There is a story behind why I ever picked up a camera and it’s not what the average person would think. From an outsiders perspective, photographers are either people who have been die-hard photo nerds their entire life or a “mom-tog” who decided they just wanted to take pictures of their kids. That then turned into taking pictures of their friends kids, and the neighbors kids, and the chick she met at the coffee shop's kids and so on and so forth. For me, its a little different.
Growing up, I knew whatever I ended up doing would be in the Arts. As to what that would be, I really couldn't tell you. First it was a female Picasso somewhere around 5th grade. Then I figured I would be more realistic and possibly become an art teacher. Which, don't get me wrong, it's a rewarding job, but the thought of getting up for school in my mid 30's didn't seem too appealing. That was before I had my two children and realized even if I didn't become a teacher, I would still have to get up for school. Those thoughts faded and soon became the desire to be an art therapist. Helping individuals, specifically younger or handicapped children, would make me feel like I had a purpose. Like I was actually contributing to society. Standing along side of the younger generations; showing children a positive way to express themselves. I imagined having my own cute little building full of paints and brushes, crayons and markers, pottery and sculptures, and everything under the sun that would spark a child's imagination. My luck they wouldn't care about all the awesome supplies or scheduled activities and would be more intrigued by me and my colorful socks. Which, as we all know, would turn into a kid's favorite game, 20 (million) questions. Any who, these were yet again great "ideas", but it just didn't seem 100% fitting nor did I want all the debt that came along with, excuse me while I gag, student loans. What part of owing the government thousands of dollars ever sounds like a great plan? I might as well have just forwarded all my paychecks to their account and live in a tiki hut. Although, my hut would be on the beach somewhere warm year around. Even after all the thinking, I went for a completely different route. The United States Navy.
As I sat in the recruiting office, somewhere in the early fall of my senior year, I told myself that I was making a great choice. God would be proud. My mother would be proud. It was a respectable decision. It would also be the end of working endless hours refilling Karen's Pepsi with no ice and two dashes of cherry flavoring or going home smelling like greasy burger and fries (PUKE). That's another story for another day, but I passed all my tests with flying colors and scored so high on the A.S.V.A.B that the USAF and the USCG wanted me to switch branches. I didn't. I had applied for an electronics switch board job with the Navy. It's odd and random and I still don't know a good excuse why I choose that other than I took an electronics course through Unitec in high school. (The more I think about it, the stupider it was. I finished that Unitec course with a C+. How I thought it was a good idea, I have no clue.) As the months went by, I kept up in the D.E.P program with training, learning rules and regulations, and improving my physical shape. All while working 60+ hours a week, showing up to school (if you know me, I was usually late), and keeping my overly exaggerated enthusiasm extra high for competition cheer. (Whoa, say that three times fast.)
Back to the topic, I was scheduled to ship out to boot camp on July 13th, 2013. All was going well until March, just 2 1/2 months until graduation. My recruiting officer had told me in late November that I needed to talk to my doctor and find a birth control that would be suitable and low maintenance. That doctor visit resulted in one single shot. Little did I know this one, individual, single injection known as the "Depo shot" would turn my world upside down. I was told about the risks of weight gain, but chose to proceed. Between November and March, I had received two shots. From November to January I had only gained 5-6 lbs, but thought nothing of it. From January to March was another story. In total, I ended up gaining 30+ lbs. My recruiter pulled me to the side to do my weigh in at the beginning of the month; she just kept pushing the little square over, one.. tap.. at.. a.. time. I knew I was going to be weighing in more, but not as much as I did. She told me to have a seat while she went to talk to the other recruiters in office. I can remember sitting in that chair, starring at the floor, twiddling my thumbs in udder disappointment. What have I done to myself? How could I allow myself to get THIS big? What are they talking about? Am I in trouble? Will I have to starve myself? Will I even be able to lose the weight? Thousands of questions raced through my head as the clock ticked. I heard shoes clicking towards the door, it opened, and it was the look on this woman's face that gave it all away. She tried to tell me in the nicest way she could, I was fat. Obese actually. At 5'2" and 180 lbs, I was no longer within the guidelines to be in the DEP Program. I had to be 148 to ship and I was told they were afraid I wouldn't meet those numbers and decided to release me from the program. I was so full of emotion; so full of questions. I kept coming back to the same thought, what the hell do I do now? Graduation was so close and it was too late to apply for fall classes to most colleges. I panicked. I leaped at the first place that would accept me. That place ended up being The Art Institute of St. Louis.
