PART THREE: 52 Weeks Project
After my 365 challenge ended, I felt sort of empty. I missed creating something just for fun and just for me. In January 2011, I started a 52 Weeks project before I headed back to Savannah from winter break. I scaled back a bit, making the goal one photo every week instead of every day.
My 52 Weeks project started on the precipice of another very big change in my life.
I was miserable in Savannah. I loved my new city, but really found myself questioning why I had picked SCAD in the first place.
1. It was far away from Wisconsin.
2. It was WARM.
3. I had created traditions with my roommates.
4. I loved the independence that college brought with it.
5. I was learning and using creative muscles I hadn’t used in a very long time. (But, rationally, I could do that anywhere.)
My reality looked a little bit more like this…
1. Both of my parents had recently lost their jobs. (Thanks, recession!)
2. I proclaimed that I sold my soul to SCAD in exchange for art supplies.
3. I hated lugging heavy and awkward art portfolios on and off the bus every day.
4. I didn’t like the way that the school itself was set up.
5. I was spending a ton of money that I didn’t have to go to a school I hated.
I started researching schools that were a little closer to home. I didn’t want to give up on my college dreams just yet, but longed for four regular seasons and the Midwest in general. I looked into community colleges and state schools and business degrees, which I knew would be the ~responsible choice~… but I still had my heart set on art school and those photography dreams of mine.
That’s when I found MCAD, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minnesota. I had a few internet friends that went there and offered to show me around if I made it up there for a tour. There was a plan brewing inside me, and I started working harder in my SCAD classes so that I would have material to add to my portfolio to get into MCAD.
Much like my 365 had in the months before, my 52 weeks project reminded me to just pick up my camera because I love it. Even in the midst of the stress of my researching colleges and building another portfolio on top of group projects and midterms and did I mention pulling all nighters studying for finals? Once a week, it became a reminder to do something that I love just because I love it.
I got my acceptance letter for fall semester to MCAD the same week that the Green Bay Packers had won the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997, the year my parents got married. It felt like fate, and my roommates took me out for sushi at Tempura House to celebrate.
My acceptance into MCAD also got me thinking about how much I disliked SCAD as a whole and how desperately I wanted to leave. I did a lot of researching and convincing my family that coming home early from school would be the right decision for me. I could fall back into my routine, go back to work at Adrian’s for the time being, and this time actually tour MCAD to make sure I liked the campus before blindly signing my soul away to them for 4+ years. My mom convinced my dad to make the 24-hour road trip this time to pick up me and all my stuff at the end of winter quarter instead of waiting until the end of the school year in June. I knew in my gut that I was making the absolute right decision for me and my future.
Come the middle of March, I packed up all my belongings and spent my last weekend in Savannah doing everything I loved. My roommates and I took a trip to Tybee Island, got cupcakes from our favorite local bakery, spent hours swapping music together when we should have been studying for finals. I said goodbye to my favorite coffee shop and smoothie place. I carried my camera everywhere that weekend, documenting my last weekend in a city that I had grown to love.
Coming back to Wisconsin and my hometown and my family and my routine took a bit of transitioning. I started back at Adrian’s, going from closing every weekend to opening the store Monday-Friday, and everyone was happy to welcome me back with open arms. I changed up my 52 weeks project a little bit after I returned to Wisconsin. At first, I was doing only self-portraits because that was my comfort zone. After being home for a little while, I wanted to push myself and experiment more so I took off the self-portrait boundary and the goal became even simpler: pick up your camera once a week and just document something.
Around my birthday that year, I decided I was finally going to stop blogging on Tumblr long-term and started a blog on Blogspot. The same blog I still write on pretty frequently to this day. It was my place to share photos I didn’t know what else to do with… rolls of film, adventures with my friends, extra self-portraits on the occasions I went out just me and my camera. It became the space where I could combine my two loves, photos and words. I wouldn’t realize it until much later in my life, but starting that blog all those years ago saved my life. (I’ll get more into this later, promise!)
And, Anna, what happened to MCAD you might ask? Well, let’s just say art school didn’t pan out for me.
You know the classic story… Girl tours school, girl falls in love with school, girl fills out all the paperwork and puts in all the blood, sweat, and tears to apply to art school, girl gets financial aid and then gets busy and forgot to send her aid acceptance letter in on time, causing her to not be able to go at all.
Womp, womp, The biggest lesson hidden in all that mess was that you live and you learn.
While I was forgetting to turn in my student aid papers, I was still working at Adrian’s by day and taking senior pictures for my friends by night just like I had done the summer before. I even photographed my first wedding that summer for $500. When I wasn’t at Adrian’s or out running around with my camera, I was behind my computer editing and making photo books for my clients and blogging my sessions and sharing them on Facebook. That was the summer that photography started to feel like a legit business instead of just a hobby for me.
I made posters out of the senior photos I had done the summer before and put them up all over town. All I wanted was to be doing the thing that I loved most in the world. I had gotten a taste of working for myself that summer, even if it was just part-time, and knew that when Adrian’s closed for the season in November, I wanted to try and find a photography job to get me by at least until Christmas, if not through March when Adrian’s opened again.
Enter: JC Penney Portrait Studios.
I remember agonizing over my portfolio to bring to my interview. It brought me back to all the anxiety I fought picking pieces for my MCAD portfolio earlier in the year, and my SCAD portfolio the year before that. I went through my archives, everything that I had photographed in 2010 and 2011, and picked my favorite photos. I asked my friends to go through and pick out their favorites too and just like that, I was ready for my interview.
I have been to several job interviews in my life. Filling out online job applications in the middle of the night was sort of my thing back then, and I showed up to every interview I was offered. I am always quiet and shy and nervous. I loathe group interviews (Hi, have you met me? I’m an introvert!), and the question, “What are your biggest strengths and your biggest weaknesses?”
But my interview at JC Penney was different.
I drove to the mall where my grandma had been taking me for back to school shopping my entire life, gave myself a pep talk in the car, and walked into the same studio that my parents had taken me to when I was a baby to have my own portraits done.
For the first time, I was confident walking into a job interview because I knew I was good at this.
I am 100% convinced that the reason I landed this job over all the ones that I had interviewed for was because I have passion for it. I could talk about photography for hours and that definitely wasn’t the case for all of the other retail, food service, or office jobs I had previously interviewed for.
My 52 Weeks project, and my 365 before that, gave me the drive to pursue my passion on a professional level. I still found a way to keep photography in my life even after my college plans kind of came to a dead end for me. Personal projects have always been my solace when life gets hard, my “keep going” pep talk that every creative needs to hear from time-to-time when they get stuck and don’t know what to do with their very big dreams.
I ended that year, and that project, on a high note. I had really “found myself” (whatever that means when you’re 19 and have NO CLUE what you’re doing with your life) on a different level than I had in years past.
But, I can confidently say, that I was not prepared for how 2012 was about to flip my life upside down for good.
TO BE CONTINUED... Read Part 4!