Photography Projects That Change The World
Photographers Without Borders® covers the stories of grassroots initiatives from photographer’s around the world who contribute to sustainable development and conservation. The mission of PWB is to inform and promote positive change in the world by visually communicating the ways that grassroots initiatives are addressing problems in each of their communities. PWB works with a variety of organizations and initiatives that demonstrate a significant impact in the areas of sustainable development and conservation. To read more about the worldwide movement go to: Photographers Without Borders®
Today I celebrate a day like no other. It is not a celebration of a relationship or of a happy moment in life. It’s a celebration of the day my life changed forever. Six years ago today I almost lost my life. My children almost lost a mother, my brothers almost lost a sister, and my parents almost lost a daughter all because of a simple text message. I am physically as well as mentally changed forever because of it. However, I celebrate today because that accident, as bad as it was, also changed my perception, taught me amazing lessons, catapulted me back into school and into a new career that I am passionate about. Through all of the damage that occurred, all of the surgeries and thousands of hours in physical therapy I made a choice (and stuck with it) to not only make the best of the situation but to use it to succeed in my life and its working.
Six years ago today I almost lost my life in a car accident due to another individual texting while driving and I will never be the same again but that is okay…. In fact, it’s fantastic. I am not angry with her for her bad choices. In all honesty, I believe that if it was not for that accident I would have never learned about myself, my family, my friends, my full strengths and my passions. So, in a way I am thankful for her choice.
I have written about my story before and I don’t share it for pity, I share it to inspire others. I share my story because there are so many negative things that happen in life and it is easy to fall into a rut because of it. I share my story because it is easy to give up on yourself without support. I share my story because it was (and still is) one of the scariest (but yet rewarding) things I have ever endured. I share my story because none of us will ever walk through life without change…you can’t fight it, it is inevitable. Some of the things we encounter will be beautiful while others will be traumatic but I am here to say that the trauma does not last. Trauma can be used to create something beautiful, trauma can teach you to truly appreciate the beautiful things, the hearts of others, and it is what makes moments in life priceless.
If it were not for my car accident I’m 99% positive that I would not be on my journey to becoming a world-renowned landscape and nature photographer. I am just as positive that I would not own an art gallery that is about to take on other artists in several fields. I truly believe I would never have seen the courage and strength in myself nor would I ever had invested in myself on so many levels. Granted, I am nowhere close to being done but I have come a long way and I am proud of the choices I have made over the past six years. And for the scars I have on my body and the remaining damage to my spine, I am becoming proud of them too…they are proof that wounds heal and challenges can be overcome.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME!!!!
To read the full story of my journey please visit: In the Beginning: How My Photographic Journey Began and please visit the gallery at: Pi Photography And Fine Art.
Hong Kong Under China
This video is part of a series of interviews with photographers featured in Moving Walls 21. Moving Walls is an annual exhibit produced by the Open Society Documentary Photography Project exploring a variety of social justice and human rights issues. To read more about this project please visit Open Society Foundation.
School was a great stepping stone for me. I was extremely gun-ho about learning everything I could about photography which was a blessing and a curse because there is so much to photography. When I first started exploring photography as a whole, I did not understand why anyone would stick to one field of photography. I didn’t understand the business side of photography and I did not understand the technical side of photography; I didn’t even know what Photoshop was until I was enrolled in school. All I knew at the time was that I really liked taking pictures and I had formed an extremely overactive imagination once I started reading about photography.
Fourteen years out of school really takes a toll on your abilities. When I was in grade school through High school I excelled in mathematics and struggled in English/literature. If you gave me numbers, shapes, and algebraic equations or anything that had to be solved I could figure it out quickly, but poetry, writing, and spelling bored me to tears. So when I took my placement tests for college I was stunned at my grades, I completely failed math but I did fairly well with the English test. So, my first few classes of school were to get my abilities back up to par. Honestly, those two subjects were two out of three of the hardest classes I had to take in college; the absolute worst class was public speaking…everything was a video presentation. I apparently have just as big of a phobia when speaking to an empty room and a video camera as I do with being the center of attention…I know I’m a complicated woman ;). Once those preliminary classes were done it was pretty much educational gorging of photographic information.