Overall, my thoughts of being a sailor were over and I was on to starting my degree in Graphic and Web Design. More my style, right? College was fun. I had wasn't living at home anymore, I had roommates, I was 100% independent on myself and ready to "adult". I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy my time at AI. I was in Art Heaven between the sketch class, color history class, and all the artwork that flooded the walls. For an art geek, it was as if I heard the angels of heaven singing to me when I walked out of the elevator onto the third floor. It was an amazing feeling to be walking amongst other creatives like myself. I was finally somewhere I belonged. There was one, kind of huge, downfall. I wanted to be hands-on learning and creating. I had no idea going into my G&W degree that all the drawing and sketching and coloring was only like 15% of the degree. SO MANY COMPUTER COURSES. I'm not illiterate when it comes to computers, I just have (had) zero desire to stare at one for hourssssss. (Little did I know what the future held, haha) The semester was from Aug 2013 to Dec 2013 and that's as long as my college life existed. I decided to drop out because I wasn't a fan of building and coding websites. 010100001011110100010101010100100010
01000101001 was never a language I had an interest learning. Another adventure short lived. Like all adults, or should I say drop-outs, I had to move back to mamma's until I found a job (or 3) and could get on my feet again. I landed right back in the food service industry bouncing around from one smelly food place to the next. From Chinese to milkshakes.
This is where the next part of my life begins. Burgers and Fries. I'm sure I could write a novel about my life as a food industry employee, but I don't want to bore you with the never ending details. In July 2014, I found a job at a local restaurant and quickly fell in love with the fast paced environment. I absolutely thrived on the chaos. Me being the talkative social butterfly that I am, it wasn't long before I made friends. Fast-forward about a year and the life I knew of Emma and her 2 cats (Oliver and Zeppelin), hit a HUGE bump. A baby bump.
Here I was, drifting through life doing the same thing every day: work, sleep, work, sleep, crash. I landed in the doctors office confirming that I was no longer alone inside my body. Every first time mom is anxious for the first ultrasound, to hear her sweet baby's heartbeat beating to a beautiful beat. Bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum. I'm sure if you're a mother and you've made it this far into my story, you can relate to me when I say those first few weeks after a positive pregnancy test is FULL of a million emotions. They hit with a wave of tears and laughs and giggles and worries. If you're a father and you've made it this far, first off you're a trooper and second off, how did you feel when your other half told you the news? Did you freak out? Did you laugh and think it was a joke? Did you cry? I'm always curious to know how men react to things like this. They are always trying to be the tough guy, never showing weakness, not knowing what tears are, can't find the invisible laundry basket or are oblivious to this magic thing called a toilet paper holder that the toilet paper is actually suppose to go on. Where would men be without us women. My thoughts, lost, smelly, and out of clean laundry. Sore subject? Back to the timeline. So, here I am. Pregnant. 20 years old. Living with my two cats. Definitely a hot mess. Jump to January of 2016. I end up in the hospital due to my water leaking and not fully breaking. Nurse says, "Honey you're having this baby within 24 hours because of the risk of infection." I decided to be that strong-willed woman and decline any pain meds; determined to have a successful natural birth. That was a big fat NOPE. After 8 hours of excruciating and painful contractions, they hauled me off for an emergency c-section when my baby's heart rate kept dropping. A little slicing and dicing and one panic attack later, I gave birth to the most precious living, breathing, innocent, pooping thing I had ever seen.
My son Zane Daniel was born at 3:36pm on January 24th, 2016. My eyes were opened that day. This baby depended on me. ME. My life was forever changed when that test was positive, but it never hit me until I held him in my IV filled arms. As time went on, life wasn't easy as a single mother, but when you're in that spot, you make do. I will forever have respect for any woman who raises her children on her own. Shortly after I got home with the baby, a regular from work contacted me and gifted me with a Professional Newborn Session. (I will forever be grateful for her because if she had not done that, I would have NOTHING of my son from when he was fresh. I hadn't got to the point where I valued photography yet.)
