John Keatleysm

My story has very little to do with me, and much more to do with those with whom I have crossed paths.
My life would be very different if it were not for the kindness of others. Through reflecting on events in my life, I realized I need to write down my story, as a way of honoring those who have had a hand in shaping my career path. Hopefully you will be inspired by something you read here, and in turn encourage someone you cross paths with. It doesn’t take much.

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Before I began my career in photography, a total stranger stepped into my life and encouraged me.  We spoke for only a few minutes, but what she had to say was so impactful, my life completely changed.  The woman’s name was Kolene.  Years after we had our brief exchange, I called the number for the store she worked at when we met on the off chance she was still working there.  I explained who I was, but before I could get very far, she exclaimed she remembered me.  I told her I was calling to thank her for encouraging me.  Because she took the time to talk to me for a few minutes, I was now working full time as a photographer.  At this point she started to cry, but I suspect they were tears of happiness.

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I never thought much about photography until half way through college.  I realized, not only did I not own a camera, but I didn’t have any pictures of my friends, my adventures, or even myself.  I thought maybe someday if I had kids they would want to see me in my college years.

My dad had grandpa’s old Canon F1 in storage, and it became my first camera.  I shot roll after roll of film, making up for the past years of memories which slipped by undocumented.  When I went back home for Christmas my parents were shocked at how much I had been spending on film and developing.  It was hard to justify spending that much money on film, while paying an exorbitant amount for a college education.  They strongly encouraged me to pull back on shooting and spending, but I had one last roll of film which needed to be developed.  There was a lab down the street offering next day printing, but you could only pick up your prints in the afternoon the next day.  This was very hard for me; I had no patience back then, and 24 hours seemed like an eternity.

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I took in the film, but because of my impatience, I was back first thing the next morning to see if it was done early.  The girl who greeted me at the counter told me the manager wanted to see me.

Oh no!  I knew I shouldn’t have come in early.  What an idiot!  My heart began to race while I waited for the manager to scold me in front of everyone in the store.  A woman came around the counter and out to greet me holding a package of prints.  She introduced herself as Kolene, and held the package out toward me.  “Did you take all of these pictures?”

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Now I was really confused.  What is going on?

She opened the package and began thumbing through my prints.  She explained how she had noticed the pictures and thought I had a good eye.  I didn’t really know what she was talking about, but it felt really good to receive a compliment.  After we talked for a minute or two, she asked me if I had ever considered becoming a professional photographer.  I honestly had no idea what that meant, and it had never once crossed my mind a person could make a living taking pictures.  She told me to think about it and said she thought I could be good at it.

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I would like to mention the pictures in this particular roll were nothing incredible.  By no means am I trying to boast or say anything about my skills as an amateur.  I really don’t know why she said anything, but she did.  Maybe she had been looking at too many pictures of children’s birthday parties, and a picture of a guy riding a big wheeled skateboard down a golf course fairway at midnight caught her eye.

On a high from this unexpected compliment, I drove home, burst through the front door, and exclaimed, “I’m going to be a photographer!”

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To be fair, it has been a lot of hard work, and many others have also helped and encouraged me along the way.  After meeting Kolene, I didn’t know any more about how to be a photographer than I knew before we met, but she planted the seed.

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Not long after I talked to Kolene on the phone, I got a call from my mom.  She told me Kolene passed away unexpectedly.  I am so glad I was able to let her know the difference she made in my life.  I really enjoyed photography before we met, but I had no idea I could take it beyond a hobby.  Her words will always stay with me, and I am forever grateful.

Reflecting on this story reminds me to be open to what others have to say, and also to open my mouth and be an encouragement when I see an opportunity.  You never know what kind of impact your time and words might have.

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Website:  keatleyphoto.com

Blog:  keatleyphoto.com/blog

Twitter:  @johnkeatley

Facebook:  facebook.com/pages/John-Keatley/74650941873

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