Wildflowers Workshop | Tennessee & me

I’m not really sure where to start here.. So, I’ll just begin by saying that I am officially starting this blog post today (December 17th). I suspect it might take me several days to finish it, that it will be very very long, and by the time it posts it will give all of you an inkling as to just how difficult this experience was to put into words.

I’ve given a lot of thought as to what exactly happened two weekends ago in Tennessee. I did not sign up for a photography workshop necessarily to learn. I’ve done that once – and I did learn. But, I feel in my photography career I am at a different place than just learning. I’ve learned what I like, how I do what I do. I have my workflow down to a science that I feel like even well seasoned 10 year plus photographers have not yet mastered without having to outsource their editing.

I’ve noticed I don’t look at other photographers websites. I don’t check their Facebook pages to see what they are doing. Not because I dislike them, or because I don’t care what they are up to.. I think it is honestly because it really doesn’t matter? I know how I shoot, the type of clients I want and I am just not a person that does a whole lot of comparisons. I can barely keep up with myself, so I’ve always thought how in the World can I keep up with anyone else. I don’t buy photographer’s action sets or presets. I don’t even use those things anymore. I have no interest in teaching workshops or offering mentoring and I really believe that is simply because I just like taking pictures. That’s it. The plain and simple. Some are born to do those other types of things, but to me… Photography is just for me. I’m happier that way, and I’m sure there are others out there that feel the same. With all that being said… I signed up for Joy’s Wildflowers Workshop because I needed to be inspired and I wanted a clean slate. I wanted to form bonds with other photographers that taught me more about life and less about just photography. I wanted to know why I was struggling and how come I couldn’t just have each session start off brand new and shiny for me anymore? If you feel like you are in the same boat… Read on. I hope I can help. I’ll share a disclaimer before I ramble on even further… I’m no Ann Voskamp. I can’t make the bitter and hurt I’ve experienced or felt sound flowery and beautiful no matter how badly I wish I could. Speaking of Ann she blogged something the other day that just really sat with me and resonated with the reason I attended the workshop… She said “sometimes the only thing you know by heart is that your heart knows it hurts..” How true is that? That’s what was going on, and why I chose to attend. These are my own raw words. Please be gentle with any comments you may leave because I am a real person that is just living life like each of you.

The past four years have been great and hard all at the same time. If you’ve known me long you know what I’m talking about. I have one photography job, and three healthcare jobs. I relocated to the Midwest to be with my husband. Best decision ever. Leaving behind a full time job in healthcare and deciding to embark on finding a replacement position here in Indy. Most of you know… Four years later that full time position has still not happened. I piece together an often 45-60 hour work week almost each week and it kills me. Different hours, different days. I love it, and I hate it. Giving back to people in need is very rewarding to me, and I don’t think I can ever leave the hospital permanently. I want to make a difference to someone when they think no one else cares. I’ve had people do it for me, and now I want to do it for others. I spent my whole childhood and young adult life in and out of hospitals. My brother did the same. It sucks. All it takes is one nasty healthcare worker to ruin your day and your outlook. I want to be the one that flips that around, and I’m going to. Since leaving Georgia I can’t even recognize the face of healthcare anymore. This makes me sad. I got into this profession for the right reasons, and feel like it oftentimes goes unnoticed. Jobs are being eliminated left and right. I live each day fearing a friend/coworker or potentially myself will have our jobs taken from us. Good people are getting let go, and the ones left over are having to make do and get by with little or nothing. I started doing photography because I love it. It makes me happy. I love getting to freeze a normal day in people’s normal lives that they can look back on in hard times. I hope they see their photos and think to themselves.. “That day was just perfect and I can feel it looking at this picture.” Because, let’s face it. We all have hard times. They exist and they just are. I’ve been struggling pretty badly this year with staying positive, not living in fear and knowing I’m making a difference even if I don’t have benefits or paid time off to show for it. I like to think I help my coworkers as much as I can and more importantly that my patients are getting the care they need. It’s hard to feel important or validated in even the most slight ways not knowing where you belong.

Two weekends ago in Tennessee I think I found where I did.

