This post is going to be really long, so you've been warned.
I haven't been ready to talk about exactly what happened for a couple years and honestly haven't taken many photos in the meantime, unless it was for a paid assignment, of which I've had a few. It just wasn't what it used to be.
So what happened, anyway? Now that I'm resurfacing, and still have my equipment, I've decided that I'm not done yet. I could start from the beginning, but it's a really long and convoluted story about leaving college just over halfway through, and landing whatever job would take me in the meantime. I worked as a journalist for The Resident, I worked as an assistant web developer for The Yankee Retail Company, I worked as an executive assistant for the startup ITema, which tried to transition back into web development, which didn't work and I got laid off in 2008.
After ITema, I left IT and never looked back. Hear me? NEVER. It's not like I was brokenhearted about losing ITema, they were failing anyway and were out of business six months later or so I heard. Losing that job was more of a relief than anything, even though it was at the beginning of the economic downturn we are so familiar with now. I just started looking for another job that would take me and launched my Etsy shop, which helped me stretch my savings until my eventual hire as a mail lady with USPS.
What does this have to do with photography, anyway? When I worked at The Resident in 2005-6, I helped my good friend Josh get a job there. As a staff writer, I was in charge of taking my own pictures, and issue after issue I was surprised to see my own images on the front page. Josh told me I should look into pursuing photojournalism professionally, which always sat at the back of my mind after that. The point and shoot I had - a Kodak DX7590 - wasn't going to cut it, which I knew. About six weeks before my layoff from ITema, when I was shopping around for a DSLR, my Kodak broke after almost three years of heavy use. And once I was laid off, I had no money to replace it.
My grandmother ended up buying me a Canon Rebel XS in early 2009 when I had spent a year still doing what I could with the broken Kodak, but the learning curve involved with upgrading from a point and shoot to an SLR seemed a little steep. I just did what I always did--took pictures of whatever I wanted to shoot, and worked as a mail lady most days because it paid the bills, and kept up with my Etsy shop.
Then the Flood of 2010 came to eastern Connecticut & Rhode Island, and though I had to work, I brought my camera hoping to capture something exciting. I'm that person that will all but destroy my car driving around tornado damage and debris (which happened the next year).
No news outlet ever saw my pictures from that day, but my coworkers did. I never sent my pictures of the flooding to the papers because frankly, I don't agree with the practice of soliciting content for a paper from people who are happy just to see their name in print. If I've ever contributed photos, it's because someone paid me for them. Bills don't pay themselves and the photography business is getting more and more difficult to survive in with each passing day.
My coworkers were really excited about the photos of the flood, and one of them told me I was wasting my time with the PO. I told her I was just there to pay bills.
A few months later, she invited me to shoot her brother's wedding which was taking place in her backyard. "No pressure," she said, "it's his fourth marriage." Immediately I envisioned a backyard summer BBQ with everyone barefoot in Hawaiian shirts. I had to rush there after work, I was sweaty, in work clothes, and I probably smelled bad, but I shot my heart out.
Several weeks later, I received a phone call from someone I didn't know, wanting me to shoot a health fair at Community Health Center in Middletown, CT. I had no idea where I had even met him, or which event he had gotten my crappy business card from since I had done exactly two-- the wedding and an anniversary party. No idea.
What that one health fair turned into was a whirlwind two and a half years shooting for Connecticut's biggest non-profit health center. I upgraded all my equipment, I gained a few clients. After about a year and a half, we started talking numbers and I told CHC what it would take for me to quit the PO and work for them full time. It looked like it was all going to come together during the summer of 2012, and I was so hellbent on getting out of the PO after four years, I resigned three weeks before the start of the new fiscal year. I figured, I had freelanced for CHC for two years, I made more than double per month with them than I did through the PO (where I was part time)--whether they hired me on full time or not, I could survive with my freelance income while seeking new clients in addition to the ones I already had.
So I left the post office in June of 2012, thinking I wouldn't be back. Things were fine with CHC, but my hire was pushed back by a scandal that my contact in the PR department was absorbed with doing damage control for. I'm a patient person, so I didn't push the issue too much. I just continued freelancing and submitting my invoices.
The scandal that preoccupied the people responsible for my hire didn't go away, and then there was an issue getting paid that September--normally my invoices were paid within 7-10 days, which is lightning speed, but I was alerted that my check in September might take five weeks. Whatever, I had money in savings. I got the check in two weeks, and submitted my new invoices late in September, and kept on working.
