All day today, I’ve been thinking that I need to write a post here to explain why there have been so many changes to this site and the story behind them. But I put it off, doing other work. Things that needed to be done, orders that needed to be prepped, the house that needed to be clean. Wondering at the same time what it was I was going to say. Then the meandering trail of the internet lead me to this post (on a blog appropriately named “Creative Thursday”), and the video below, and I knew it was time to write.
The post has been brewing in my mind for awhile. How do you explain something so personal as a major shift in your dreams? A complete change within YOU that is bigger than something you can even put in to words?
I guess you start at the beginning.
Grab a drink & relax, this is going to be an incredibly long one!
In 2006, after years of taking photographs for myself, I decided I wanted to take photographs “for a living”. Forget the American dream, I wanted THAT. I didn’t know yet what that would even look like, I just knew more than anything I wanted to do it. So I did. I’m a jump in the water and learn how to swim type of person. On a phone call with Elaine, I told her I wanted to photograph weddings and I wanted her to photograph them with me. She laughed and replied that we didn’t even photograph people. I told her that was ok, we knew how to photograph them. She is the yin to my yang, and has been excellent at making me stop and question things. I still charged ahead. I had gone back to school in 2005 to finish that degree that I thought I HAD to have, but the fall semester of 2006 was the last semester I attended. I dropped my scholarship I had received for pursuing a medical field degree (pharmacy) and walked away. One of the many reasons I love my husband is how incredibly supportive he is – I told him (while on the phone long-distance to him in The Hague for work, having a nervous breakdown over Organic Chemistry, which I actually enjoy, and my horrific instructor that was hindering my learning) that “All I wanted to do was take pretty pictures!!!” and he said that I should go and do it. School would always be there if I wanted to go back. Go and follow the dream now. And I did.
Elaine & I photographed well over 100 weddings together since 2007, and some more on our own or assisting other photographers. Our first clients are all having their 5 year anniversaries this year. Many of them have families now. Some have several children. Others are pregnant as I type this with their first child. Only one couple that I know of is divorced. I’ve stayed in touch with many of them thanks to Facebook and Twitter. It has been an amazing journey.
I love being invited to be a part of such an intimate experience as a wedding day, of watching it all unfold and documenting it for them to relive.
In 2008, my friend Mitch called me and told me about a space for rent in the Heights – and it was the exact same building I had spotted as I pulled out of a parking lot 5 months earlier and thought “I want that to be my studio someday.” When I was meeting with the owner about renting it, I opted to add a second room to the “meeting room” I was going to rent. Again, spur of the moment. The light in that room was amazing. I had to have it. And I declared that day that I was going to start taking boudoir photographs.
My experience with boudoir up to that point had been the Polaroids I had taken for a friend to give to her boyfriend 10 or more years earlier.
Initially, boudoir seemed to be a natural extension of my wedding brand. I expected that couples would hire me to photograph their weddings, and the bride would add on boudoir photography as a gift for the groom, right? Wrong. It never did work out that way. Instead, I’ve photographed over 100 boudoir clients, many of them were brides who wanted a gift for their groom, but out of all of those, only four of them hired me to photograph their wedding plus their boudoir session. On the flip side, three of them hired me a year or two after their boudoir sessions to document their weddings – two of those weddings are coming up this year.
I discovered something in those early boudoir sessions — I discovered that I could be a champion for women. I can cheer them on. I can help them see their own beauty. I could help them peel back the layers of the years of society telling them that they aren’t “ENOUGH”. Whatever “ENOUGH” meant for them, our sessions were almost always caused a crack in that and helped them turn it around. They always ended their sessions saying how it was supposed to be a gift for someone else, but it ended up being the best thing for themselves.
But it wasn’t just them. Working with them helped ME heal too. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Keep on reading.
Jumping ahead to 2010, as I sat in Kay Eskridge’s panel at WPPI talking about her Celebrate Sexy brand of boudoir photography, she mentioned working with Moms. I looked at Kari who was sitting next to me and practically squealed. O.M.G!!! We HAD TO focus on working with MOMS!!! (Ok, out of respect for the people sitting around us I wrote notes to her on the top of my notebook, but only after gasping out loud.) Yet time passed, Elaine & I had a busy wedding season that year, and with boudoir sessions on top of it, the idea stayed with me but I didn’t act on it. I just knew it was everything I wanted to do. Somehow.