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I’ll start this off with brutal honesty. I was DREADING going to the Wildflowers Workshop. I hadn’t been in a *great* place leading up to it. One of my hospitals had pretty much announced a restructuring and that jobs could potentially be lost. I was seeing my husband maybe 3 hours during the weekdays (since he was at the fire dept two nights a week overnight and I was at the hospital 3-4 nights a week until midnight). I had maybe one hour to myself each week. I have always, always, always had the worst time saying no and it was starting to take its toll on me. I could tell when I looked in the mirror, I could tell when I couldn’t remember the last conversation I had with my husband, I could tell when I realized I hadn’t been to the grocery store in almost two months… I kept thinking we don’t even have children and we are already killing ourselves. I. am. killing. myself. I’ve been kind of “stuck” with my crappy schedule for the past four years, and I had just decided I needed to accept the likelihood that nothing would probably change. For awhile the workshop was just something else I had committed to doing, and another little dot on my iCal. I tried not to get too excited about it in case it didn’t meet my expectations. I was too busy worrying and trying to figure out a master secret life plan that I couldn’t even be present in my own life. Looking back… That is just proof to me that I needed to go.

I took a day off to make the drive down to Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. It ended up being the worst drive I have ever driven in my life. We had just had a terrible snow storm, and the roads were not sufficiently plowed in the least with more snow coming and really bad visibility. What normally would have taken me 5 hours, took me 10. I am very confident that I barely survived the drive. the vast majority of it was just spent praying I’d make it in one piece. I would have just gotten off the interstate at an exit – but, they looked much worse than even the interstate was. The drive was made between the hall of HIS hands for sure. That’s the only way this Georgia girl could have conceivably survived. I did decide to bail on a group dinner by the time I made it to just outside of Nashville – I felt terrible. But, I knew my mind needed a break from all of the mental stress, and I wanted to be able to soak it all in the next day. So then I arrived at the cabin  just after nightfall. Even in the dark…. I knew it would be a place that changed my life. I just had a feeling. The owners were more than gracious, and ran out late in the night for an air mattress just so all of the gals could be accommodated comfortably. The cabin was an old church that this couple completely renovated a few years ago. In the interior they used old relics from it’s past. Bits of old white washed wood for the interior walls – which used to be the exterior walls of the old Methodist church. The original pine wooden beams – it reminded me so much of my home in Georgia. Divine intervention? I think so.

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One by one all of the ladies that stayed at the cabin with me arrived. I’m so unbelievably thankful that they were each put into my life at that point in time. I think all of us experienced something very unique that weekend – and unless you’ve done it… You can just never describe it. Tracy, Tammy, Alli, Jenny, and Paula were my roommates (arriving in that order) and I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. (I’ll admit here I was not a Summer camp kid.. I was SUPER nervous about bunking with all new women I had never met. I definitely laid in bed the night before worrying that no one would like me.) We critiqued each others sites and pricing in only a way real friends can, and talked about what more we wanted out of this life. Going for our dreams, instead of staying content with the present state of things. Making time for our loved ones, and keeping them our main priority. I truly believe we will all hold each other accountable and obtain everything we have ever wanted from this very brief life we’ve been given. The night before the workshop you could tell from talking with everyone just how exasperated we all were in general. Not knowing how we could possibly continue on our current path – not knowing what step to take next. I don’t think any of us could even guess where the next day would take us..

We all woke up bright and early to head over to Moonshine Hill. We were greeted with big red Christmas ribbons, an old log cabin, freshly split firewood, fully decorated Christmas trees (with COTTON on them!!!), mimosas, a crackling fireplace, our Wildflowers Workbook tied up in a quilted bow, dozens of cozy warm quilts, & the bestest of the best… a big hug from Joy and Michelle. (I’ll talk about my thoughts on Joy at the very very end of this blog post.) I felt tears well up in my eyes just seeing it. Which is a very strange thing for me. I’m not a cryer. I’m just not. I’ll cry sometimes about animals I see wandering the streets, or if I haven’t seen this little squirrel that lives in our yard who is missing his tail for a few days… (He’s so cute! He looks like a little bear.) My husband has witnessed that a few times.. But, not really many others have ever seen it.. I’m not sure why I don’t cry – but, I just don’t. I’ve never been able to talk in front of audiences – definitely not in front of people I had never met before. It’s the worst kind of problem. My voice cracks, my heart races, and I just can’t make my words into sentences. For some reason it completely slipped my mind that introductions would likely happen…. Annnnnnd then they did. Annnnnnnd mine sucked. I don’t think I a) mentioned I was married, b) mentioned where I lived c) mentioned how long I’d been doing photography or what kind of photography for that matter. I almost started crying during my own INTRODUCTION. I am convinced I make the most horrid first impressions… But, anyways I’ll come back to that later. During our introductions I realized a few things… This World we live in is so dang big. All of these women were amazing in my eyes already – a lot of us talked about life experiences and where we were at in our lives and career. A lot of them very different- but when you got to the nitty grit of it, we were all the same. We could see each others vulnerabilities and lift each other up because of them. There was a lot of brokenness in that room – and it was all of us not just one of us. Joy was there to help us learn to put each other’s pieces back together again and to embrace just who we are. I was completely overwhelmed hearing everyone’s stories. The only word I can use to describe them was that they were beautiful. Even in the brokenness – just awe inspiring.

