It's not much of a secret that after 5 years of building a successful business in Missoula, I chose to step back from professional photography. I was extremely fortunate to be 21 with enough clients that I was debating either outsourcing editing or hiring an assistant. I still think back and am so grateful for all the people that put faith in a very young me to do their photos.
One of the driving factors behind that decision was that while shooting portraits was and is something I am passionate about... would it still be something I was passionate about when I was 40? 50? Could I sustain a creative business for another 20-30 years without being burnt out? Did I need to expand beyond portraits to become sustainable? I wasn't sure of any of those answers, but I felt like I needed time to try more things and find an answer before committing to expanding my business beyond a one-woman operation.
To be honest, I felt bad making that decision. I still do in some ways. My clients treated me incredibly. I got the most kind thank you emails. All these people fully trusted their photos in my hands. My opinion was highly respected when I met with companies to discuss their advertisements or when I met with potential portrait clients. All while I was 17-21. It was truly a blessing to have that kind of faith placed in me for what was really my first job.
In the 4 years since that decision, I've traveled to 16 countries (mostly solo) and worked several non-photography jobs. I spent a summer teaching photography for an international summer program at Yale. I've spent 4 winters snowboarding during the day and working at night.
I'm proud to say I've finally learned what it means to have a work life balance and I'm proud to say I finally have a few non-creative hobbies.
I've still had portrait and advertising clients bring me back to Missoula, meet me in Bozeman or hire me in Big Sky - but nowhere near the volume I was taking before.
In my personal life, I've made a conscious effort to grow into a person with a well rounded life. As cliche as it sounds, taking the space to travel new places by myself was something I'm very happy I did. The summer after I made the initial decision regarding my hiatus, I attended a summer program for European Economics in Berlin, Germany. On either end of the program, I spent 3 weeks hopping in and out of various countries.
Traveling solo was freeing. Being alone and having no expectations to live up to by the people around me was something I didn't realize I needed. I could spend my days however I wanted or needed to.
It's also remarkable the bonds you can make with complete strangers. Showing up in a new place and leaving having made new friends is incredible. Two quick stories about this:
I arrived in Ios, Greece after a long travel day. (Don't ever take the fast ferries to the Greek Isles, they're like high speed nauseating speed boats. Take the slow ferries.) As I was waiting to be checked into my hostel room, a gorgeous Canadian girl bounced up to me. She announced we were going to be friends, that I needed to follow her to a absinthe bar ASAP and talked the hostel manager to switching me into sharing a small villa with her. Candace and I spent the next week inseparable.
A few weeks later, I was on a train from Florence to Cinque Terre, Italy. After dropping his suitcase almost into my face, an Australian man struck up a conversation with me for the rest of our 3 hour train ride. As I got off on my stop to La Spazia and Ryan continued on to his stop in Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre is made up of 5 small towns, La Spazia is a 5 minute train ride from them), we exchanged information. The next day, we met up in the morning and hiked together and took a train to Monterosso Al Mare, where we swam together in the Mediterranean and drank margaritas on the beach. We stayed in contact for the rest of my travels and eventually crossed paths in Sweden a few months later, where my Swedish friends Lovisa and Gustav from Berlin took us sailing.
Almost every place I visited has similar stories to this, though those are two of my favorites.
After what was certainly the most heart-wrenching break-up of my life a few years later, I bought a last minute flight to Mexico. I vaguely had a plan: learn to surf, be present, go snorkeling. Each of those things was wonderful. In an unexpected turn of events I started illustrating again. A lot. For an hour every morning in the same coffee shop, with the same black coffee and avocado/mint smoothie. In the evening, in the rooftop bar of my hostel. It brought back a lot of important creative energy that I thought I lost. Back when I was a teenager, I drew constantly. I got paid to paint murals and draw sketches for people. I thought my love of drawing had been lost somewhere along the way into a creative career, but somehow it came back through a great sense of personal loss and trying to heal in a new place.
Another huge part of the last four years has been living in Big Sky, Montana. I've worked in the ski industry for 4 seasons now and have developed a passion for snowboarding. Moving to Big Sky was a fresh start. Learning to snowboard was a humbling experience. It was oddly fun to be so bad at something. It was fun to practice something daily and see results. I initially told myself that first season would be the only one, but I'm glad I decided to come back for another few years.
Each year I've made friends who impacted me deeply. I've worked jobs that I never would have worked otherwise. I've felt such happiness and excitement over a sport and fully immersed myself in a different kind of lifestyle. I've been so present, every day. I met my boyfriend and now we are planning a life together.
In stepping back and trying new things, I finally found some answers to those initial questions. To be honest, I'm still figuring out all the details. I think that's life though - figuring out the details. For now, my compass is pointing me in a direction I'm happy with.
I know for sure now and that is that photography is deeply important to me. Documenting my friends, family and travels has brought a new kind of personal depth to holding a camera. I know how to manage a work life balance and have strategies regarding how to mitigate creative burn-out. I'm starting to understand that the path I feel is sustainable includes a wide breadth of projects - advertising projects, action projects, personal work and (of course) portraits.
Before I decided the steps to take the transition back, I made a point to try new things in the photo realm. I spent time photographing my travels, I shot with skiiers, bikers, flyfisherman/women, kayakers and rock climbers. I shot video & got better at video editing. I poured more energy into finding businesses to collaborate with on their advertisements. All of this has helped with insight for the future. It's also allowed me to meet so many inspiring and passionate individuals I never would have met otherwise.
It's been an adventure. I'm happy to say I'm starting the transition to come back to the photo world full-time and am finally confident that I belong here.
Also - if any of you are reading this - thank you to everyone I've met along the whole journey: from my early clients who inspired so much confidence to my travel friends to my Big Sky friends that I consider family.