lylah rose wolff

lylah rose wolff's blog

A Shift in Mindset

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The sticky August nights leading up to Opening Weekend at Bowling Green State University were made sweatier by filling up old shoeboxes with knick-knacks from my childhood. One by one, I sorted through notes from my best friends that were once passed in secrecy, jewelry that belonged to my mother, toys that had collected dust, photographs that stamped a moment in time onto 4 x 6 glossy paper from Walgreens. Into the boxes they went, as if my bringing these objects with me to college meant I could take my home with me while I was being flung into this new universe I knew nothing about. As the days grew closer to that fateful weekend, I scanned my room for any missing pieces. Did I remember the friendship bracelet from 8th grade? What about my Prom Shoes? I’ll definitely wear those heels out on the weekends. I made eye contact with my camera, a Nikon D90 bought years’ prior, its one eye glossy and skeptical of my decision to leave it at home. I looked away and carried on.

I spent the first two months of my freshman year of college trying to convince myself that art wasn’t what I wanted to do. Marketing or economics, I thought, was the way in. There was no way I could study and pursue art as my major, much less my future career. It wasn’t until I felt like there was a part of me that was physically missing that lead me to driving home one weekend, picking up that camera, wiping off any dust that had settled on it, and bringing it back to school with me. From then on, I embraced photography – generally photographing my friends and myself, as I was far too nervous to ever reach out to strangers. I met and worked with incredible photographers as professors, and felt my passion outweigh any fear that I had that it wasn’t going to work for me. 

Portrait of my dad

Portrait of my dad

Portrait of bed with light

Portrait of bed with light

During the winter months of my sophomore year of college, I came to the realization that I wanted nothing more than to go home to Cleveland. With a phone call to my parents in the parking lot of Bowling Green’s campus Dunkin Donuts, I explained that I needed some time back at home and that was that. This was the beginning of my knowledge of Instagram and the equally wonderful and terrifying world of social media as a creative. I began a photography Instagram account and posted black-and-white iPhone shots, as both an ode to my love for analog photography and a pure reflection of my emotional state at that time. Within days of posting, I became obsessed with the followers and the engagement my posts were receiving. I also began noticing the huge community of photographers in Cleveland. I was overwhelmed by the amount of talented creators just miles away from me – their creativity, poise, and amount of followers making me feel alone, not inspired. That first photography account was deleted a little while later, as my insecurities grew larger and my motivation trickled off.

a self portrait I took in 2012, around when I fell in love with texture and portraiture as a form of expression

a self portrait I took in 2012, around when I fell in love with texture and portraiture as a form of expression

I finished college a few months ago with a new mindset. During my senior year of school, I transitioned from a Canon AE-1 to an old Yashica 635 that belonged to my uncle. I found that people were my thing; I loved the purity of photographing friends, family, and strangers, each silver-gelatin print a little reminder of the moments they spent with me, allowing me in. I struggled with motivation, as we all do from time to time, but I knew that I wanted to focus on photographing humans. As confrontational and quiet as my academic work was, I also reveled in the world of photographing styled shoots filled with smiles and genuine laughter. I began to pursue portrait and event photography, and I made a new photography account for that stuff, which is probably where you found this post. I began reaching out to people, and with that, I became friends with clients, sharing little memories of where we got coffee and how we made each other feel comfortable and truly okay with being ourselves.

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One of the greatest moments in my career as a photographer was when I photographed a client that told me that I made her feel comfortable. Prior to our session, she explained her disdain for having her portrait taken, and I was determined to lessen that anxiety for her. At the end of the hour, she expressed her happiness with the session – how she felt comfortable in her own skin because of me. That was a turning point, as I realized that maybe I could do this for a living. Maybe art was something I could consider a career, if only because the joy of documenting real laughter, real smiles, real tears -- the evidence of human existence --  is incomparable to any other feeling.

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From that moment on, I’ve discovered the beauty in reaching out to other people. I’ve met so many peers that feel the same way about their art, that want to document a day or a moment or a human in their happiest form, and I’ve turned that fear of talent into inspiration fuel. Every time I meet with a new artist or client (or both!), I’m reminded that there’s room for all of us; all of our insecurities, all of our imperfections that we try so hard to erase using Facetune or the delete button on Instagram stories, all of our quirks and the stuff that you don’t see until you meet face-to-face. I’m reminded of the beauty of the art world when I open up Instagram or talk to a future client that values honesty and integrity in their pictures. And while there are days that I still compare myself to those that have thousands of followers and more equipment than me, and I still feel like I'm being flung into this universe I know nothing about, I find solace in the fact that we're all in on the adventure together. 

This blog post was made in an effort to become more transparent with all of you, and if you made it this far, thanks for listening.

- Lylah