Dear Photographer Featuring Laura Penley

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February 2014

The two men in my life who helped me to finally realize this passion

Dear Photographer,

Do you remember how you loved looking through photos as a child?  Specifically, do you remember the smile that it brought to your face to revisit things like your 4th-grade field trip to Billie Creek Village?  There were some treasures from that roll, like the photo of the “I Love You” horseshoe that the boy in your life, your childhood sweetheart, made for you.  Then there’s the photo of the two of you quilting together, oh and that shot of you and your best friends, Kelly Smith, Nicholle Thomas, and Carrie Clements; the four of you just couldn’t have looked happier.  Gosh, that was a lifetime ago.

Do you remember that you used to store shoe boxes of photos in your closet and your retreat from life was to sit on the floor in this windowless space looking through them?  You could spend hours locked away in there.  Do you remember that 35mm Pentax that the same childhood sweetheart gave you for your birthday one year because he saw how much those photographs from seven years prior still meant to you?  Do you remember that a few years after that, your parents bought you a Nikon N80?  For some reason you never took the time to learn how to use it though.

Do you remember that photo you took of your parents’ car as it drove away from your dorm once they got you all settled in for your first year of college?  Do you remember the tears you cried in that moment?  Of course you do, and of course, this is why you captured it.  Do you remember when that little Pentax broke, right about the same time as your relationship with “the boy” was ending?  New chapter, new camera.

Scrapbooks were filled, shoe boxes overflowed and cameras continued to meet their expiration. The memories and photos just kept pouring in as you did your absolute best to preserve them.  How then did you not take a leap and move the dial on your camera to M, pick up a book and figure out where to go from there?  Your parents recognized your passion as did your childhood love.  How did you not?

I understand that you grew up thinking that being a photographer meant you were something like an Annie Leibovitz and, of course, you could never be her.  But why did that mean that you couldn’t be you and make your own unique mark?  What made you think that you would never be able to capture compelling photos of people or events; photos that could be felt and appreciated by people other than you?  You always believed that no one else would see the same beauty in a particular moment as what you did, and that others might in fact look at your photographs and wonder why they meant anything to you at all.  Self-doubt, it can be a real deal breaker; self-doubt, it cost you years on this journey.

It wasn’t until you entered into this new phase of your life called “Motherhood” that you began to feel these heavy feelings lift.  You suddenly had this beautiful little miracle in your arms who loved you, unconditionally, for everything thing that you were, are, and will be, and wow, that was amazing!  The world had recently entered into the age of digital photos so, instead of shoe boxes, you filled online galleries with images and you began to share those with friends and family monthly.  You clung to each and every moment with your little angel like it could be your last.  With each passing month, you took more and more photos.  Your sister, Rebecca, saw your growing desire to preserve him and she gifted you with a shiny new Nikon1 for your birthday that year and that little camera went everywhere with you.  You were capturing him throughout all of his awake hours, every single day, yet you still hadn’t made an effort to develop a deeper understanding of photography.  It wasn’t until your second little miracle arrived that this passion for photography really grew.  Once again, you were gifted with a camera by someone who saw this passion in you well before you saw it in yourself, your loving husband.

(Laughing) Do you remember that you almost returned your beautiful new DSLR because you were incredibly intimidated by the mere thought of trying to learn how to use it?  And gosh, was it big!  You were all set to send it back but then out of curiosity one night as you held your brand new baby in your arms, just as you had every night since his birth, you picked your phone up to take a look at The Pioneer Woman’s photography section on her blog.  You were instantly hooked, reading the night away in that dark room as you rocked your little one till morning. That night, that moment, it was life changing as were those seven+ months of sleepless nights that followed.  You took complete advantage of those awake hours, passing the nights by studying the camera settings that Ashley Campbell so generously would post on her blog while also continuing to study digital photography and how to shoot in Manual.  During the day, your loves allowed you to continue your learning with a ton of hands-on practice.

Here you are, a little more than a year and a half into photography, not just memory keeping, but photography, and wow what an incredible ride it has been.  You finally gained the confidence to join a photography forum at the start of the year and you even created an Instagram account.  Both of these were a big deal to you because well, your photos, they are your treasures and sharing those, is sharing your heart.   Prior to this you had only shared those pieces of you with family and your closest friends.  You acknowledged, however, that the greatest personal growth can be achieved when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, so you took the leap. Now here we are, entering into fall, so three-quarters of the way through your first “public” year, and wow what a year it has been.

You’ve found so much inspiration and growth in putting yourself out there.  You’ve been given opportunities, such as this, that encourage you to reflect on where you came from and where you’d like to go on this journey and you have developed friendships with individuals that will certainly last a lifetime.  There are a few things that I would like to always remember though.  The first one, please don’t forget to take pause in all of this.  Photography began as a passion, an outlet, make sure that it remains one to you.  While this past year has been amazing, there have been times when it has also felt a bit like a chore.  Don’t ever let it become that.  Remember to give yourself breaks, time away, so that you can be reminded of what it is that you love about photography when you pick your camera back up again.  Also, don’t forget that there are moments that simply cannot be captured.  Those are the moments that you really need to cling to, so remember to give yourself the freedom to be fully present during those times; no camera and no editing.  Speaking of editing, that’s another thing that I want you to be mindful of.  It’s understandable that you would want to grow in this area, however I’d like you to remember that those magical/dreamy photos that you have had so much fun trying to learn how to create in post, those aren’t the photos that truly speak to your heart.  It’s the real everyday moments that mean the most to you.  So, while it’s wonderful to continue to grow your skills in this area, just don’t lose sight of why it is you take pictures.  You aren’t taking pictures to figure out how to turn them into magic, you take all of these photos to preserve memories, real memories, as that’s where the true magic lies. Lastly, please continue to step in front of that camera of yours and encourage other mothers to do the same.  It is so important for children to be able to look back through their collection of memories and see their loving mothers alongside them.  I’d like to also challenge you to continue stepping in front of that lens even after your children are grown.  Capture you, tell your story, and preserve this collection of portraits well as they may just be one of the greatest gifts you could ever give to your future self and they will most certainly be cherished by those children of yours.   

Wow; less than 2 years into this photography thing and what a tremendous experience all of this has been.  I am so incredibly proud of you for finding the courage to share your photography and heart with others and I simply cannot wait to see where this journey will take you.

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About the Photographer:

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Hi; I’m Laura.  I’m a country girl at heart who left rural life behind to live in the city following college.  I immediately fell in love with city life and eventually with a city boy. We have two beautiful boys, 4 and 22-months, and live on the north side of Chicago.  I’m a lover of white, pretty spaces, fashion and photography.  Of the items on this list, photography is my newest love.  While I’ve always believed in having a camera on me almost everywhere I went, I never knew anything about photography until our second bundle of joy arrived and my husband surprised me with my DSLR.  As for where this passion for photography will lead me, I’m not in any hurry to figure that one out.  Right now, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing which is capturing those fleeting moments in my every day.  It is my thought that someday I might enjoy educating others, but for now, I am continuing to work on fine-tuning my skill-set and am just taking this photography thing one day at a time.

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