I feel like lately, life has really been testing me. Especially with my career. I'm not going to lie, before moving to Louisville, I felt like things were easier for me. Looking back on it, they weren't. Being in school just made it seem that way. It was a safety pillow for me. It felt like I was successful because I would get constant A's on projects or have my work put up in the school or at places in Chicago. I was successful, but I was successful because of school. When I dropped everything to move to Louisville, it was the kind of ass kicking I needed.
The First Few Months
I felt out of place, but I was excited. I wanted to work as hard as I could, and then, I felt sad. I left everything to come to a place I have never been. It was hard. I left my friends, family, a five year long relationship, and a lot of connections out in Chicago. I missed my friends and I missed my family. I started to slack because I was sad. I had friends out here, but they were new. I'm also the type of person who hates to tell people when I am depressed or when I am in need of help.
So what happened next? Well, I fell behind on my own work. I started to slack on my own personal work and stopped taking care of myself. There would be days that I would not even want to get out of bed and sleep for 12 hours straight because it was easier for me to think rather than staying up and feeling numb. The hardest thing to admit was I stopped eating. It got to a point where when I did it, it would make my stomach turn because I went so long with nothing in my stomach. It was painful, and I told no one. I was embarrassed.
Hitting A Second Wind
Finally I realized what I was doing to myself. I was toxic. Not only to myself, but to the people around me. I hated it. I hated myself. This was not me and I was not going to let it be me. I decided to do something. I started out with getting a new job; at a place called Butchertown Grocery. I started to work for them and work even harder at my internship with Clay. I would clock in 40 hours of my week at BG and then the rest of my hours would go towards the internship and my own personal work. I started to feel good again.
It took me about a month to find my reason for photography. It was always a way out for me. A way out of my emotions or how I was feeling or even just being able to create beauty. Photography was me. It was me as a person and as an art. I tend to remember moments in life and hold on to them. Almost like a photograph. I analyze every detail of a day and just appreciate it. I've had a lot of self doubt within the last few months but I know that photography is my passion. The last few months set me behind, and I decided I needed to keep moving forward. Otherwise, I was going to fail; and failure is one of my biggest fears.
After overcoming my doubt, I decided I wanted to try to get my work out there more. By submitting work to magazines to publish. With this, I wanted to not only create work, but try to inspire people. I wanted it to be more than just a pretty photo, I wanted it to have meaning. I started to research magazines to submit to. One magazine peeked my interested called Atlas. Every new issue they have a theme. The theme for the issue I wanted to submit to, was called Fearless. It felt poetic to me, like a sign from the world telling me to do it.
I started to think of concepts and what could really speak with my work. Then it hit me. Being unique. I feel like we live in a world that is constantly judging us. A world where it scary to be different. People are afraid to dress different, look different, act different, just be different. It's a concept I hid from. I know many people try to it. I wanted to capture photographs that felt oddly beautiful. Pictures that feels strange, but stunning. I wanted a weird tension to be show throughout the series.
I Started To Build A Team
Everything felt new to me, so I wanted to work with a new team. A team of people that I admire. I started out with someone I look up to and have always wanted to work with. A local makeup artist named Bethany Hood. She is a driven individual and one of the strongest female figures I have met in my life. I know that is saying a lot, but she knows what she wants and how she wants it. A quality that I hope that I could possess one day. Next in line to work with was Matt Tyldesley. One of the most talented hairstylists that I have ever met. I told him to go crazy and he spent several nights staying up making handmade wigs just for this photoshoot. The hair pieces he made were unbelievable. Then the next person I wanted to work with was Gunnar Deatherage. Gunnar is a local designer, and everything he makes, I want to buy. I am always in love with this clothing line and just everything he puts together. He is absolutely brilliant with what he does.
Once we put that together, it came down to finding models. Bethany and I talked and talked about who we wanted to work with. We started
sending ideas of models to one another. Until Sadie Miller's eyebrows caught our eyes. Not only is she gorgeous, her personality is even more beautiful. Then there was Mei Li Zheng. A model who is a little shy and sweet, but absolutely will give you killer shots. This team I was so excited to work with and they were excited to collaborate as well. I counted the days until the photoshoot.
Video by Hunter Zieske
Everything felt so natural how it came together. The team, the set, and the photos mixed so well. I was so nervous days before the photoshoot that it felt silly to feel that looking back at it. After the photoshoot, I had over 1,000 photos to go through and pick what I wanted to edit. It was crazy to me how well it went. I got to editing and then sent the photos to Atlas for consideration.
Weeks past, and I hadn't heard anything. I found out eventually that they never picked it. I sent it to one more magazine and still nothing. It almost broke my heart, but then I realized that I shouldn't be sad. I should be proud. My team and I worked so hard to make these photos. I was proud of them. I thought I accomplished much more than just a simple photo. I accomplished a goal. A goal to work with the people that I did, and another step into a healthier direction.
I am sad that these photos never made it to where I want, but I want to use these photos to show people to not be afraid of failing or even being judge. Everyday we should do something that scares us and makes us feel uncomfortable. That tells us that we are working with a new experience and trying to be successful. I hope that this series can help you to be Unique not only in yourself, but in the experiences that you live day to day.
I want to give a special thanks to my team and Hunter Ziekse! Hunter put together that amazing behind the scenes video of the whole entire photoshoot. I want to give all of them a shout out and I will post their social media below. Thank you to everyone!
Mei Li Zheng: