How Being a Photographer Almost Killed Me

The rays of the rising sun filtered through my bedroom blinds. I blinked a few times, and realized it was Saturday. Not only was it Saturday, but it was Saturday with a full sun, warm Spring temperature forecast, AND I had no shoots scheduled and no place to be. I reached for my phone, leisurely scrolled through my social media outlets, read my devotional, and pondered what I would do with myself on this marvelous day.

That’s the nexus where “the idea” met with motivation and time.

A few months ago I was listening to a lecture by photographer Lisa Tichane and she shared some photos she had taken of kids jumping on a bed. The images were so sweet and simple..and she did a lot of it. So much so that I figured she had a bed in her studio. Which, if I’m honest, seemed a little redundant. As much as I loved the idea, I couldn’t imagine myself getting a bed. Then last week I found myself scrolling through Kristin Mackey’s newborn work, and noticed that she now had a bed in her Oklahoma studio. I was officially double-inspired. I sort of half-joked with Lynn about it yesterday. But today I woke up and thought, let’s make that happen.

When one wants an antique, one goes to Craigslist. Within moments I had located the perfect bed frame, an hour and fifteen minutes away. I shook off the sleep and rolled myself out of bed. I called the number at 8:30am and woke up what seemed to be a confused, elderly woman with the voice that said she had been acquainted with cigarettes for far too long.  After a few minutes of trying to clarify that I was calling about the bed, she told me to come by at 10:30.


The bed was too large to fit inside my SUV, so my hubs gave me a lesson on how to use his fancy crank strap system to secure the bed frame to the top of my vehicle. I was confident that I could do this all by myself. Well..with one of the kids. The boys were asleep so I canvased my girls for a riding partner. Amaya was not interested in getting dressed. Amelle was game, but she had a time constraint – she needed to be home by 11:45 to meet with her driving instructor.

We have bought and sold things off Craigslist in the past; last summer I purchased an inflatable kayak, when I arrived at the seller’s house, the kayak was laying on the grass next to the driveway. A few years ago I bought a frame, which was sitting in the driveway waiting for me upon arrival. I think people try to minimize the Craigslist creep factor whenever possible. There’s this sort of unwritten, “I’m not a murderer” way of doing things that prompts people to keep things simple with as minimal home invasion as possible. I figured this bed would be sitting in the driveway or in a garage – easy in, easy out.

Given that the GPS showed Amherst to be 1:15min away, a 10:30 appointment would get us home at 11:45 – BUT we’d have to move fast. We left as soon as we could, and I called the women and let her know we’d be there 15 minutes early, which she seemed pleased about.

We arrived at the enormous victorian home and I had no idea how to enter the house. It looked like it had been made into apartments with several different entrances. I walked around the front of the house hoping to gain a clue as to which door to knock on. I was a little stressed that I was losing time trying to figure this out.

That is when the woman appeared at one of the doors. A frail figure with a wig of bushy dark hair; she slowly waved me over. I went toward her. With each step another detail came into focus. The neck brace (cervical collar) which seemed to keep her head propped up. The dark circles under her eyes, the deep wrinkles, sagging skin, the knee brace, her shoulders that draped forward. She didn’t smile, but she welcomed me into her cigarette stained home with her raspy voice.

I smiled at her and spoke gently, coyly explaining that I wasn’t sure which door to go to. She spoke, “are you alone?

Um. Gulp. Okay. This one question changed my whole disposition, from caring about her, to caring about me. “Oh no” I stuttered, “I have someone waiting in the car“.

Do you want them to come in?“, she rattled.

Now I feared for my daughter’s life. Plus if I had her come in, they could kill us both. I knew I needed Amelle in the car. “Um no, they’ll just wait for me” (and she’s a teen, so she KNOWS how to work a phone, lady. She will dial 911 if I don’t come out).

Then she turned and locked the door behind me, “I have to lock it so that the wind won’t blow it open“.

I gulped. This is happening. I am literally about to get murdered.

She walked me slowly into the living room where I noticed a table full of prescription bottles. She said, “the bed is in the attic, you’ll have to go up there by yourself“.

No. H – E- Double hockey sticks No.

I wouldn’t even go into my own attic by myself. I don’t even go to my studio alone because I’m afraid of life. There’s no way I’m going into the attic of this creepy lady’s house to meet the person who’s waiting up there to murder me and harvest my sweet 43 year old organs.

