How did I get here?
This time seven years ago, I was, to put eloquently, a Total Fucking Wreck.
I was finishing my senior year of high school, less than two weeks from graduating, and I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do with my life. I didn’t get into the school of my dreams, which meant I didn’t get into the program I longed for: Classical Archaeology.
There were things I knew I liked doing, like writing and taking pictures. But the summer before I started my undergrad career, I didn’t pick up my camera once. I lied in bed, staring at the wall, wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life. I was 17, confused, depressed, crying a lot, and completely uninspired.
I would like to tell you something inspiring, some sort of turning point in my life where I decided I wanted– no, needed– to become a photographer, but that’s just simply not true. Taking pictures was a lot of fun to me. I was good at it– it was the first thing I had a natural knack for– but I didn’t think I wanted to make my life out of it. About halfway through my first semester at MSU, studying English Lit, I was on the phone with my mom and I said, “I miss making art.”
It was a gentle admission, a passing comment. I was collaging by then, making sketches in my sketchbook and all that, but it wasn’t like high school, where every weekend was marked by a crazy photo shoot with my friends and praises from my teachers. I just kinda missed it, so my mom suggested I get a minor in art or take some classes. It wasn’t until my sophomore year– now pursuing a BFA in Studio Art– that I took my first college-level photography class and realized:
Fuck, I want to do this for the rest of my life.
I knew after that first semester that I didn’t want to be a wedding photographer or a portrait photographer, but that I wanted to teach photography. I loved critique, I loved the theory and the history, and I loved learning. I wanted to pass my knowledge to others. I also knew that the photography I liked doing wasn’t photography in the traditional/commercial/profitable sense, but more academic. I am so, so lucky that I knew what I wanted to be at 19 years old.
What I also knew was I needed an MFA, and that getting into an MFA program was Serious Business.
When you find your passion, you delve head-first into it. And goodness gracious did I embrace it. I stopped denying that I wanted to be an artist (oh no not an artist how will I eat) and decided to, as I would say in 8th grade, “go balls to the walls.”
My weekends and weekdays were photo shoots with friends. I carried a camera on me at all times. Summers were spent taking photographs every. single. day. It was surrounding myself with people who liked photography as much as I did, browsing forums online and gathering inspiration for my next big shoot. I was submitting to galleries, exhibitions, museums, magazines, anything to build up my resume for graduate school. When the time came to apply, I bused all around the country, visiting schools, interviewing, meeting with professors to go over my application, checking my email every five minutes–
I got a full ride to Columbia College Chicago.
And, somehow, two years later, I have my MFA in Photography.
Holy shit, what a ride.
But I wouldn’t be here without a few people. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my art teachers in high school, or my friends in both high school and undergrad who let me dress them up/make them stand naked in the woods in February/carry my heavy things. My homies who drove me around, let me use their backyards, drag them around zoos in animal masks or get stopped by the police– if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have gotten this far. All the professors who wrote me letters of rec, who taught me how to be a better writer, how to take better pictures and challenge me to think more deeply, to ask the hard questions, them too.
My mom for saying “Why don’t you get a minor in art?” or my boyfriend for all of the countless hours of driving, setting up light stands, cramming balloons in his car or me snapping at him because “I’m in the zone Mitchell shush.” My friends for letting me bitch at them about critique or something some critic said about my work, or those nights when I would be up late crying because “I don’t know what I’m doing how on earth did I get this far?” and their words of encouragement (“Shut the fuck up, deo, ur a great photographer fuck the haters.”) The friend who read my essays and statements and applications and was absolutely brutal in the best way. My cohort for the time spent debating theory (lol or crying about it,) the whiskey bar in Ireland, challenging me and making me think in new ways, showing me how to do things and inspiring me to be better. All of these people helped.
I thought about all of these people as I was hooded and received my diploma case on May 14th, 2017.
So, if you ever helped me, no matter how minor, thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Now, I’m off to go make some waves in the art world with my Masters of Badassery.