This past week, I returned from a trip to the Click Away Conference in Atlanta, GA. This is the second time I’ve attended Click Away and it did not disappoint. I wrote about my trip to Amelia Island in 2018 which was the last time I attended. Clickinmoms is an organization for photographers, most of them female, to connect with each other and strengthen their craft. I’ve been a member since 2014 and I have made a lot of beautiful connections through the organization. I actually won the ticket in 2018 and it was life changing to say the least. If you read my post about Amelia Island, you can see how much of an impact it had on me at the time. I wanted to share a bit about my trip to Atlanta but in a different format. Amelia Island ended up being a catalyst for a lot of change in my life. For that reason, I wouldn’t say this trip was as impactful, but I definitely walked away with a different perspective of my craft and my desire to succeed. 

First thoughts: Atlanta, GA is freaking amazing.

Growing up in Greenville, I’ve spent a lot of time in Atlanta. Most of it has been for sporting events and shopping, but in recent years, I’ve spent more time exploring the city. What I’ve found is that it’s a beautiful city who’s architecture is diverse at the people who live there. I was amazed by the tall buildings, the old buildings, the glass buildings, and the stone buildings. There were as many murals on walls as there were buildings being built, and that was just in the small area I v. We were lucky enough to be near the High Museum where I spent most of my time. We ate at the hotel restaurant a couple of times which was pretty amazing. We also ventured out to Cafè Intermezzo, Bulla, and TacoMac, which, surprisingly, was known for their wings. It was all so good and just added to the beauty of this trip. Amongst the massive buildings were signs of the southern culture which adds to the culture of the city. Piedmont Park was within walking distance of our hotel. I didn’t get to spend time there but I have it on my list as a destination to where I want to return with the kids. I’m grateful that Click Away decided to grace this beautiful city with it’s conference. If you’re one of those people that always poo poos on Atlanta because of the traffic, I suggest you go back with an open mind because it’s a place worth exploring.

Classes at Click Away

The fun thing about Click Away is that it’s an opportunity to take classes that are out of your comfort zone. As my focus is documentary, I chose a lot of styled portrait classes. In the portrait classes, I wasn’t able to capture much because people were fighting to get the shot, but what I have found in these settings is that I prefer to sit back and watch. I am lucky to have studied a lot and feel like I have a strong understanding of the technical aspects of my camera. Where I feel I am lacking is the ability to actualize a creative idea into a photo shoot. I was able to see two artists that are absolutely amazing at doing this very thing. I watched Chanel French and Kesley Butcher, both Atlanta natives, put together shoots that they created from scratch. I am blown away by their ability to think of outfit ideas, how it will work with the environment, and poses to capture a mood. I am so uncomfortable doing this and have yet to really push myself to fully try. Dana Leigh taught a shooting demonstration class on fine art children’s portraiture. I loved her use of creative techniques to show how to capture children in an interesting way. I left all three classes inspired to push myself creatively and to create the scene vs capturing what is already there (something I do with documentary).

I also took a street photography class with Michelle Rick and this one inspired me the most. I do think documentary is naturally more my style because I like to see what’s in front of me unfold in a beautiful way. There are so many documentary photographers who’s images are beautiful in the cleverness they hold. What I mean is the beauty of the photo goes beyond the aesthetics. It’s not just pretty light or strong composition, though those particular elements help make the image more palatable for the masses. It’s the content, the way the subjects are presented as a story to be read that, makes them so interesting to me. I like to think of it like this; we don’t have to curate this world to make it look beautiful, it just already is. Michelle’s class was exactly that, but with a dose of courage. I have always been enamored with street photography but been afraid of taking pictures of people. There are some photographers that ask permission, others who do not. It may seem creepy to some, but there is something about having anonymous people add to the story of a city and allowing them to add an extra layer to the architecture. I found myself invigorated in Michelle’s class and having a strong desire to some larger cities and capture them. Of course, I can do some of this in my own town, but Greenville, SC, as beautiful as it is, is not known for it’s diversity. And though I do not want to use the term diversity in a way that makes it a commodity, I do find places with lots of different influences more interesting. It’s like Instagram feeds that use the same filter, I’m just not that interested.

My Takeaway

One of the questions I asked myself, as well as others, is “how do I know my photography is good?”. In my head, I know the answer is supposed to be “if you love it”. Or maybe something like “does it matter?”. Which made me force myself to think to further questions like:

  • Why do I feel the need to be good?
  • Why do I want to be validated for my art
  • Would I even do this if there was no one was consume my art?
  • Can I find a balance between learning my craft and creating art for just myself?

Ultimately, the answer is yes, I would continue to create art for myself because it provides a creative outlet for me. In the times of day where I’m feeling bogged down by the mundane, the ability to sit back and observe the world through my lens, literally, has been a key piece of my self care. Photography has helped me to connect to a voice within and express that voice in a way that I wasn’t able to do before. My challenge is to let go the desire to be recognized for it. I don’t think I’m unique in that quest, but I do think that the desire for recognition is holding me back from realizing my true potential as an artist. I love portrait work because I want to see  my subject, like truly see them. I think playing around with creative portraits and creating visions in my mind will be a fun way to put style and photography together and I don’t have to make it mean anything. But, what I truly feel drawn to is this stripped down version of what we are. I love the work of Lindsey Bergstrom, who’s class I took last year. I also love the work of artists like Linsey Davis, Michelle Rick, and Lauren Mitchell. Their use of light, composition, and moment inspire me to look at the world in a different way.

In exploring these questions, I found that I want to be validated through recognition of my work. I want that because it somehow makes me feel accepted and seen in this world. I feel like the theme that has haunted me throughout my life has been this desire to be accepted for who I am. And though I have tried for decades to be normal, I’ve always failed at that task. If I push myself to really look at why I share my work and why I continue to take workshops, it’s this motivation. My challenge from this moment forward is to create just for me. Possibly, that will mean sharing less, or maybe not. Could the sharing be an opportunity for me to express myself without expectations?

The other piece is that so often, we are pushed to try and monetize our hobbies. It’s like we aren’t allowed to enjoy art without trying to make it a commodity. Part of this is the pressure to find our true passion, you know that adage, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I have followed that thinking for a long time and realized that I actually don’t love people telling me what they want me to produce. When I create art for myself, I don’t have to do anything else except express myself through my work. I was working with a group of women after a workshop and we were talking about clients. I mentioned that I stopped taking clients and that I was enjoying taking pictures for myself. All three of them began giving me tips for marketing and setting up my business. I literally said to them, “no. I don’t want to do that.” They kept going. I don’t fault them because I understand they wanted to help, but it is just really SO HARD for us to believe that we can just enjoy something to enjoy it. I share this with you because I want you to know that if this is you, you can do something just because you want to. There doesn’t have to be a pay check at the end of it.

My goal moving forward is to give myself the space to create. I want to shut off all the external chatter as much as I can and follow my intuition. I have no plans to declare myself a certain type of photographer. I have no plans to create content for anything and I have no plans to monetize my work. I just want to utilize this beautiful time I’m been given to be free of expectations and to create what’s within. Maybe through that, I can learn to connect my voice to my work and truly allow it to be an expression of who I am.