In September of that year, I went to a workshop by Jeff Jochum on Selling to the Millennial Bride, with Me Ra Koh as a guest speaker that evening. When Jeff started the workshop, he went around the room and asked each of us to introduce ourselves and what we did. When he came to me, this is what I said, “Hi, my name is Christine, wah-wah-wah-wedding photographer-wah-wah (pretend that is the Charlie Brown teacher voice, pretty monotone), and I also shoot boudoir AND OMG I WANT TO FOCUS ON SHOOTING BOUDOIR FOR MOMS IT IS OMG GOING TO BE SO AWESOME!!!”
Jeff just looked at me and said, “Did you hear it?” Yes, Jeff. Yes, I did.
He went on to ask us what our t-shirt would say if a client was wearing it. An exercise in thinking about your brand and how you represent yourself. For example, if someone is wearing a t-shirt with the Apple logo on it, it tells you something about that person. Then it happened. While I could tell you everything about my boudoir clients, I couldn’t tell you what that looked like for my wedding brand. Not at all. I was a blank.
My own crack happened that day. It was only amplified when Me Ra & I were talking that night and she asked where I saw myself in 10 years, and all I could think about were the amazing women I wanted to be working with, and how I wanted to spread the message that we are ENOUGH.
Because like my clients, I’ve battled not being ENOUGH for a long, long time. It is why I went back to college, because I thought I had to have a degree. It is why I stayed in an ultimately dead-end relationship with my ex for 8 years. It is probably part of why I married my ex-husband when I was 21. The list? It is a mile long. I had fought not being ENOUGH for what felt like my whole life.
In October 2010, Jeff returned to Houston to teach his Biz Clarity workshop. I hosted it at my studio. I was still holding on to being a “Destination wedding & boudoir photographer” when I introduced myself. (I was trying to find my place in the wedding label.) Jeff looked at me and said, “Trying to run two businesses at once, huh? How’s THAT working for you?” I gave him a hearty “DAMN IT JEFF!” – complete with fist shake – in reply. By the end of the day, I declared I wanted to break up with weddings.
What I didn’t realize at that moment though was how hard the road ahead was going to be. In the 3 years up to that point, I had completely wrapped myself up in being a wedding photographer. All of my friends were wedding photographers. My life was spent online talking to other wedding photographers. I looked at wedding blogs. I went to wedding photographer workshops and conferences. Weddings. Everything was weddings.
And while becoming a professional photographer in 2007 had changed my life in many excellent ways, it seemed I still didn’t know who the heck *I* was. My only identity was as a wedding photographer. That made the change even more of a challenge.
I started working with Jeff one-on-one in December of 2010. We dug in. What was my why? Why was I so drawn to boudoir? What made me unique? What made this truly, truly my passion? Why, why, why??? Who AM I?
Over time, Jeff set up a Facebook group for the members of Team-X, and having a community of amazing like-minded people, all of us searching for the answer to the same question of “WHY” but with wildly-varying answers, helped me grow and learn.
By March of 2011, my landlord informed me she had to sell my studio. Mike & I tried to get a loan to buy it. We were approved for a residential loan (we had plans to make it a live/work space), but the bank then said we couldn’t use the loan for THAT building. The same day I got that news, I met with Adam Nyholt to see the space he needed to sublet so I could tell friends about it. I rented it for myself instead. The first week of May I went house-hunting in the Heights because we already had an approved loan, so maybe it was time to finally move here and live that dream. House #4 that I looked at that day was the one we now own. Then there were the 7 long months of owning two houses while we sold our other one. Possibly one of the most stressful times of my life. All while trying to make such a change in my business.
It was SO worth it though. I’m glad I stuck with it.
Somewhere in that mess of moving out of one house and prepping the other one for sale – I know I was already in the new house when it happened, so probably June or July of last year, Jeff finally pulled the magical thread. The one that still makes me cry when I think about it, because it holds that much profound truth:
“What are you healing in yourself with every boudoir session you do?”
It had been over 10 years since that dead-end relationship ended, and I realized at that very moment just how profoundly the ghost of it still haunted me. How often I looked in the mirror and heard that I wasn’t ENOUGH. How I had never faced that ghost and dealt with it, I had just tried to walk away. It was time to deal with it.
