One of the best things about my job is having the chance to meet and speak with so many interesting and talented people. Today, in the first of my series profiling vendors I like, I would like to introduce the very lovely photographer, Tatiana Rodriguez, owner of Lifeshots Photography + Films.
Tell us a little about your story.
When I was 18 I knew I wanted to be a photographer. I never thought about my skill level, but it just felt right. I saved all of my babysitting money to purchase my camera, which led to the video tapes of my brothers and I goofing around, and photo albums of new and old images that I had lovingly created. These and my journals were the only things I took with me when a major hurricane flooded my family’s home and we had to flee. Years later, while sitting in the waiting room of my college counselor’s office freshman year, I was so excited that I couldn’t contain the cheesy smile on my face as I inched closer to being the next student called in. I couldn’t wait to get my to do list (I am big on lists) filled with all of the necessary steps to become an amazing photographer. I was not prepared for what happened next. He told me that photography was too competitive and I would never make enough money. I had not applied to the art school within the university yet. I could apply next year, but it wasn’t likely that I’d get in, he warned. He said it certainly could be a good hobby, but that I had to consider another field of study with more security.
Crushed and confused, I walked out of there with my head down. The smile had been replaced with pressed lips and a tight jaw. That was the day that I that I locked my creative self in a closet. I had allowed his words to discourage me. It’s important to me now that I make that distinction: He didn’t discourage me; I allowed his words to discourage me. Words carry such tremendous weight that they have the power of life or death. To this day, I cringe when I replay his words in my head, but I am not angry with him. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I know he was trying to help me, protect me, and guide me into a career that was safer. He said what he thought was best. Maybe he had also been led away from a creative path and into a safer one. Who knows. One thing is for sure; if I had not taken this path, I wouldn’t be sharing my story with you now.
Afterwards, I had no idea what to study, and I declared a major only when I absolutely had to by reading the course catalog A-Z. I chose Public Health focusing on Family Health, and I took an intro course with a passionate and powerful professor that demanded our respect. We all loved her. She believed in me, encouraged me, and led me to pursue a Master’s Degree in the same field. My work was meaningful, but I always felt something was missing that I could not put it into words.
By the time I turned 30, I felt as if I was in a picture and I was being erased. My personal and professional life lacked purpose. I felt okay, but not fulfilled. I was losing myself and constantly felt like something was missing. I felt so lost that I constantly prayed to ask God to give me unmistakable direction and to clearly light my path. I remember praying throughout the next year, “God, I am open to whatever you want in my life, but please make it so clear that I cannot miss it.”
Around the time of my next birthday, a close friend asked me to take pictures at her business’ grand opening with my little point and shoot camera. When I walked into that huge room filled with people, I was instantly drawn to one woman. In my memory it was as if the lights were dimmed on everyone else, and she had a spotlight on her. I made my way over and introduced myself. Her presence was calming, her voice eloquent and kind. As with most first time conversations between adults, she asked me what I did for work. Little did I know, this would be no ordinary conversation. I explained my work life to her as an administrator in the public health world. She then asked me, “…and are you happy there?” I was taken aback by the question but answered quickly, “We do great work and we help families in such significant ways. The clinicians are amazing. We have wonderful teams. It’s a great place to work.” To which she replied, “That’s not what I asked you… I asked if you were happy there.” This time I wasn’t just taken aback, I also felt the blood rushing to my head and cheeks. I was embarrassed, maybe even offended. Her question made me look inward into a soul searching place that I wasn’t ready to go to. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, and when I reopened them, I looked at her sheepishly and admitted verbally for the first time, “No, honestly I’m not.” “Tell me then, what makes you happy?” she asked. “I honestly don’t know. Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, I’m interested in so many things. I don’t know which direction to head in,” was all I could think of to say. She responded with that lovely calming voice, “Don’t think about it so much, Tatiana. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?” I closed my eyes for much longer this time, covering my eyes with my hand, and searching for the courage to answer this wise stranger sincerely. As I started forming my response, I surprised even myself. I opened my eyes, looked directly into hers, placed my hand over my heart, and said, “pictures”. She said, “Well then, why can’t you do pictures?” And that was it. That one word unlocked the mental closet door, and my creative self was released from that dark place I had put her in 13 years earlier. My next answer, in a much stronger and confident tone was, “I don’t know. Why can’t I do pictures?!”
