FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter. Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them. In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.
Describe the arc of your photography career so far. (How you got to where you are now, pivotal experiences/accomplishments/ influences, etc.)
My photography career has slowly progressed through a series of small unintentional life experiences and intentional small steps. I have been exposed to photography for as long as I can remember, but didn't pursue photography until my mid-20's. My father was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and worked in the field throughout his life; my mother also worked as a photographer, living in New York as a young woman to assist Ernst Haas and later working as a newspaper photographer (my parents actually met at a photojournalism workshop my father was teaching at the University of Missouri).
I grew up completely surrounded. Some of my earliest memories were in my dad's darkroom - I can close my eyes and almost smell the processing chemicals as I helped him change the filters or dodge and burn his prints. I wasn't really interested in learning but I learned by osmosis, whether cataloging slide film to earn some spending money or listening to my parents explain why a certain scene in everyday life was photographically brilliant. At Christmas when I was 22, my father gave me his old Nikon F's that he used in Vietnam - he was dying of cancer at the time and it was such a weighted gift, like he was passing me something of himself that he knew I would cherish. That's when I started shooting.
After college, I contacted a photojournalism professor who I had met during my last semester of school - he recognized my last name and told me that my dad had been his lifelong mentor. The connection was serendipitous, and he felt an opportunity to pass along what he had learned. I'm grateful that he gave me the gift of spending Sundays together to help me learn photography. Also, during this time I worked at an advertising agency and was lucky to be surrounded by creative and generous friends who fielded my endless curiosity and believed in my talent. It was at this point that I knew photography was really something for me. It excited me and connected me to things that I believe in, giving me grounding in ways that nothing else did.
In my mid-20's I moved to NYC to assist fashion photographers which really clarified what role I wanted photography to play in my life. For me, it needs to be something that's pure, honest, and uncluttered by a pressure to make money. Since then, I shoot what inspires me, interests me, challenges me. I participated in a Flash Powder Retreat which greatly clarified my work, path, and goals moving forward, as well as connected me with friends who I continue to learn from.
If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?
I'm honestly just so humbled to be where I am and want to keep making work that connects with people. The fine-art world is one piece of my larger life, and the most important thing for me is that it continues to foster my growth and offers me the chance to get my work out to a larger audience. Recently, photo essays of my work in the south were published in Oxford American and The Bitter Southerner, and I got hundreds of comments and emails from people telling me how much my work meant to them, or how it inspired them to call home or plan a visit. That's really the greatest gift I could ask for... for my work to connect with people in some way.
In an ideal world, getting a gallery show of a cohesive body of work would be the greatest accomplishment. I think about how incredible it would be to know that one my photographs is hanging in someone's home, who will look at it and always feel something. I do feel like I'm finally in a more focused place, and I hope to channel this and continue to grow my work in a way that will someday lead me here.
What are your goals for 2014?
To keep moving forward, to work on it every day. I would like to be able to find a balance between my photography, my day-job, and all the demands of living in NYC. I need to somehow carve out more space to explore, grow, create, and be inspired. That's my current struggle.
Smaller goals are to become skilled at color printing so that I can enjoy the "object making" aspect of photography. I would like to apply for more portfolio reviews. And I would like to continue to foster the relationships I've made in the photographic community, and to make new relationships with people who's work I admire. I've learned that these relationships are paramount.