People always say I have a good eye. In my case it’s literally true. I have permanent visual impairment my right eye.
I was shooting September fashion week when my right eye starting to water in the middle of a shoot. I couldn’t stop it from tearing up. When I finally got to a bathroom, I realized my eye was the size of a balloon. I didn’t think much of it at the time and was told by many doctors it was just a scratch. A month later I still wasn’t better and knew it was something more serious.
It was when I went to the emergency room at Massachusetts Eye and Ear that I was diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis. They believe I contracted the parasite from wearing contacts in a lake. What was suppose to be treated in 6-8 weeks, has now been two years and counting. Since then I have had two cornea transplants amongst a long list of other surgeries to my right eye and my vision has not been the same since. I basically had to put my career on hold for an entire year.
For the first month after a transplant, you can’t lift anything over 5 lbs, which definitely included my Nikon gear, and I couldn’t be in rooms with bright lights because they hurt my eye, so any studio or runway shoots were off limits. I told clients for the next year I was already booked if I felt the shoot would be too hard for my eye. I was afraid to tell people what was really going on for fear that I would be written off and never hired again. I thought clients would think it would affect my work or fear it was contagious and not want me on set. It took me two months to pick up a camera again.
Not that I would ever wish this would happen to me, but I am glad it did. What I thought was going to be a career suicide turned out to be the greatest learning experience. I discovered my inner strength and true passion for photography.
I made my recovery time the most successful work from home opportunity. I trained my left eye to be my new shooting eye. I pitched myself to new clients with old work, which felt outdated to me since I wasn’t currently shooting. I went through moments where I considered getting a 9 to 5 with healthcare, but knew this dark cloud over my career would pass in time. I made inspiration boards and set goals to keep me optimistic.
When I finally got back to shooting, I was more passionate about my work than ever before. If anything my work is better today despite being able to only see clearly in one eye. My images feel more real and authentic. I didn’t let my illness define me but rather inspire me to see the world differently and tell stories in a new way. I strive to be better everyday and now that being impaired has become a part of my daily life, I can use it to my advantage. It’s a reminder that we all have more strength and potential that meets the eye.
Was there a specific photographer that inspired you to pick up your first camera?
Barry Feinstein’s 1966 photograph of Bob Dylan is the first image I can remember that inspired me to be a photographer. Dylan is sitting in a car smoking a cigarette in dark sunglasses while his fans peered inside the car against the window. It told such a strong story of two worlds and I wanted to be able to tell stories with my images as strong as Feinstein did.
Favorite apps you use?
My most used app besides Instagram is Tycoon. For a freelancer it is a god-send. The app helps you organize invoices by categorizing them as “waiting payment”, “overdue,” “upcoming” and “paid”. It sends you a polite notification too saying “You should be paid by (client name), it’s currently overdue by (number of days).” Kirakira+ is obviously a new favorite of mine and the rest of the millennial world.
Do you use the Instagram save tool?
The save tool on Instagram is the best update they have ever done. I use it for mood boards, inspiration and finding new clients. I will save anything if it inspires me, whether it be the location, the model, the color palette or the composition of an photograph.
I have a piece of paper that hangs over my desk with list of my dream clients. I just got to check one off, David Yurman. Calvin Klein and Vogue are dream clients. I am also a huge country music fan so I would love to work with a country music artist on a project, like Maren Morris or Keith Urban.
Craziest experience while on the job?
I shot the Alexander Wang after party a couple years ago. My flash went off in the VIP area and it made Lady Gaga trip and fall. I was escorted out shortly after that.