Person of the Week
Everyone is beautiful, but not everyone knows they are beautiful. That’s what I do when I’m making an image of a person – I’m showing them as their most beautiful self. It has to do with people not being able to get to the place they want to get – just because they are afraid of something. I help people let go of that fear.
1. What led you to the mission of being a photographer?
I just always wanted to be a photographer. My mom gave me a camera when I was eight or seven and that was it. I had a great art teacher in high school. She gave a few of us the run of the art room. I had a track coach who taught me how to do photography.
When I was in college, I studied photography and psychology. I thought, “Well I can’t be a photographer. You can’t make money doing that.” Then it was like, “Forget it! I want to do it. I want to be a photographer, but I really love the psychology part too.” So I minored in psychology. I feel like that has helped me so much photographing people. That was that. There wasn’t anything else I wanted to do.
Your mission isn’t necessarily to be a stenographer, or a doctor, or to be a lawyer, or to be a saleswoman. The mission is always a bigger thing. You just choose the venue on how you are going to take that mission and show it to the world. (See Amy Wilton’s website by clicking on this link.)
2. What does this mission mean to you?
Everyone is beautiful, but not everyone knows they are beautiful. That’s what I do when I’m making an image of a person – I’m showing them as their most beautiful self. It means that I see the world a little up close and I pay more attention to it than most people. I see the changes in the light. I see how people look. I see deeper and see into their souls – the part that they don’t usually show to other people. If I do that, I get the pictures that you want to keep looking at. If I don’t get that, then it isn’t even worth taking the image.
It’s so fun to photograph kids because they are so open and themselves. They are just out there. But photographing women who are over the age when they have had children — all of a sudden they are really self-conscious and uncomfortable in their skin and with who they are because they have wrinkles, or they don’t look like they did when they were twenty. Whatever their issue is, they always come in and say, “Aw, I don’t like to have my picture taken.” I say, “Just let me do it!” They end up loving the picture because they look as beautiful as they really are.
That’s why I love photographing people. The women have so much time looking at media and they know exactly what they are “supposed” to look like, and no one can really look like that. But I can show them what they really look like. They are beautiful.
3. What was your best day as a photographer?
I can think of a lot of those days and they are all photography days. My other life – or the other thing I did to get paid — was being a rowing coach. I’m shifting gears because this was one of my favorite days.
There was a woman who I didn’t actually photograph. She was a professor at the university where I was coaching rowing. This woman was African American and had grown up in the south. She may have been born in the forties or fifties. She never learned how to swim because there were black pools and there were white pools in the south in the summer. The white pools were fabulous and the black pools were awful. And so, she never learned how to swim. To row, you have to know how to swim. If you ever fall out of the boat, you have to swim.
I get choked up thinking about the day I taught her how to swim. I taught her how to swim and I feel like I’m doing the same thing when I’m photographing. I feel like it doesn’t really matter if it’s my best day photographing or my best day whatever – it’s all the same. I showed her what she could be and that was a good day! That’s what I do as a photographer.
4. What was your worst day as a photographer?
My worst day? I have “worst” daydreams where I can’t find my camera or I run out of batteries. They are just horrible dreams. Those are awful. That’s what it feels like – like when you don’t get your homework done.
I can’t think of one day specifically, but it would be if I couldn’t get the shot where I can get someone to relax or be comfortable in their own skin. That’s the hardest thing to do. But honestly I can’t think of one person that I haven’t been able to do that with in a long time. I’ve got it figured out.
Here’s the way somebody described it to me. “You know that gigantic oak tree outside? Isn’t it beautiful with all its crinkly bark? It’s a big wide thing. It’s solid and its roots are deep. Its leaves are beautiful. But it’s got lines in it. The new sapling doesn’t have any of that age to it. But it’s beautiful to me.”
I have a couple of missions in my life. The oldest one that I’ve figured out is to make people realize how great they can be – to help them realize their potential. With rowing, you can’t imagine how amazing it is to see this skinny little freshman girl come in at the beginning of the year and watch to see how powerful she becomes — because you have taught her how to make her body and her will strong. It’s really cool! I feel like photography is all the same thing. You’re just using different mediums to do the same thing.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
My first thought is God. My faith is core. It is also the knowledge that people are having a hard time because they are afraid. It’s not a personal thing. It’s the same thing with parenting. When kids are obnoxious, they are not obnoxious because they are mad at you, but it’s because there is something going on inside them. When the person at the store is a jerk to you, it’s not because they hate you and you did something wrong. It’s because they are feeling pain in some way.
When a rower or someone who is modeling for me is having a bad day, I know it is not about me. I know that I just have to help them feel comfortable and get over whatever the fear is – and it is just fear — the fear of falling in the water, the fear of looking bad in the photograph, or the fear of looking like their husband told them they look. That’s the worst thing. People will say, “Oh my husband says no one can take a good picture of me.” I think, “That’s because your husband has never been able to take a good picture of you!” That’s usually what it is! It has to do with people being mean and cranky and not being able to get to the place they want to get – just because they are afraid of something. I help people let go of that fear.
I think part of it is my personality and part of it I learned. Part of it was learning so much in the psychology classes. Part of it was just paying attention to people. Part of it was watching the young girls get over their fear and realizing, “Oh that’s why I was doing this or that.”
I think your mission in life is not always what you think it is. I have two that I have figured out. One is to be a messenger and the other is to help people be the best that they can be. A messenger is delivering messages. If there’s a message from beyond that needs to come to this world, then I can deliver it. It’s a little out there, but that’s how it is. Sometimes I know I’m doing it, and sometimes I have not idea I’m doing it until someone says, “Oh, maybe you’re the messenger for that.” Then I go, “Oh yah. There’s that word again.” It’s telling people what they need to hear – even if they don’t want to hear it.
But it doesn’t even matter how I manifest those goals in life. I just happen to really love photography. I’m such a visual person and I love to look at things and analyze them. It makes me feel good to help other people feel that good.