I worked through October and early November, my September invoices still unpaid. Suddenly, in November, I received a phone call canceling the remainder of my assignments (through December) with one exception - Middnight on Main 2013. And I still hadn't been paid for the September invoices. When the invoices hadn't been paid by the middle of December, I made all the CHC galleries invisible on my smugmug to at least get a response out of them, and I did eventually get paid. My last assignment for them was Middnight on Main 2013.
My income dropped from an average of $5000/month to nothing with a phone call. There was no severance, no explanation other than a blown budget from the construction of CHC's new building. Obviously my pending job -if it had ever existed in the first place- vanished. And there was a new CHC scandal afoot, which sounded so fantastic that I questioned if it was even true or just completely made up.
I didn't talk about it because I couldn't explain what happened. I didn't believe the official explanation or the new scandal and figured I must have done something wrong, so I got rehired in a new post office with a severe pay cut, and waited. I didn't even touch my camera for several months. I didn't want to.
The new scandal finally broke in the news about six months later, which involved campaign contributions to Chris Donovan, and I didn't feel like so much of a failure because the scandal I'd heard about was validated after all.
CHC was not my only client, but my other clients are once a year deals. Good for extra income but certainly nothing to support myself on. I had to work extremely hard during the subsequent months just to make sure bills were covered, and none of it was photography work.
At the same time, my website was atrocious and my smugmug showed all the work I'd done since 2010, but no real portfolio of what I was capable of. I was still coding my own website even though I'd left IT, and my HTML/CSS skills were firmly rooted in 2007. Once I nailed cross browser compatibility, here came mobile! Forget it, after 14 years of coding my own site, I just don't have the patience to keep up with the constantly changing IT demands.
So, without a decent website or a decent explanation of what happened at CHC since I didn't really understand it myself, I stepped out for a couple years to reevaluate just what it is that I was doing.
Fast forward to this February, when I found out that I'm pregnant and due October 10. I almost sold all my camera equipment, hoping to erase the remainder of the debt I went into just to pay my 2012 tax bill. Freelancing is expensive, kids. Especially if you make more than $45k in a year on a 1099 form.
I realized though, if I sold all of my equipment and got a point and shoot, I would never return to photography. There's no way I would ever be able to afford the equipment I have again, and I would barely recoup 1/4 of what I spent on it. Giving it up just isn't worth it. I might only have enough clients I can currently count on one hand, but there is potential for more.
As for CHC, it was a crazy ride. I had a blast during the time it lasted, whether I was shooting a week's worth of fancy dinners with dignitaries, or shooting behind the scenes on the SteveSongs Recess Rocks music video, or whatever the event of the day was. The scandals over there are ongoing and everything I'd heard regarding them have been confirmed by people who didn't know I ever knew anything about them. I'm sad about how that turned out but the story isn't out entirely yet, but every time a little tidbit comes from the ether, it's part of the healing process.
So here we are, June 2014. It's been four years since my first assignments for CHC and just over a year and a half since my last, and you know what? I'm not making any money with photography right now so I'm going to come out and say this:
I'm changing my focus on photography to things I want to shoot. This works out better for everyone involved, because if I want to shoot it, I'll shoot it well, and I'll shoot it until I'm happy. One of my last assignments was for Odetah Camping Resort last October--I was paid for two hours and stayed five because I honestly was enjoying the shoot (a haunted mini golf). It provided me with an opportunity to shoot creatively and commercially something that I don't get to shoot often, which is low light situations with great color and atmosphere.
Not to say the only thing I'm going to shoot from now on are haunted mini golfs, but I'm open to shooting for campgrounds or businesses that want me to capture the essence of what they're all about. Odetah has always been happy with my work and I love working with them.
I thought about what I like to shoot and where my passions are, and local history comes up quite a bit there too. I've been heavily involved with the Sterling Historical Society since 2010, and if I could provide my services to other historical societies, I'd be happy to.
Local short track racing is another area I love to shoot, but I've literally only made $6 on prints from photos shot at Thompson. So there's hardly any money in that.
I shoot what I shoot. I want to return to photojournalism after the baby is born, because it's fun to be where the action is. If there's no money in it, so be it.