When I was invited to write on Scott Kelby’s blog I was instantly excited! I have followed Scott Kelby for years and years!
I decided to share about my life and my career. I tried my best to curate it properly, but my life is all over the place. As a result, my write up of my life and career was all over the place. If I were going to be authentic, I needed to write that way. Hang in there with me!
My name is Audrey Woulard, and I have been a full time professional photographer for the last 17 years. I would have never thought that I would be in the position I am today. I was not the girl who grew up loving photography. I was not the girl who always had a camera in her hand. I was not the girl who felt even remotely artistic or creative. Truth be told, I still do not feel creative. I feel like an anomaly within the industry of photography for so many reasons.
So you know how I mentioned that I would have never imagined that I would be in the position I am today? There were so many reasons why. I quit my very good corporate job to be a stay at home mom (SAHM). Let me add that I had a very good corporate job in my early twenties. So I gave up the growth that I could have achieved because being home with my kids meant the world to me.
After I quit, money was tight, so I didn’t have the luxury of buying all the latest equipment. I mean, at the time I didn’t even know I liked photography! So I was at home with a small child, and two babies that were a year apart. My husband came home with a super cheap digital camera that he bought from his sister for $50. He literally said, “maybe this will keep you busy.” My sister in law won that camera at work. This camera came with a disk that contained Adobe Photodeluxe. From there, my love for photography was born!
I would use that cheap Fuji digital camera, and the most remedial version of Adobe’s editing software and I was honing my craft! I would practice and practice every single day. Those babies of mine back then are now all adults in college! I figured out ways to manipulate light to create images with inferior equipment. I was creating images that many just weren’t creating. When I say I was practicing, I was practicing! I printed so many of those images! What is funny is that I have prints of my practice images, whereas photographers today, have images saved on hard drives or their phones to remember when they practiced.
I have to stress that the only reason I still have those prints today is due to my mother. She saved every single image of her grandchildren that I shared. My father would buy the biggest and best printer out there! When I sent my mother digital images, my father would print them. This is the only reason why I still have those images.
I would share my work in online message groups and receive praise. Well, not all of it was praise, but I think my consistency with what I felt was my photographic voice resonated with those who viewed my work. Now let me be honest here, my work back then was beyond awful! They need a new word for awful when I look at my early work. I am also very proud of it because it is part of who I am, and I just can’t run away from it. I don’t want to.
There are always those friends and family members who tell you that you should go into business. For some strange reason, I decided to listen to them! I was in love with what I was doing, and it gave me a creative outlet. I was going to be a baby/family photographer. The one thing I told myself was that I was not going to go and play with other children, and not be paid handsomely for it. I also wanted to be known for my work, and my work only. I didn’t want it to be about me, and who I was.
Truth be told, there weren’t a lot of black women photographers out there, and I wasn’t sure if that would make someone decide that they didn’t want to hire me. However, I knew they would love my work and me once they met me. So I kept what I looked like under wraps by not placing a headshot on my website. This was done for those who weren’t referred by someone who personally knew me.
Because I wanted to be paid well, I decided to create relationships with high-end businesses within the city of Chicago. I did this so that I could ensure I could charge handsomely for being away from my boys. If I were going to be away from them after I decided to be a SAHM, I wanted to have something financially that would benefit them. Well, it worked, and it worked almost too well! People loved me, and loved the way I approached the photography process. More importantly, they loved the pictures. Clients weren’t able to predict the final outcome. My business BOOMED! No one cared what I looked like. Everything seemed to be going great!
Remember those Internet message boards I spoke about? Well, I kept sharing my work there too. I confidently went against the photography norm. Let me be honest here, I hate rules! So I kept trying to find reasons to break them. I guess this is why I was the child who gave my parents and teachers a hard time! I stuck to my guns and created a large photographer following. I know in 2019 we live in a land full of influencers, but in 2005/6, that was not my goal. I consider myself an ambivert. An ambivert is a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features.
I am very extroverted when need be, but I also crave my space like an introvert. When things are smooth sailing, I am quite introverted. When I need to shake things up, I am the biggest extrovert you’ve ever seen. I am not afraid to speak to large crowds. I am an advocate for myself, and I am not afraid of confrontation. I am not afraid of anything really. However, I like to keep to myself! It’s such a conflicting personality. However to the masses, I believe it is a very confusing personality.
So with this large photographers following I built, most just knew of my work. They knew little about me. I never talked about myself really due to my ambivert personality. At the time, I didn’t have the luxury of social media to create my own narrative. I would meet photographers in person, and they would say they assumed I was a 6ft blonde woman!
I was catapulted on the biggest stages within the industry with platform presentations at Imaging, and WPPI. My rooms were overflowing with people! One year at WPPI they put me in a small room and the Fire Marshall came by and shut my class down. The next year (2009), they placed me in their biggest room. It was FULL!
All the while, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on stage. When I say I didn’t see anyone, there was absolutely no one. It was me. Just me. I was the representation, but I also was too young and too busy with my home life to understand what that responsibility meant at the time. I was in my twenties, and creating history. The only thing I could think about was getting back home to my babies. My biggest goal at the time was to satisfy my urge as a woman to have my own, and to make sure my family didn’t miss me. That was it. That was my goal. My goal was work/life balance.
