When people ask me how my trip to Bolivia was, I often say, “It was intensely amazing.” But, how can a sentence really describe the experience in a brief passing while shuffling kids to and from activities or in the grocery store?
The truth is that the whole trip was a huge perspective shift for me – from my heart to my mind. I found it was easier to digest the whole experience as a mother than a photographer. I’m not really sure why, except that is who I am at my core: a mother first, photographer second. That is why I shared about the trip on my Mommy blog first, “What Bolivia Showed Me.”
And, I still think the most powerful lesson was that:
“I discovered that photography is a powerful tool to connect us across language and social status, almost as if it’s a form of communication all it’s own. It starts with a smile. And that moment in photography where you can feel the connection in a person’s eyes exists no matter the conditions.”
The trip really nailed the truth for me – that I love photography. And, I love using it in a way that connects us, that helps us have compassion for others.
Workshops With Purpose gave us an incredible opportunity to learn in real world conditions. Partnered with Food For The Hungry, we worked from a shot list as if we were on an assignment for their Little Ones Project. We worked with interpreters and saw the work being done to eradicate the high infant mortality rate and fight childhood malnutrition.
It was a beautiful thing to see mothers and fathers becoming empowered and educated about irrigation, nutrition and growing more diverse foods to feed their children. And, it was really powerful to work with the Food For The Hungry staff to see how passionate they are to do the work. These jobs are not what we have come to expect from traditional American jobs – they go above and beyond a job title.
What impressed me the most about Food For The Hungry is that they have an exit plan – a frame work to empower the people and enable them to support their community. They aren’t a big organization that expects to hand out bags of food or medicine. They connect the community to do the work within the country.
I am grateful beyond words for having the opportunity to attend Workshops With Purpose and follow my heart. Yes, I do love non-profit photography and will look for ways to integrate this kind of work into my business before my retirement years!
Some smaller side lessons the workshop taught me:
1. I can take a cold shower and not freeze to death.
2. I like Llama meat.
3. Thunder and hail storms are breath-taking and livelihood crushing.
Whenever we get the chance to talk in person, feel free to ask me more about those side lessons!
It’s been quiet around here, but that’s because there’s been a flurry of activity. From a little family vacation to working as hard as I could to keep up with client work, and now to prepare for Bolivia!
I would not be able to go on this adventure – to do good while learning and expanding my photography skills – if it weren’t for my husband who first supported my crazy idea. And, the neighbor who volunteered to help me launch the Indiegogo campaign. Then came the flood of support from family and friends!
There have been two very good questions, though, from strong women I admire: 1. How will you?
When I first announced at a family gathering that I was going to do this, she asked how I would be able to – knowing that I didn’t have the funds to go right away. I said that I didn’t know exactly, but that with a vote of confidence and check from a cousin, I was sure I could ask for more help and earn the rest…the truth is that I’m almost there. I’ve put some of the trip on credit, which is a first for my business. This is a workshop/location/cause that fits into a place in my heart that I can’t quite explain. So, I’m taking a leap of faith and following.
And, I’m grateful for everyone who is helping to make this happen: from my Mother-In-Law who is going to fill my shoes for a week to the friend who referred a portrait client.
2. Why not teach the people photography instead?
This is an excellent question, and one that I think could be asked of any group or non-profit who needs to raise awareness. First, the non-profit is working on basic life needs like food and childhood nutrition education. While there may be one or two workers who know how to use a camera, photography is not just the process of pushing a button. The job of photography in this instance is to tell their story in a way that engages and encourages others to get involved. Second, there’s the technical issues with equipment in remote villages – if a camera breaks down it might not be cost effective to fix it or to buy another one. And, I could drone on about lack of Internet access and the other technical details.
There are some who are trying to help aid in educating and enabling those less fortunate to tell their story, but it’s not the most effective model yet*. That’s why non-profits need photographers and videographers. Think about it: You get a letter telling you about a situation so dire it sounds unbelievable, and it’s typed in size 10 font on a double-sided sheet – is that as effective as a short clip or few photos you see your friend share?
On a more personal note, I have had questions about inequality and lack of awareness since moving into the North Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle. The heritage of this part of West Seattle lies in depressing statistics and a bad reputation as a place where gentrification and inequality mix like a sick city experiment. Our neighborhood is home to the lowest life expectancy in the county. We have been labeled as a food desert for lack of a grocery story or farmer’s market.
Basically, I hope to bring back some understanding of how to better work in my own neighborhood to bring us together and work toward improving and changing the depressing statistics. For all the years of volunteering and photographing our happy community gatherings, I feel ineffective, like I’m not making a difference yet.
I can’t believe it’s almost time to purchase airplane tickets for this trip! The fundraising urgency has slowed down as we entered 2015, and I’m happy to report that I was able put all of my profits from 2014 into this trip, adding another $465. After trimming any excess spending (goodbye, Hulu subscription), I was able to add even more. And, I’ve been surprised and humbled by more family who have further supported me where I least expected it.
The plan moving forward is to put 50% of all my business profits toward the trip. I plan on borrowing the rest of the tuition from our family savings account and paying it back as fast as I can. I’m sending in the last of the tuition March 2nd!
Thank you all for inspiring me from the beginning with the launch of the Indiegogo campaign – that $550 start was the spark I needed to really reach for the chance to grow. I can hardly wait to share what I learn and show you another part of the world.
I like to think of life like a surfing metaphor – there are always waves, some are stronger than others, and some will even carry you along when you didn’t want it to but sometimes you can pick which one to ride. The ride can end in a crash or leave you exhilarated and ready for another. While I haven’t surfed since I was 19, I have experienced the beauty of riding along some big changes in my life.
