My Love-Hate Relationship with Photography and why I am Contemplating Another Go-Round

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Three years ago, I decided to quit photography.  People thought I was crazy because, they said, “You are so good.”  I don’t think most people understand how stressful it is to photograph portraits/weddings.  Sometimes I felt expected to please all the people all the time and falling short of either their expectations or mine.

This was the biggest stress of all: I was never completely satisfied with all my work.  Some photo sessions would be great and my love for working in the industry would be renewed and others would fall flat plunging me into a cauldron of stress.  Most my clients were more forgiving of me than I was of myself, but some were worse.  I was left with this nagging uncertainty being helpless to control the outcome.

It was all I thought about.  I hoped film was the solution because I don’t have to edit the images.  I can send them to a lab and they come back looking amazing.  Once again, I got mixed results.  Sometimes they would come back amazing and sometimes I would still have to edit them to make them presentable.  My anxiety returned and I quit.

Since those days of frustration and resentment, I have had 3 years to hibernate and disconnect from the pressures of running my own small business.  I told myself and everyone else that I would still do my own personal work and shoot film.  I sold my digital cameras so that I only had a film camera.  When friends and family wanted me to shoot for them, I always agreed and told them that if they would pay for my film costs, I would be happy to do it; which was true because I enjoyed practicing my film skills for fun.

I ended up doing a lot of personal work as promised, but not like you would think and none of it was film.  For example, I went back to school for a while, I read deep and thought-provoking books, and developed a love for genealogy thus reconnecting with the service oriented-tradition of my faith.

While doing genealogy, I got a hold of pictures from my grandparents.  LOTS of pictures.  My cousin and I spent a couple of days scanning them into digital format so that we could share them with other family members.  Some of the pictures were not very meaningful to me such as the huge group shots that make it difficult to find my relatives, but some bubbled-over with personality and I felt a deep connection with people I had never met and a deeper connection with the ones I already know and love.

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Here is one of my favorite images.  My Great-grandpa Oakes is playing the harmonica for my mom, who is a baby.  It looks like my grandparents visited my Grandma’s parents at Christmas time in a very small house that my Great Grandpa built himself.  My Grandpa took the picture and he probably directed the composition a little.  He was a photographer by profession and knew what he was doing, but he wasn’t telling everyone to look at the camera.  He embraced the imperfections and editorial nature of the scene and that makes me cherish the image even more.

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Here is my grandpa, the photographer, as a little boy (he was the oldest) with his brothers and his dad.

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Here is his mother, a free spirit if I ever met one.

The pictures my Grandpa took, which were mostly of his family are very high quality, but none look posed rather editorial.  Here are some images that he took of his family while they grew up.

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My Grandparents (look, Grandpa’s carrying a camera):
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As a child, I regularly saw pictures similar to these.  My mom took a lot of pictures of her kids and she embraced the imperfections as well, never fussing over how we looked in them very much.  This must have transferred into me.  We didn’t have very many portraits taken of our family, but we had multitudes of good quality pictures of our life.  We liked to look at them while growing up.  It helped us remember things about ourselves and what we liked to do together.

When I was shooting before I quit, I wanted the pictures to have meaning and tell a story, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.  I got distracted, caught up in trying to figure out what other people wanted.  Sometimes I would create pictures that had an editorial or commercial feel and that told a story, but the story wasn’t meaningful to their family history, it was just something I saw in a magazine and wanted to recreate because it looked good.  I knew that it didn’t have a soul.

When taking a portrait, most people seem highly concerned about having it look perfect with everyone looking at the camera and smiling.  Why are they worried about how the picture will look? Because it’s hung on the wall of their house for the world to see.  It’s kind of a big deal.  Thinking about going back to that makes me feel a little panic stricken and anxiety oozes toward me from behind.

What I don’t think people contemplate as often when they think of professional photography is having pictures to pass on to future generations; treasures because they epitomize the family.  Maybe this is because professional photographers are so expensive.

I thought, “If I were to do photography again, it wouldn’t be for portraits, it would be for memories.”  Even so, this was still not enough to get me interested in entering that world again.  I am not sure there is even a market for the things I would want to do, and it doesn’t solve the issue with my perfectionist attitude about the resulting pictures.  I still had absolutely no interest in getting involved.  Zero.

Then one day, I was browsing on Facebook and saw a link for an article about film vs. digital.  I have read many articles like this before, and it wasn’t anything attention grabbing, but I read it.  It let me to discover VSCO presets.

My heart started beating faster as I looked through the before and after images.  It was incredible.  The look of film with the control of digital.  It seems perfect.  Maybe it is too good to be true.

And so, for the last few days I have thought about getting back into it.  Jeff is extremely supportive, which is shocking to me because he had to pick me up many times when I repeatedly fell off the stress wagon during my last tryst with photography.

If this works out, my philosophy and approach will be very different.  Maybe there is no market for this work and only serves to get me taking pictures for myself again, that’s okay.

Here are a few more favorites:

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The image above has a fun story.  My great-grandparents thought it would be funny to take a picture of their 4 year-old son behind the plow.  People thought they were really making him do that kind of work.  They had to explain that it was only for humors sake.