School presented me with the opportunity to try different fields of photography without damaging something…such as someone’s wedding day by taking on a job that I wouldn’t be qualified for. We had classes on lighting, Portraiture, Editorial photography, Photojournalism, Advertising photography, and so on to help give us a taste of each field and show us the expectation of the clientele. There were other classes that where more technical classes such as color theory, printing, and electronic design that helped with the editing and printing of our work with less error than going about it alone with trial and error. Branding, marketing, communication and other business course were designed to help us define our vision of our businesses and get our work seen.
I’ve heard a lot of people shun the idea of going to college for a creative field, for me I think it helped me lay the foundation for a solid business and it helped me understand the technical side of photography. However, the creative side is still all mine to explore; because of school I now have better tools and a better understanding of the technical side of photography to do it with.
It is now 2014, I received my associate’s degree in Digital Photography in October of 2013 and I plan to go back to finish the last 6 classes for my Bachelor’s degree within the next two years. My children and I have survived the dramas of the car accident and I have about 70% of my feeling and physical abilities back in the lower half of my body. I still have daily pain that will never go away and unfortunately it fluctuates continuously. But with daily exercise and stretching I no longer need heavy-duty pain killers to make it through my day. Because of the fluctuation I have narrowed down my fields of photography to Nature and Landscape. This allows me to shoot when I feel I can physically handle it without having someone schedule in jeopardy like scheduling someone for a portraits shoot or a wedding. I still do them occasionally but it is extremely rare. And I know I will never be able to climb the tallest mountain in the world to capture a photograph from the top…but that doesn’t mean I cannot get my butt into a helicopter. My choice in Nature and Landscape photograph also allows me the opportunity to shoot for publication and art. Not to mention, I will never run out of subject matter to learn about and to photograph with nature and landscape photography.
To date, my business is getting a fair amount of exposure and I have been published 15 times so far. I am still an amateur photographer and I still have a lot to learn but I can honestly say that I am on my way to pro…eventually world renowned.
Thankfully, I have a very strong and loving family as well as a close circle of friends that helped me through this roller coaster of an ordeal. Some people have been there from the start while others have come into my life at key moments and taught me lessons. Regardless of the time I have spent with them, they have made an impression on my life that I am thankful for.
I have three amazing brothers and three beautiful sister-in-laws. My brothers and sister-in-laws took my children and I in, they allowed us to live in their homes at different times after the accident occurred without hesitation. My friends and family were at one point or another my drivers to appointments, my councilors when things got to be too much, my teachers when I needed to be schooled, and my parental voice to my children when I wasn’t coherent enough to do so. Later, after many months of healing these people were my soundboards and models with school as well as the business, but from the very start of all this they were all my heroes; they all taught me the true meaning of love.
There were moments when time simply stopped and the boredom was overwhelming; I believe the overwhelming boredom started within the first two weeks of the accident if not days….yeah I’m a busy body. Anyway, one of my friend’s husbands had started a web-based retail store a few years earlier and he was at a point where he needed assistance with it. I was able to fill about 12 hours a week with the work he gave me, which allowed me time to go to my appointments and rest when I needed to, as well as gave me something to fill my time with. However, I still had an abundance of time at night and it was driving me nuts lying in bed. I was never a big fan of watching television and I wasn’t a fan of social media at the time; not to mention I didn’t want to continuously post about my pain, so I did a lot of reading.
One day about a month or so after the accident happened I came across a book about photography in the stacks of books that people were bringing me. I read the book front to back in one night and loved every moment of it. Once I finished reading the book I realized that it distracted my mind the entire time from the pain and the time… it was glorious to have a distraction even if it was only for a few hours!
