The Average Photographer's 15-Minutes of Fame
Wow. Well, the last few days have been rather shocking. And overwhelming. And surreal. I feel like I've stepped into an episode of Amazing Stories. (Remember that show? Oh how I loved that show.) In case you missed it, I made national news.
Nay, international news! Check out this screen shot of Google Analytics showing the geographical breakdown of website visitors in the last three days. Whoa.
To be fair it's my cousin Jai who made
national international news. And his beautiful wife, Julie. It is, after all, their wonderful, smiling mugs that are getting most of the attention.
But I have gotten a few nods, and I won't lie: it's been fun (for the fifteen minutes that it lasts).
So how does this sort of thing happen to an average part-time photographer, full-time stay-at-home mom and wife, who spends her Saturday or Monday mornings shopping for groceries and most every Tuesday and Thursday doing mountains of laundry (when she isn't carting kids to dance classes, math tutoring, or piano lessons)? Honestly, I'm still not quite sure, but it went a little something like this . . .
It all started with an invite to my cousin's wedding, to be held in Disney World, and we were so excited about going! But then my husband and I started looking at the budget, stretched by the aforementioned piano lessons, dance classes, and grocery shopping, plus some Big Stuff my husband and I are trying to save up for -- and it became pretty clear that a whirlwind trip to Disney World wasn't in the works, not for our family of five. In breaking the news to my cousin, Jai, I was bummed, he was bummed, we were all bummed.
Except my aunt refused to be bummed, and in she swooped to take care of the financial details, insisting we get our butts down to Disney World and get our wedding on.
So we did. And lemme tell you: it. was. awesome. (You can see HERE just how awesome it was.)
Now, as you know, I'm trying to be a professional photographer; I say "trying" because everyone with an ounce of talent is also trying to make it in the photography business, and while I firmly -- passionately! -- believe there is a place for all of us in this big beautiful world, it can be very difficult to find your next client, saturated as the market is. And even though I wasn't the photographer hired for the job of Jai's and Julie's wedding, I don't go anywhere without my camera gear. I made sure to have the bride's permission, the groom's permission, and even the hired photographer's permission (dang I wish I could remember his name) -- with the promise to stay out of his way. Because I'm here to tell you, from personal experience, there is nothing more frustrating than being the hired photographer at a wedding and all the guests keep popping up in your way with their iPhones, iPads, and cameras.
Disney World really and truly is the most magical place on earth; they do nothing half-way. Compound that fact with seeing your only first-cousin (on my dad's side of the family) get married to quite possibly the most lovely woman in America (who he so obviously adores senseless), and . . . well, heck it just doesn't get any better than that. It was, truly, one of the best days of my life, and I left Disney World feeling so overwhelmed with blessing and happiness that I just almost couldn't stand it.
It was a good six weeks before I was able to get to my wedding photos up for editing. I had other photo sessions, other edits to do for some people (and of course all of that mothering and wife-ing to do). But what I found on my SD card was a real treat. It was great fun re-living the wedding -- and this is what I love most about photography: its inherent power to tell a story.
During the edits, I came to a series of shots of Jai -- which made me laugh in delight! -- taken at the start of the wedding ceremony. I remembered thinking to myself there would be time enough to get a shot of Julie after she began her walk down the aisle, so I had trained my camera on Jai's oh-so-expressive face, wanting to capture his first look of the woman who would soon be his wife. As everyone stood peering expectantly toward the back of the sanctuary, I had eyes only for my cousin, shutter button pressed for rapid-fire shots. There were 14 shots in all, spanning just a few seconds. I chose my favorite four photos, editing them individually, before compiling them into a sort of storyboard which looked like this:
I sent the individually edited photos to Jai and Julie via gallery hosting, for them to download photos as they chose, same as I would for a client. Then I posted the (above) storyboard, as well as a handful of my other favorites, to Facebook, exactly as I always post photos on a weekly if not daily basis.
And that's when things started to get interesting.
The morning after posting photos to Facebook (Wednesday), I got a message from Jai saying his best man, Jim Hearne, had posted one of the photos on Reddit where it had "gone viral". I didn't even know what Reddit was, so I performed a quick Google search and attempted to search for the photo, to no avail. I asked Jai to send me a link, which he did, and I proceeded to read over some of the comments others were leaving. I was mildly pleased by the attention it was getting, but thought little of it, carrying on with my day.
Later that afternoon I got a message via Facebook from Taryn Hillin of Huffington Post, requesting permission to use the photo in a piece she was writing. My first thought was that it was some sort of prank, a random Facebook user trying to pull my leg. I didn't even really know what Huffington Post was; I'd heard of it, but since I don't read anything online other than articles on photo editing and homeschool curriculum, I honestly almost completely disregarded the message.
I phoned my husband, to get his input. "What do you know about the Huffington Post?" I asked.