When I went back to work I switched jobs and worked for a title company. Better hours, consistent pay. I did end up going back to the burger and fry place as a second job. I picked up a few shifts here and there and this continued through Zane's first birthday. His first birthday was a huge milestone in his life, he was ONE! We made it one whole year! I was proud of him, proud of me, and proud of us. I HAD to make sure I documented this huge part of his life. I booked a Cake smash session. I was super excited to pick a theme and plan his party and have everything go together. I choose the over-used over-loved Lumberjack theme. His cake smash was a little camping set. The photographer had a little tent and made this cute little banner and a made a camp fire with fake flames on it. I was nothing but smiles that day. When we got the photos back I ordered a canvas from Walmart to hang up in his bedroom. It lasted about 3 months then fell apart. (You get what you pay for.)
All of that was in January and about a month later, my life crossed another life sparks flew. I met Devan, again.
I had picked up an evening shift at the burger place waiting tables and it just so happened to be a slow evening. There wasn't much of a dinner rush which made my fast-paced environment boring as heck. So, I was filling a drink and wiping off the counters in the service station and this guy walks in. The second he walked in I knew who he was. I had actually went to school with Devan and we had mutual friends. He tells the story a little different than me, but he must not remember what he was like in high school. The way I remember him was this obnoxious, annoying baby face country boy in the grade above me. He drove this loud old truck and wore his dusty covered boots religiously. He had asked me for my number a time or two and the answer was always , "No..". That night was the first time I had seen him in years and it's like something came over me. Before I realized what I was doing, I was waving my arm in the air, smiling big, walking straight to him. "Long time so see. How you been?" Conversation took off. He didn't even look like the same guy from school. He had a mustache and goatee, a fresh hair-cut, this sea blue shirt, his Old Navy jeans, and those iconic dusty boots. Instant attraction. We talked about his job that took him out of state and we talked about my smelly job he just showed up to and we even talked about Zane. Devan only ordered an Oreo shake so he wasn't there long. Once he finished it, he paid his bill, left me a $10 tip, and went on his way. I thought that was awfully kind as well an unnecessary. He left before I had the chance to thank him, in result, I had to message him on the trusty ole Facebook. We exchanged a few messages including my appreciation and to my surprise, his reply had me stunned. It read as follows, "Ik but I also know how it is having a kid to raise... ur welcome". I had to stop and think again on if I had missed something or was he just being nice? In later conversation he told me of his past and his desire to have children of his own one day. I'll forever be able to replay that whole night in my head. But it didn't stop there. I was scheduled to get off work at midnight and around 11pm I got another message from Devan asking if I was still at work, but I was busy and didn't get a chance to reply before he came walking back in the front doors. All I could do was giggle and shake my head. I'm sure I was blushing at some point. I asked him what he was doing and he explained how he was on night shift recently and so he couldn't sleep. (I'll never believe that; I tell myself he came back just for me.) He waited at the bar for me to clock out and then walked with me outside. He started to ask me more about how I'd been and my reply was smooth. "Well, if you want to know more about me, we will need to do that over drinks." Some think it was cheesy, but it was cute in that particular moment in time. Without much hesitation he agreed. I needed to go home and wash the burger grease off me, it would have been rude not to. Trust me when I say, I stunk. Devan was going to wait for me at the restaurant because I didn't live far and I was to follow him back to his house for beer and conversation. As we began walking to our cars I stopped. "How am I suppose to get a hold of you when I'm heading back? Just give me your number.", I said. The next thing I tell you is a part of the story that I always give him shit about. This guy rambles off a number sort of fast. Like not slow like when little kids are learning to count, but not as fast as those telemarketing voicemails. Here is the funniest part, I looked at Devan, rambled off THE EXACT SAME NUMBER HE HAD JUST TOLD ME, and he starts laughing. I was so confused.. what was so funny? He says, "I cannot believe you remembered that, it's not even my number!" Here we are, standing in the parking lot, Devan's laughing and I just had this blank stare on my face. "I mean, what did you expect..?" "Well, I didn't expect you to repeat it. If you're ready I'll give you my real number." Like, what an idiot. I'm sure most people would have been like slow down or one more time, but I am not most people and I have a thing for numbers so it was nothing to spit the numbers out. That little trick he pulled was the reason I almost didn't go back, but I did. I followed him out to his house and we popped open two cold beers and started talking. We talked until 7am. We talked the entire night. (Which I slightly started to regret when I had to be at my Full-time job at 8am.) That night we spilled our guts about what we both wanted out of life, out of a partner, and out of ourselves. We basically had the same goals. It was that night that sealed the deal. We were inseparable from that night on. Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months. By the end of April I had traveled out of state to go see Devan and on our way home we stopped at Mount Rushmore. We definitely made some great memories that week. By July, I had moved myself and Zane into Devan's house. Devan took Zane in as his own with ZERO hesitation. Blood doesn't always determine family. Only Bigger and Better things were in store for us.
