How It All Started
Looking back it seems cosmic the way everything fell together. It’s like it was happening right before me and I wasn’t fully present to it. But all of life seems to unfold that way. You never have that perspective until you’re on the other side of it, reflecting on all that has become.
December, 2015. My friend Mark and I were standing in the white room of the newborn Hingework Studio. He had been dreaming up this concept of facilitating community for local creatives for years and now there we were, in the presence of it. At the time it was dirty plywood floors, occupied by just two makeshift desks built out of an old door laying across rusted filing cabinets. A brittle December draft passed through the room. There was a quiet but powerful energy. This dream was finally a physical place. I wasn’t yet sure what this move out of my isolated home office would create, but there was fire in my belly.
Fast forward a few months. I wanted to photograph people. I don’t consciously remember making that decision. I was just drawn to it. I had been shooting weddings for a few years, and capturing people so happy on such special days in their lives was equal parts humbling and empowering. The joy of others lights me up so it just seemed to make sense.
Enter artist, curator, and dear friend, Hawa. She knew what I was up to and happened to have some old studio lights and softboxes. She graciously lent them to me so I had somewhere to start. We played around with the lights, Hawa as my first subject, my first muse. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and on the technical side most of the photos reflected that. It was completely unscientific and entirely emotional. Ignoring the art of the process and craving immediate perfection, I’d get stuck in my head, not knowing what to do. She’d pull me back to planet earth, prompting me to simply move a light and stay fluid with it. It was such an honest moment for both of us between her willingness to be photographed and my throw-shit-at-the-wall approach to a studio portrait.
We were scanning through the files on my computer and stopped at one that grabbed our attention. I was preoccupied with analyzing the light and composition. Hawa was silent. When her silence caught my attention I turned to see her in tears. Something else was going on. It was a reflection of her truest being and it was gazing fearlessly back at her. She said it was like seeing herself for the first time in years.
In a moment it all made sense. This is what I wanted to do. I could create a space where people would come in with a professional need and leave impacted by their own power. It would be an opportunity for people to realize who they are--not just what they look like--and to smile back.
And that’s the point about all of us. We are so much more than the skin and bones carrying us through the world. We are the life within. So much of that life shows up on the face and in an instant I had become obsessed with capturing it.
It’s an understatement to say a lot rides against our ability to authentically love ourselves. Our identities get watered down into the endless bombardment of advertisements that make us feel like we are never keeping up with the Jones’. We can try to convince ourselves that we're immune to it; we are not. The statistical ties between social media and skyrocketing levels of depression and anxiety are staggering, and when unchecked, propel us into a state of some weird blend of perpetual self-deprecation and narcissism. We say we are using it to connect, but often the opposite occurs.
Capturing a portrait, in contrast, requires real connection, vulnerability, and trust. It is an act of authenticity and an expression of our humanity, both for me and my subject. Over the years I've continued to refine my craft on the technical side, but the opportunity to give confidence to people in the realest way is the reason I am continually so inspired. To every single person that has ever been in front of my camera, thank you.