"It's an online news magazine," he replied.
"Oh, okay. But it's not, like, the National Enquirer?" I said, laughing.
"They want to use that photo of Jai in an article."
"Cool," he said.
Then I phoned my aunt, asking for Jai's cell number, which she gave to me. No way was I going to give permission for anyone to use a photo of my cousin without first obtaining his permission to do so.
I texted Jai, asking him to call me, and when he did, I told him what was going on.
"Lauren, that's great for you!" he exclaimed.
I laughed, pretty incredulous. "It's great for both of us! I'll be sure to give them your website, tell them you're an artist. Maybe it will get your name out there."
With Jai's approval, I shot out a reply message to Ms. Hillin, giving her my phone number and requesting she and I talk. She phoned me within minutes. I answered a few questions, agreed to allow her to use the photo, and that was that.
Then I walked over to the library to return some DVD's we'd checked out. While there I thought I'd stop to ask the librarian at the front desk a few questions. Librarians know everything about everything, right?
"Can you tell me about the Huffington Post?"
She looked at me like I was from Mars. "Uhm.... it's a news source online."
"But that's it? Like, no big deal kind of thing?"
She snickered. "No.... it's kind of a big deal. Like if the Huffington does a book review and they like it, you should read the book. Pretty much what they say goes."
I stared at her, in shock. And I started to feel my knees get a little weak and wobbly.
Her facial expression changed to one of concern. I guess because I bent over the counter, trying to breathe, suddenly fighting back tears. (See? We're expressive in our family -- it's kinda embarrassing, especially in public moments like this. *sigh*)
"Are you okay?"
I pulled my head up and met her eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just ..." I faltered, trying to find the words. "I'm a photographer, and the Huffington wants to feature a photo I took."
Her eyes got a little rounder, and she beamed at me. "That's awesome!"
I went back to my car, a little dazed and confused, my mind grappling at the possibilities that suddenly lay before me. What if I "got discovered"? What if I actually got to meet Ellen? What if I actually had paying clients wanting to schedule sessions?!?
I phoned a few more people: a photographer friend of mine, my best girlfriend in Nashville, my mom, a close friend in Washington. I was suddenly gushing, very excited.
But then I grappled my way back down to earth. I wasn't going to be famous or anything, not just because of a little photo that was posted online. It was really no big deal. Ellen would never know who the heck Lauren Benson was. (This latter bit was a very sad realization, lol)
I went home. I made dinner. I read the Huffington piece. I went to bed.
Thursday morning found me rising early, thanking God for the fun diversion of yesterday's events. I shot a quickie e-mail to the local news station's morning anchor, telling her about Reddit and Huffington Post, mentioning that I was a local photographer, thinking they'd like to have this little local news byte. Then I ate breakfast and got to the business of the day.
Mid-morning the phone rang. It was a reporter from Good Morning America Online, and she wanted to ask me a few questions. I remember little of the phone call (even though I was strangely calm and composed -- until the end when I started blubbering about how terrific my cousin is). I do remember making sure she had Jai's phone number, to call him and ask the questions I wasn't comfortable answering.
And by that afternoon, Jai and Julie were on ABC Online. Within hours they were the top story on Yahoo. (Which is hilarious given the first thing my daughter said when I told her about the Huffington Post: "Cool! What if it ends up on Yahoo news?!?" How my thirteen-year-old knew more about the Huffington than I did, I will never know.)
And me? I was a strange blend of elation and disbelief. I basically floated through the day, being perfectly useless to everyone. I barely got one load of laundry done and the shopping list composed. It was cuh-raaaaaaazy.
Yesterday, Friday the 4th, was a nice normal day; I had family in from New York (Jai's parents, actually), spent time with extended family, ate too much; it was perfectly wonderful. And other than discovering the photo had traveled the world over -- to Chile, France, and the U.K. oh my! -- it was the average day in the Benson household.
As I write this, it is Saturday, July 5th, just after noon, and I think I can safely report that the hubbub has successfully died down. I'm a little sorry to see it go -- fifteen minutes is such a short time in the life of an average woman -- but generally just tickled pink it happened in the first place. A short flash in the pan of an ordinary life is always a welcome diversion. Several thousand folks have visited my website (which, as I mentioned, is thrilling as they've come from all over the world -- it's the only way I've, as yet, been able to travel the globe), and there has been some lovely interaction on Facebook with other moms and photographers alike. All in all, it's been an enjoyable experience, and I'm so very grateful to have had it and shared it with my much-loved cousin.
Sorry, Ellen. The fates just weren't on our side to meet. Haha!
You can read more in my interview on AL.com.
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ETA on 7/21/14: This just in! The official photos from Jai's and Julie's wedding are finally up! You can check out Jason Angelini's spectacular photography work here.