Last weekend, I went to Pescadero, CA with two women friends who are also photographers. It was our Inaugural Annual Women in Photography Retreat. We stayed at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and in the lighthouse museum, there were illustrations with quotes. This one struck a chord with me.
When I quit my job in the social sector two years ago to pursue photography, I was venturing off a familiar path and onto one that was unknown and uncertain. As I’ve written in a previous blog post, photography was something I had always wanted to do professionally but was too scared and full of self-doubt to pursue. In my first career, it was as if I had been traveling on foot along a coastal trail and could see, across the ocean, an island that I yearned to reach. Photography was a passion that I had suppressed for so long that it had become a source of suffering. A heartache that I couldn’t ignore anymore, and the only cure was to confront and surrender to the dream to pursue photography. After years of longing, I finally decided to jump in the ocean and start swimming towards that destination.
I knew that in order to cross that expanse of ocean, I would have to become a better, stronger, faster, and smarter swimmer. I would have to acquire the skills, tools, and knowledge to work as a photographer and run a business. But one never fully comprehends these things until one experiences it first hand. After my savings ran dry at the end of my first year I really had to start hustling to make rent. Hustling physically, mentally, and creatively. The physical labor of biking to get to places on time with an often hectic schedule, of schlepping gear. The mental effort of being “on” for class, clients, and shoots, and to track and coordinate the details of my business and life. The creative exertion of pushing myself to think more conceptually, to make photographs in different ways, to see and develop new opportunities as a freelancer. In the past year, I’ve shed blood, sweat, and tears to stay afloat, continue to swim and get closer to that island. To say that pursuing my dream is a lot of work is an understatement but as a result of all the hard work I’ve grown tremendously as a photographer and as a person.
Flinging myself into the ocean meant saying goodbye to the solidity and stability of the earth underneath my feet. Letting go of the security of feeling grounded. What I didn’t fully grasp or appreciate was the emotional and spiritual challenge of such an endeavor. Of being at sea and sometimes feeling adrift or at the mercy of the elements. I didn’t expect to mourn the identity I had developed for myself before casting it aside to undertake photography. In order to be reborn, the old Jung had to die. I didn’t understand how rough the transition would be in going from a steady salary with benefits to the wilderness of freelancing. I had heard and used the cliché of “feast or famine” but never really experienced it for myself.
I did not realize how much I would cry. Before jumping into the ocean, I had cried for not pursuing photography. Now I cried because I was pursuing photography. What sort of madness was this? The tears in my prior life had been in self-doubt, fear, and despair. Again in this new life, they appeared in self-doubt, fear, and despair. Except this time, these tears were not holding me back from taking the leap. They were helping me process the leap itself. Restarting my life was turbulent, like waves in a storm. I had to swim through all of it. The good and the bad, the calm seas and the heavy swells, the sweat and the tears. And I’m still in the salt water expanse, heading towards my destination.
The ocean I jumped into was a metaphor for my journey in becoming a photographer; however, in the actual pursuit of my dream I have shed what seems like an ocean of sweat and tears. Often the work and the way can feel solitary and lonely, yet I know that I am not alone and that making a living is not my whole life.
No wonder then, that earlier this year, I was deeply craving ways to replenish, inspire, and bolster my spirit through the highs and lows of my photography adventure. I wanted to not only survive this journey but thrive throughout it. Specifically, I envisioned 1) forming a small group of women photographers to help each other in our work and 2) getting into nature more often, hopefully outside of the city.
I feel incredibly lucky to have met Alex and Kaitlyn and become fast friends with these talented and beautiful women photographers. Earlier this year we began meeting regularly to support each other on our individual and collective journeys. From these meetings we dubbed ourselves “Women in Photography,” or WIP for short. Besides our common goal of becoming successful professional photographers, we’re also in our 30’s and each about two years into our respective endeavors. While we have these commonalities, we are also diverse in our experiences and the paths we are taking to reach our goals. Until recently, Alex worked full-time for a local camera gear start up while pursuing her own photography projects. Kaitlyn juggles a couple customer service roles with an increasing number of wedding and portraiture photography assignments. I’m taking classes, managing photography studios, assisting, and freelancing.
To satiate my craving for more nature, I’ve been much better about going on hikes and planning activities that are outdoors, whether in the Bay Area or beyond. Since I am car-free and on a budget, I also keep an eye out for opportunities to score freebies and travel frugally. As it turns out, this spring I applied to be a local social media influencer for Enterprise CarShare and was chosen as one of their San Francisco participants! The deal is I get to take three trips using one of their vehicles (free driving and gas credit) in exchange for sharing photos and a blurb about the excursion to my social media networks.
For my first trip, I decided to get out of the city for a retreat with my Women in Photography. Originally, our plan was to zen out at Tassajara in Big Sur but due to the wildfires, our reservation was cancelled. Instead I proposed a trip to Pescadero, a sleepy coastal town an hour south of San Francisco. I had passed through before and heard that there were some great tide pools in that area. Upon further research, I discovered there were a lot of fun activities and options for an overnight trip. Alex and Kaitlyn were all in. Some visual highlights:
Despite our busyness, I cherish that we make the time, a precious commodity in our modern world, for each other. We have been able to get together at least twice a month to check in and discuss our projects and goals, frustrations and worries, joys and triumphs in all aspects of our full lives as women, photographers, and business owners. We share our experiences of negotiating and navigating our individual paths and act as accountability partners for each other. We also share equipment and other essential resources, like wine and laughter.
I’m so grateful to have their camaraderie and collective wisdom to lean into. Our first annual WIP retreat was the perfect respite from our hectic lives and fun reward for all our sweat and tears. The overnight trip gave us distance from our daily hustle and time to reflect on our individual paths and collective journeys. The sea was a restorative balm for our souls.
View more photos from our salt water retreat in the gallery below.