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(Special thanks to my girl, Paula for this photo of me.) Love her!  She is going through a re-branding process and getting her site up (which I know will be as gorgeous as she is!)  Will share here once it’s complete. 🙂

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Joy encouraged open conversation – and assured us no question was off limits at any time. She told us not to be too hard on ourselves, and I think that really made me want to participate and be fully present.

I won’t go into any elaborate details as to what was covered during the workshop because a lot of what we talked about was deep and real. We didn’t just talk about photography and taking pictures. What we talked about was much more broad than that – it covered life. I’m sure some of the gals that attended who might have been newer to the industry than me found a lot of value in Joy’s editing process her initial e-mails with clients, etc. A big reason I went was to find out how in all of her sessions it seems like she wasn’t even there. You can see an interview I did with Denim and Grace a few months ago where I talked about just that here. It’s like it’s just a glimpse into the family or couple’s normal life. She touched on that too and I feel like I got the answers I needed. The vast majority of the workshop was an open forum, a safe place in which we could all speak when we felt the call to do so. We journaled during a portion of the workshop about happy memories from our present or past. The mundane that brings the brightest glimpses of joy into our lives. Once we finished we went around the room and shared our moments with each other. I had a ton that were pretty emotional (and I knew would be when I went to try and speak it out loud to others). So, I tried to do a cop out and chose the one memory that I thought would be the least difficult to get through speaking aloud . I’ll share that here : I put that one of my happiest/simplest memories “Picking green beans in my grandparents garden – helping string and snap them for canning in the big green garden buckets. Learning to sew with my grandmother, and picking up the peach pits and making piles of them from their peach trees.” I definitely didn’t get through all of that while speaking – and I definitely started crying anyways.. Oh well.

The fact of the matter is… I let my walls down, and it may seem like the simplest thing… But, to me it is definitely the biggest. I have been broken  for a long time on the inside – for a lot of different reasons.  I’m fairly confident that I’ve done just about everything in life at an accelerated pace from my peers.  Constantly thinking onto the next. What’s next? That’s a problem in and of itself – and it’s something I’m working on.  I’ve had a lot of unfair situations “break me” that very select few even know about.  Break me to the point of not knowing how I’ll ever crawl out of the hole I was in – and being unrecognizable to myself.  A lot of times not thinking that any kind of recovery was anywhere close to possible for me, not ever knowing if I’d see value in myself ever again. I have dealt with anxiety ever since due to said situations – teeth grinding being a big manifestation of it (that’s why I had to get Invisalign this year to change my bite).   It has greatly affected how I interact with others, control-freakishness, and my own self-confidence.  My awesome husband has done so much to help me along the way.. Because of said experiences I have ALWAYS held everything in. Everything.  I felt completely renewed in spirit with why I am doing photography in the first place. All of these women’s stories broke my heart, but I think it cracked open so that I could fill it back up with love for each of them and more importantly for myself. I’m carrying their stories around with me each day, and in a way parts of them. I know they all have a lot of good in store and I can’t wait to see what happens next. While I didn’t reveal any of my deep and dark secrets to them that weekend (I’m not there yet, but maybe I will be one day), it did help me realize that I have a story and I should value it.  Just like they were doing.  Own your story in all of it’s broken glory. I hold a lot in, and I let it bubble just under the surface. (Bless my husband’s heart – he does wonders with me 🙂 . ) Owning my imperfections in a room full of strong women helped me finally realize that I do have something to offer. That my work does matter. That it matters daily in the lives of my clients when they pass that canvas hanging above their fireplace. That even on days they may be in tiffs with their spouse they will see a photo of their wedding day and remember exactly how it felt even then. That even after little Sally paints her big beautiful artwork of Sharpie drawings on the leather couch it’s just another day, and life happens and do the little problems of life really even matter in the end? And suddenly the big picture comes into focus and the silly things don’t even matter anymore. Life is short, it’s time to live it. I spent a lot of time while Joy was speaking thinking about things just like this. How can I make photo sessions MATTER to my clients, and tell their truths?

