So, my best 20 minutes are spent emailing. Further, as emails come in through the day, if I am conveniently at my desk and can answer, I do. I don’t let it linger. I used to think I would look too “uncool” if I started answering people immediately, but it is better for everyone.
I shifted my attitude. I used to see emails as annoying or time consuming. Now I see them as neither. I look upon the sender with genuine love and appreciation that they took the time to email me. I want to give them that same respect by sending my heartfelt thanks to their message, or to give clients the respect they deserve with a prompt reply.
From December until now I have completed a photo a day challenge, spent a full month traveling, and am selling my house. Busy, right? Even in that chaos, I haven’t gone more than 24 hours without responding to an email. Further, in January alone, I received 3 emails from clients thanking me for being so easy to work with – for making decisions quickly and for responding immediately.
I stopped the toxic behavior I was exhibiting. If there was a decision to be made, I used to put it off for weeks if I was unsure. Now, I make it immediately. I don’t wait and let it linger, I simply search my soul and say what I feel is best. Sometimes it means outright turning jobs down, or taking them, or telling people to hold off for a better time. Sometimes it involves answering interview questions right then and there, and other times I simply can’t at all. This new way of working has revolutionized my time.
The downside is the increased desire to check my phone and make sure my inbox is cleared, that all decisions are made etc. So, the next step in my business reform is to lock my phone up after a certain time of day until I wake up. Productivity should only be taken so far. How far? As far as you can take it to be on top of your work while not letting everything you do need a productive excuse. Read more about that idea in this incredible article.
And it isn’t just emails. It is everything. For example, I have a tax day on the first of each month. I organize and categorize my receipts. I backup my files once a week. I follow up with people by creating events on my calendar to remind me.
The big change I made was IMMEDIACY. I always thought that was crazy. I thought people who were on top of their emails didn’t have a personal life, or were addicted to their phones. That doesn’t have to be true. I spend most of my days without a phone in front of me. I try to be in the moment for whatever I am doing, truly committed. I have found that I have more freedom – with my time as well as in my mind. I no longer stress about getting back to people. I no longer worry about if I’ve missed a deadline. And while I do suffer from thinking even more about my work now that I’m on top of it, I know that I can change that as well and not let the immediacy of my business bleed into my personal time.
Yes, it could all crumble and I could slide back into my old ways. But so far, so good. I’m 4 months into working alone again and I have never had a more smooth running business.
Want more details or to share what works for you? Leave a comment!
I am arranging a small mentorship for anyone interested in this topic.
A totally-free, just-because-I-love-business, Skype session with about 10 or so people.
To turn YOUR business around and to help each other grow!
Want to join? Let me know below!
I’ll be turning 30 at the beginning of March, and I am excited the same that I am for every passing year. It is a celebration of still being alive. I never expect age to continue blessing me so each birthday is beautiful. For the first time in my life I feel like I am turning an age that I was meant to be. I always felt out of place as a teenager or “20-something”. I’ve never voluntarily gone to a party, never tasted alcohol, never disobeyed my parents (except for that one time, but it was for love!), never had a “wild side”, never wavered on my convictions, never felt a need to belong. I was born to be 30, or older, or oldest. I’m pretty sure 80 will be my sweet spot.
They say that your 20s are a time for exploration and your 30s are a time for settling down. I think I’ve always done both and will continue. I want to explore until my feet won’t move and my mind shuts down. Curiosity is the fuel of the human spirit.
Life is the grandest teacher, and I am a pupil who seeks to understand every gift. This is what I’ve gleaned.
30 Lessons From my 20s
1. Choose carefully those who surround you.
2. Being a good person is the best life and business advice, consistently.
3. Organization and respect are essential for business.
4. Sharing your authentic voice sets you apart.
5. Age is irrelevant.
6. Ask for help when you need it.
7. Never put deadlines on your dreams.
8. Seek to set yourself outside of the center of your universe.
9. Create as honestly, unapologetically, and powerfully as you can.
10. Find humility in your mistakes and pride in your successes.
11. Smile when you’re crying.
12. Jump in every cold body of water you see.
13. You don’t have to be naturally good at something to master it.
14. See small wins as massive successes.
15. Never treat anyone like they are less important than someone else.
16. You are never only one thing.
17. Feed your inspiration or it will die.
18. All of the things you wanted to do will fall away unless you actively pursue them.
19. When you hug people, hug them so genuinely that you pass your joy to them.
20. It doesn’t matter how great or weak you think you are, we are all equals.
21. We all have a gift to give.
22. The more you go your own way, the more you’ll inspire others to do the same.
23. If you believe in something, speak your truth.
24. Never put yourself above learning new things.
25. Stop glorifying being busy, it is not attractive.
26. If something is important to someone else, it is important.
27. You can never fully know someone else’s situation, so act with compassion.
28. If someone doesn’t like what you create, create more of it and know that your tribe is out there.
29. Just because you aren’t good at some things doesn’t mean you’ll never be good at anything.
30. Begin, or begin again.
Which do you connect with or what would you add?
