For those of you that don't know me, let me provide some background information. I grew up all over the east coast. My favorite place to live was North Carolina, in the Durham/Chapel Hill area as well as the teeny town of Beaufort on the coast (that almost no one has heard of but is home to Blackbeard the Pirate and Nicolas Sparks!).
My mother, if we are being brutally honest, was pretty terrible. My childhood memories consist mainly of the smell of alcohol and cigarettes, the sounds of screaming and crying, and the constant feeling of abandonment and neglect. However, I do not wish that any of this was different.
My amazing older sister adopted me and my little sister when we were only ages 11 and 6. She is my sister, my best friend, and my role model all wrapped up in one package. I don't know what I ever would have done without her.
After we escaped the horror of our upbringing, I struggled with a pretty deep and lasting depression that I kept buried for a long time. I was closed off, guarded, impenetrable. All the safety mechanisms that I had put in place to keep me sane growing up were now doing more damage than I realized.
The first true outlet that I had for all these feelings that I refused to discuss was horseback riding. Once again, my amazing sister introduced me to the sport and I clung to it like a lifeline. I felt as if I could trust the horses. They wouldn't judge. The wouldn't ask questions. They wouldn't yell. They just loved unconditionally. I felt safe with them.
The second, yet probably most important, outlet I had was photography. I was introduced to it though a small segment in my 7th grade English class. We were taught to develop the film from disposable cameras in the darkroom and make our own prints. I felt like it was magic. Seeing these images appear before my eyes was incredible. I pretty much decided on the spot that I wanted to be a photographer.
After my sister realized this wasn't just another hobby that would come and go within a couple weeks, I got my first camera. It was only a little point-and-shoot Nikon, but it was mine and I took it everywhere. Some of the pictures I took with that camera I still use to this day.
I quickly decided that I wanted to attend art school in New York City. I had no idea what school or what I wanted to do with photography, but I felt that if I could just make it that far, I would figure the rest out as it came. The only thing that mattered was that photography was mine and I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else.
I used photography to explore the emotions that I kept buried all throughout high school. I took an extraordinary amount of self-portraits, few of which I ever showed anyone. The photographs I took were a direct reflection on my thoughts and feelings, which I wasn't ready to express to anyone.
After attending community college for a couple of years, I decided that the school of my dreams was the School of Visual Arts. I applied, got accepted, and moved to New York, hoping for the best.
I'm here. I made it. Despite the circumstances of my upbringing and all the obstacles that I have (and have yet to) overcome, I made it this far. Photography has quite literally changed my life. I am still working through a lot of baggage from my past, but I have come a long way. Simply being able to explore and portray the things I have struggled with has been incredibly therapeutic. I hope that anyone in a similar situation would be able to realize that they are not alone and that there is hope. Photography is my outlet. What's yours?