The Photographers Gene

When people ask me what got me started in photography, I always reply with, “It was in the genes.” There is quite a legacy of photographers in my family history. Great photographers. I aspire to be as good as them. While there are a lot of creatives on both sides of my family, it was two of my mom’s uncles that had the most influence, ironically without me ever meeting them. They both died before my time, but they left a photographic record that spoke volumes.

In the 50’s and 60’s, my great-uncles were professional photographers, working as press photographers and in the white house (they took a lot of the photographs of Jackie O. that have become quite iconic). They were featured on multiple Time-Life Magazine covers too.

Uncle Tommy was the official photographer for his sisters weddings. One of those sisters was Claire, my grandmother and namesake! As a kid, I remember sitting in my grandparents’ house looking through their old photo albums and admiring the beautiful pictures of their wedding. The glamorous dresses and hats, the rice falling through the frame as they exited the church, the glint on the blade of the sword they used to cut their cake, all in perfect black and white. The lighting he used gave the whole day a magical glow. Sure, as a kid, I thought pictures and old movies were black and white because life used to be black and white (my logic wasn’t always sound). The point is, through those old photo albums, I felt like I was there, I was part of my family history. I found old pictures of relatives I resembled, relatives I’d never known. I saw my parents as babies, I saw myself as a baby! Photography was amazing to my little mind. 

As I grew up, that fascination with photography got stronger. I loved having tangible proof of all my favorite moments. As other memories faded to make room for new ones, the pictures I had were like a safe, locking those important memories in place. If I had a photograph, I could remember so much more. When I started school, my mom would give me a disposable camera  to take on field trips or document summers with friends. For the young audience out there, disposable cameras were bright yellow cardboard wrapped around a plastic camera that held a single roll of film that you could take 24 pictures with. Only 24 pictures meant you had to be precious with every photograph you took, you couldn’t delete and try again, this wasn’t on a memory card or stored on a cloud, it was a physical negative being exposed to the light and creating an image you wouldn’t be able to see until it was developed in a photo lab a few weeks later. Planning and patience were vital. 

Then came college, I had to pick a major, I had to decide on a career. My mom suggested photography. Really? ‘You have a great eye, you love taking pictures, you could be a photojournalist like your great-uncles,’ she encouraged. I took the leap. While I didn’t land in press photography, I found an amazing passion for portrait photography that captured that same love for documenting my life and shared it with others while honoring my family’s legacy. So why did I choose to be a photographer? I’m not sure I chose it, I think it was just in my genes and I’m so glad my mom was able to point me in the right direction. 

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