As I’m sitting as my desk writing this, I keep pausing to think about the most important moments in the last decade. I remember times when there were awards or prestigious shows or accolades, but they are not the moments that bring me joy or that get me lost in the memories. These are the times that stand out….
Running through a corn maze with my family who all complained about going, but I made sure to infect them with my joy. By the end we were all laughing.
Being pushed down the street in the dark in a shopping cart when I accidentally went miles away on a photo shoot with my friends and only after they left realized I had the car keys but no car. My husband started walking toward me and I toward him and we met in the middle where we packed all of my stuff, myself included, into a discarded shopping cart and he wheeled me all the way home.
Realizing that the people I’ve looked up to my whole life are fallible and human, and the mess of emotions that come with that realization.
Sleeping in my car at the beach overlooking the Pacific ocean the first night I drove out to Los Angeles to live. Our apartment was in such a scary neighborhood and it was half the size we were expecting (only one room) and had cockroaches all over the place, so we drove until I couldn’t stay awake and fell asleep looking at the ocean.
Creating a self-portrait while standing waist deep in the glacier lagoon in Iceland.
Writing my first novel.
Creating portraits with my sister on a beach in Australia.
Using my hair to express myself.
Countless strange things for photo shoots.
Teaching self-expression to survivors of human trafficking and starting a photo school in India.
…Memories I hope I will never forget.
If I had to sum up my 20s in a few words, I would say:
Embracing my weirdness Cultivating community Becoming a leader Finding my compassion Being an unwavering optimist.
I feel like I lived so much. Since I was 20 years old I…
Married my best friend Started taking photos Started a photo business Wrote 3 photo books and a novel Taught workshops all over the world Gave motivational speeches to huge crowds Visited 18 countries Bought my first house
Exhibited my art Started my own convention
Met the cast of Doctor Who…
…and so much more. This life is a beautiful one – not without hardship, but I did mention my unwavering optimism? The bad stuff has no place in this blog post. If I could go back and tell my 20-year-old self what lies ahead, I wouldn’t dare. “Spoilers”. It was an incredible decade.
What lies ahead? For me a sign that I am doing what I love is wishing the future will hold more of what I’m already doing. I hope for more travel, more intimate time with my family (this year I’m traveling to Brazil with my dad and the UK with my mom, sister and aunt), more photo opportunities and platforms to express myself, more community…
But I also have big dreams.
To publish my novel. To make a documentary. To create a more personal art series.
To be a represented motivational speaker.
To write more poetry.
To expand my charity.
To know myself.
I vow to always, always be open to becoming whomever I feel I should be, even if that person doesn’t align with who I thought I would be.
On to the unknowable, incredible future,
where though heartache waits
in the echo-chamber that I dare not dwell,
so too, and more so, the piano plays my sweet dark song
that beckons me on through the mysteries.
“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
– Walt Whitman
I waited 14 months to share my “Fourth Wall” series with you, and longer if you count the time conceiving of it. It was difficult for me. Up until this point in my career I have released every image I’ve created instantly. “Instantly” isn’t the right word, but I never had anything holding me back. I would wait a day or two, or maybe a week, and then share what I had made. It felt natural to create and share because that is the reward system that social media has put in place. I create something and then I share it, naturally, for feedback. The more positive the feedback, the more we want to share, and more frequently.
Therefore it was a step in a totally new direction for me to create without sharing. And it felt amazing. There were images I wasn’t so sure of and was happy to keep them to myself, and other images that proved to be a true lesson in self-control.
May I interject here and say that I am proud of the work I created. I wish more people would come out and say that they are proud of themselves. We should love the work we do. We should be proud of the work we do. If we aren’t, how can we expect anyone else to be? During all of 2016 when I was creating Fourth Wall, I wanted to share because I was proud of what I was doing and you are my community. It felt great though to let that part of me slip away. To acknowledge my happiness within the work I was doing and to let that be enough.
I found that the longer I waited the more I could go back and tweak them – and sometimes overhaul them. I would re-shoot an image if I knew I could do better, and time – months – gave me that gift of understanding. I started to realize the layers that I wanted to go into each piece and I was able to digest that and then create it. Time is such an arbitrary thing. We push and press ourselves into the future so quickly that we forget to see the present. We set deadlines for ourselves that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life and if we don’t meet them, we believe we have failed. It is a terrible thing that we do to our creativity when we put a timestamp on it. Letting these images breath was like giving them life.
It took me a whole year of creating to fully understand why I wanted to create this series. There were three main reasons.
One was for a new creative direction. I had never built anything before and had always failed when trying, and I needed to know that I could do it.
Another was to go in a different business direction to attract a New York City gallery.
And the third was powered by my love of theme and a desire to portray ideas that we keep hidden yet all connect with.
Those three motivations made for a great way to actually get me to create. I have had a photo business for seven years now, and this is the first time where I have followed through in creating a series that I would package and sell as such. It was a really interesting direction to go in and one that I enjoyed immensely.
