To Be Nothing

Here I sit, sheltered from the elements by a door, watching the sun rising over the worn brick of the building I work in. Snow coats the ground, though it can’t sparkle due to the dead grass it rests upon poking through.
I think I am content, but only content. My mind is racing with the desire to explore, the need to escape for some time. In sync with my mind, my eyes dart back and forth with anticipation for where I could be. Or is that the coffee I just drank? Whatever it may be, I’m here, awake and alive, so I must refrain from complaining. I just feel like there is something missing, the passion and feelings that come with the fiery desire to create and explore.
I am a writer and a photographer. My entire purpose is to create, and to create meaningful content. I cannot lie dormant. I cannot choke out the creative need that fills my soul. I can sit silently, neglecting my camera and notebook, but doing so would only neglect myself. I have tied to drown out what I need, usually unintentionally, and the result was horrible. I will never be truly happy unless I am shooting and writing.
Even days spent in the frigid cold, kneeling on the hard ground and trying to shoot as my fingers and toes lose all feeling, are days far better than the ones I don’t use my camera. Photography is a part of who I am. Writing is a part of who I am. I believe “writer” and “photographer” better describe who I am than any adjective ever could.
What I have found is that what simply makes me happy and complete, defines me. What began as a hobby out of curiosity has exploded into a major and crucial aspect of my life. While cameras and capturing moments intrigued me and  I have been writing for enjoyment for as long back as I can remember, I had no idea these time fillers would one day consume me.
If there’s anything I know about love, it’s that it is a blazing passion deep within our souls that spills out uncontrollably. My feelings toward my camera, toward the words produced by my mind, are nothing short of love. The mere concept of snapping a photo, of writing a sentence, they are such simple actions, yet they encompass my being. To be completely and utterly passionate…That is love. To me, my camera is far more than an object—it is a lifeline, a connector to my grander purpose. Without it, I am nothing.

This Wild Little Dream

I’m starting off with the generic thing I see some variation of plastered all over social media at random points of the year:
If you had told me this was what my life would be a few years ago, I would have thought you were crazy.

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Shooting a concert with my best friend Aubree last fall

I never would have expected to be where I am in the least. From the days of awkwardly holding a camera and pretending I knew what I was doing because I could control the ISO and didn’t have to shoot with the flash up, to slowly figuring out how to control the shutter speed and so on, there was never a moment I sat down and thought, “Wow, one day this camera could become the object my entire life revolves around.” When I wrapped my hand around the kit lens that came with my first DSLR, I didn’t even imagine that one day I would invest in a lens that would not only make my arm fall asleep, but capture photos that would get my images plastered all over the place. When I took up journalism, it was writing that drew me to the field; I didn’t think photos would tie into that deal. I loved taking photos but I didn’t see myself as a photographer. You know what? I still sometimes don’t.

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On the field before shooting the Michigan football game

When I shot my first set of senior pictures, I was thrilled but I thought that was it. When I shot my first concert, I couldn’t contain my happiness but, scared and lost in the photo pit, I was certain it wouldn’t happen again. When I shot a concert with my best friend, I felt something so powerful about photography and the friendship formed partially by it. When I shot my first festival, a pride filled me that I could never explain nor replicate. And the day I walked out onto the field of Michigan Stadium clutching my camera and staring in awe at the audience, nothing could compare. These feelings that I was on the wrong path or that I was going no where seemed to be plaguing me but in that moment, it all made perfect sense to me. My camera, my passion, again reminded me that there is value and purpose in my life. More importantly, I was allowed to show my passion to those around me in a way that could translate both to those close to me and strangers alike.

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Spending time with one of my best friends, Sarah, during the halftime of a Michigan game

Through a camera and some dreams I thought I wouldn’t see beyond sleep, I have been able to find myself. Who I thought I was and what I wanted was shaken up right before my very eyes. With every single opportunity that has come my way, I have discovered what matters to me, what brings me true happiness, and what has the power to change my mood and my mind. For some, following my accomplishments is something they enjoy and they are readily willing to share their approval with me. For me, knowing that I have support and love out there is one of the most beautiful things. While I still struggle through not knowing exactly what I want out of this life, it is so comforting to know that my joy isn’t something I have to enjoy alone.

