Where did you grow up? I grew up in the foothills of California, near Yosemite. I now live in Texas with my husband Kurt and our son, Wulfgang, who we call “Wulfie.”
Were the arts a part of your childhood experience? Not formally. I was very creative as a kid, always drawing. I always had a sketchbook and colored pencils, crayons, paint. I was homeschooled, so my mom would add a little bit of art to our education, but not formally.
When did photography become an interest of yours? I remember my mom having a camera—a little point and shoot—back in the day when you had to buy the film and load it in the camera, and she wouldn’t let us touch it. I remember sneaking it a couple of times, and taking some pictures when we were at an event. And she would say “Anna, don’t touch that. Give that to me,” and she would take the pictures.
Then my dad got one of the first digital cameras, and I remember the back of the screen was the size of my thumbnail. It was tiny and clunky, but it was the coolest thing to me. All of a sudden you could see the result of what you took without having to wait. It just opened up this new interest. I would take his camera, and I would take pictures. And when I was 16, my parents got me my own camera so I could continue the hobby. That was how I got started in photography, technically, although in many ways photography found me. It was always just an interest, but it wasn’t something that I ever thought I would actually do as a career. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and I don’t want to be a lawyer.
Did you ever follow the path of becoming an attorney? I did not. I was homeschooled. I thought that I wanted to go to college and become an attorney. I took a year off after high school, and around the time I would have gone to college, my parents got involved in a nonprofit that moved around the United States. We left our house in California and we moved to Indianapolis. I didn’t enroll in college, and we kind of floated around for a couple of years before we moved to Oklahoma.
At that point, I was 21, wondering if I should go to college, not sure of what I would even do for a major. So I started working for my dad’s company as an office manager. I did office management for two and a half years for him, and hated it. Then I moved to Texas to be closer to my boyfriend—who is now my husband—where I got another office management job, and hated that. It was a completely different industry, but still office management, and I couldn’t stand having my life inside of an office while I watched other people go out and do what they wanted to do.
We got married and got pregnant immediately, which was not the plan. I cried for two weeks. I was so upset.
How old were you when you got pregnant? I was 26 when I got pregnant, and had Wulfgang right after I turned 27. I knew that eventually I wanted kids, but that was down the road. I wanted to have my life with my husband for a short time, and get settled, and that wasn’t the case. I found out that I was pregnant and I knew that I didn’t want to be working anymore. I knew I wanted to have time to be with my son.
I worked for a small business, and there was no way I could have taken three months off for maternity leave. My husband and I had already been discussing my job situation, and I was so unhappy, so I decided to quit.
I had also been shadowing a dental hygienist because that seemed more along the lifestyle I wanted to lead. They have a fairly flexible schedule, they make a good amount of money for such an inexpensive and short degree. I had been looking at maybe doing a some prerequisite courses here and there at community college. After I found out I was pregnant, Kurt came home one day and he said, “Hun, I think you should do photography. That’s what you want to do. You hate school.” Which is true, I don’t like studying. He encouraged me to go with my heart, and not to waste time doing something that I hate.
That encouragement from my husband caused the scale to drop. Since then, March 2015, I have poured 100 percent of myself into my photography business. I’ve gone from going on location—because we lived in an RV for the first year of our marriage—to inviting people into my small apartment, to now having a studio in Georgetown. I’m functioning more as a real business. I feel like I’ve come a long way in two and a half years. It’s been a crazy adventure.
Was the fact that you weren’t going to receive maternity leave a contributing factor in the decision to quit your job? It wasn’t even about that. I wasn’t getting paid very much. I didn’t like it to begin with. I was kind of over everything. When I got pregnant I knew I didn’t want to be working that job while pregnant. And I wouldn’t want to have to deal with having to find daycare for a job that didn’t pay well.
I was commuting an hour in the morning to get to this job. It would have been better for me to stay at home and do nothing while my husband worked, than for me to try to figure it out. I would rather have my quality of life back. No, it wasn’t about the maternity leave. If I had liked the job, I would have made it work. But I hated it.
I didn’t have any health care benefits from my job to begin with. We used a birthing center in Austin, and they allowed us to pay incrementally as I was receiving care from them. It worked out.
How was your transition to motherhood? Was it what you expected? No! It wasn’t. I think a lot of women have postpartum depression, and mine was bad enough that when I talked to the midwife at our six week check up, she advised that I see a counselor or therapist. She gave me the name of a woman that the birthing center really liked. I reached out to her almost immediately, but it was around Christmas time and she was on vacation. Also her schedule was filled up for a month after that.
