I don’t like the idea of things coming full circle – too much finality. What I instead stand behind is the idea of little circles – a life full of hundreds of endings meeting hundreds of beginnings, overlapping to create something interesting, dynamic and ever-changing. I like thinking that something that may seem like an end has the potential to be the start of something new and exciting.
As anyone who knows me personally, or who has followed alongside my blog for any extended period of time knows, I credit the discovery of my passion to 4-H – a small town staple. I joined our local club at the age of eight. We met every Sunday in the church basement, the room just opposite of the AA. That first year I took only one project, Photography I. It didn’t go anywhere; I was learning with film and burning a hole straight through my parents pockets. We went on vacation the week of judging so I had no chance at talking to anyone about my project and no chance of winning any awards. I stuck with 4-H after that year, taking odds and ends, I even began showing animals at the county fair. It wasn’t until four years later, and my mothers purchase of a crappy digital camera, that I decided to take Photography II. I was twelve.
That summer I won, to my mothers surprise, first place at the county level, qualifying me to move on to the state fair. This was my first of many state fair experiences in the years to come. They host a huge youth photography day where every first place winner from all four photography levels in all eighty-eight Ohio counties go to be judged. Typically, the top twenty percent of exhibitors from each level receive a giant purple outstanding of the day ribbon. They also award a first, second and third place to each category and a best of show for the top overall exhibitor.
4-H taught me that there are two types of kids(people): blue ribbon and participation ribbon. I was never the participation kid; I never half did a project book, never lied about dates in my record keeping. I wasn’t ever in it for the premium check (although that was a nice little bonus); I was in it to learn, to grow, to win that blue county ribbon, move on to state and meet the other equally passionate twelve year olds residing in Ohio. 4-H was(is) great for kids like me, kids that grew up in little rural, farming, communities that didn’t have the means to support their interest. It was self directed, but it was better than nothing.
I had zero expectations for what the state fair would be like that first year, all I had was my ugly white-rimmed sunglasses, my thoroughly completed project book and a framed 8×10 sepia tone print of my best friend peering through a lattice. I won best of show, the whole kit and caboodle, my first time out as an awkward but passionate twelve year old. I made it back every year after that moving up to Photography III and eventually Self Determined Photography, collecting outstanding of the day’s and blue ribbons every now and again. The judges began to recognize me and at my very last 4-H photography day, seventeen and very unsure of myself, I managed to win my class one last time. That summer during judging we didn’t talk about my photographs, but rather about me and my future. It was that judge who first told me, “You know that you can make a career at this, right?”, I didn’t know until then, but four summers and a bachelors degree in photography later, that’s exactly what I am trying to do.
Every year after I was judged and before the awards ceremony I would drag my parents through the fairgrounds to the Cox Fine Arts Center to view their annual fine arts exhibition. It always amazed me the incredible variety of thought provoking art made by real-life working Ohio artists. These were people living my, seemingly unattainable, dreams. It never once occurred to me while gazing at those walls that maybe, someday, I would be one of them.
Yesterday was a little circle. I walked into the Cox Fine Arts Center, cyanotype in hand, dropped it off, signed a contract and left. From July 27th (my 22nd birthday) through August 7th a piece of me will be hanging somewhere within those walls for any and all fairgoers to ponder. What excites me most is the thought of young photographers seeing it, seeing the work of someone who less than ten years ago was them, anxiously waiting for a ribbon at a ceremony. Maybe, in a lot of ways, I am still that little girl, waiting for an opening and hoping for a cash prize. Either way, realizing that I am a potential inspiration to anyone, especially a young aspiring photographer, is pretty darn cool. I am so grateful to 4-H and to every single person in my youth (and even today) who supported me, who not only told me to follow my dreams, but actually, truly, believed that I could. I can. So can you.
Horribly pixelated images from the summer of 2011.
More horribly pixelated images. A glimpse of at the summer of 2016, 20×30 cyanotypes printed on muslin.