FAQ: my story (part 1)

First – I’d like to start by saying, if you haven’t yet read the preface to “my story”… I suggest you go do so here. Thanks! 🙂 

Okay – now for the rest of you….

I promised last week after I went on my tangent about needing to accept “my story” that I would share my actual story with you – so here we go! Grab some popcorn and a soda, perhaps – because this may get a little lengthy, since – as you know – this wasn’t an overnight situation for me. 🙂

I won’t start WAY back in the beginning… that seems unnecessary (although I will share this super cheese-o-rific birthday photo of me). I’ll just suffice to say that I grew up in a big family (4 siblings besides myself – where I landed directly in the middle) in a very small town in Wisconsin (technically it’s a “village”… yes, it’s that small), and that I was drawn to all things artistic. Most holidays included some sort of Crayola gift set with 84 bajillion crayons, or a paint set, or a book about architecture or artists. I acted in musicals, was in show choir and took dance lessons… life was A-Okay with me as long as I had a creative outlet.

I always wanted to hold a twin, I never got to. Darn middle child syndrome. It cracks me up that my parents took the pic regardless of my tears. 🙂
At some point in the  mix of all this artsy stuff, I discovered my mom’s camera. We’re talking about the old-school kind that was about the size of a slender brick of cheese. (I compare most things to the size of cheese whenever possible… yum.) It had one of those old stacked flashes that looked like glass block windows that you stuck on the top of the camera when necessary. (Do you guys remember those things? Crazy!) Eventually I asked for a camera of my own and was lucky enough to get one for a gift at some point. (When? I can’t recall… sorry.)

I took photo after photo of who knows what, including but not limited to family occasions, parties with my friends, and sunsets. Lordy, lordy – I took photos of sunsets like they were going out of style! Then I’d get the film developed and put the photos in an album in chronological order, with each little event noted on a piece of paper and stuck under the faded plastic of the album page. For some reason I was obsessed with making sure all these events were documented and stored somewhere for me to look back on over and over during the course of my lifetime… 

The first album I ever made… Yes, I taped random ridiculous things to the inside cover. What about it?!
Super Bowl winners (yeah!) and – surprise – a sunset… see what I mean?!
As I got older and thoughts of “what should I be when I grow up” creeped into my head (we’re talking realistic thoughts during high school… not my younger days when I dreamt of being a ballerina or an Olympic gymnast) I’d occasionally entertain the idea of being a photographer, but I never really knew what it entailed or how I went about being one. I remember bringing it up to my dad at some point, but the idea was quickly shot down – as he said I needed to get a 4-year degree at a university. (For some reason it never crossed either of our minds that I could in fact get a degree in photography at a 4-year college… ??? Hmph.)
After lots of thinking and trying to be practical (i.e. getting a degree that would land me a job post-graduation) – I decided to attend the University of Kentucky in Lexington to study architecture. As I explain it to most people who ask… It was a tough school to get into for architecture (2nd in the nation at the time) and you had to take a special entrance exam to be chosen for the program. They had something like 400-500 applicants and accepted around 80. A few weeks after taking the long, drawn out entrance exam (which involved lots of drawing and math – from what I recall)… I received a letter of acceptance back and I was over the moon excited. I figured that these people definitely knew what they were doing – and if they thought I could be an architect – they were probably right!
Well, turns out they weren’t. I ended up being pretty miserable at Kentucky right off the bat. I remember many-a-night calling home crying about not fitting in at the school and being completely overwhelmed by the dedication and time they expected you to put in for the architecture program right out of the gate as a freshmen. I was scolded when I let a professor know I’d be going home one weekend (about a month into the semester) for my cousin’s wedding (mind you, I was not missing a single class… I was just flying home for a weekend). I was told I should be in the studio and that all of my spare time should be spent working on school projects in the architecture building, and that most of the students had cots or some sort of sleeping arrangement there and never left for the weekend. Excuse me, what?!  I liked architecture, but I certainly didn’t like it that much.
Not to mention that I soon realized that my idea of college had always been the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Both of my older siblings had gone there – so after visiting numerous times throughout junior high and high school – I just assumed all colleges were like Madison. Boy was I wrong. Kentucky was somewhere near the polar opposite of Madison. (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration – perhaps Alabama is more like the polar opposite?) I’m not sure – but to give you an idea what I mean: Guys I met were shocked not only that I watched football, but that I clearly understood the rules of the game and each of the positions. They were also surprised when I would show up at the gym to workout and lift weights, or when I was seen going for a run around campus. On one occasion someone actually screamed out a car window at me when I was out for a run, “Hey look! It’s a chick with a dick!” (I wish I was joking. I am not.) Those of you who have met me, or have even seen a photo of me, could probably attest, that while I am a tomboy in some ways, I most definitely would never be confused for a dude. (You should also know that I’m not trying to generalize this school or this part of the country, but am rather just sharing my own experience there…)
Anyway, I arrived in Lexington a week before classes started only to find out that every other girl on campus had arrived weeks before to rush for sororities. I didn’t even know what a sorority was, much less care to leave Wisconsin early to come join one. Turns out I was one of the only girls that I knew of not in a sorority. (At Kentucky, people never asked me IF I was in a sorority – instead, they asked me WHICH sorority I was in…) It also turns out that not being in a sorority puts a bit of a damper on your social life and ability to make friends since everyone was usually out at events exclusive to their own group. I knew not one other person when I moved there, so that didn’t help my cause early on either. (Although I eventually made friends with a fabulous mish-mosh of other mostly out-of-state students who didn’t find my wanting to be active or affinity towards watching sports strange…) 🙂

