Daily Archives January 27, 2021

The Secret Strength of Imposter Syndrome

I know Scott Kelby and Brad Moore from the bygone days of journalism school, when I would attend photojournalism conferences as a college newspaper editor and wannabe photographer. Digital photography and smart phones were really becoming mainstream at the time and it felt like everyone wanted to be a photographer, especially in my circle of coffeehouse junkies and art nerds.

Here I am working that light in a kitchen designed by Mary Welch Fox in the summer of 2020.

In those days, I was an okay photographer with no specific niche or direction, and there were a lot of kids who were a lot better than me. I took as many photojournalism classes as I could get my hands on, but kept my focus on my journalism major and working my way up the newspaper ranks, where I felt more confident and a lot less competition. I never even considered a career in photography, not because I didn’t love it, but because it felt a lot less safe, and I was pretty deeply insecure. I was creative, sure, but I had only ever had one art class, in 5th grade. I felt like an imposter.

The old college newspaper staff at Union University proud to be named Best in the South at Southeastern Journalism Conference.

Ah, The Post Grad Days Of Juggling Jobs And Trying To Find Your Footing

After graduation, I got hired on as a freelancer for the local paper who, because of dwindling profit margins and much to my benefit, was happy to hire someone who could write and take the pictures, too! A great deal for us both. To pay the bills, I also got some very glamorous jobs as a school portrait photographer and sales gal at Pier 1 Imports. If you’re not juggling three jobs and eating a diet of exclusively BLTs, are you even in your 20s?

One of the best perks of the job is meeting hundreds of dogs and, when I’m lucky, getting them to pose for me. Design by Guest House Studio and Sea Island Builders.

None of these jobs felt cool to me. But I didn’t feel like I deserved cool, either. I had imposter syndrome and a hardcore drive to get to something exciting, but I didn’t go into the workforce feeling like I had earned anything yet. I was ready to work hard and climb my way to my dreams.

As an interior photographer, I often find myself stuffed in the corner of a room or, surprisingly often, in bath tubs. Design by JLV Creative.

Inexplicably, the newspaper allowed me to pitch and go after pretty much anything I wanted, and I ended up with several regular series, including a food column that introduced me to the person that got me my next job: as a product photographer for Kirkland’s home decor. I started as a temporary assistant, shooting product on white in a closet in the back of a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee. Still not glamorous, but a step in the right direction.

This kitchen shot with JLV Creative in 2019 is still one of my all time favorites.

Taking Risks

I took a risk and quit all three jobs to pursue a temporary gig that had much more interesting possibilities, and decided I was going to work so hard that there was no way they could let me go. And they didn’t. 

They had a larger, much nicer photography studio at their corporate offices in Nashville where they shot styled images in a faux “home” setting, and I made it clear that’s where I wanted to be. Then I worked hard enough to get there. It didn’t happen overnight, but over my three years there I eventually went from being a temporary assistant to just an assistant, and eventually, simply, photographer. We spent all day shooting and styling and set designing and painting and laying floors and hanging art and it was amazing, even if it wasn’t 100% my personal style. 

I loved shooting this maximalist staircase designed by Lindsey Harper for the Traditional Home Showhouse in 2018.

I loved the creativity and teamwork and immersing myself in the world of design. And it reminded me of something: the reason I worked at Pier 1 after college was because I had experience working there in high school, when I thought for a year I might want to be an interior designer. (Feel free to laugh here, because at 17 taking that job in retail felt like relevant job experience to becoming an interior designer. But hey, it funded my shoe addiction and that was enough for me at the time.)

The dominant design trend has been all white everything for the past several years, so I always relish a moody moment like this one designed by Sea Island Builders.

My point is, I remembered something about myself that I had let go of in order to pursue a career that felt more safe and logical. I traded my interest in design to go down the path of journalism, and here fate had brought me back to it.

In 2016, my husband and I decided to move to my hometown of Charleston, SC, where there weren’t any large corporations hiring staff product photographers, and starting my own photography business was pretty much my only option if I wanted to continue down this path. So I did.

Real home or photo studio in Nashville, Tenn.? Looking back on it now it definitely looks staged, but you better believe I put it in my interior portfolio. And hey, it did the trick.