How My Camera Saved Me from Myself

For my narrative journalism class, we had to write a profile about ourselves. Instead of just rambling about stuff I like, I took a different approach and I thought other photographers (or people with some sort of passion) may appreciate the piece. 

I was a junior in high school when I had my first encounter with a camera. By “camera”, I mean a nice camera; one of those cameras with detachable lenses that cost more money than most of the things I owned. It was in yearbook class. While I constantly felt like I didn’t fit in, when I picked up the camera for that class, everything suddenly made sense. My favorite thing was walking around pep assemblies and taking photos; it was like I owned the place.

That experience was so important to me because the first two years of high school were a hell for me. I struggled to find where I belonged and I was picked on for many things. While I had no experience with photography, shooting for the yearbook and seeing my work printed in a book that will be around forever made me feel like someone.

When I finally got a job just before my senior year, I saved every penny from my first few paychecks, having set my mind on purchasing my own camera. It was an exciting moment for me, but little did I know that camera would open many doors for me, while also potentially saving my life.

Having a camera has given me a reason and purpose I never felt I had before I held its shiny black body in my hands. I was always pretty quiet and reserved. I always had goals, and dreams, and all those things that kids have when they’re growing up or whatever, but there was something missing. I would try to figure out what my life needed, but it never truly hit me until the first summer after I bought my camera. That summer was filled with shooting everything and anything I encountered, while exploring with my friends. Before that moment, hanging out with someone basically meant sitting at my house and listening to music. When I began learning how my camera worked, I quickly discovered one of my favorite activities: going to downtown Detroit with a few friends and exploring all that the city has to offer. The beauty of that city comes so naturally behind the lens of a camera, and it is easily one of my favorite places to spend my time.

That summer I even took a photo that got published in the fine arts journal at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I don’t think anything could have made the start of my freshmen year of college better than being notified that I was finally good enough to get some sort of recognition outside of the academic awards I had accumulated throughout my high school career. Yes, I was book smart, but I was also artistic as can be, but with no way to express it. That’s what happens when you can’t draw or paint.

While all of this was occurring, I was lucky enough to find a friend who was a mirror image of myself, as my camera sparked a conversation between us. Two years later, me and Aubree both studying journalism at the together, while hanging out to take pictures when free time arises. The connection I have with her is one of the best friendships I have ever had, and it’s so funny to be that it was fueled simply because she asked about my camera once. She isn’t the only great thing to come from my camera though, as nearly my entire life now revolves around photography in one aspect or another.

At a concert sometime back in the fall of 2013, I watched the band’s photographer the entire time. After the show, I stalked her Instagram account and envied her photos. It was at that moment that I got this bright idea that I wanted to do show photography. After a lot of Googling about the topic, I learned that I would probably need to start in bars and local gigs before I could ever move to anything bigger. That didn’t stop me from sending an email to a band that was opening for a show I was going to the next month.

Long story short, despite my extreme lack of experience, I was granted a photo pass for the concert and shot my first band at The Fillmore in Detroit. Oh, and I somehow picked up an interview with the band too. It may have only been the opening act but for me, that opening act was what it took to open the doors leading up to the point I am at in my life now.

While waiting to shoot the concert, nervous and intimidated by all the cameras and lenses surely worth more than my little lens from Amazon, I began talking to a girl that had the same lens as me. I have no idea what motivated me to talk to her, because at that time I was shy and never had any intentions of really branching out and interacting if I didn’t have to. Avoiding contact was definitely easier when I felt so awkward. Who wants to talk to some quiet girl that looks like they have no idea what she’s doing and keeps adjusting their glasses clearly to distract herself from her nerves? Exactly. That decision was vital, though, as the girl I talked to runs her own music magazine. I joked about how I was a journalism major if she needed anyone. A month later, me and Adrianna were meeting for coffee and talks of what would be coming next. She needed a writer, she needed a photographer, and there I was.