I journaled a lot of my thoughts as topics were touched on, and I think I got a really good look as to what I want my sessions to look like in the future. I’m not going to do a whole lot of posed happy smiley necessarily. I’m going to keep telling stories.. Imperfections and all. I’m going to encourage new moms to embrace their “flaws” that they may see, but no one else does. Be in photos new moms!!! Don’t be scared to get in front of the camera post partum – this is just a fraction of your life, and one day when you are old and gray – you will want to remember exactly how you felt and what you looked like at that time in your life. I’m going to speak up to the guys when they act like they don’t want to be there – it’s their session too and I want them to seem present in the photos every time they look at them.

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We had two styled shoots at this particular workshop. Both setups were styled by Stockroom Vintage. She did a fabulous job, and I highly recommend her. You can see her things here and here. Our first setup was a couple and the theme was “love letters”. Dan wrote Alissa a love letter, and revealed it to her scrawled in beautiful penmanship on a scroll of linen during the session. I love meeting and shooting couples like this.. I feel like when I met my husband I found something special. A best friend. Someone that I can always call, and that I look forward to spending every free moment I have with. When I meet couples like Dan and Alissa…. I know they have it too. You can feel it.

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Here is a photo of my new friend, Jenny. We were doing a bit of clowning around. You can see her work here!  Another super sweet woman with the BEST heart.

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Next up was an indoor lifestyle session with the Howard family. Little Miss Thing was just something else… Waving at all of us with a huge smile on her face – and might I add dressed impeccably for a little gal of her size. 🙂 Their family session was done in warm clothes and thermals inside an old log cabin on property. It was perfection. I’ll probably put all of you on word & photo overload with this post, because I knew there was no way I could abbreviate or shorten it in any way.

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My goal from now on when approaching a new session is to connect with my client’s heart. Tell their story. Make it a day to remember. I’m going to start having informal client meetings with new wedding couples. Before the engagement session and the wedding. I want to really KNOW my clients and be there to root them on in life. I am my friends/clients biggest cheerleader. I love keeping up with them on Facebook and seeing their kids grow. This just ensures I keep making new friends and the big picture is told through my imagery.

Now to touch on Joy.. I can’t encourage any of you enough on signing up to mentor or go to a workshop with her. I really enjoyed my workshop experience not just for Joy – but, because of the phenomenal women I met. I guarantee you if you stood each of them in front of me today several weeks later… I can still tell you their story without any hints. That’s how tight the bond was. There was not a soul in the room that I wasn’t quietly praying for as we went around the room sharing our brokenness with each other. Now, I’m their cheerleader. I’m rooting for them -and we are rooting for each other. I think it’s only fitting that I am blogging this the week of Christmas.. Her name is Joy and that’s exactly what she is.

joy
: a feeling of great happiness
: a source or cause of great happiness : something or someone that gives joy to someone

: success in doing, finding, or getting something

 

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She has been given this amazing gift of giving renewal to others. Helping others to see their value when they can’t see it themselves. I don’t even know if she truly realizes just how large an impact she makes on people and with how much ease it just happens. It’s a natural thing and it’s a God thing. Poise and grace emanate from her, and wraps a warmth and comfort around anyone that is with her. I really think that is the only reason I was able to open up and see my worth that weekend. Most of my career I’ll probably be trying to figure out an adequate way to thank her for what she has given back to me, but I’m sure nothing will ever amount to it. I was on the verge of giving up – and facing exhaustion. I’m taking a step back, and I’m going to shoot more for the sake of stories. I may have less clients by numbers than I do right now…. But, the photos will be genuine – and I hope they will mean the World to them. I’m hoping people will book me for me.. Because they like me -and are cheering for me. Because, they trust me in telling their story for exactly what it is – perfect. Not after price shopping and it seeming I have the better deal. It’s not about the money, and it is – I get that. But, I want friends out of this… Not numbers.

