When I first moved to Austin, I was confronted with the question "What do you do?"
I graduated from college four years before with a marketing degree and a minor in Spanish. I was quite curious about the psychology behind business and was the biggest nerd in most of my classes, especially consumer behavior. I sat in the front row and continuously asked the teacher questions.. I'd kick my third row, weekend friends to the curb when it came time to do projects together and sought out eager classmate companions. I won some serious awards and was the fundraiser chair for the American Marketing Association. I thought for sure that I would get a marketing gig out of college.
...But then I traveled.
I picked up a camera.
My mom has been a photographer ever since I was a baby. She's done portraits for as long as I can remember. She had me holding reflectors and posing all over town since I could stand. I never thought I'd follow in her footsteps.. But when I traveled and started seeing the world through a different perspective, I wanted to document it. This brought me to see the world in a completely different way. I spent two years learning how to communicate with a subject through the medium of a camera. Then it came time to settle.
When I landed in Austin, I had no idea if I was a photographer, a waitress, or a marketing girl.
I started searching for marketing agencies in town and came across one -- Tilted Chair Creative.
Their branding was super human and authentic and wildly captivating. I was hooked.
I saw that they were hiring for an account management role or copywriter and was intrigued, BUT then.. I saw it - Freelance photographer position available.
The job description read something like this:
Searching for an experienced freelance photographer to capture the raw essence of Texas cowboy culture through street photography style.
I became utterly fixated. There I was, new to this culture with only a camera in hand and not a clue which direction to start walking but this was beyond up my alley. I wanted to learn about Texas and I wanted to continue on through this photojournalist approach to documenting.
I wrote up a resume, printed some photos, and trekked over to their office in person.
The job description stated that they were looking with somebody who had over 5 years experience...Quite obviously not me, but nonetheless, I hand delivered my resume, standing tall but nervous as hell.
The woman who gathered my paperwork assured me that they were still hiring for the position, but only because they were largely overwhelmed by the amount of applicants to sort through....Great.
Here I am - under qualified, new to the city, and freshly a "photographer."
But I went for it.
I heard back from one of the higher-ups of the agency that they loved my work.
I was astonished.
Eagerly awaiting their responses, I got a job at a wine bar and started to try and understand where I fit in this puzzle of Austin.
Months went by and I didn't hear back.. I started to lose hope, but still continued to reach out.
I printed postcards with my photographs and sent them over to the agency to check in and say hello. I wanted to stay fresh in their mind and let's be real - What did I have to lose?
Soon thereafter, I heard from them. They wanted to meet!
After a few back and forth meetings, I was soon on my way to the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma.
I created my very first invoice and rented my first car. I even had to get permission to charge extra for the under age driver fees - ha!
I felt so incredibly clueless but was just going for it. I'm sure that my wide-eyes were not hidden to anybody involved, but I felt like they believed in me. The Tilted Chair crew let me borrow their equipment and sent me on my way.
It was a real experience.. I took portraits and captured stories and got to really know the people of the rodeo.
Nerves were creeping in as I approached each subject, but was only greeted with the warmest welcomes and absolutely fascinating responses. These were just simply some good people who were passionate about their craft, their country and their family.
I met one family who had traveled the world performing in circus rodeos. Each family member performed in a different competition and they traveled everywhere from China to Oman. They were barrel jumpers and flame throwers and they roamed around with nine horses, a donkey, a cat, two chickens, two dogs and Roper's lizards. That year at the rodeo, both of their sons were performing, Rider and Roper. They sure were a hoot.
I met rodeo queens and peach cobbler cook off champions.
I learned about calf roping, barrel racing, bull riding and steer wrestling.
It was a wild ride..
I came back and delivered the photos to the agency. We worked back and forth to compile the stories and a few months later, they informed me that I would be going on another adventure. This time to the great state of Louisiana. What an absolute dream... I never thought I would even get the space to interview for the job and here I was, a few months later going on another excursion.
The second time around, the Cavenders campaign sent me off to Natchitoches, Louisiana - home of the timber industry. I went to a lumber jack competition and a Cowboy Fast Draw tournament. You can't quite imagine what that looks like until you are right there in the midst of it.
The lumber jack competition was fascinating. There were chainsaw artists carving sculptures out of trees and lumberjacks throwing hatchets above their heads. I talked with the people and got to hear their stories. I learned about a man who has over 60 chainsaws and a group of guys who travel the world chopping wood, just as their Daddy's did.
I was intrigued, but I didn't even know what was coming until there I was circling around the cowboy fast draw parking lot. It was just the right amount of nerves swirling around my body. I was listening to a podcast in the car that said, "if you aren't nervous, you aren't pushing yourself." Well I was surely nervous and was absolutely out of my comfort zone, even the second time around.
I walked up and was greeted by the largest hugs and biggest smiles. The gathering was full of older aged, creole cowboys dressed up in their 1900's get up. Bonnets and big dresses on the ladies and only old school, Sunday's best for the gentlemen. It was a dream.
I made loads of friends, Gator and Fawn, and Scallawag Sam.
They all had their stories and boy, were they interesting..
I could absolutely go on for ages telling the stories of the people that I met on these adventures, the things that I learned along the way and the ways in which it all deep, down challenged me.
I felt proud of myself for accomplishing it and most of all, for pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
Months went past, and my pride began to dwindle as I continued on to other ventures.. Until just the other day.
It was a big day and I was feeling a big angsty for what was to come. I had a big day at work, but before I walked in, I checked my email. I had an email from my contact at the advertising agency.
He told me that I won an award.
Having absolutely no idea what the award was or what it meant, I simply said awesome! Thank you!
.. Later that day, I didn't even think too much of it but began to ask my boss.
He was blown away.
He couldn't believe that I had won a Gold Addy.
I did a bit of research, now knowing that this may be a bit of a big deal. And sure enough- it was.
And to think that I was so incredibly close to never even applying, because I wasn't a "real photographer."