Um” I gingerly muttered, “You can’t come up with me?”

No, my legs are too bad“.

We were now standing at the foot of a long staircase looking up. It looked fairly sunny and bright, I thought maybe I could do it. “Soooo..” I said looking up, “the bed is right at the top of these stairs?”

No, you’ll have to go up another set of stairs to the attic“. I gulped. “And when you get to the attic, there are pieces of foam insulation board blocking off the stairway to keep the heat from escaping, so you’ll have to move those to get into the attic“.

Nooooooooooo. I literally wanted to cry. Everything about this was like it was copied out of the Craigslist murderer playbook. I didn’t really even know what she meant about the foam boards, but I did hear the part about not wanting something to escape. My feet betrayed me and inched slowly up the first set of stairs. At the top I noticed several closed doors and a wide hallway. I turned the corner and looked up the 2nd set of stairs. The foam boards were laying across the entire top of the staircase so I couldn’t see into the attic.

My body was now on board with my mind. 110% no. My heart was racing. My arm weakly reached up above my head to see if I could push the foam back and peak into the attic. One piece slid aside and I could see up into another floor. There was a door ajar directly across from the staircase and I could see the sun streaming into the room. The second piece was above my head and I lightly pushed my arm overhead to move it. It was stuck. Perfect. That was all I needed to quit. I called down to her, “I don’t think I can move the insulation, it’s too heavy” (It was foam).

She called back up, “it should be light, you can’t move it?”

I sighed and spoke to God. “Lord, if there’s a reason I shouldn’t go any further, please grieve my spirit and turn me around“. I’ve been walking with God long enough to know He’s got my back. I waited a second to see if God was going to toss a flag, but He didn’t, so I trusted that it was okay to move forward. That’s not to say that I wasn’t still ridiculously scared, but I pushed the large piece of foam aside and it came crashing down the staircase over my head. I hollered down, “Okay, it just moved. Is the bed in the room right at the top of the stairs?”

Yes” She called back.

I proceeded up the final few steps and pushed back the open door. No bed. I looked around and saw several things with blankets covering them, but nothing that looked like the head and footboard in the picture.

There’s no bed in here“, I called down. She hollered back that she would come up to the second floor. She had one of those chair lifts that brought her up the stairs. I wanted to be done with this whole thing, I had no time to wait for her chairlift, “Do you want me to check the other rooms up here?”

I came out of the one room and noticed at least seven other doors, all shut. One by one I began opening them, scanning each room for the bed. I came across a door that was locked, with the key hanging outside of it, and moved on. There’s a limit to my bravery.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 10.19.33 PM(If you follow me on snapchat,you can see me frantically searching rooms, SC: MercySt – I can’t get the video to play here.)

Finally, after I had checked every room (except for the locked one), I found it. It was against a wall, with another wooden frame blocking me from easily removing it. I lifted the headboard (which was unexpectedly heavy – solid brass constructed in 1850, heavy) and pulled it out, letting the wooden boards crash together loudly. I brought it over to the top of the stairs where I could see her below and went back in to grab the footboard. 

I offered her $10 less than what she had asked. She tried to counter me with a $5 compromise, but I was not having it. I didn’t have a $5 bill in my pocket and I wasn’t trying to spend any more time here finding one. At this point, I was working on 100% adrenaline. I was prepared to fight for my organs, there was no way I was going to cower down to a stingy $5 counter offer. “I don’t have a $5 bill, do you want to take what I’m offering or no?” (A no would’ve been welcomed, because I had no idea how I was going to carry these huge, heavy pieces down two flights of stairs. I was happy to just to leave with all of my organs in tact.). 

She agreed to my price and I lifted the awkward metal down the stairs, crashing into walls and bumping into the ceiling. I had to maneuver the headboard because it didn’t fit straight down, I had to work the angles. I got past the first set of stairs and then had to maneuver down next to the chairlift on the next set. Once I reached bottom of the stairs, I hightailed it through the living room, by the prescription bottles, through the kitchen and out the door.

Daylight! Thank you Lord.

I leaned the headboard against the car and noticed Amelle’s panicked look. I opened the door and my panicked look must’ve trumped hers because whatever she was freaking out  (which was the time, the fact that I had accidentally locked her in the car with no keys, and that I hadn’t answered any of her call or texts while I was inside), seemed secondary to my disposition. I looked at her and said “you don’t even know“.