I needed to be seen faster because I was so depressed and it was really hard. It was hard on Kurt, and it was just not what I expected when I pictured starting a family. I called her to talk to her on the phone and she recommended that I go to a postpartum depression group therapy meeting with a different therapist. So I went.
“Getting back to my photography work gave me a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and I felt that I was able to keep my identity as a mother and as a human being.”
When I got there I sat in the waiting room with my little baby, and with the other moms, and it was very quiet. It felt like we were all avoiding looking at each other. We all got in the elevator together, still quiet. We were led into a room with a big table and we all sat down. The therapist led the discussion, asking about what we were struggling with, and how we were all doing.
As I sat there listening to these mothers, I felt really out of place. One of the women had been coming to the group for about a year, and she just kept talking about how horrible her life was, and going on and on. Some women didn’t want to open up, and others really opened up. But to me, it felt like the women there saw themselves as victims and were unable to see a bigger picture. I didn’t feel that there was any instruction or encouragement, and I ended up feeling even worse when I left. I knew I never wanted to do that again. It shook me awake. I saw myself as a strong person, and I needed to redirect my negative energy into something else. That was the permission I needed to start working again on my business, and to really pour myself into that.
Getting back to my photography work gave me a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and I felt that I was able to keep my identity as a mother and as a human being. I think it’s easy to lose our identity as mothers, surrounded by heaps of diapers and burp cloths and baby crap. It’s overwhelming. Having my passion in front of me really helped keep me focused and remember who I was: I am a woman who is creative and loved by God and my husband, and I have this beautiful baby beside me.
I had a long and complicated, very traumatic birth. But coming out on the other side of that gave me so much fulfillment and confidence. I did this. And now I am going to continue my passion. I am going to do the best that I can to provide for this child. I feel like now, as a mom, I am the fullest me that I can be. I don’t feel like there is any part of me that I am missing.
It does feel like there are a series of steps you have to go through to be able to look back and realize where they were all leading you. You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck at first, emotionally, and you’re reborn into this new world of something you don’t understand and thought you were going to. And then you realize after a long time what it was all about. Yes. And motherhood gives you such an incredible perspective on life in general. On where you are in life, on where your parents are, on where your child is. My mind has been opened to being able to talk to any woman, because motherhood is a secret club that no one tells you about. All of a sudden when you’re a mom, you have other mothers smiling at you as you’re carrying your baby. You have grandmothers coming up and touching their toes. You have young moms who have more kids than you do, telling you, “You’ve got this.” All of a sudden everyone is equal. All women everywhere are equal.
It also has given me a greater access to my feelings. I feel sadness more deeply. I feel joy more deeply. I think that our culture has really lied to us and deceived us. You have people who are afraid to become parents because of what they see in the media and in videos and in music. It spins this idea that having a family and having a child holds you down, and doesn’t allow you any more freedom, and that you’ll lose yourself if you become a parent. And that is just a lie.
I’m really frustrated by our culture, so as a photographer I wanted to highlight mothers. I wanted to make them feel like they finally had a chance to shine. People shove mothers under a rug, and they don’t think about them. They’re just like, “Oh, you’re a mom. You probably stay at home. And if you work, you probably don’t do that good of a job. You’re just a mom. You’re just a baby machine now.”
What kind of things did you do to educate yourself in the art of photography, and building a business as a photographer? Wedding photography is a really popular vocation right now, but I knew it wasn’t for me. After I got pregnant with Wulfie, I realized that there are other amazing moments in life too that are being completely overlooked by the photography community. A wedding day is a beautiful and important day, but I wanted to highlight the beautiful days ahead with your children. The wedding photography industry functions a certain way and I realized business-wise that I needed to function differently if I wanted to make money. I wanted to function as a portrait photographer taking photos of mothers and families.
I started watching a lot of classes on CreativeLive (an education website). One of the classes I watched was Sue Bryce’s 28 Days of Portrait Photography, which is an all-encompassing package on how to take the photo, how to edit it, how to sell it, and so on. That was a good rough overview of what I needed to do in my business.
