Not gonna lie, I have been thinking about writing this for years. I have been in love with photography since the tender age of fourteen. I was a freshman in high school, a baby really. I didn't know anything about the world yet. And this is my story. How I got started, the Flickr days, my 365 challenges, the studio days, taking a break, and everything in between.
*I suggest reading this story with a cup of coffee. And now, without further ado...
PART ONE: “Let’s start at the very beginning…”
Let’s start at the very beginning. It is, after all, a very good place to start.
I was fourteen, had literally started high school a few weeks earlier and simultaneously underwent the first very big trauma in my life at the same time. My mom dragged me along to visit her friend Laura one chilly September weekend in 2006. I was bored out of my skull, and this was back in the days before smartphones — I didn’t even have a cell phone yet! I pulled my mom’s little silver digital camera out of her purse and figured I’d go for a walk around the yard of Laura’s house and take some pictures for my MySpace page.
I didn’t know what I was doing when Laura pulled her old Canon AE-1 camera out of her closet and loaded it with a roll of film for me. I focused, clicked the shutter, and hoped for the best.
That was the very beginning of all of this.
I knew once I had that camera in my hand that this was going to change my life forever.
Fast forward two years.
I am sixteen, going on seventeen. Life as I knew it felt like it was crumbling around me. My friend group that I had been close with in middle school dropped me, went on with their lives and stopped inviting me along with them because I wasn’t fun to be around anymore. My first boyfriend and I broke up after being together for almost 3 years. I was numb, walking around school in a daze, lost inside depression that my trauma had built around me. That November, I reported what had happened freshman year to my school counselor. By February, I had landed a spot in a therapist’s office every other week.
I had a lot on my plate, between school and the pressure of junior year, therapy appointments, and that was also the year I got my first job. Working at Adrian’s Frozen Custard in my hometown added a sense of routine into my days that I never even knew I needed. But even with everything on my plate, I still found time for photography because it brought me so much joy.
My Uncle Bill found a 35mm film camera for me at a garage sale for my birthday that year. I went to Walgreens, stocked up on film, and got a photo album for all my prints. My calendar was filled with work schedules and things to do for school and therapy reminders and one thing that I was counting down the days for: the Lake Forest College Writing and Thinking Workshop.
When I didn’t have a camera in my hand, I got lost in words.
When I went to writing camp for two weeks that summer, I was prepared for the hand cramps and getting up early and losing so. many. dang. pencils. I was not prepared for the great friendships, a real sense of community, and the photos and adventures that followed.
Every single day, as I packed my bag with my notebook and reading material and approximately 2395 pencils and pens, I also loaded up my film camera. Hearing the automatic film wind was always like magic, a little slice of home even though I was an hour away, sort of independent and on my own for the first time. I brought it with me everywhere.
“Wanna go for a walk around campus?”
“Sure, just let me grab my camera!”
Our adventures into the city from Lake Forest made some of the best photos. We took a trip to Evanston and Andersonville and of course, downtown Chicago.
“Are you coming?”
“Yep, just changing rolls of film!”
I ended up bringing seven rolls of film home with me to be developed after two weeks. The photography bug had definitely bitten me. I remember always flipping through those photos with a sweet sense of nostalgia and awe, because I had finally said out loud the things that I had been working so hard on in therapy for four months prior.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse.
And I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for photography.
Picking up a camera has always been more than just pretty photos for me. It started as a coping mechanism, an escape, a way to try to and deal with the very big feelings of what I was experiencing. I took pictures of flowers, light, my friends, of myself just for fun… anything was fair game really. I did senior photos for a few of my friends who were like, “Hey Anna, you like photography… Will you do my senior pictures?”
I went through a lot of different point and shoot cameras. I finally decided, “I want to get a nice camera. Where do I start?”
That’s when I joined Flickr. I uploaded photos here and there while researching my favorite photographers and what camera they were using. I also saw everyone doing 365 projects where they took a self-portrait every day for a year. I had just started my senior year of high school. Everyone was talking about homecoming and early college acceptances and, “Oh my God, where are you applying for next year?!”
I wanted to put off thinking about college and the usual monotony of high school. I wanted to get better at photography, and getting in front of the camera every day for a year seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“I’m game,” I said.
TO BE CONTINUED... Read Part 2!