As our relationship grew more serious, we discussed wanting another baby so our children would be close in age. We had agreed that 3 years was a a good age difference. Now the time is October 2017, I had made the decision to book Family Photos for the first time EVER. I look at these often. Instead of just having thoughts of my little family in the beginning, I have a physical and digital image of them. Zane can hold the memories that he may not remember. That is value.
In November of 2017, we started trying for a baby. A couple weeks later I had told Devan I wanted a camera for Christmas and I thought we should get one on Black Friday. He told me to pick one out and I did just that. I didn't really use it much, hardly at all. It just sat in my camera bag. In January 2018, we made one of the biggest decisions ever as a family, to move 1200 miles to North Dakota to be closer to Devan and his work. That was an adventure. Whewww. We left Missouri in early March and drove straight through. Us three in the truck crammed full of our stuff pulling our U-haul. Our new home was a sight for sore eyes after being on the road for 23 hours. We drove straight to the leasing office, signed our papers, barely got in the new apartment and BAM.. Devan is on his knee proposing to me. I was actually shocked. I had no idea and I usually know what's going on. I can always guess my surprises, but not this time. It wasn't 2 weeks later, I was pregnant! Here came the flood of emotions all over again, but in a different way. We were ecstatic. With the way ND is laid out, the towns are few and far between.
The hospitals were hours away, my insurance had not transferred yet, and everything was great yet complicated. So, we decided to move BACK to Missouri. The dreadful trip. It was SO long. We got moved into the new place and things settled down while I was pregnant. I wasn't working at this time, I just stayed home with Zane. I felt bored and depressed. I was so use to working and going and the chaos --but everything was blah. Stay home, feed kid, bathe kid, do laundry, binge watch One Tree Hill, sleep. Repeat until Devan came home. (He worked away from home for 4-6 weeks and then would come home for about 2 weeks.) I knew I was missing something in my life and I had for a while. I had lost all my creativity. I had gotten so caught up in life and all the changes and having a baby, my love for art got pushed to the back burner. But my next move is what has forever changed my life. I dug my camera out and turned it on.
I was clueless. So many buttons. So many settings. What in the heck do I do. I was terrified to take it off auto mode, but I did. I forced myself out of my comfort zone. It's June 2018, I'm 4 months pregnant, depressed and needed an out. I focused myself on my camera, it was my out. I was drawn towards newborn photography, not only because I was pregnant, but also because newborn photography was my first professional experience. I reached to a couple local photographers to find some guidance. Where do I start? Where do I find education? Those questions led me to one Facebook group. A prop shop. (If you're a photographer, you know PROPS ARE ADDICTING!) One group led to another and another and another. I was sucking up all the information, all the advice. I read so many posts and so many comments. I learned about my camera, lighting, angles, textures, details, specifics and most importantly, SAFETY. I decided to try a couple newborn sessions. They didn't turn out half bad, but I was a newb. From June to November 2018 I had a total of 4 sessions. All were major learning curves. I had to stop in November because my Sweet Baby Girl Zoey Pauline had to come 3 weeks early on Nov 9th. I had what they consider IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction) and she wasn't getting the nutrients she needed. They had estimated her weight to be around 4 lbs, she was in less than the 4th percentile. She ended up 5 lbs 7 oz and the most gorgeous baby EVER!