The second class that was incredibly instrumental for me was Julia Kelleher’s Studio Systems: A Photography Business Bootcamp. It was a fine-tuned class on making sure systems are in place for every part of the process, from taking the photo to selling it. I learned from Julia Kelleher that people run the systems, and systems run the business, and if the system is running smoothly, you’ll have an effective business that provides consistent work and consistent service. That helped me take my work to a more professional level. When this is your living, it can be hard to separate yourself as a professional photographer from a mom who has a camera. Her class was great in helping me make that distinction in myself.
How does motherhood influence your work as a photographer, and the choices that you make in your work? Sometime last year, I realized I wanted to focus on mothers in my photography. I realized that as a mom, I felt overlooked and undervalued often, and I was really frustrated by that. People no longer asked me about myself. They would ask Kurt what he does, and they didn’t ask me anymore. They assumed I had no ambition, no drive. That’s just not the case.
“I believe motherhood is a powerful, beautiful, dynamic thing.”
I also felt like there was a lack of attention being paid to the beauty that is motherhood. I believe motherhood is a powerful, beautiful, dynamic thing. I wanted to draw attention to it, and I did that by creating motherhood portraits. I wanted to create beautiful photos of mothers with their babies, looking strong and powerful and sexy. There is a beautiful softness and delicacy about motherhood, as is often portrayed in the media, but there’s also a fierceness, this inner tigress that comes out that people overlook and don’t see. I wanted to show that more powerful and confident side of mothers.
What do you love most about being a mother? Motherhood is such an incredible gift. It brings me so much joy to have a little tiny person that I made. I freaking made that with my body! I love to see the way my son takes after my husband in certain ways, but mostly me in all the other ways. I can trace our lineage and my ancestors through his face, and his mannerisms. And in that same face, I can see my future when I am gone. That’s what I love about motherhood: here’s this little person that links you to your past and your future.
And what do you love most about being a photographer? As a photographer, the thing I love most is being able to capture beautiful photos of people that they treasure for a lifetime. I love that they can see themselves in a healthy way, showing them as more than just a face or a figure, more than being under or overweight. In my motherhood portraits, I love showing my subjects connecting with that little person who is the most important person in their life. Having a picture of the two of them together that the mother can pass down is so cool. I think that it’s really powerful to be able to provide mothers and their children with these photos.
How do you see yourself as a role model, pursuing something you’re passionate about, and setting up what it means to be a woman and a mother for your son to see? I am a religious person, and my husband is a pastor. I am really inspired by the story of Jesus in the bible, and how he brought along a new way to treat women. Society was very patriarchal, and then Jesus came and showed that women should be treated with respect, and that husbands should love their wives as themselves. In that way, I feel like my husband and I have a very healthy, respectful relationship, and I have never in any way felt demeaned or belittled by him. He has always been incredibly supportive of everything that I’ve decided to do.
For the first year of Wulfie’s life, Kurt and I just kind of took every day or week at a time, with me scheduling shoots on the days that worked for the client and leaving Wulfie with Kurt. Earlier this year, we sat down and talked about it since my (lower income than his) job was encroaching on his ability to do his job well. So I picked three days out of the week that I could schedule my work in advance and he could watch Wulfie when needed on those days. The two days that were left were his, to have to himself and to work as he needed, with me respecting his space and time. That has been an adjustment, but it’s been great in the long run. It has established a schedule in what could otherwise be a very fluid lifestyle with little to no mooring.
“I think that it’s important for children to see their mothers as strong and as capable, whether or not they decide to have a job, or they stay at home with their kids.”
We plan on having more kids eventually; I’d like to have a little brood. I see myself continuing to pursue photography and having a studio, and making it bigger and better. And also, being a mom to our kids. I think that it’s important for children to see their mothers as strong and as capable, whether or not they decide to have a job, or they stay at home with their kids. I think it’s important for our husbands to respect and love their wives, either way.
Do you have any advice for other Mother Makers? Don’t try to make your life look like the “American Dream” or like the other moms look. You need to figure out what works for you and your family, and your husband. Anything is possible. We create so much expectation for ourselves, and what our home needs to look like, where we live, what kind of car we drive. If you let go of those expectations and don’t put those on yourself anymore, it takes care of a lot of problems. I would say, figure out what’s healthy for you. What is your family lifestyle, what do you need to be happy? What does your family need to be happy? How do you function? My husband and I are very laid back. He works from home. I work from home. We’re together a lot, and we’re very chill. Sit down, have an honest discussion with yourself first, and then with your husband. Figure out what works for you.