I’m a broken person. There are a lot of things about me that no one knows, a lot of cracks in this facade. I struggle just like everyone and have some really horrible days. There are days I look in the mirror and just can’t find the words to tell you who I am and what I have to offer this World. I work harder each and every moment to choose joy daily. That’s been my goal for the whole of 2013. I’m pretty sure that will probably just remain a life goal… Let’s all make a conscious decision to want more and be more. 2014 is right around the corner and I’m going to be making some changes. I’m going to improve my interaction I have with my clients. I want to be a safe place for them, and their stories to be true to life in the photos.  What I get to do is nothing short of magic, and I’m going to make sure it continues to be that kind of experience anytime my clients see their photos.

I did shoot some film at the workshop, but haven’t sent it off to the lab yet. So, I’ll likely just do an all encompassing blog on film in 2014 once I get them back.

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I journaled something during the workshop completely on my own, and it has really stuck with me. I think it is ME exactly and speaks the experience I want to give to others. So I guess you could call this my business mantra :
“Joy is finding the cracks in life where the light gets in. That’s where you find the beauty. Let me help show you just how amazing the imperfections can be. Brokenness with bits of light are what make up a beautifully written story. How are you writing yours?”

As I’m wrapping this up… I just want to let all of y’all know… My little squirrel that’s missing it’s tail just ran in front of my office window and seems to be doing great on this unseasonably warm winter day in the Midwest. So, all is well in my World.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of Holiday seasons. Wherever you find yourself the next couple of months heading into the New Year – do your best to remain present. Live the life you love, and enjoy every minute. It goes by so fast.

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Comments

  1. Suzanne House Roberts :

    Beautiful post, Taylor. The holiday season seems to always bring a mix of joy and brokenness for me. Your blog was just what I needed to read this week. I hope that 2014 brings you as much joy as your heart desires!

  2. Such a wonderful recap of our amazing weekend Taylor! I feel so fortunate to have met you and all the other women there. Hugs!

  3. Read every last word. Big <3 to you, Taylor.

  4. taylor, these images are amazing! You took me right back 🙂 and thanks for the shout out lol I can not wait to see you again…we must plan a january date! love you lady…merriest of christmases to you

  5. Erika Schirmer :

    Taylor, your words…oh my. Trying to soak it all in, you transported me back to our ‘little cabin’. You may think that you were not ‘open’ but you were…your words here show just how raw you were. Thank-you for sharing these amazing/heartfelt/tear-jerking words with us. You need others to see this side of you more often, because it is truly beautiful…in.so.many.ways. So proud of you right now! 🙂 Merry Christmas my dear, God bless in your new year filled with Joy.

  6. Taylor, you took me right back to moonshine hill. You put those words together so beautifully. I can’t wait to see what your life holds for you. Thank you for your inspiration at our workshop and in these words. xo -Tracy

  7. This was moving and beautiful! I have been rooting for you since the day we met, I knew you were going to be someone special and bring something special to my life. I feel privileged to get a sneak peak into your life and journey. Cheers to a joyful 2014!

  8. This was beautiful Tay. I loved the part about Mom’s garden & canning beans. The whole blog touched my heart! You are very special,Tay, I’m proud of you. We are all broken. Some of us try to fill the cracks with stuff. Others pretend they are not there and hope no one sees them. You photos are beautiful!! I’m sure you bring joy to your patients! Keep up the good work & don’t let things bring you down.

  9. Thank you for sharing.
    You inspire, Taylor.

  10. This was perfection, Taylor. Love you and your work tons!

  11. hello! i followed a link to this post from joy’s website. this is so beautiful… tears came to my eyes three different times while reading this beautiful post. i love how real and raw and vulnerable your writing is, and your pictures are so lovely. you are a talented woman. thank you so much for sharing so much of this story.

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