One of the most common comments I got on the series was “Why didn’t you just Photoshop it?”. For the key image, I did. It was a financial necessity for me. However, the rest were done in camera as much as possible. There was certainly still post processing on all of them, but not to the extent I had done in my previous work. The reason is simple. I wanted to be there, in that space, spending time with the idea as much as the material that created the idea. I wanted to spend hours upon hours gluing yarn to the floor. I wanted to feel what it felt like to really be trapped in a flooded room. It was important to me to be there.
That made the series ephemeral as well. The sets I was creating were temporary and would not be duplicated. Each image has a timeless quality to it that I associate with building something in the space, physically.
The big reason why I laid off of Photoshop and did the series at all is: CHANGE.
It is so easy to forget that change is part of the human experience. What we will all do, inevitably, is change or perish. I would rather change willingly instead of by surprise. I want to be in control of my creativity, my self. I want to explore my depths, knowing that they are infinitely long and I will never reach the bottom. I want to go as deep as I can while I still breathe on this Earth.
Is that not the true soul of an artist? To desire to work. To never be finished. To seek to know oneself intimately so that we may create meaningfully? That is my why. Do you echo that?
At the end of the creating process, and while I was preparing for the gallery debut, I decided to submit to some awards. I am not the type that does this usually but I wanted to prove to myself that I was proud of the work I did, so I submitted. To my astonishment the series has placed in a couple of those awards so far. It recently got 2nd place in the International Photographer of the Year awards for Fine Art: Conceptual. It got 1st place at the ND Awards for Fine Art Series and won the grand prize in those awards as well.
I don’t share that to brag. If you know me you know I’d rather fall into a flaming pit of hot lava (a totally normal scenario) than believe that what I do is “better” or “more deserving” than another persons. I tell you this so that you believe in yourself. Learn from my journey. Belief in yourself shouldn’t be waited for. It is here for the taking no matter if you’ve never won an award. It is here if you feel so far behind everyone else. It is here if you feel that you’ll never create your best work.
I called my mom a few days ago to tell her that the series had placed in these awards, and she said something to me that I had been thinking: If only I had known earlier. She said that if only I had known in high school that I would succeed in something.
She said it so lovingly, though it might sound weird to you. I grew up loving to write and, I felt, being fairly good at it. But when it came to things that all the other kids my age were doing, I just couldn’t compete no matter how hard I tried. And trust me, I tried harder than everyone I knew. My grades were below average, I consistently made the “B” soccer team, and I had a hard time with most new things I tried. Nothing ever came easily. I am so glad for that. It taught me that talent or not, we can build our dreams if we choose to work at them. It might take countless tries and a lot of years and heart-tugging failures. It might mean that we have to continuously re-define what is important and how we will see a desire through. Eventually though, we make it. “It” may not be the place you always thought it would be. “It”, that elusive “successful place” that we all so desire, is nothing more than a mindset.
It is taking pride in what we do. It is not the awards we win or the circus that is social media telling us that we should love what we do. It is a genuine and irreplaceable bliss that we feel so fully when we engage in something that shares our soul with the world. What a beautiful “it” to find.
There were many images that I ended up not using in the final series. Here are a couple of them that I never quite finished, but simply knew that they didn’t belong. In the past I never had to curate my work. I simply released it and put it in galleries when asked and it was simple. But for this series I wanted to be absolutely certain that the images in the show truly reflected my intention in every aspect – visually, conceptually, and how it was created as well. I debated with these images extensively. The cobweb photo was my husband’s favorite. But I knew instinctively that it wouldn’t make the cut. We simply wrestled too long together.
Other images that I created but didn’t make it in…
I wanted one to look like a girl was frozen underwater. This is a picture I have wanted to create for a very long time. I bought a giant piece of plexiglass and cracked it, and then put my model underneath. It was difficult to stop getting glare while having enough light, and in the end it wasn’t the right time.
For another I put hundreds of pounds of dirt on the floor and planted flours. I thought it was going to be great. It turned out that I couldn’t quite get enough flowers in there to look vibrant enough and the dirt looked too much like mulch. By the time I had realized my errors the passion for the image was gone and I never reshot it.
One of the most difficult things about scrapping an image is the loss of money and time. It might sound arbitrary, but I don’t have a lot of money to spend on creative endeavors. In fact, I have spent the first many years of my career creating with no budget. It was hard to let something go that cost me so much, but in the end it wouldn’t have been true to my purpose if I had kept them in.
I have published over 700 pictures in the eight years I have been shooting. These nine images rank above my favorite for so many reasons, not least of which being the effort and the love in each one. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at creating some of the images from the series. It was a wild and beautiful ride.
Thank you for your support and encouragement, and for your ever evolving kindness that gives me the courage to create something new despite previously earned acceptance. It is a freeing thing, to be able to create anew without fear of rejection. Though it will come, and does, there is solidarity in our community.
If you are interested in obtaining a print from this collection, please email the JoAnne Artman Gallery for details.
42×42 inches, Edition of 2
8×8 inches, Edition of 3
Printed on Elegance Velvet Fine Art Paper, archival certified, signed with certificate of authenticity.