Her powerful words led to answers that breathed new life into me. They helped me free myself from self-imposed limitations. She was the light in my path, pointing me in the right direction that I had been praying for, and it was unmistakable. From that day forward, I started making plans to open a photography company with such determination that not even all of the college counselors in the world could not have stopped me. My friends and family agreed that it was a perfect fit for me. This time, no one discouraged me. Doors started opening up for photo and video opportunities. I volunteered for the media team at my church and met a talented photographer starting out in weddings. He believed in me and we started working together. At first I didn’t even ask him to pay me. I felt that I should be paying him for giving me a chance, and I am so grateful for his friendship. I felt it come full circle when he trusted me to do a maternity photo session and baby video when he and his wife were having their first child. I’m pretty sure I cried driving to his house from the emotion and gratitude.
I continued to meet people that would be guides and resources in the areas of photography and video story telling. People were extending their hands to me at every turn. The appreciation just poured out of me for every moment that I could capture an image or help create a video story. I surrounded myself with good counsel seeking to follow in the steps of successful and kind-hearted photographers and cinematographers. I read an article by Gabrielle Bernstein that said, “You owe it to yourself to shine as brightly as you can. Hitting the dimmer switch on your specialness makes the world a duller, darker place for all of us.” I decided she was right and I wanted to shine as brightly as I could in serving others.
Now, I make it a point to enjoy this beautiful world, traveling nationally and internationally for personal and professional ventures. I capture photo & video for weddings, businesses & families, and I teach private photography lessons to beginners. It fills me with such joy to give back and pour into others the way that I was poured into. I am blessed beyond measure to be on this journey, always learning and loving, creating powerful images and films that matter to people. I look forward to every day because it brings such unique opportunities, and I always meet wonderful people along the road. I have so much to learn – and that’s okay. I never want to stop learning. Life is a journey filled with trials and triumphs, and honestly, if something doesn’t work out, all I have to do is take another shot. Pun intended.
What do you like most about being a photographer?
I love that what I do matters. A lot. We as photographers, create images that outlive and outreach us by establishing emotional connections for people that we will never meet. Someday, somewhere, a young girl will go through her grandmother’s wedding album. She will not know my name but she will moved to tears looking at how lovingly her grandfather looked at her grandmother. She will say, “Wow. Look at how beautiful she was on her wedding day.” She’ll likely think about all of the wonderful memories and intimate conversations they’ve shared. There is inestimable value in getting to make that kind of contribution to someone’s family history. It touches my spirit in a profound way.
What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest external challenge is keeping up with social media. I confess, I stink at promoting my business but I’m working on that! My biggest internal challenge is perfectionism. Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, revealed to me that “perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, that part that tells us nothing we do will ever be good enough… The perfectionist writes, paints, creates with one eye on her audience. Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.” Ouch… Julia’s words convicted me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to create something. The truth is that I didn’t want to do it unless I felt that I could do it perfectly. This mentality kept me stuck and often paralyzed. Now I strive to create for the sake of creating without expecting that every attempt will be perfect. It’s a beautiful thing that I need to be constantly reminded of.
What is the best compliment you ever had?
A friend at my church sent me a hand written thank you card for my role in a community service project. He said it was a pleasure working with an artist like me. That may not have been the first time someone called me an artist, but it was the first time that I believed it too. I heard a quote in a British television show, Call the Midwife that said, “There is a greater gift than the trust of others… and that is the trust in oneself.” I still have the note my friend wrote, and it helps bring me back to that place of trust and appreciation when I head into the depths of doubt. It may sound like a cliché, but I consider it an honor when someone trusts me to be the one that captures their story.
Thank you so much, Tatiana.
(Photo Courtesy of Lifeshots Photography)