In the coming months, I shot a few more shows and did interviews with bands for the paper at school, something I write for regularly. The best moment came for me when I was able to get a photo pass for a festival, Chill on the Hill, which took place at the end of this past summer. I went alone to the two day endeavor, as I have begun discovering that doing things alone is actually extremely relaxing and doesn’t make me nearly as upset as it used to. My friendship with one of my best friends had recently ended, so the time to take picture after picture after picture, while listening to great music and relishing the last few moments of summer was something much needed. I may have been alone, but I had my camera and I was doing something I was passionate about, so I definitely was not lonely.

Chill on the Hill was one of the greatest confidence boosters for me; everyone around me had more experience but I somehow was chosen to shoot alongside them. While terrifying at first, I was able to pick up a handful of business cards, pass on my own, and even find friends that keep in contact to see how my photography has been going.

My photos give me a name and what I do sets me apart. For the kid that always wished to fit in, standing out is something I am now so proud of. There are people that just wait for me to post new photos; people recognize me from seeing me at so many concerts. I can say that I have built such strong relationships, not only directly through my photography, but because the networking and interviews forced me out of the shell that I lived in for so many years. You truly do not understand how amazing it feels to have a passion until you figure out what your own passion is. Even after the numerous shows I have shot and the thousands upon thousands of photos I have taken, it still hasn’t lost that feeling of pure joy and excitement. Up until my concert photography, I would lose interest in everything after some amount of time. That hasn’t been the case and while it was first surprising, it now makes perfect sense to me. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days than editing picture after picture and then seeing the reaction when people realize that, yes, I did take them. Even after a long day of ringing groceries at Kroger, I come straight home to my laptop and open up Photoshop.

At 19-years-old, I’m far from having my life figured out, but I’m so many more steps closer to knowing what makes me happy and where I see myself in the future than I was when I first walked into U of M-Dearborn. I am optimistic, outgoing, determined, and eager to be involved with whatever is going on around me. I can strike up talks with people I’ve never met, and I’m not afraid of rejection like I used to be (I guess that is what happens when you have to hunt down and hound publicists to get them to grant you photo access).

I still have my shy moments and I don’t always speak around those that I am unfamiliar with, but being behind the camera has improved me as a person on so many different levels. I went into college with the intention of getting in and getting out with a degree. While I wanted to get involved, I was always so timid. When I did put myself out there, it was only minimally and it took a huge amount of effort. Now, I sit and share photos I took of the beautiful island of Catalina as a group I am leading prepares to go there to volunteer over spring break. If it wasn’t for the many interviews I have done with bands, I can tell you that I probably would have panicked and bombed the necessary interview for that leadership position.

It has been just over a year since I found exactly where I was my best, and for that year, my life has been on a constant upward climb. It’s weird for someone that truly hated life and could never find where they belonged to be able to say they are genuinely happy, but I am and it is all because of the simple decision to buy a camera a few years back. Even though I have upgraded my camera, and could use the money from selling my starter, there’s not a chance I’ll sell the one thing that has had the greatest impact on my life and the person I have grown to be.

For the time being, I live to see the world and share that world with the people I love with the photos I take along the way. After watching the progress I have made in terms of photography, I know for a fact that I can make my dreams come true because I am a sophomore in college and I am already living some of the things I used to dream of. My life is the perfect combination of all the things that used to keep me up at night and all the thoughts that would fill my head when I slept, and I’m thrilled to see where that will take me.

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My Journey to Volunteer

Last year, I had the pleasure of spending a week miles and miles away from my hometown of Michigan volunteering on Catalina Island, California. While there, my group from my school (the University of Michigan-Dearborn) worked with the conservancy on the island. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and upon finding out the trip would be another volunteer trip for 2015, I immediately signed up.

I am now a leader of the trip that takes place in a little over a month, but between fretting about getting everything together and still handling school and other commitments, it’s been so hard to work enough to fund the trip. So far I have paid all of my payments for the trip out of pocket and aside from a few fundraisers that will cut small portions out of my final payments (maybe $50, if not less).

As much as I love volunteering and I love being able to go to Catalina, the costs are difficult on me. I wouldn’t normally reach out for money as much as I have been for this trip, but money has been tight and this trip means more to me than anyone will every really know.

If you wish to help me out, you can donate to my Go Fund Me account here: http://www.gofundme.com/57uy40

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