The following day a trip to the library was added to my outing after the doctor’s appointment. I got 5 books from the library and read them all in less than a week. When I had read all the books in the library on photography I started searching for information on Google…..can you say Hallelujah!!… I hit a gold mine of Photographic information. There was anything and everything you could possibly think of on the internet, I’m pretty sure that during my 19 months of lying around I didn’t even scratch the surface of the information. Everyone had a blog, ebooks, newsletters, videos, webinars, and websites on every field of photography you could possibly think of. I was in complete and utter photographic heaven with all of the information I found and I absorbed as much of it as I could.
As I healed and started getting my strength back I was able to get about an hour worth of time walking in the park each day, so I started taking my camera with me to practice with landscape and nature photography. One of my brothers bought me some cheap lights and props so that I could practice with lighting still life at home. I had even learned how to make a lightbox out of a cardboard boxes, it was ugly as sin but it worked and it cost less than 10 dollars.
One day on Facebook I saw an ad to go back to school for your degree, so I thought about it for a few days. Before the accident I never felt like I had time to attend school but that all changed; now I had a massive amount of time on my hands. So I checked into different online schools for different subjects, I thought about different business classes but quickly disregarded them… I knew that they would bore me to tears while lying there. That’s when I found the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, it’s the online branch of the Art Institute. Attending AIO Online division I would never had to step foot into a classroom and the advisers helped me construct the class schedules that would work with my physical abilities. November 2009 I started college after 14 years of being out of school, I was scared to death but I was also extremely proud of myself for taking that step.
Obviously there were pros and cons to the accident happening; I was in a tremendous amount of non-stop pain, however, I was suddenly offered an abundant amount of time. Even though I felt like I was going through the worst physical hell a person could ever endure I still had hope because I wasn’t completely broken. I knew physically I would eventually heal; I just wasn’t sure how much of my life I would get back after surgery. Up to the time of the car accident I had felt like my entire existence revolved around “doing what I was supposed to do”. I love being a mom, a sister, a daughter, and a friend but honestly I always had an underlying feeling of sadness inside of me. At the time I didn’t understand or even have time to try to understand what that sadness was. It’s kind of crazy to say, but it took my physical abilities being stripped away for me to evaluate who I was and how my life was turning out.
After the first few weeks of school I had my “ah ha” moment; I felt sadness most of my adult life because I never completed my goals; in all honesty I didn’t even start them. I made choices in life that drew me away from my personal goals and I got so wrapped up in life taking care of other people’s daily needs that I totally disregarded my own. I had stopped learning, I stopped growing as a person, I stopped challenging myself and because of that some aspects life had become mundane to me; I had nothing that fueled the fire within me anymore.
Don’t get me wrong taking care of people is extremely important, but what I failed to realize is this: my own happiness plays an important part in the growth of others. It allows others to see you as you are truly meant to be, happy and comfortable in your life. Being personally happy is like a car….yes I am using a car analogy. A car runs great when you first buy one, it’s beautiful and shiny, all the parts are new and effective, it has great gas mileage and the pick-up is superb. This new car takes you and your family or friends to different places securely and safely.
However, if you do not add fuel to it on a regular basis than the car will not move when you need it to do so. If you do not maintain the operating system regularly then the parts become rundown and the car stops being so efficient. Overtime this wear and tear will eventually leave you stranded on the side of the road…and if you have luck like I do, Murphy’s Law will kick in, and the weather conditions would be at their all time worst when the car craps out. The same is true for your own personal being, if you do not maintain your own personal health, both physical and mental than you will surely wear out too. I knew that I was not genuinely happy, but I didn’t know how bad off I was until something catastrophe struck and left me bewildered, hurt, and sacred.
