I sat at a table with some of the Brides wedding guests for dinner a few weekends ago. We made friendly small talk, shared a few laughs and found out we know some of the same people-we really do live in such a small world! But it almost always comes up during conversation at every wedding…..”How did you get started with photography?” And every single time I have this internal struggle because the REAL story is way too long to tell over beef tenderloin and mashed potatoes. I certainly don’t want to be that person who gives you their life story after a simple “hey! how are ya?” Well, my dog died, my aunt betty fell and broke her hip and I’ve had this cough for 3 weeks now!” Let’s be honest, no one actually wants to hear “how you are”, they are expecting back an,”I’m well! How are you?” And we go on with our day. We’ve all been there! I don’t want to be THAT person.
It’s complicated and I never know exactly how to answer because it’s not a “happy” story- so to speak. I think people are expecting to hear something like “oh I’ve been doing this since I was like 5, my Grandfather taught me and gave me his business” or “oh, my parents bought me a camera one Christmas and I’ve been tinkering with it ever since.”
You see my answer would go something like this: “I got started with photography when my sister died”! As I look around the table *blink blink blink*. With the previous answers, they can say “oh that’s wonderful” and continue small talk but with my answer, they can’t say “how exciting” or any thing of the sorts. Instead they say something like “oh, I’m sorry!” and then the vibe takes a total turn AND officially becomes awkward while we wait for the waitress to refill the bread basket.
So I know better. I think over the years I’ve come up with my “elevator speech” of “how I got started” so that I’m not “THAT” person-not that I won’t tell someone the WHOLE story if they really want to know, it’s just easier to keep it short and sweet. I usually say something along the lines of how I started back in college, got my start working at the newspaper and how I photograph people’s families the way I wish mine was photographed. All of which are technically true…. People usually smile and say “how nice!”
But this time….she was relentless. And by relentless, I mean, she genuinely wanted to know. She kept probing and asking deeper questions until I had no choice but to explain a little further. When I was finished, everyone at the table was crying. My immediate reaction was “damn it Jen!”- but as I began to make eye contact with those sitting around the table, the Mom reached over and grabbed my hand and told me how she had lost someone recently she loved and that she wished she could have had a “full box”. And just like that, I connected with a stranger.
At the end of the night, she hugged me so close and told me she was meant to run into me, that I was meant to sit at that table and that she was going to be more cautious of “filling her box”. This time, she made ME cry.
The time will come-hopefully no time soon-but trust me, it will come, that you too will be sitting around a table sorting thru boxes of images to display at someone’s funeral. You’ll try to pick out the best ones that show their personality, their laugh, their quirky traits…..and trust me when I tell you, there will NEVER be enough. There will never be enough photos, enough memories, enough of “them” left over after they are gone and that’s when the regret sets in. I dug thru that box trying to find something tangible to hold on to, something that would make me feel connected but the box wasn’t full enough. I help people fill their box! I help them fill the box for their Kids, for their Grandkids and for those who love them. I help them fill the box with happy memories. The kind that you can actually HEAR them laughing by just looking at the photo, the kind where you can SMELL their perfume, the kind where you can TASTE their signature dish just by running your hands over the print.
So that’s what I do-I help people fill their boxes. Because I know what it feels like to have one be empty. I get to give people what I wish I had. I get to photograph people the way I wished my family was photographed.
When you book a shoot with me, I want you to know that it’s way more than the outfits you pick out, way more than the makeup you’re wearing and MUCH MORE than any trendy prop. Let’s pick a place that MEANS something, with people that MEAN something….let’s fill up your box!
I’m all sentimental like that!