Sharing Stories - Interview with Photographer Alicia Sturdy
Bene Brown said it best: "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
And one of the best ways to own our own story is to know that we are not alone. Confidence comes from a shared story. I believe this with all my heart, and have experienced this throughout my own journey in photography and entrepreneurship. Hearing how someone else started and worked hard, the things they tried that worked and the things that didn't, the ways they've grown...these are true gifts.
It is my honor to share some of these types of stories with you. So you feel less alone. So you can learn from the journey others before you have travelled. There is always someone two steps ahead of us that with a story to share. Perhaps this is the one that you need to hear.
It is my honor to introduce to you Alicia Sturdy. This is her story. This is her beginning.
1) When did you know that you were supposed to be a photographer, and where did your journey begin?
My journey began way before this moment I’m about to talk about (in fact, it began with a little pink Barbie camera that I shot my first roll of film on that I don’t believe my mom ever got developed! Or with the boxes and boxes of prints I have documenting every. single. moment. from junior high school on...) but the moment I thought “I could really do this" was June 1st, 2011. My husband, Andrew, and I were sleeping on an air mattress in our empty apartment as we were preparing to move from Chicago to Connecticut. I remember it was the middle of the night and he was asleep and I couldn’t calm my mind down. We had just done a photoshoot downtown with our sweet friend Erica Rose where we had gone to some big ‘Chicago-y’ spots (Millennium Park, the Bean, El steps) for what could have been really a really cheesy photoshoot, but for me it was us showing off our city to our children & grandchildren. It was, and is a connection point back to this season of life that I was really having a hard time letting go of. I moved to the city when I was 18 and thought I’d never leave. We ended our photoshoot on my favorite bridge downtown, the LaSalle Street bridge - and I don’t know what it was, but I felt like she had really captured the essence of our romance, our city love, and the end of a chapter in our story. When I got home, I couldn’t stop seeing images in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about these portraits I had taken of my sister a few years prior. I should back up and say that I went to college for Art, specifically Graphic Design - and had studied photography for two years. My first film camera was a Canon Rebel XTi or something like that (and now I can’t even use it because the door to load the film is broken), and in 2009 I had bought a Canon Digital Rebel on Craigslist that some guy was selling in his divorce. So I have a photographic background sprinkled across the prior 25 years of life up until that night in my living room on the air mattress in the glow of my computer. I was editing the photos of my sister in iPhoto and thinking “I think I could capture what Erica captured of us - tell that story of ‘life right now’ for others”. The next summer (2012) my husband got my a 50mm 1.4 lens for my birthday that I slapped on my Rebel and realized I wanted a more robust camera. Two months later I clicked purchase on a used Canon 5D (ebay, baby!), had a heart to heart with my husband about how I really wanted to be a photographer, and away I went.
So I started my business in October 2012, did a workshop that winter with Justin & Mary Marantz, networked with other women photographers in my area, booked a few weddings through friends, and second shot with some amazing people. A stand out moment for me was when I did a session in Manhattan with one of my couples whom I was shooting their wedding later that fall. The connection I felt with my subject and the city I was photographing them in was a huge catalyst to where my business is today. Some people love barns, some people love wide open fields...I love glittering skyscrapers and cobblestone streets in West Village.
2) What was it like for you in the beginning? - What were some of your struggles, triumphs, and things that helped you through?
First off, that same night in June 2011, I kept having waves of “Who do you think you are that you could be a photographer?” moments. It was like, a thing, that people were just picking up cameras and declaring “I’m a photographer! Hire me!” and I didn’t want to fall into the ‘lady with a camera’ group. So I did some serious self-shaming in the middle of my dreaming - which I don’t recommend but hey, if you’ve been there (or are there)...STOP.
When I did decide to take the leap and pursue photography, it was sort of my ‘quarter life crisis’ moment. Asking myself ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ really helped me (although overwhelming at first!) find out who I really was down to my bones. At the bottom of my soul searching I discovered being a ‘witness to stories’ and loving people as my calling. I did some business coaching last year with Jeff Jochum, and discovered my ‘three words’ - nostalgic, vivacious, and glamorous. These three words help me filter decisions in my life, not just my business. As long as something falls into one of these buckets, I can find a place for it to live down inside me. Photography, especially my new brand - ‘Our City Story’ ties my three words together.
But to start - make a list of anything you’d ever dreamt or would dream to be. Down to the craziest dream. I started back to kindergarten when I wanted to be a book store owner, ballerina, teacher, etc - and moved my way through my life story of what all the dreams I had ever had. Look over the list and accept all the dreams you’ve had. Know that however humble of a place you’re in right now, it is where you are meant to be. How you choose to leap to your next beginning comes from all the roads that lead to today, so embrace it all and GO. Find ways to encourage yourself (I made a Pinterest board of inspiration and looked at it every day), find your biggest cheerleader, and ask them to support you through it all. It’s huge knowing that when you stumble, someone is there to help you back up.
3) What has been your biggest lesson from being in the photography industry?
One thing I have learned - and this is just by observance - is that nobody has their shit totally together every single day. We can make all the workflows and Trellos and Evernotes in the world, and there is always some other shoe that drops. I have noticed this in photographers who are ‘at the top’ and have thought, “WOW! They are just figuring thing out as they go along just like me!” The internet has this crazy effect on the mind that leads people to believe perfection is real. The only perfection I believe in is being true to the most authentic version of yourself there is….you can’t help but embrace the perfect YOU if perfect = genuine.
4) How did your logo effect your confidence in being and calling yourself a photographer?
My logo is my signature - and today (!) I am so thrilled to unveil my new logo for the Our City Story brand. As long as I have been in business, Alicia Sturdy has been my brand, and my logo has been my own handwriting. While all my businesses will still fall under the Alicia Sturdy brand (I’m a writer at an online journal I cofounded for creative women called Flourish), I do freelance graphic design, and now Our City Story falls under the Alicia Sturdy umbrella as well), I want them all the feel the same - hence why my handwriting is used in all three. I feel confident in my logo because...it’s me! I remember in 3rd grade I had to do the cursive worksheets ALL over after the whole class was done, staying in at recess to do them. So I have a lot of pride in the way my signature and penmanship has turned out 20 years later because nobody can write exactly like I do. I believe in authentic brands that feel like their owner - and when your brand is YOU, your own handwriting can’t say that any better.
5) What would you say to another photographer just starting out on this journey?
Accept who you are and who you’ve been made to be. The minute you start to doubt your work not being good enough or what is ‘really selling’ right now is the same minute that things can start to crumble. But if you believe in who you are, what you bring to the table - there is no way you start off on the wrong foot. And don’t worry - there are going to be days where you don’t see yourself clearly, or your work, or your path. Let them happen, but don’t let them happen every day. Pick yourself up and keep making things happen.
Thank you so much, Alicia, for sharing your story today. And for revealing your brand new logo!! I just know that your story will inspire, encourage and motivate many other photographers.
Is there another favorite photographer of yours you'd like to see featured on this "Sharing Stories" blog series? Send me a tweet or leave a comment and let me know. I can't wait to hear from you.