Blogpost #1: Once Upon a Time: Becoming a Storyteller

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. 

My journey as a photographer began 10 years ago.

I had never thought about photography as a career or even a life choice. Photography was around me constantly as a child. My mother took rolls and rolls of film portraits during her years attending Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. She even had a postage stamp with one of the family cats on it, made from a photo she took. My Grandmother & her twin sister (my Great Aunt, also named Betsy) were obsessed (that's putting it mildly) with 35mm film photography and capturing all of their friends, family, and visitors on film if and when they stopped by.

I grew up with constant verbal reminders to, "always write the date on the back of the picture!" and to, "stand up straight!" when a posing for a picture, even if you were seated. When a roll of film was finishing and the final number was wound into place on the camera, the excitement of the last frame would cause my Great Aunt to shout, "Last one! Now you know what I say, LAST ONE'S THE BEST!" Everyone would laugh, roll their eyes on occasion, and smile bigger - inevitably making her sentiment ring true. Inevitably, the last photo would be full of joy, laughter, and genuine love. To this day I think of them both when I am photographing a family, a wedding, or a personal event and it's nearing the end. Occasionally I will shout, "Now get together, last ones are always the best!" Guaranteed smile, every time. 

I am a visual person by nature, an optimist, and a storyteller. I tell the story of people I meet, the places I go, what I see, or experience through photographs. With or without my camera I am constantly thinking in a visual way, noticing the changes in my own home, my own routines, and the world around me. I am always striving to be a better storyteller. To take better pictures that capture the richness, the beauty, and the complexities of life. 

In high school I drew, I painted, and spent lots of my free time in the visual arts. It wasn't until college that I went off to New York City and began experimenting with black & white film in Central Park.

I was captivated by this new form of expression. Interestingly though, it wasn't really new to me at all - from the years of growing up, having my photo taken, and seeing it being used around me all the time. It felt "new" to me because this was my first time truly immersing myself in it. Figuring out the camera settings on my own. How to balance light and contrast and most importantly how to create a compelling composition. I quickly learned that creating an interesting photograph in grayscale is even more challenging than using color film. The art of shadow, light, and contrast is important for all photography but for black & white film it is absolutely essential. I spent months walking around Central Park snapping pictures of the skyscrapers, the trees, and the buildings dotting the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. It was there that I was unconsciously was working on my technique and my overall knowledge of the camera itself. 

I still have two or three rolls of film photographs that I had printed from the early days. They are simple compositions, but important ones. They are the foundation of who I became as a photographer. How I fine-tuned my vision and the art of image capture.

Not too long after my initial venture into film photography I decided to purchase a DSLR (a digital single-lens reflex camera for those of you who have always wanted to know what DSLR stands for). I loved film photography but the allure of digital photography (and also the instant gratification of seeing your photos right away) was too good to ignore! The tide of digital photography was in full swing - so I hopped onboard with my first camera, a Canon 40D, and started to photograph everyone and everything around me. I took it to school with me, I carried it around the city, to the park, photographing friends, events, and places that were a part of my life.

One night I went womens party at a divey bar on the Lower East Side. I chose to leave my camera at home that night and went by myself. When I got there I struck up a conversation with a woman named Amy. We talked about the city, work, and the lesbian scene. At the end of our conversation she invited me to come to a party she was hosting next week. I assumed she was inviting me to a little get together, you know - the kind you would host for a small group of friends, kind of like a dinner party or a house party. Small scale, I thought, right? Unbeknownst to me Amy was planning a much bigger party with a fancier guest list than I had thought. Amy turned out to be the founder of GO Magazine and the event was an anniversary party featuring comedienne Margaret Cho and Toronto based band, The Cliks

I took my camera to the party. I was in awe of the turnout. The event itself astounded and excited me. So many lesbians, bisexual, and queer women in one place to celebrate their shared sexuality & culture! I felt like I had stumbled through a rabbit hole and discovered the world I had only seen on TV shows like The L Word or Queer as Folk

Many months after that first party I was a contributing photographer for GO. Shortly after that I was a Staff Photographer and regularly contributed images from events, restaurants, and functions all around the tri-state area. Looking back the events I enjoyed the most were a GLAAD Media Awards party and sitting courtside for The WNBA NY Liberty at Madison Square Garden. I may have not known much about basketball or the team for that matter, but it was magical. The day I photographed the WNBA game I got stepped on by the NY Liberty mascot. It was all good. Not a problem, I considered it a perk of the job I was working that day. All part of the experience! 

Looking back I saw myself being drawn to events that promoted awareness, visibility, and activism in the LGBTQ community. I cared so deeply about being a part of something bigger  - something that truly affected change. I spent a few years working with GO Magazine and really enjoyed my time there. The access and experience I received was unmatched. I will always be grateful for that night that Amy invited me to her party and everything that came after for it shaped my career and my identity in more ways than one. 

After I left New York City, I also left the world of the press photographer. My sights turned to portrait photography and the performing arts. In 2009 I met my wife and moved to San Francisco. At the time she was working on her Masters Degree in Voice at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her entire world was opera repertoire, IPA translations, and fachs (no, not that kind of fachs!) IPA stands for International Phonetic Alphabet and also happens to stand for India Pale Ale.  IPA is a staple of the classical singer and became a fun part of my life when my wife & I first began our relationship. When a friend would switch from mezzo to soprano or tenor to bass we'd joke, "Congrats! You FACHed up!" The fach jokes were frequent and often, as you can tell. 

In 2010 I dove headfirst into the world of opera. I began working with The San Francisco Conservatory of Music and The San Francisco Opera as a production and archival photographer. Before I moved to California my knowledge of the performing arts was focused on musical theater, Shakespeare, and a tiny, tiny drop of opera and classical music in the background for good measure. As I fell in love with Toby I fell in love with opera. 

After we legally married in 2013 we began to shift our focus to our businesses and our future family. We had a lot of fun in those formative years but now it was time to separate ourselves from our roommate situation, get our own place, and eventually our own sperm. My work evolved into primarily professional headshots, portraits, and events. I photograph weddings year round, corporate and private events and performances, and now work on The Pride & Joy Project every chance I get. 

On a daily basis I'm bouncing between editing, scheduling, and producing photoshoots for my primary business, wedding photography, and scheduling and photographing families for The Pride & Joy Project. If and when I do have free time I'm trying to help Toby with her teaching studio, Music with Toby that focuses on voice and violin lessons for kids and adults. 

I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and I cannot wait to see what the next few years will be like. The Pride & Joy Project has been, by far, the most validating and rewarding work that I've ever photographed and produced. Many of the families I work with have asked if I am capping the number of families involved, or if I have deadlines - and the answer is no. I don't have a cap, I don't have any deadlines and I hope that this project will continue to grow and thrive the rest of my life and my career as a photographer. This work is absolutely necessary. It is vital to the visibility of lesbian mothers and families everywhere and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. I truly hope to meet, photograph and connect with as many lesbian mothers and families as I can. I truly look forward to helping to tell your story. :)

Betsy 

Founder & Photographer

The Pride & Joy Project