I’ve known about photography workshops for at least the past year. I’ve been planning on attending the WPPI trade show and photographic conference in Las Vegas next year, a one-fell-swoop sort of idea, but I’ve since changed my mind, opting instead to invest in private workshops. One-on-one time (or at the very most 20 to one) with a photographer whose work inspires me. Moves me. Makes my eyes water and my soul ache. Jasmine Star and the Parsons top my list. Then I saw that Clayton Austin is offering up a one day workshop in January. In Austin. (The place I literally just moved away from? Yes, that Austin.) In lieu of registration and a hefty sum of money, Clayton has asked would be participants to send him an email sharing their story along with one image that best describes who they are. He also asked us to share what we’d like to take away from the workshop. What we hope to gain.
The moment I saw his offer, I was in. I had zero idea what I would say; the words a scrambled jumbled mess in my brain. And I’m to send one solitary photo? Just one? How am I going to pick? What on earth could I show Clayton Austin that would inspire him? Likely, I couldn’t, I decided. Not with pictures. But perhaps, I could move him with words. So this afternoon, I put the proverbial pen to paper, and I entered to ‘win’ my place in his workshop.
is what I said:
For the entirety of my existence I’ve longed to be a writer–a teller of stories, a winder of words. I ache for the lyrical genius of the beat poets, the ability to weave a bit of despair in every page with enough poignancy to leave the reader aching with the faintest glimmer of hope. I long for the ability to weave words into magic, to pen pages of prose about a life that I have walked, ran, ached, cried, muddled, fumbled, danced, and laughed my way through.
But I haven’t the faintest idea as to where, precisely, I should begin. This presents a bit of a problem as most stories need a start. At least in my estimation.
I always see the beginning in the briefest of snippets. A set-up film, of sorts to where we are now: today. What is happening in this act. The beginning is just the Part One of Two, the teaser, the fluff that you must sit through to get to the good stuff. The great stuff. Right now.
I picked up a camera three years ago, a Nikon D60, to document my first daughter’s life. The in-betweens. The moments that most parents talk about missing; filling a bucket with sand, kissing frogs, staring up at airplanes that pass in the sky leaving white stains on cornflower blue. In her first year of life, my husband and I had brought her to studios. They posed her and set her in front of horribly painted backdrops with kitschy field scenes and tropical beaches painted on them. They upsold us “Timeless Treasures” collages and precious keepsake keychains, coffee mugs, and mousepads. They baited their hooks, cast the line. We were fish. We bit.
The aftertaste was unpleasant-it stuck in our mouths. We looked at the pictures of our daughter, hung in frames on our stairwell wall, then turned and looked at her; a perfect darling little girl banging the keys of a Fisher-Price piano. Those images, although professional, perfectly posed, composed, and exposed, didn’t show her. At all. They were portraits of a stoic baby girl with dark, deep eyes and down-turned mouth, gazing into some vacance. Her eyes devoid of any mischievousness, a hint of which was almost always present in her gaze. We were paying some level of professionals to capture an important time in her life, and we were completely missing the mark. We weren’t document anything other than the loss of a significant portion of our bank account.
We bought a camera. A kit DSLR with two lenses, and I carried it with me everywhere. The park, the zoo, the backyard. I captured my child gazing at airplanes, swinging as high as her courage (and mine) would allow, laughing, tasting sand, stomping puddles. Being her. A wild-eyed daring little girl with a zest for exploration and an affinity toward dirt and general uncleanliness. I didn’t take one picture ever expecting to become a photographer.
And then one day, I did.
One day – because this email is too long already – it happened. The spark. The face-in-the-sun-eyes-closed-yet-I-see-everything-clearer-than-I-ever-have-before-birds-singing-warm-breeze-across-my-cheek-fresh-cut-grass-scented-summer-air moment. The moment everything changed. The moment I decided to live my life for me. For my (now two) daughters. For my husband- the unequivocal love of my life. For art. For beauty. For people. The moment I decided it was time to give to others what I had found for myself: beautiful photographs that capture the very essence of a person. Their light. Their love. Their beauty. Every last magnificent drop of it. And all of the clamor and cacophony and crazy in between.
Life. Hope. Love.
I don’t know which image to add to this email. One that best tells my story. My story changes. Every moment of every day, with each and every exasperated happy breath I take. A photo of my eldest daughter, my muse, seemed most appropriate, but somehow disingenuous at the same time. A portrait I’ve taken since the inception of my professional career seems expected. Contrived. Trite. A photo of myself: unoriginal. Yet, you’ve asked for an image, and I’m never one to not complete an assignment fully.
One. Single. Image.
So if you will, Clayton. Close your eyes. Imagine your most favorite place on this earth. It is dusk; the air thick with the last hint of summer, the promise of autumn on the breeze. The sun sets golden on the horizon, the shadows long. Dragonflies whizz across the landscape and birds sing their evening slumber. Owls cry out and somewhere in the distance you hear the drone of an engine. A plane, perhaps. Maybe a tractor. You turn your face toward the sun and close your eyes, your lips part, just slightly as you breathe it in. Life. Living in the in between. Your partner by your side, grabs your hand, squeezing ever so slightly. A silent acknowledgement; a quiet understanding. The problems, the stress, the weight of the days melts, floats away on the wings of the breeze.
Wherever that place is, the place that makes you feel like you’re forever home, that’s both my image and what I hope to take away from your workshop. That’s what I see when I look at photos of my children, and I can just start to see a glimmer of it in some of the photos I have taken of others. That is what I see when I look at your work, and that is what I want each and every client of mine to see when they receive their photographs.
I want them to see how perfect feels.
I would be honored to attend your workshop, Clayton.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
To imagine with me.
Thank you for kindness. It is something that, although possessed by all, is used far too little, and with too much want for reward.