I told her to get out of the car and prepare to help lift the headboard on the roof.

I went back in the house, moving as fast as my feet could take me, and hoisted the footboard down both sets of stairs, through the living room, past the medication bottles, and through the kitchen, where the old lady was sitting at a table facing out a window, with her back toward me. I said goodbye without stopping and continued out the door. Amelle tells me that I was actually running with the footboard in my arms.

We lifted the headboard onto the roof with supernatural strength and worked the strap system that seemed so.much.easier when I was getting my lesson at home. I was shaking so much I couldn’t get the strap through the lever mechanism. So I prayed out loud, asking the Lord to help me latch it. He did.

I hopped in the car and pulled out onto the street, still breathing heavy and not fully believing that I had just survived certain death.

Then I felt it. My back was definitely tweaked.

We still had some serious time to makeup. We prayed that Amelle’s instructor would not arrive until 12, which would give us a teeny cushion of time. The faster we went, the harder the straps beat against the roof. Somewhere along 101 we noticed that the frame was slipping backward, so we opened the sunroof and Amelle held the frame in place the remainder of the way home. That move earned her MVP status (and dinner at a restaurant of her choosing).


We arrive home at 11:48. Amazingly. AND Amelle’s instructor arrived right at 12, which gave her a moment to warm her hands and catch her breath. Thank you Jesus.

And I was alive, which was a total bonus.

So yeah, that’s the time being a Photographer almost killed me.


But First, Let me Take a Selfie

I was recently photographed. By another photographer. I got my hair and makeup done at a salon, then drove to the photographer’s studio, where I had an appointment. I was photographed for 45 minutes, during which time I did not try to pose myself, I simply obeyed her direction and soaked in the experience and the vulnerability of being in front of the camera, all alone. No kids. No husband. Just me looking straight down the barrel of her 50mm lens.

It was both frightening and awesome.

Someone asked me why I got photographed and I didn’t really have an answer. Maybe they were asking like, “why not just take your own pictures?” or maybe it was more of a “you’re 43 years old, why do you need pictures of yourself?” I’m not sure about the root of the inquiry, but after some consideration, I now have an answer.

First, I believe with everything in me that it’s vital for photographers to become subjects. Many photographers developed a passion for photography at a young age. We were the kids on the school field trips toting our cameras around. We dragged our cameras through high school, working on the yearbook committee, taking pictures of our friends. We took pictures at our friends weddings (embarrassingly over the backs of their hired photographers). We took pictures at every kid’s birthday party, every vacation, and at every other opportunity (real or imagined) that we could justify pulling out our cameras. We were the photographers long before we were actually photographers.

The point is, we weren’t the subjects. We weren’t IN the pictures because we were taking them. And that became our comfort zone. We got realllllllyyy good at taking them. In fact, over time we learned to expertly assess light, pose, direct, capturing connection and love and emotion. But when it comes to being in pictures, we suck. Bad.

Aside from the obvious problem: that we have no photos of ourselves with our loved ones (I’m personally missing in photos from 2000-2009), we need to become clients. We need to go through the process that our clients go through. Definitely with our families, but maybe even by ourselves.

Some people pull off getting photographed like it’s nothing, they just go through life perfectly photoready. That’s not me. Getting photographed is a major life event for me. It takes weeks of planning and primping. I’m basically the opposite of photo ready, I’m barely presentable…like I avoid mirrors.

So when I made the appointment for my photoshoot, I knew it was on. I’m talking cutting carbs, extra workouts, hair cut & color (I normally let such things go), nails, wardrobe shopping, freak out sessions with closest girlfriends, dreams of it all going wrong. So fun. Kinda like going to the dentist fun.

But I did it. And it was good and healthy.

When I showed up with butterflies swirling, I flashed back to so many of my clients who confess that they’re nervous when they arrive at a shoot. Then there’s the investment, the time, effort, and dollars put into this event that creates a certain pressure for it to go well. The vulnerability (what if the photographer doesn’t get my best angle?). And the wait. There’s no instant gratification; the rules of time seem to change when your waiting to see your images. Experiencing these things first hand puts us in our clients’ shoes and renews our empathy. Becoming photography clients makes us better photographers.

Erin 04.02.16-2