Going back to WPPI. I had my lab print out about 12 huge enlargements that sat on easels. They were in the front of the room.
I stood on that stage in front of almost 700 people and proudly said I shoot JPEG. The sound of the GASPS was deafening! The audience didn’t look like me, so I felt a bit isolated. Nothing was familiar to me. I still stayed true to who I was. I invited people to come to the front of the room and inspect my prints.
Let me say this… Now, I shoot RAW! However, my point is that I was true to who I was at the time. I got beat up really, really bad. I wasn’t beat up because of my work. My work was good. I was beat up because I proudly said how I did things very differently. I said that as a person that people felt was someone they looked up to. I didn’t follow the status quo of photography.
It isn’t easy to stick out from the crowd. It is much easier to go with the flow. It also isn’t easy sticking out photographically when the average photographer doesn’t look like you. There were absolutely no black female photography speakers when I was speaking on major platforms. I was the only one.
After those platform presentations at WPPI I bowed out of the public scene a bit. I would speak at Imaging every other year, but outside of my personal workshops, I did nothing. I refused everything. I wouldn’t respond to conferences who would ask me to speak. I simply felt it wasn’t worth it the heartache I felt I would endure. I was taking so many hits from the peanut gallery that it just wasn’t worth messing with my mental health.
During that time, when it came to photography education, I kept to myself and did my own thing. I still conducted my own personal workshops. I conducted those with absolutely no sponsors of any kind. There were years when I had workshops once a month. Each one sold out. I also took my workshops international. I have had two sold out workshops in London. I’ve had one workshop in Amsterdam, and I have had three workshops in Australia! I have been very blessed to have people from all over the world want to learn from me.
Now things are going GREAT! My business has continued to grow by leaps and bounds! I’ve had not only one, but TWO brick and mortar studios in Chicago. My most recent one was in the very trendy West Loop. I still tried to keep it all a bit low key.
At this point, I struggled with being proud of my accomplishments, and worrying if others felt I deserved them. It was like I was the most confident, yet insecure person out there!
After taking a break from the BIG public scene of the photography industry, I jumped back in. My break was about 5-6 years. I came back in and thankfully didn’t miss a beat.
During my break, I nurtured my soul. I understood why I was doing what I was doing. I photograph people because I like getting to know others. Speaking to huge crowds, yet making zero connections, is something that I struggle with. Getting to know people keeps me going. Because of that natural part of my personality, I kept my early client base.
I nurtured those babies and young kids that I started with. They all grew up into tweens and teens. I rebranded my business (that is a story in itself!) and became a tween/teen photographer. My photography business continued to flourish, but on a new level! I was tapping into a market no other photographer was. Again, I was stepping out on faith, and doing something that was against the norm. As an industry, we think babies, families, seniors, and weddings. That’s kind of the portrait timeline. Then you have headshots, and commercial work.
In 2014 I found a new genre. I grew with my family and my business! I was now a popular tween photographer!
So I stepped back onto the speaker scene full time in 2015. I was ready to talk about how I was dominating this new genre of tweens! At 7:00 in the morning, my room was back at 700 capacities at Imaging USA.
I seriously did not expect that! I remember staying up ALL night stressing!!!
After that presentation, my presence grew with photography vendors. Of course I kept conducting my photography workshops, but I became one of the first black female photographers that was an ambassador for a major camera brand. This wasn’t the goal but hopefully it opens the door to others that look like me.
What is the takeaway from this ramble?
Follow your heart, not the status quo. Do this regardless of who you are. Follow what you want to do. Do not create what you think will bring you likes. People are attracted to consistency; consistency in all areas! It’s not going to be easy, so do not go into it thinking it will be. You will ruffle some feathers doing so.
For me, I was consistent with my work, and I was consistent with what I spoke about. Although it is easier if everyone loved me! It felt better if I did things where I loved myself. It is hard when the things that I convey to the masses are misunderstood. However, I was placed in this particular position for a reason, and I am going to navigate it with honesty and integrity.
I am a mom with a camera. I create work that speaks to my soul. I also speak words from my soul. I have had so many great things happen for me that more importantly opened doors for others. I also have had a lot of bad things and heart break in regards to being recognized for my work. You have to find a way to just keep going.
Follow your heart. I know I did. As uncomfortable as it may be, you never know what can happen.
Many today would never view me as an underdog. When I began, that is what I was. Sometimes I look at my accomplishments and think that no one would even think that I am an underdog. I often think that if I voiced a grievance online, it would be viewed as arrogant. However, when you complete a goal, you must create new goals. Guess what? Even today as I am writing this, I am being turned down from a goal. I am now an underdog to that particular goal.
As much as it may hurt, or discourage me, I am going to keep pushing on. Hopefully I have another opportunity to share the addendum to this story!
The moral of this story is, regardless of who you are, please keep pushing! The creative industry is complex, and very rewarding at times. Just like capturing a picture!