Over the past five years I have been faced with a tremendous amount of trauma, pitfalls, and sidesteps but I can honestly say that I am happy that I endured them and thankful that I did not have to do it alone. If it wasn’t for my family and friends I do not think I would have survived the aftermath of this event. They not only helped me with the ordeal itself, they gave me a good swift kick in the butt when I had moments of self-doubt; each persons contribution, big and small, is etched in my mind forever. I do not think that I would have remained as determined about healing or about photography if it wasn’t for the love and support of everyone around me….for that I am truly blessed; you are my heroes.
I have always been artistic and had an appreciation for photography but I never used my camera for anything more than a quick snapshot of a scene, object, and family functions…spilling the beans here, but up to that point I kept the settings at auto. It wasn’t until 2009 that I started exploring the creative side of photography after I was involved in a serious car accident that mangled me from the base of my skull to my rear end; there was extensive muscle, ligament, disk, and nerve stem damage up and down my spine.
Traffic had come to a stop on route 495, a major highway, and a woman rear ended me; I’m told she was going about 80 miles an hour and it sending me flying into the van that was stopped in front of me. My car ricocheted off of the van in front of me and I went flying into the median wall that divided the freeway. Later, I found out that she was text messaging at the time and did not realize that traffic had stopped until it was too late, she never had time to slowed down. The damage to my back and neck muscles was so bad that I could not control my arms and hands enough to clasp onto a pen to write my name. Walking, standing, and sitting for more than a half hour caused excruciating pain in my lower back and neck; needless to say my life was altered that day.
The physical damage that I sustained during the accident, the surgical time, and rehabilitation time left me laid up in bed and extremely restricted for about 19 months. There were three disks along my spine that were damaged in the accident; one is in my neck, one between my shoulder blades and one in my lower back. I also sustained extensive tearing in all of my back muscles which contributed to the loss of arm movement and stability. The disk and my nerve stem in my lower back sustained the most significant damage and was what was causing me to lose feeling and mobility in the lower half of my body…I was down to 28%; surgery on my lower back was a given. But because of where the damage was in my lower back there was an 80% chance of paralyzing me during surgery if the doctors tried to fix my spine going in through my back. There was only a 50% chance if they went through my stomach…that seemed like a no brainer choice to me. However, the doctors couldn’t do surgery on my lower back right away; in fact it was 13 months after the accident before I could get my first surgery. My torn back muscles not only needed to heal before surgery could be performed, I also needed to strengthen them enough to hold up my upper body once the surgeon cut into my abdomen, otherwise I would have no core muscles to hold up my upper body. So, I had a weekly regiment of physical therapy as well as appointments to monitor how the PT was affecting the damage of my nerve stem, chiropractic appointments, and neurologist. There were some weeks that I had 9+ doctor appointments to go to; it was like a full-time job trying to get my physical abilities back but I was determined to gain as much back as I could.
I am so grateful that my children were not in the car with me when the accident occurred but they still had their own traumas to deal with because of it. When the accident happened my son was 13 and my daughter was 11; we were always a very close and active family. My children and I would backpack the trails of White Clay Creek and Brandywine Park, canoe Lums Pond, go to the water parks…there was always something for the three of us to get into together. Everything came to a screeching halt for them when the accident occurred; which had both pros and cons to it for each of them. They watched me struggle with walking and normal everyday functions, like tying my shoes or brushing my hair. They watched me as I struggled with physical therapy routines and medication side effects, and this was the first time in their lives that they ever heard me say the words “I can’t”. There were many days that I needed to depend on my children to do those simple things for me; it was horrible for them and I both.
The school work of my children also suffered for a time and they grew angry very quickly. My son especially, he felt that he was the man of the house and needed to step in to fix everything. He wanted to quit school to get a job, when I forbid it he tried to get kicked out of school. They both held things in, which festered into anger, and they lashed out at people. I called their guidance councilors at school early on to inform them of what happened, and what I was seeing happen to the kids. Thankfully the school staff helped me stay on the kids about their schoolwork while I was medicated, and gave them time to talk their issues out.