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12 thoughts on “My Love-Hate Relationship with Photography and why I am Contemplating Another Go-Round

    shoeboxofphotographs Shonda said:
    September 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for putting my anxiety issues into words! Welcome back. Can’t wait to see the art in you presented.

      Missy Cochran responded:
      September 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      Hey Shonda, I have wondered if you have felt this way. I see the artist in your work and I know you get pulled in directions that don’t always feel natural. Breaking away was what I needed to figure out what wasn’t working, at least, I hope I have figured it out.

    Bethany Fegles said:
    September 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Missy,

    I loved reading this more than you could know!! Not only because you’re so, so talented, but because I’m always most inspired by those who act free of ‘typical expectations”. I think there’s absolutely a market for that style of photography and those who want it will find you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could find a photographer with great style who would take photos of my family just doing pretty normal life things here around our house… picking hazelnuts and apples from the orchard, coloring with my kids, playing piano, walking as a family in the evening to get the mail…cuddling on the couch with my husband…
    Let me know if you make yourself available for a low stress session, because I’d love to get on your calendar! (and I love the vsco presets!!)

      Missy Cochran responded:
      September 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Bethany!!! I would love to do a session for you, but I am now living in Chicago! Crazy, heh? Jeff is going to medical school at Loyola. I will let you know when we are in Oregon long enough for something like this.

        Bethany Fegles said:
        September 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm

        Wow, that’s awesome Missy!! Jeff will be great in the medical field with his kind disposition. We moved back down to Corvallis to be able to raise our kids near family and we’re loving it! (www.feglesfive.blogspot.com), Yes, please let me know if you visit and have enough time to squeeze us in for a relaxed shoot! We’d love it and it would be so fun to see you!

    Sherri Bird said:
    September 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Missy, I love these shots–have always loved the history captured in old (and new) candid, unposed photos. Is “photographamemory” a title in progress? It made me wonder if “pictureamemory” would be closer to the concept of the mental and spiritual image you’re “picturing” before you take the photograph. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing your journey! It’s wonderful to hear your thoughts and see the memories.

      Missy Cochran responded:
      September 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Hey Sherri, Thanks for the comment! I like both titles, and it is just the website address. I think I am not going to have an offical name except for my own. I want this to be extremely laid-back and, for lack of a better word, unprofessional.

    Dusty Rose Hanson said:
    September 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    I think photography is a wonderful concept, capturing the moments and letting the picture tell the story. I am about to compile a photography book for my Dad of his life and I have been collecting photographs for the last two years of him. I am scanning and putting them into and book and I am so excited to do it. Do it Missy! Create stories for the next generations to come!

      Missy Cochran responded:
      September 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      Dusty, I love your family history projects. I’m thinking I will do it 🙂

    Claire said:
    September 14, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I’m with Bethany. I love the casual, real-life pictures. School opening. Finding places on the map. Practicing piano. Singing around the piano. Tantrums. Bubble baths. Family dinners. Chasing chickens. Talking with the neighbor. Climbing a tree. Weeding the garden. Wrestling on the floor. Airplane rides. Preparing food. Tickle-fests. Curled up with a book. The kind of every-day pictures that I take that go in the books.

    I like to have a complete family picture–complete with personalities–to hang on the wall. Remember that shot you got of Stephen and I hugging with Mason in the foreground doing his wicked 4-year-old ninja moves? Favorite. Or Sammy pointing at a ladybug? Favorite. I have a picture of Mason running in the waves that I love. Or Elise hugging Mormor just before she died. The impromptu family picture at Christmas when half of us were in pjs hangs on my wall.

    Can’t wait to see what you decide to do!

      Missy Cochran responded:
      September 14, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      I remember loving that session because I wanted to try something different and you let me! Remember the times when we tried to get the “family portrait” and Mason just would not cooperate? I felt like a failure because a “professional” should know how wave a magic photography wand giving all children a desire to be delightful.

      That reminds me of a story. This one time, I took pictures for a woman who had won the session at a charity auction. I let the auction borrow some samples of my work for their display and not a single picture had the subject looking at the camera, NOT ONE! I thought, “This will attract my type of client.” I talked with the women before the session and explained that I am non-traditional, she was happy because she loved me work, yadda yadda.

      I take the pictures and deliver the disk to her. She calls me and just raves about the pictures, she loves them! She says they look like they could be in a magazine, and I got all her kids personalities so well, BUT she was really hoping to get one for her wall and there aren’t any pictures where everyone is looking at the camera. She wanted me to redo the session. I went to her house to take a new picture but we ran out of time because we spent all the time picking out perfect clothes for each child to wear, one of her kids is sick anyway. I went back again with my brother who kindly makes silly faces and does hand-stands behind my camera so that all the kids look up and smile.

      Experiences like this made it hard for me to believe that anyone, like you, would love my work if it wasn’t a portrait. I thought, “Oh, they are just trying to be nice.” It’s like the photography bagage built up so heavy that it eventually crushed me. Coming back, I am feeling stronger. I know what I am about this time and I’m not afraid to say “no”.

    Michele Ballantyne said:
    September 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Loved your blog Missy, and seeing the old pictures too. Those memories are preserved and priceless! Love you : )

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