I can’t be the person that says, “I always had a camera in my hand!”
I can’t be the person that says, “I started by photographing my kids!” or “I was always the photographer of our friend group!”
For me, it started by seeing a gaping hole in the media that’s created for consumption.
I grew up in a weird lot in life – slightly sheltered, somewhere dead center between feminine and masculine, pretty unaware of media. Until one day, I wasn’t so unaware anymore.
At the time, it was probably a slow gradual change – but looking back, it feels like it hits you quickly. Suddenly you’re very aware that what you wear, what you put on your face, how you speak and think and express yourself all matters more than you ever knew.
But this story really starts in a photography studio at 13.
Drive to be different.
Like many people, around the age of 13 I was tasked with doing some career based exploring. It was one of those projects where you had to go shadow somebody, get a feel for the job, ask questions, etc. I had my eye on photography for a little while at this point simply because I was fascinated with the way that magazines portrayed people – it was more the creation of the aesthetic and less about the actual process at this time. But I found a local studio that was well known for senior portraiture, and they agreed to work with me on the project.
My mom and I pulled up, and I was pretty nervous about it. The person that ran the studio was probably in their 50’s at the time, and had been doing this for decades. I was expecting to get to understand the setup, the equipment, what it was like running a business, all of the actual career parts of being a photographer.
That’s not at all what happened. What unfolded next was one of the worst half hours of my young existence.
Looking back, it was probably a lack of communication or understanding – but this person plopped me and my mom on a stool, and photographed us, giving very few explanations of what they were doing along the way (which is what I was really here to learn). I was suddenly a subject of somebody who very clearly didn’t want to be photographing us, and that shone through with every fiber of their being.
This experience was the most forced, most contrived, least personable experience I ever had. And while I don’t want to sit here and slam a well known, well loved photographer for paragraph after paragraph, it could be summed down to this: I felt worse leaving the location than I did when I had arrived. I felt assaulted, I felt ignored, I felt diminished and ultimately, not good enough.
I thought to myself, “that can’t be what this is like.”
The owner plopped the images on a disc, sent us on our way, and I never again reached back out to them. As I climbed up into our truck, my mom asked how it was. And I simply replied, “it was horrible”. But quietly, to myself, I said, “I’ll do it differently”.
It was in that moment, that I knew my goal – to make people feel like they belong, exactly as they are. To show people that they are inherently already the way they’re meant to be – that they’re worthy of being photographed, flaws and all. There’s no need to act a certain way or pretend to be something they’re not. They simply had to be.
Self-teaching from a place of passion
For the next two years I photographed everything possible with a crappy cell phone camera, and then at 15 I received my first “good” camera – a low level camera that was somewhere between amateur and professional. At 16 I was photographing senior portraits, at 18 I photographed my first wedding, and at 20 I had signed the paperwork to be a legal business in the state of Wisconsin.
It didn’t start out as documentary work – it started out as pretty posed images, but with heart and soul and making sure the client was having a positive experience. But I slowly began to realize that the way I was posing, I was directing, I was making decisions took the leg work out for the client – but it also took their personality, their liveliness, their soul out of the images. I was creating pretty photographs without depth or meaning, which no longer reached my goals. I had become that picture-perfect magazine photographer that I grew up disdaining for the way they made me feel.
Soon I had to ask myself: how can I create images that are client-led and honest in nature, while still have a positive and simple client experience?
It was a few years beyond that that I began to create a hybrid model of documentary work, and then just a year beyond that when full-stop no-direction documentary work began.
It can be intimidating, to have a photographer tell you that you don’t have to do anything, to be anything, to pose or model for a photograph – but it’s liberating to receive images back that show you in your most real form of self. It’s cathartic, to realize all along that you were good enough to do this. You were good enough to be photographed the whole time, as-is.
Where we go from here
Creating honest space for you to be yourself is the number one goal here. I welcome you to bring parts of your personality that you never thought you’d share, that you always hid away behind strategic posing and locations when being photographed. These pieces of you are meant to be shared, and in doing so, you’ll find a whole new love and appreciation for this life you’re living.
I whole-heartedly and so deeply believe that your story, your lived experience, your perception on life, matters. And together, we’re going to make sure that story is told in the way you experience – my fingerprints will create no impression on your story.
Together, we’ll make these images that outlive us. Images that will tell this story, this real version of it, for lifetimes.
And 10 years later, my goal is somehow still exactly the same – to make people feel worthy of being photographed.
Because you are.
Thank you for being here.
Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN.
I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.
This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.
Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.
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