In Mid December I had one cake smash session for a lady who we had mutual friends in common. I had also done some Christmas photos for her as well. January was spent learning more. Digging deeper. I had been feeling worse throughout the end of Dec and Jan as far as the depression went. First the Doctor said it was just baby blues, but it was more than that. They put me on an anti-depressant, did't help. They changed it to a different medication which I wasn't able to breastfeed anymore and that crushed me. Those medications did not help either. I progressively got worse. Secluded myself from my family. Pushed friends away. Pushed Devan away, but he never left. I felt like I had my head stuck in the dirt. Or in fog. Or a rain cloud. The doctor finally diagnosed me with Postpartum Depression. I spent Jan and Feb purchasing equipment, software, props, drops, and accessories. (Probably spent way more than I should have, whoops.) February 2019 I made the leap and offered Valentine's Day Mini Sessions. I was so shocked with how well they turned out. For once, I felt like I was actually accomplishing something. This encouraged me to take the plunge and become a legal, licensed photographer.
March 2019: I signed a lease on my very first Studio.
Business came from all directions. I went from hardly any sessions to sessions left and right. I almost did not know what to do with it all. I tried to make sense of the chaos, but having the drive to do anything was getting harder. Some days were good, most days were bad. I found peace shooting sessions, interacting with new clients. Everything outside of that was a struggle. Looking back on it now, I was in a really sad place and the darkest place I have ever been. The worse I felt the more I pushed all my energy on photography. Everything from March to June/July was me putting on an act. Not letting anyone see how I truly felt. I was embarrassed to say I had PPD at first, but then I just stopped caring. I feel horrible saying this, but I need to be honest, I had days where I wanted to give up. Run away. Escape. I wasn't happy. When someone asks me what it's like to be depressed or to have PPD I have a hard time really explaining it. When I say "It's like being in a fog" or "It's crappy and you feel like you're in a funk" it really is. I don't have a better way to describe it. You feel like your entire life if resting on your shoulders and eventually you'll fall over from the weight. I had many days where I could have cared less if the kids had a bath. I did the bare minimum to get by. I took care of my children better than I took care of myself. I was a prime example of I Let Myself Go. I neglected my physical health, my mental health, my hygiene and my photography at times. I don't think I could count on both hands and feet how many days I told myself I HAVE to get up an edit and would just say to hell with it. I stopped caring about so many things. I still can't believe I was ever in that bad of state of mind. Losing friends, hurting relationships, and burning bridges was never my intentions, it just came along with the PPD. Up until July 2019, I had an idea of what I thought I wanted out of my photography. I knew it was one thing I was living for, which breaks my heart to say that. My entire world began to revolve around Emmalee Photography LLC and it only hurt my family and friends. There are no rights to fix the wrongs that came of my PPD. What I can do is help the women who do get it to know they are not alone. If it wasn't for picking up my camera that day, who knows where I would be.
In August of 2019, I decided to hit the ground running and actually push my business. It wasn't until October I finally started to come out of my PPD and feel the weight lifted off my shoulders. I thank God often for showing my the light and that things sometimes have to get worse before they can get better. Taking that lunge in August has made a huge difference in the quality of my work.
My biggest goal with my photography is to capture the connection between families and document the younger years for children. They don't get a say in whether or not they get photos and it's our job as parents to preserve some of the most precious milestones in our children's lives. With out my PPD or God leading me to buying a camera before my darker days came, I would most likely be a lost cause. My life experiences over the past 10 years have molded me and shown me what I need to value because life is too short and time gone is time you don't get back. I want to teach everyone the true value of a photo and not just take their picture.
I have so much in store for 2020. New locations, new products, new experiences. My promise will stay the same. I will always strive to do better, continue to grow, and listen to my clients. Each one of you are a vital piece to my business and I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for your trust, understanding, and compassion.
I don't consider myself a "picture taker" simply because I don't just take a picture. I am a Photographer who captures raw emotions and freezes them in time. Once the people we love the most leave this world, a photo is all that's left to pass on. You can always tell stories of your memories, but no one will ever be able to see it the way it truly was without an image.
Bella Luxe Photography (Zane's Newborn)
Shannon Edwards Photography (Zane's Cakesmash)
Sarah LeAnne Photography (Fall Family Photos)
Kirsten Braaten Photography (Gender Reveal- Emmalee and Devan)
Anne Kathleen Photography (Family of 4- fresh48)
Frame A Memory Photography (Headshots)