I have the most amazing support system of fans (or as Justin and Mary would say, my tribe..they believe in me and would go to bat for me any day and I LOVE them so much!) and friends and family. I really do. Before becoming a wedding photographer, things were not easy and at times they were downright horrible, depressing and hard. So hard. I see people writing me how lucky I am that I get to do what I love and I AM SO LUCKY! I am! But also, I want others to know that this has been worked for like you wouldn’t believe . I’m not in my early 20’s like everyone guesses…I’m nearing 29 and I spent my early 20’s working ENDLESS JOBS, non-stop, four years without a car, having to drop out of college just to live. Let’s talk about before lucky.
When my parents dropped me off at ODU, I was butterflies-in-the-stomach in LOVE with the prospect of a new life, a fresh start, away from the high school drama (cause for some mistaken reason we think drama ENDS after high school, but now I know it stays the same) and a chance to start working on whatever I wanted to become, which I had no idea about at the time. All I knew was that I loved Art History and I wanted to study it but what would I have done with it? Something I’m sure, but I changed my major eventually to Sociology with an emphasis in Child Welfare because I wanted to “save children” and be a hero to them.
That never ended up happening. Within a semester of college, I had to get a job (with no car) just to afford basic expenses and food outside of when the dorms were closed because I had no money saved and my parents were having a hard time like they had been most of my life. So I walked from my dorm to “Pizza Inn” to work and to be told that because I was a woman, I would be paid minimum wage. Thanks Rana. Nevermind that I would step in and play the role of three different jobs there some nights and then walk home at 1 and 2 AM alone. Come time for summer break, I didn’t want to come home to Richmond. I stayed in a tiny apartment with a friend and roughed it to the point of us washing our clothes in the bathtub because laundromats were too expensive and hanging them on a clothesline as best we could without clothespins. I have to be honest though, those were some of the best nights of my life. I remember one night in particular swimming in the Oceanography pond (GROSS I KNOW) on ODU campus with some of our friends on the wrestling team. Seriously, it was nights like that in my early 20’s that I felt the definition of young, wild and free 🙂
That probably marked the last best summer of my life until I met Mikey. I had to drop out of school, get ANOTHER job that paid more but in order to do that, I had to ride the bus, the Hampton Roads Transit, to work 5 days a week. I waited tables for FOUR years at Max and Erma’s at MacArthur Mall, a thankless job that only had me surviving because of the amazing coworkers I had there. 85% of the people who ate there tipped horribly and were just passing through the mall. The worst? Dillards employees. Oh man, they put us through hell. Also, the man that used to sneak in and steal cash tips off of tables. The regulars (some were great, some not) that demanded everyone remember their order. Making sure we got the seeds out of their lemon slices for them. The 2308203 managers that came through including one that was an ex-Marine who made us do pushups and jumping jacks before our shift. The Christmas rush was great for money but depressing when it came to working your holidays away. If you haven’t waited tables before you really, really, really, really shouldn’t jump to conclusions about how easy you think it is. It’s emotionally and physically draining and it can definitely break a person’s spirit, so YES– you SHOULD tip 20%. I will not even get into that one today.
Let’s go back to the bus for one second. I’ve been robbed on the bus, found a deceased man at the bus stop and had to RUN after being chased on the way to work. Stand in the rain, ice, snow. Walk half a mile to my house every day after being on my feet. Look at all of the things you take for granted having a car today, imagine getting on that bus one day.
I went to Everest Institute while I was working at Max & Erma’s and got my medical billing degree. That was another $15,000 in student debt but I felt desperate to get out of the restaurant industry and thought well, medical billing can’t be so bad. And it wasn’t! It really wasn’t. In fact, I think it was my boss Arlene who shaped the business woman I am today. I remember coming into her office crying over my brother who was doing drugs, again, and she completely set me straight and told me about her struggles and how she became the strong, independent business woman. She was like an older sister figure I never had to look up to and she really altered my perspective of the kind of woman I could end up being. But then, I ended up leaving there because I had the opportunity to work for PETA and again, there goes me wanting to save the world. All I’m going to say about that job is that it was QUITE an experience. QUITE. Lol.
From there, it was Bubba’s on Shore Drive..and here’s where I think I started making the move towards dreaming bigger. The Lesner Inn is beside Bubba’s..like as in, they’re attached. This was the summer I was getting married so every Friday, Saturday and Sunday I would watch weddings take place on the top and bottom decks of the Lesner Inn and CRY. Cry so badly because I love weddings and because mine was approaching. I remember watching those and thinking I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I had been interested in photography since Mikey and I got together but never acted on it thinking it was too far of a dream away. It took me years to commit. So that Spring of 2010 I got my first camera and began slowly reading the manual, studying, wanting to understand it. And from there– you know how the story goes 🙂
So I am NOT discounting that I am lucky. I know I am. And when people say I am lucky I agree! I know I am. But the only thing that hurts my feelings is when someone writes “you’re so lucky you can afford that” or something that relates luckiness to acquiring something through working hard and investing.
“What is the best editing program to use?”
“Lightroom definitely! I love it”
“Well I just can’t afford that right now so it’s out of the question.”
Okay, so wait on it. Don’t go out to eat or shop for a couple months, cut costs and save up. Get a white envelope and write LIGHTROOM on it and everytime you don’t go out to eat, put half of the cash that you would have spent on your food in the envelope.
“What’s your favorite lens?”
“I love the 50mm 1.2, it’s so clean!”
“Yeah that’s too expensive.”
There is a lack of respect for the craft in comments like this, expecting stellar results from cheap materials. Okay…so WAIT. Save up. Everyone is SO about instant gratification and if you truly loved photography and wanted to do things the best way for yourself and for your business, you would respect the wait.
I used to feel outnumbered by my peers and discouraged that I wasn’t sent to college with a new car, coach purse and designer jeans. That I wasn’t attending classes and going out to eat, shopping and hitting the bars with my parent’s money. But it was riding the scary public bus, working thankless jobs and barely getting by that made me the photographer and businesswoman I am today. I never take ONE second for granted and I never will.
Pictures from so long ago:
One of our hundred beach dates 🙂
A laundromat is a luxury after washing your clothes in a bath tub! Note, there was a shooting the month after this was taken at this location on Little Creek Road. Ward’s Corner is NOT the place to live!
There we are! Go Everest!!!!!!! 🙂 And the girl that stole my money wasn’t allowed in the picture 🙂