Learning and doing non-profit photography is one wave I want to ride. For the Workshops With A Purpose Bolivia trip, it has been postponed until April 2015. It’s like a wave I know I want to ride, but it’s farther out than I expected. Which, after the initial disappointment is actually a good thing. I will have more time to get our family into a routine with the school year, and more time to earn the funds to go.
So, while it might appear like I’m putting this goal on the back burner, I’m actually working on it through my other endeavors. Every portrait session and all of my art photography sold will go toward my Bolivia Trip. I started a Bolivia page here on the site so that you can check out my progress, and I’ll only post an update once a month. That way, this site can get back to business!
Speaking of business, I am happy to share that I now offer studio sessions – we no longer have to schedule around the weather. These are at no additional cost, and are available at your request.
When I was 20, my entrepreneurial Uncle Ron took me, and my cousin (his son) to a big business conference in Portland, Oregon. We heard from many leaders and successful business people about what it takes to succeed. The only part that really sticks out in my mind was a spot that Goldie Hawn filled. All of the speakers spoke to their climb to success and what guided them. She said something about how, when she was about 13, someone asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, and she said, “Make people happy.” That was it. At the time she was studying Ballet, and was doing really well at that, but her drive was to make people happy. And with that simple intention she has succeeded.
So, as I have been trying to find my way in my own photography business, I have often asked myself, what do I want to do? I see beauty everywhere. I notice details many become immune to seeing. From fine art nature photography to weddings, these traits serve me well, but I’m still not succeeding in a way that can help me contribute to my family. Part of this is time, that’s certainly true, but part of it, I think, is that I’ve been holding back. I haven’t been completely honest with myself. What I have always done is help people.
Now this has taken many shapes, and provided many opportunities. I remember my first real job as a courtesy clerk (bagging groceries), I always kept busy and one time offered to take out the trash for the floral vendor who put together bouquets on site. She was grateful and a week later offered me a part time job. What she didn’t know is that I really wanted to work for her!
As life moved me around, I found myself oddly offered jobs literally helping others: from tutoring to baking to landscaping to wedding photography to an Internet start up to writing and a few odd jobs sprinkled in there. When I started a family, I decided to pour my heart into it, and I have learned so much more.
As our family started to grow, I could see room for me to help contribute to the family. That’s when I decided to use my photography in a way that could brighten someone’s day and fit into my full time mommy life, fine art nature photography. Two and half years into it, and tax season showed me it’s not the right direction. This has been my year of transition. I’ve taken a class on posing, a class on studio lighting, and attended a creative challenges class. All of it is leading me to the realization that I have never spoken about how I want to fulfill the desire to simply help people.
So, I’m going to put this out here on the Internet so it’s never forgotten: I want to use my photography to help people. At first I thought that it could be achieved to help capture a family’s life in an annual photo session. Then, I thought I could do it through modern portraits of women where they can see how beautiful they really are. And now I’m getting even more specific: I want to help non-profits through photography. My dream business involve doing part non-profit work traveling internationally and partly portraiture in Seattle.
In October, I will join Workshops With A Purpose in Bolivia to learn more about the Little Ones Project. Basically, it’s a work and learn opportunity: tell their story through photography while learning how to use photography to help non-profits around the world. Most other photography workshops are held in comfy retreats around the United States, and this one appealed to me because we are actually learning in the field and giving while learning.
As their promotional video starts, “Bolivia has the second highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere.” Food for the Hungry is working to provide a solution to this through the Little Ones Project – teaching mothers nutrition and proper care to grow healthy kids.
As many of you already know, feeding kids well is one of my passions. And, while I have no idea what this program teaches, I’m sure we won’t be talking Paleo and Gluten Free. It will probably be basic, and my job will be to simply help them continue to do the work. Photographs will help tell the story and gather support.
And, Bolivia holds a special place in my heart. My grandma’s parents were missionaries in Cochabamba when she was teenager. She wanted to revisit her old stomping grounds about 50 years later, and chose me as her traveling companion when I was 16 (probably because I had street smarts and was young enough to not have a family of my own yet). Ever since that trip, I have wanted to go back. It was the first time I had ever seen real poverty. I promised myself then, that I would return someday to help. Guess which city the Little Ones Project is operating out of? Yes, Cochabamba.
The timing is sudden for someone like me who likes to plan ahead and save. I had always held this dream in the back of my mind as something I couldn’t do until I was in my retirement years and the kids were all grown up. I assumed I would have to work first to build a successful photography business, then go on trips to donate my photography services.
Now I’m learning that you can do this as a way to make a living, and the only way to see if it’s really a dream I want to keep following is to experience it. Since my photography business is already taking a turn toward portraits and away from fine art, why not explore what I really want to do? Why wait and do it the traditional way I had envisioned?
I am going to be honest. For my business, I’ve put every penny earned back into it, and this year I’m close to having a positive balance of just over $40. My biggest block is marketing and promoting myself.
So, I want to break through that block, and earn my way into this Workshop. Every photo session and every art photograph I sell between now and September will go toward my tuition and traveling costs. Not everyone can afford a photo session or needs a fine art print, and I get that. So, I’m asking you to help me book 16 photo sessions in the next two months. And, I’ll be adding a bunch of art prints to my Etsy shop to help me raise the funds ($6,000.00 will cover tuition and airfare) by September 10th.
As a thank you I will send a postcard from Bolivia to anyone who either purchases a session or is able to refer and help me book a session or sell something from my Etsy shop.
And, yes, I offer gift certificates. I’m also thinking of doing a fundraising mini-session day so those with tighter budgets can get portraits too!