Many moons ago, when I was in 10th grade, I got my very first solo in our chorus concert. I had stumbled upon Sarah McLachlan’s song, “Angel,” and I sang that song until my parents probably wished Ursula would come and take my whole voice. If you know me, you see the irony in all of that now.
Years later, I was singing an acoustic version of “Zombie” by The Cranberries in a small bar in Remerton, GA…wearing my black tank top that read “Angels Exist” on the front, with silver angel wings printed on the back. Boy, did I love that shirt. Probably to the point that my friends wished it would be eaten by the dryer and end up wherever those elusive socks go to die.
Long story short, when I love something, I hold onto it for a very long time.
My goals and creative ideas aren’t any different than a bracelet I become attached to and decide to wear constantly. Once they cross my mind, I let them stay as long as it takes to make them happen. That’s something I didn’t fully realize until the last few years. I’m happy to notice it, though. Now, every time it happens, I just smile and hope that that part of my personality outweighs all the weird. If not, I guess maybe at least I’m not boring?
Many of you know the story of me meeting Michael back in 2019, but I’m not sure just how much of the story I have shared, and now that we had ourselves a beautiful full circle moment, it’s time to talk about him again.
I almost feel like Sophia from the Golden Girls here, but bear with me.
Picture it, probably April of 2019. I had NEVER shot dance before. EVER. I also cannot dance. So, yeah, out of the whole loop.
Well, I had just had my DREAM become a reality by getting the key to my very first studio space. Lots of tears were shed for that girl who always dreamed that would happen one day. I felt I’d finally done her justice.
What I didn’t know, was that I was about to meet people in that dance studio who would take what I was already so grateful for and turn it into something even I couldn’t have dreamed up.
On this day, I was going to be doing my first dance shoot. Whew. I was nervous, I was lost, but sweet Carolyn just ran with it and said it was going to be amazing.
We hadn’t planned anything except grabbing her daughter, and Michael…both phenomenal dancers.
I had the marley flooring and a black paper roll. I remember it all like it was yesterday. I lit them however I thought could work and we just ran with it. It turned out to be so much fun and I loved the images!
From that day, I knew I’d found my newest challenge. I realized very quickly that I could easily fall in love with shooting dance because it’s all about timing. It reminded me SO much of shooting live concerts. You watch magic happening through your camera lens and it’s such a precise thing that you have to sync your breath with your subject’s and anticipate their every move to know just when you should push the shutter button.
So, I got to work. I knew that paper was too dangerous for them to jump on, and they knew the flooring wasn’t up to par with what I was invisioning.
That spring break, while the studio was closed, a dear friend of mine came to my rescue and we hand painted a 20’x20′ canvas backdrop and Carolyn’s amazing husband hung it up for us.
The day I got to watch that backdrop go up was also the first day I knew I was officially at my new work HOME. There were so many high school and college kids who came to do this giant shoot with us to try out this new backdrop. It was the most magical thing! There was music and laughter and we just all meshed so well!
Fast forward to 2020…
All of us were put on hold.
Everything those kids had worked for was balancing in the air and they had no idea which way it would go. They knew there may be a chance that their dreams of being on Broadway or going to a specific school for dance might never happen.
I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to take another photograph.
Just like that, we all had the rug snatched out from under us.
But we all had each other.
There were lots of texts and calls and eventually (thankfully) coffee dates. I was so inspired by these dancers…these relentless dreamers. They reminded me that just because things may seem bleak, it doesn’t mean they become impossible.
I watched them start practicing at the studio since their schools were closed. I watched them start doing shows with the studio to keep themselves going and motivated.
Most of all, I saw bravery and kindness and encouragement.
On December 30, 2020, we did one last sort of big shoot to end out that insane year. I will never forget Michael walking in as I was doing the last minute things while setting up.
He just walked up to me and told me how much he appreciated not only my work…but me. He told me my work should be seen and I should get recognition for it. Well, I’ve never been much on awards because it has always meant more to me that the people in the photos love them than the fact that strangers liked my composition or lighting. I care deeply about the connection between myself and the subject.
However, by the end of January of 2021, I’d just went through losing my nephew at the age of 21. I was devastated and trying to work through that heaviness and unfairness. He was an amazing soul, full to the brim with creativity.
Since my photography conference I normally attend each year had to be virtual, I decided to sign up for a pre-con class. I normally didn’t get to do that because I couldn’t be out of town for any longer than just for the conference.
The class I chose was all about film. Even though I started my career with film, I thought it would be a fun class anyway, and it was great! Well, I didn’t realize it was a class where the attendees had their cameras on. Yeah, I had pjs on and my hair was in a bun. It was not happening. So, there I was, the only attendee with a black screen with my name on it where my live video should have been.
The next day, I’d signed up for my very first critique for their International Print Competition. You were given 15 minutes with a mentor to help you go through four photos of your choice to see where you stood and what you may be able to improve.
Ha! To my surprise, I got the teacher from my class the previous day! Pete! Since he obviously never saw pj and messy hair me, I had to fill him in on what happened. We had a good laugh and then we looked over my photos.
Michael’s photos were my first choice for this, since he was the one who convinced me to put my work out there. Well, after that, Pete became my mentor for that year’s competition…and I actually had three out of four of my photos make it…and Michael’s photo actually made it into their Showcase book! I had no idea how to feel about any of that because I have watched countless photographers go before me with stunning work. I never believed I would make it to that level!
And I would have never tried without Michael’s kind words of encouragement.
As you all know, the last two years knocked me all the way off my feet–just as I was getting back up from the wrath of 2020…
I decided that was just not how I was going out. So, again, with the help of so many amazing people, I painted a new backdrop, got my new lights I’d needed in order to properly shoot dance, got the new lens I’d dreamed about for the last TEN years, and then…I got the angel wings I’d dreamed about at the conference last year.
When I tell you that conference sets the creative tone and the drive for the year, it is everything! I am devastated that I can’t go later this month, but I also decided to continue on regardless.
Michael was in town for the holidays, so we had coffee to catch up on all the craziness of life since we last saw each other and to plan another shoot…and later, I realized it was on December 30th!
A dream I had a YEAR ago, came to fruition! I got to photograph Michael, on my new backdrop, with those angel wings!!!
It was so hard for me to pick my favorites, so there are quite a few here:
I will never not be in complete awe of his talent or his heart! I’m proud to call him my friend, and he reminded me that even when everything seems lost…angels still exist.