So today I turned 30. I guess this means I’m old now. Or at least it seems like I should mean that having never been 30 before. I didn’t really feel that my birthday required a blog post about it, until I spoke to a friend this morning who asked me a seemingly-innocuous question that ended up prompting a little introspection. So here I am, getting ready to go out to eat and drink to celebrate 30 years, writing a blog post. She asked me, “Are you where you thought you would be by this point in your life?” Ha.
Well turns out, that’s a good question. I think the value of birthdays, at least to me, ought to be to take stock of where you are, where you have been, and where you will go. And while I might have had a perfect and blissfully-ignorant birthday without such contemplation, it is, I think, fitting to reflect on these things. Afterall, failing to do so from time to time will ensure that the answer is always no. You can’t be where you’d hoped if you never stop to hope.
Am I where I thought I’d be by age 30? Yes and no – of course the answer has to be yes and no. Otherwise I’d be dead. My life, like anyone’s, is a work in progress. And when it stops being in progress, it’s over. I love to say to people, “If you’re not living, you’re dying.” And dying I am not. Progress, though, is certainly the word of the day – actually, it’s the word of the year. Something kicked in for me a year ago that got me moving on the things I’d spent years thinking and dreaming about. I seriously doubt it was the proverbial “clock ticking” that got me in action around my dreams rather than in dreams about my action. But whatever it was, thank God. It’s about time.
So where am I? Well, I wanted to start a photography studio and be famous. LOL. Yeah, so some of that might have been more dreaming than anything. But I have to say, the fact that I’m making my way with photography was something I dreamed about, but never really thought I would or could do. Sometimes being wrong is great. And in the nearly 9 years of shooting weddings and events in the DC area and all around the country, I have come a long way. I’m coming up on 200 weddings, I’ve shot weddings on both of our bordering oceans, in a handful of states around the country, transitioned from super-traditional to much more contemporary style of shooting, transitioned from film to digital, worked through (and welcomed) the legalization of gay marriage, learned about such a plethora of different cultures/religions and their wedding traditions and beliefs, connected with so many different and wonderful people, and seen places I would have had no other reason to see. I’ve watched my style develop from scattered to a more refined and personal style. I’ve learned how to sell myself and my work – well, I’m learning anyway. So many wonderful accomplishments that have happened without too much stopping and smelling the roses.
And with all that being said, I’ve only begun to start this studio. Am I where I thought I’d be at age 30 with a photography business? No. But I didn’t know when I was 20 that starting a business was actually difficult. I thought if I just took nice pictures, I’d be rich. I don’t wish I were that naive again. Reality is more work, but more rewarding. And hard work is living.
Besides photography, I’d say I’m further along than I’d hoped to be. I own a house, who knew I’d own a house already? I can drive motorcycles (and love to). I enjoy and own a few single malt scotches, know a little about wine, and enjoy good beer. I still remember when I asked my father at a very young age to try what he was drinking (scotch) and having him grin and pour me a teaspoon-sized taste in a shot glass. I was sure I would never touch alcohol for the rest of my life after that little taste. Nice move, old man! I want to learn to fly helicopters. Eventually I want to own one. That I can’t check off my list yet. But I don’t think at 20 I thought I’d have checked it off by 30 so I’ll take that one and keep working. I’ve lived on a boat for 5 years – yeah, I didn’t see that one coming either 10 years ago. Learned a lot from that. They say the second happiest day in a man’s life is the day he buys his boat and the happiest day is the day he sells it. I vehemently disagreed when I bought my boat, and slowly came to realize that no matter what you think, that statement is pure fact. I’ll have another boat one day. But not today. But all in all, I think that I’ve done a few things since birth of which I can be proud. Guess I’ll keep trying.
But I’m really glad that since my first days of photography in high school yearbook I’ve improved, learned, and grown. It’s been a long road and it’s always funny to look back at photos I’ve taken over these years and see what an amateur I was and how much I’ve learned. Without digging up the archives too much, I’ll do a little share and tell:
Ah, my first wedding ever. 2001. The bride, my high school social studies teacher and theater director, contacted me during my freshman year of college and asked me to photograph her wedding. Thanks, Peg, for trusting me with this. You were certainly a great kick to get started. Wish that my skills were a little more refined at that point… The image was shot with medium format film in a Mamiya RZ67. And for those of you who don’t know what that camera is, just imagine shooting weddings with one of those big, grey bricks that they make the basement of your house out of. Yeah, it was basically one of those. Beautiful camera, but what was I thinking???
A little travel photography in Prague during a spring break trip in college circa 2001. I traveled with a friend from high school and we fancied ourselves a couple of real artists. We hardly slept, just wandered the streets of Prague photographing. Magnificent city!
In a black and white class in college, I took a page from the playbook of Mario Testino and thought perhaps I’d one day be a great fashion photographer. Thanks, Amy, for not telling me the truth at that time… Needless to say, I’ve shifted my photographic goals ever so slightly. But it was fun learning.
I loved and continue to love photographing sports. And I love moments in sports that aren’t the most typically seen. It was fun using Zipcar to get to baseball games in VA when I was a college kid without a vehicle.
Shooting performances at GW was always fun for me. Indian dance is so beautiful and I got to learn about new cultures and people. What a great experience for me as a photographer and as a person seeing all the things I saw as an undergrad at The George Washington University. The slogan when I was there for the university was “Something Happens Here” and I can’t say how true that was for me.
If you don’t believe me, ask Larry King. When GW opened their new, shiney School of Media and Public Affairs, Larry King stopped by as a surprise visit at the ceremony where GW was inheriting the complete archives of the Larry King Live shows to be stored in GW’s SMPA. What a treat to photograph such an icon.
Speaking of icons, I think we all recognize this character. While he and I probably didn’t sit down to too many political discussions together, I photographed President Bush a few times and this photo was from the 2004 Republican National Convention. As the Photo Editor of The Hatchet, GW’s student newspaper, I got an internship with National Journal Magazine which took me to the DNC and the RNC in 2004. A pretty lucky break for a young punk like me. I actually heard the speech that put Obama on the map while on the travels with National Journal. Talk about access, I thought I’d arrived…
This shot is still a favorite of mine after all these years. Presidents Day in Old Town Alexandria, VA is home to a parade every year. The parade is full of Americana and down-home goodness. This photo really made me feel like I was a reporter, and a good one. And I was so proud of myself for using a gel filter on my flash to keep some of those warm tones from washing out with the flash. Learning all the way.
Thankfully my engagement shoots have improved from 2005. I love the people I’ve had the privilege of photographing over these years. Each wedding, engagement shoot, portrait, event, or assignment I learn something new.
2006 wedding. Hoping to shoot the bride’s sister in February, they were so sweet and I was delighted to hear from her mom recently.
2007 wedding. The groom described this pose as “too much metal for one hand”. Guess that pretty much sums it up.
2008 wedding at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore. Lovely!
2009. Kentucky. Forecast was 100% chance of rain all day. Psh! The entire 9 hour drive from DC to Kentucky was a monsoon. And the wedding day was supposed to follow suit. So happy it did not.
2010 wedding on the Eastern Shore of MD. I love this couple. I love this location. And I love my job.
So am I where I thought I’d be by this time? No. Mostly because I had no idea where I’d be. I had no plan, I was just doing it. And the only difference, now that I’m 30, is the plan. 30 is not really that much like 20. As 30 was getting closer, I thought I might wish it were. But the truth is, 30 is just fine. It’s just a number.