Why I broke down at Foundation First Workshop
(*Disclaimer; This post is filled with personal vulnerable feelings and experience I felt and gained at Foundation First Workshop and is meant for fellow photographers who are curious about FF and/or people who don't mind reading about my personal day-to-day struggle as a person and a photographer.)
I never knew I'd be a photographer.
But I always treasured my family's photo albums that my mom had put together; in those 3x5 and 4x6 photos of my childhood, I'm fully naked, I'm running around with my brother, I'm crying hysterically, and I'm doing something I don't even know what. To me, those were the authentic proof of where I came from, how I grew up, and how much I was loved. I used to measure my parents' love with how many photos I had of me growing up. Those are unaltered moments and it is my story. And perhaps, that is why I love what I do so much - like, insanely so much.
In January this year, I stood before a couple of dozen photographers at the end of the Foundation First Workshop in Texas - designed for wedding and family photographers who want to improve their craftsmanship and learn from some of the world's best documentary wedding photographers - and I became a crying mute for a good couple of minutes and then mumbled a few words about what I learned at the workshop, which probably didn't even make any sense.
It took me a while to figure out why I broke down that night; I'm writing this post months later, which I honestly didn't want to in the first place to save some personal embarrassment, but as our fearless director Huy Nguyen intelligently preached during the workshop, "Who cares? Look Stupid."
It wasn't because I was sad or physically exhausted.
It was definitely not because I had been nervous about being told that I sucked.
It wasn't because I was afraid of approaching strangers on assignment.
It wasn't because I had been frustrated with the lack of knowledge about my own cameras.
It was because, everyone (fellow students, staff and mentors) and even random strangers in Texas seemed too nice to me, and that really overwhelmed me.
That sounds odd, doesn't it?
But it's true.
Plus, speaking in front of 3-plus people makes me nauseous.
I didn't grow up with hugs and kisses. I grew up in a family where committing suicide was a regular conversational topic or a possible solution to your own frustration. To this date, it is my biggest fear that it might actually happen to any of my family; I just pray that it wouldn't. My dad wanted to be a good provider so he was almost never present (but his money was) when I was growing up while my depressed mom could play the victim all day long. So you see, I am never a stranger to disappointment and frustration. Learning how to endure my own disappointment and frustration has always been part of my life, and I had been so consumed with who I was "supposed to be."
So Foundation First Workshop was really weird to me in the most positive way; it didn't teach me to become someone else, rather encouraged to discover and bring out more of me. Beyond camera skills and how to look for the "light," my mentors taught me how to embrace life, simply exist, connect, wait, observe and work with what you already have - your HEART.
Honestly, I had wanted the perfect recipe - those juicy secrets from these world-class photographers - because I'm a 35-year-old, who barely got out of a divorce, trying to be a wedding photographer (which is, yes, ironic) with just one-year experience in the industry; I felt like time was running away from me. Then the whole FF experience reminded me to take a step back, take a deep breath and evaluate where I was and where I came from, and that there is no straight line to success. All those bumps, slip-offs and embarrassments are perhaps what made my fate; without them, what would've shaped my life? If I never veered off course, I wouldn't be this emotional, weird and sympathetic and be able to produce the work and stories that resonate with others.
During the workshop, you may feel like you're lost because there is a lot of soul-searching and finding out who you are and why you do and want to keep doing this. At least for me, it was. FF also proved that the frustration was not an interruption of my process; yet it is the process. These greatest mentors assured me to dream and believe; most importantly, it is okay to screw up because that's just a part of it all.
As strange as this may sound, because of those photos my dad took of our family whenever he had chances and those albums my mom had thoughtfully put together, I know they loved and love me a lot. And now when I'm photographing someone else's life, I'm loved again.
Thank you everyone, Huy Nguyen, Tyler Wirken, Sergio, Gulnara Samoilova, Craig Fritz, Candice C. Cusic, Joe Appel, Jan Garcia, Kelly Rashka, Sherry Pickerell, McKenzie Ring, Christine Sanchez, Bridget Eldridge, Jenny Petersen, Veronica Rodriguez-Branson, Juan Carlos Calderon, Melissa Suneson, Rob Whelan, Kate Anderson, Rhea Skogen, Mark Skogen, Tina Shah Doshi, Shelly Sessions, and last but not least Katie Noble Harris.