DAMN IT!!! I *am* ENOUGH.
SO ARE YOU.
Once we figured all of that out, everything else happened so quickly – I knew what my Superpower was. I knew without a doubt not only what I want to do, but what I was already in fact doing. I was helping women grow their confidence and rediscover their beauty. And they were in turn helping me grow my own confidence and rediscover my own beauty as well.
It is hard to describe, but I feel a sense of joy & self-love that I don’t think I’ve had since I was probably 17 or 18 years old. I can honestly say that I LIKE ME now.
The best part of working with Jeff is that he doesn’t give you the answers, he just asks the questions. He keeps asking and asking, until you find the true answers.
Change is hard. I had so much change in my life last year. 2011 was THE year of change. Moving is stressful. Moving, selling a house, moving your studio (both moves happened on the same weekend) … well, completely moving my business away from where it was just wasn’t going to happen. Not yet. Matter of fact, by October 2011, since I had my Superpower all worked out, I made one more push to hold on to weddings. I do, truly, absolutely love them so much! Our coaching calls turned to weddings. I realized that part of why I love photographing weddings is that they too heal something in me – they show me after getting divorced and then being in a dead-end relationship that “Happily Ever After” can happen. Not only do my clients show me that, but my husband shows me that all the time through how supportive he has been!
However, running two businesses is HARD. Especially when, when I am honest with myself, helping Hot Mamas find their awesomeness is TRULY all I want to do.
Weddings are my love. Photographing Hot Mamas is my PASSION.
I spent months fighting that change. Months trying to find the “Why” of my wedding brand. It was never there, it was never right. Not like my Hot Mama mission and my Superpower. In March of this year, the armor cracked and fell off. I woke up one day and just KNEW. It was time. It was time to let weddings go, time to give my all, time to be completely focused and driven.
And that is what leads you to the change. That is why the weddings here have been moved off to their very own section. I still photograph them – I still absolutely LOVE them. I will photograph them for the right people – mainly referrals from family & friends of my past clients. I have several left this year in addition to the ones I’m second-shooting for other photographers – but I’m giving my ALL to my Superpowers.
Well, my Superpowers and having a life outside of photography.
I am a Hot Mama photographer.
I don’t limit it to just boudoir – it can be beauty, glamour, in lingerie or in regular clothes. It doesn’t matter, I just want them to see their beauty. I no longer attach weddings to that statement either. At first it made me cringe a little, a twinge of sadness, but it doesn’t any more. When I get feedback from my clients months or years after their sessions telling me that they have never loved themselves more, and it all started that day of our shoot? I know. I know that that is where I am meant to be. It makes my heart sing with joy.
I’m still exploring. I know that there is more that I want to do. I was interviewed earlier this week by the Houston Chronicle and when he asked me my future plans, I laughed. I haven’t found the words for them yet – they are still growing and waiting to be discovered – but I do know that I want to do more. I want to get the word out to other women that they are ENOUGH. I want to help them see their beauty through teaching them about it, even if they are not doing a session with me. I want to speak to women about feeling beautiful in their own skin. I want them to know how great it feels, to help them find a way to tear down those walls. How will I speak to them? That I don’t know yet. If you have ideas, let me know.
In addition to photography, I’m learning to have a life again. It isn’t too surprising, considering all the stuff I was dealing with on the inside, that I had stopped doing that, instead covering myself in what I “was” – my job was me. Not now. I surround myself with all types of people, and I enjoy doing so many things. I’m grateful for our move, because it opened up so many opportunities for us. It opened up ME.
My life has completely changed, and I owe it all to the Hot Mamas I’ve worked with! They may not realize it, but THEY showed me the way. They helped me discover that I am a Hot Mama too!
I also owe it all to my amazingly supportive husband who has cheered me on through all of this, listened to me rattle about it late at night, heard me out as I needed to sort it all out and to find my own way. Mike pretty much rocks as THE MOST AWESOME HUSBAND EVER.
There is also my Team-X family, to the Group Coaches I now have the honor of working with, and of course Jeff Jochum.
And last, but absolutely not least, is the support of my parents, my son, my in-laws, and all of my friends. You guys are all INCREDIBLE. And you’ve put up with a lot over the past few years from me.
Now you know the story behind all of the changes here, just in case you were wondering. I felt sort of strange having just done it without letting you know!