nce upon a time, I was a writer. In college, I pounded coffee and keyboards. Before that, way back in those naturally dramatic high school years, I fancied myself a star of the stage: actress, singer, and dancer-under-duress. But there were always times when words and performances failed me. I wanted a simpler and less showy way to express myself. During moments of creative drought, I attempted to export my emotions with charcoals and watercolors. The process was delightful but the results unremarkable. With disappointment, I admitted that I was simply not a visual artist and went back to using my words.
All the while, I tacked other people’s photos to my walls and thought, I’d like to try that. Each semester in college, I’d enroll in Photo 101 and then drop it, realizing that I just didn’t have the space in my schedule for studio hours, writing workshops, required courses, rehearsals and a job. As time went by, it seemed too late to learn. I have little tolerance for not being good at things. And because I didn’t know how to work one of those little black boxes, I was certain that the results would be much like my smudged charcoal drawings and drippy, distorted watercolors.
In 2002, I moved to southeast Alaska. Before heading north, I picked up a Powershot to document the adventure. In the Alaskan rain forest, I had to learn to “be outdoorsy” — something else I’d never been good at. As stepped out of my comfort zone and onto the steep trails around Sitka, I marveled at the emerald, sapphire and topaz spectacle of the wild, glittering landscape. I’d catch my breath and shoot. To my surprise, my snapshots consistently turned out different and better than those taken by my friends. I was shooting in full auto– the camera doing most of the heavy lifting — but I could clearly compose. My images were the ones everyone e-mailed home to make their families jealous. The praise was nice, but being able to save and share what I’d seen was the real thrill. I adored experiencing life through that retractable lens.
But I had no idea where to go from there. Upon my return to the East Coast and “real life,” the rigors of law school quickly consumed me. Plus, I couldn’t imagine that there was anything to photograph on the streets of DC. (Ha!) So, I put the camera in a drawer and didn’t think much of it again. Eventually, someone bought me a Canon Digital Rebel XT. I loved the way the DSLR felt in my hands. I marveled at the ability to focus the lens (a real lens!) myself. But I’ll be damned if I had any idea how to use it. Again, I hesitated. (Sensing a pattern?) Then, one bright Sunday morning, I took the camera for a long walk through Adams Morgan and forced myself to figure it out. I started to discern the relationship between that funny number after the “f” and how much of my photo looked fuzzy. I realized that I could change the speed to stop or blur action. Most of all, I discovered that there was no shortage of scenes to shoot just steps outside my door. I wondered what else I could do, how else I could see…
I took my curiosity to the internet and found a dizzying array of answers to that question. Three years on, I’m still sorting through them all… In the process, thanks in part to the many inspiring photographers I’ve encountered on Flickr and the personally epic journey of the 365 project that I completed last year — I’ve learned a lot about my camera and myself. I’m no pro and I may never be — but I want to learn more. And I suspect that the best way to grow is to build and participate in a community of curious camera-philes in a medium that allows me to both say and show, write and photograph.