The Dream is Not Dead

Some days (okay, a lot of days lately), I wake up in a funk. I can’t seem to find any meaning in the mundane work, eat, sleep schedule. Between being caught in a minimum wage job that drains my energy to missing events because of that said job, it’s just not easy to feel like I’m making my dreams the reality I so need.

With those weights and constraints, I have got to keep focused. While my summer didn’t end up being what I expected, it had moments that weren’t short of wonderful and I can confidently say the dream that felt so dead just a couple months ago is alive. It took a lot of days of feeling down and out (hey, still having plenty of those days, but looking at the bright side and looking towards an amazing support system). It took days of doing what I love, seeing my work, writing some and remembering the feeling it gives me when the thoughts flow so effortlessly. It took a good conversation with an unexpected friend, plus conversations with the people that have been rooting me on from the start. I may not be at the top, but as I look around me, both figuratively and literally, I can say I am definitely not at the bottom. I have crazy dreams that people undoubtedly call me crazy for, I stay up late chasing and doubting those dreams, I have to clear my head at least a dozen times a day, but it is worth it. For the goals I have already achieved and what I wish to accomplish, this is worth it. Every single day of feeling worthlessness makes the days of feeling invincible and on top of the world worth it. It has been two years since this journey of mine began, and I can’t wish any of those past two years to be any different than they were. From the people I have met to the people I have lost, to the unbreakable bonds and incredible friendships that have come both out of the music industry, photography, and the journalism world, I have gotten my efforts back tenfold. Even if it takes me years and years to make the dream all that I want it to be, I have gained so much from the journey, that I’ve already made it. The dream was tossed to the side for a while, only for me to stop and realize mistakes were being made. To this summer, thanks for providing me with the wake up call that I really needed. I’m back and the dream is not dead.

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.

They Said

They said it was a stupid choice
They said I was wasting my brain

But how is it wasting to embrace your inner voice?

Doubtful a bit, I took the leap
Enrolled in classes and went along
Take a picture here, a picture there
Some pretty decent, but most nothing to keep

I wrote, I wrote till my fingers were stiff
Wrote about anything, anywhere
Notebooks, paper scraps, my laptop files filled

Never did I guess my camera and a pen
Would push me through a year in such an upward manner

They said it was a stupid choice
They said I was wasting my brain
I’m glad I never believed them then

Journeys by Oneself

This road I thought to wander alone
My camera, my notebook
Traveling the world till I found a home
An independence was all I would need
The desire to go and be free
The love that came and shook
This apart would tug and tear
The notions that alone was divine
For happiness isn’t a successful time
When you’re walking alone
Searching for what may be inside
And leaving your friends far behind

Dreaming Big

Near the end of my senior year as college got closer, I got so many comments about how journalism was a bad career choice, how I won’t find a job, how it’s not worth it, how I should be a doctor or some other well paying health field job. Just recently someone I worked with enthusiastically asked me what I was studying. When I answered, her tone dropped and her only reply was, “oh.”

I’ll admit that I did let the doubts of others get to me. I considered changing my major, I looked into other majors, I tried to find one to switch to. I honestly could not find something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be stuck in some job I’m unhappy with or couldn’t picture myself doing every day. Even just having a part time job has proved to me that I can never let my career be something I don’t fully enjoy doing.

So here we are. It’s only my second semester of college and I am one hundred percent certain that what I am doing is what I can see myself doing until I’m old and ready to retire. Even at that point, I don’t see myself ever not writing. Writing is my life, my motivation. These past few months have been crazy and I’m still pretty shocked at the way things have been going.

Since school started, I’ve been writing for the paper at my university. Through the paper,I obtained a press pass to interview and photograph the band Strange Talk. From that, I met a girl who runs her own online magazine and have recently started writing for that. I recently did a phone interview with the band Sleeper Agent to preview a concert for my school’s paper, as well as an email interview with another singer for the magazine. On top of that, today I set up interviews with Of Mice and Men and We Came as Romans to preview one of their shows.

It’s honestly all just sort of happened. I would have never pictured myself doing what I’ve been doing, but I absolutely love it. Music, writing, and photography mean so much to me, and to combine them all is amazing. This is only just the beginning and I couldn’t tell you where I may be years from now, but I can say that wherever it is, as long as I’m writing, I’ll be content.