On Photography: Finding My New Lane

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about finding my lane.  I wrote it following several weeks of pontificating on my what my purpose is in this life beyond “wife and mom”.  I realize it sounds like a mid-life crisis cry for help, but hear me out.

Fast forward to approximately a week ago, when I got my hands on The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile – a book written about The Enneagram.  If I’m friends with you on Facebook, then you’ve heard the praises I’ve sung from the top of my soapbox.

After careful research, I’ve discovered that I’m a 4 on The Enneagram.  If you’re not familiar with this ancient personality type system, in a nutshell, 4’s are considerably emotional people that often struggle on a daily basis with learning to accept themselves as they are.  I learned that even if I had achieved the things that I wished I had, I’d still have a sense of longing deep within me because it’s a common struggle for my personality type.

You see – I have all of these things that I love to do and am actually good at on occasion, but I could never quite figure out a way to channel it into something that was a) fulfilling, b) had meaning, and c) utilized my unique gifts and talents – especially with regard to my photography.  That is until I learned more about what it means to be a 4 on The Enneagram.

The more I read about this personality type, the more emotional I became – because I could finally put words to everything I’ve felt my entire life.  And more importantly – I discovered things about being a 4 that are useful and make the world a better place.  Things I’ve always known about myself but had no idea it was something that people need.  Such as empathy and the ability to bear witness to the pain of others.  And holding space for someone in their darkest moments.  As Ian Cron so eloquently writes in his book:

There’s no such thing as a Four who can’t sit shiva.

‘Sitting shiva’ is a term used to describe the action of Jewish mourners.  During the period of shiva, mourners sometimes sit on low stools or boxes while they receive condolence calls. It is a practice that symbolizes the mourner being “brought low” following the loss of a loved one. For seven days, the family members of the deceased gather in one location – typically their own home or the home of the deceased – and mourns the loss in a variety of ways.

Y’all.  Sitting shiva.  This is what I do so well.  And until my friend Renee pointed it out, I had no idea how my ability to “sit shiva” intersected with my photography.  I recently posted about my experience photographing a dear friend’s adoption, which was an incredibly emotional experience, to say the least.  Adoption is beautiful and redemptive, but it is also rooted in trauma and loss.  We’ve also had our own heartbreak to recover from, so I had to make sure I was mentally and emotionally prepared for this session.  I was a mess when it was all over and done with, but in that moment I was solid.  I was able to bear witness (with my presence AND my camera) to this baby’s hard but beautiful transition from one family to another.

Part of me was afraid my own loss would get in the way of my ability to photograph this family’s tender journey towards parenthood, but really it was my pain that made it possible.

As Renee put it:

I love how your heartbreak has given you extraordinary grace to capture people’s greatest, hardest, and holiest moments.  Not everyone can do that!

Renee should know.  I recently photographed the funeral of her little brother.  It may sound a bit unconventional, but those photos have served their family on their path to healing.  I’ve been photographing their family for years now and his death has been devastating to our entire community, but once again, I was able to show up and be in this space fully and as Ian Cron puts it,

…guiding them through necessary emotional waters they would never otherwise dare wade into alone.

And that funeral was not my first rodeo with emotional or downright solemn photo sessions.  I’ve photographed the terminally ill, third world orphanages, prisoners reuniting with their children for the first time in years, families that are preparing to say goodbye to their dying pets, and on the happier yet still emotional side of things – birth.  And without a doubt, these are not only my favorite sessions but my best work.  HANDS DOWN.

Little does Renee know how heavily her statement impacted my ability to FINALLY see my purpose behind the lens.  In the nine years that I’ve been taking pictures of people, I could never understand why I loved some of my photos but hated others.  It’s because I’m not called to take pictures of people in front of pretty backdrops.  I’m called to photograph real life.  The good, the bad, and the heartbreaking.  While I see the value in staged portrait photography, it’s not where I thrive. There are photographers out there that are truly gifted at setting up beautiful portraits of your family in front of elegant backdrops, but that photographer is not me.

If your husband is deploying, or you want photos of real life with barefoot kids running through sprinklers in your yard – I’m your person.  If you’re saying goodbye to a loved one, or laboring to bring your baby earthside, call me.  This is what I’m good at.  This is where I’m gifted.

Turns out that post that I mentioned earlier about finding my lane ended up being slightly prophetic.  After watching Jen Hatmaker speak on discovering your purpose, I wrote down my answer to one of her prompts, which was “What are you drawn to?”  My answer:

Transparency. I just want real, genuine, authentic influence in my life. Be it in music, art, leadership, or friendship, I want to surround myself with people who are willing to be their true selves and share it all – the good, the bad, the ugly.

This is what you can expect to see in my work from now on.  Authenticity.  Genuineness.



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