Here we are at the horse races, being all fun and stuff. 
Anyways – long story short – I decided pretty early on that I wanted to transfer to Wisconsin (where there was a Greek community, but there were other options for a social life outside of that as well)… however, they didn’t accept mid-year transfers – so I stuck it out at Kentucky through my freshmen year. (Only to find myself a sobbing mess when it came time to leave and I had to say goodbye to the dear friends I had made.)
That summer back at home, a neighbor of ours landed me an internship at an engineering and architecture firm in a city near my hometown. They figured I had a background in architecture (at least a year’s worth) and gave me an internship that entailed driving all over the state of Wisconsin and taking photos of all of the firm’s projects (i.e. buildings – ranging from churches to cheese factories, from office buildings to meat packing plants – yes, that last one is as gross as it sounds). I had free range to take as many photos as I wanted, however I wanted. I learned on the fly how to use a digital SLR camera and Photoshop – neither of which anyone at the firm knew how to use. They bought them just for me that summer and figured I could teach myself how to work them. (Which was fine by me!) 🙂
I fell even more in love with photography and the wonders of Photoshop (ha!) that summer – but was doing pretty baseline stuff. (I still didn’t know a thing about shutter speed, aperture or light… I was just shooting buildings, trying to make them look the best I could, and capturing interesting details in the design in the meantime.)
That fall I headed to Madison to finish my college career… where it turns out I was equally lost about what on earth I should do with my life. I somehow eventually ended up in a program called IATECH (which stands for “Inter-Arts and Technology” – and basically means all things art & technology related, and for some reason was housed in the School of Dance… I believe because they weren’t quite sure where to stick us…?) 

There was a very small group of us in the major (maybe 10-15 of us in my graduating class at most?) and it consisted mostly of males. We did things like learn electronic sound and music design, video editing, Photoshop, and took movement classes (which helped us if we ever wanted to translate our own movements into computer animation). We made art installations – did performance art pieces – and talked about life, art and politics. It was amazing and life changing for me – and really helped me come out of my shell. Not to mention this small group of people, whom I spent a majority of my time with and who got to know some of my most intimate secrets (via art I made and the stories I told about it), became like a family to me in Madison. The only problem was that when I graduated in December of 2004, I knew a little bit of everything but not a whole lot of one thing. I hadn’t pinpointed a strength and therefore had no idea where to go from there.

The one thing I did feel I had though, was my photography background from my internship – which, somehow landed me another gig as a real estate photographer after college. I spent the next 6 months driving around Madison in a van with one co-worker (who thankfully I got along with well enough to be able to handle 40 hours a week together in a mini-van) – taking photos of every single piece of commercial or industrial property in the Madison area for a company that supplies comparable property information to appraisal companies. (Random, I know.) 

Early on during this gig I realized that I absolutely loved photography – but I wanted to (and had to) learn so much more in order to really do something creative and wonderful with it that I would enjoy. (Don’t get me wrong, real estate photography can be great – but it’s just not my bag of chips.) So after some research and visits to Chicago and Boston, I enrolled in the Commercial Photography program at Harrington College of Design in Chicago – which was set to begin in late August of 2005.

So off to Chicago I went… (stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!) 🙂


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Christy & James are Chicago based but happily travel anywhere in the world that beautiful love stories take them!