There are some days that I just feel full. Full of happiness, or sadness, life, or love. And there are some days that I just feel full of words. Writing has always been a secret outlet that I fail to use efficiently; I write in spurts and bursts and in an inconsistent attempt to empty my brain like a maxed-out memory card. Some days writing is easy, and some days writing is hard. Incase you haven’t noticed, writing has been the latter for me lately. But as it usually does, the bug came back to bite in the wee hours of the morning on an insignificant Tuesday evening.
A lot has happened in the past 6 months. For most, you’ve only gotten snippets from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. For some, you’ve been with me the whole damn ride (screaming to let you off, I’m sure). So thank you to those who already know all of this, and a warm welcome to those who don’t.
In July of 2014 I opened a photo studio. Remove the Pinterest-esque image of a photography studio out of your mind; we’re talking an office-sized, square room. Weathered hard wood floors, antique century doorhandles and two walls of windows had me dreaming of simple setups and breathtaking naturally-lit photo sessions. Babies, children, couples, pets; I was completely overwhelmed with what an empty room could mean for my on-the-side photography business. It was a mild summer morning in May, and I said yes. I said yes to leaving a job I was no longer interested in, that took me far from home and drained the life out of me, to the absolutely heart-wrenchingly scary world of “let’s try to pay bills with photography!”. I left a Toronto high-rise in early June, camped at my dining room table on my laptop for a month, and painted that little room with enough optimism I could have exploded if someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I had shoots coming through. I had a few in studio, a lot on location, and the most weddings I’ve had in my career scheduled for the summer ahead. I paid a month’s worth of expenses solely through my new “career”. It was a very weird, exciting feeling. It was also becoming clear that I wasn’t steady enough to be fully depending on this income, so I picked up a part time job as a receptionist at a day spa. I lived my little daydream out loud, spending every waking moment immersed in my passion. This is what dreams are made of, right? Right.
Then an opportunity came along at the end of August. An in-my-face, loud, “you cannot turn this down” opportunity. Not photography related, not one bit. It was a position with a company, full time (contract to start), doing what I had been doing in Toronto, only very close to home with very enticing hours and security that could not be ignored. I went in head first, never having more than the expectation that it’s worth a try. After an interview on a Tuesday (what is it with Tuesdays? So innocent, yet so not at all) I was at my new desk not 24 hours later. It was surreal. What happened to the exciting, scary, entrepreneurial adventure I was only just beginning? Why did I have that sinking feeling that I was somehow selling out?
If you should know anything about me, it’s that I have many different aspects of fulfilment in my little heart. Think of this like one of those children’s puzzles where you have to fit the star-shaped toy into the star-shaped opening. I have a square, a triangle, a circle, a star, and a slue of other shapes waiting to be paid attention to. Photography takes up one of these spaces. And for that little part of the summer, it grew big enough to take up most of the spaces. But you can’t fit the star into the circle, you say! Well, you’re right. You can’t. While I can probably try to jam that sucker in there, it just don’t fit. And it took months of figuring out how to stop feeling like a sellout to realize I can’t ignore the different shapes of my heart. So I now have a photography spot, a day-job spot (which fills an academic appetite that is a very big part of me. The nerd glasses are real!), a fiancé spot (we’ll touch on that later) and a few other unlabelled spots waiting to be sorted out.
It’s tricky to put a finger on how I feel about this from a business perspective. While I would absolutely love to pursue photography full time, I can’t ignore real-life necessities and real-life financial stress that bubbles up in my system until I’m balled up yelling at the money-shaped bus that ran me over. If this position hadn’t come along, I would have continued to work part time in order to alleviate that stress, ramping into a potential full-time photography adventure when the time came. What’s nice is, I can still have that option. I can continue to be a “weekend warrior” (it’s a real term, I’m told) and live comfortably while doing so, saving for a wedding (yes we’ll get there, I told you) and subduing that money stress, at least a little bit. One day I will wake up and walk to my home office to work. One day I will be holding a wriggling two year old while I attempt to get some photo editing done, simultaneously maintaining an effortless appearance while doing so (that’s the dream, no?). For now, I wake up and go to an office ten minutes away, put in a day’s work, and come home to the second day’s work. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but when isn’t life a balancing act really?
Now, backstepping to that little perfect room we’re calling a studio. I had the grand opening back in October, celebrating the beginnings of success with friends and family (there you are! Dropping all your names in that generic blanket!) and opening my door (and my heart) to the next chapter of Hilary Spencer Creative Photography. I’d like to think that I am the business, and that the grand opening was an opening of my love for photography and working with such beautiful families and faces, fiddling with engagement rings and fluffing dresses, playing with toy cars and shouting dirty words to make cheeks turn red and smiles explode. I am not the space that I reside in; my work is a product of this little magical thing inside me that dares to speak out and let everyone know: I am in love with making people smile.
I’ve given my last month’s notice to the wonderful owner of the building I was camped out in for those few months. You see, it took taking a huge leap, that one jump out into the world, to push me past all the “what if”s and “what now”s to really find out that I love what I do. I’m so happy that I have spent the time investing in myself, in the business, because it propelled me into the future, which is where I’m now focussed. My future will now hold a photo studio in my home, in a freshly painted finished basement that was sitting empty without any laughter or joy. Believe it or not, I’ll have more room than I did in those four optimistic walls, and I can’t wait to transform my space into everything I had dreamed of for a small-but-mighty studio space. And the bonus? Rent free. Money that can be thrown to new equipment, props, lighting, or hey… that wedding.
This little (not so little, I’m a dirty liar) novella is to air out a bit of what I’ve been holding inside, holding on to, and now letting go. I’m so focussed on each step in front of me, I can’t be bothered to look back for anything else but epic memories. My 2015 season is so busy, we couldn’t plan to fit in our own wedding. I’m burning the midnight (and sometimes 3am) oil almost every night, but I’m exhilarated to the point where I couldn’t sleep if I tried. To my new work folks, you know why the bags under my eyes could be checked at the airport (with extra fees for oversized luggage). And to my photography clients, here, there, and in the future, you are truly what wakes me up every morning (or afternoon, after I’ve strategically power-napped), allowing me to live out my dreams and passions through that lens. Every time I feel exhausted, a little girl will chase me around a room with fists full of crackers shouting Taylor Swift rifts. A newborn baby will grasp my finger, making those heart-melting sleepy noises while I tuck fingers back under blankets. A freshly engaged couple nervously laughs and embraces under a sunset; my own personal movie that I’m directing in the moment. I am truly blessed to be trusted with your memories, and I will continue to strive for perfection in the craft that has called me home. My square is fitting snugly in it’s place, whether that’s in a box, in a room, or in my heart; I’m happy, and you know it.
(And to those waiting for the fiancé update: He said “So?” and I said “Yes.” I bawled and we laughed and I can’t stop looking at my left hand. The story is perfectly “us”, and you’ll hear it soon enough.)