I knew what I was before I knew my vowels. It was in the genes. Pawpa was a painter and illustrator and there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that I'd follow in his footsteps; it was an inevitable certainty I knew in my bones.
He lived next door and heavily encouraged the talent my sister and I inherited from him. He always had a blank 18x24 sheet of paper ready for us to fill every day we came over. He urged us to pause and observe the world around us, to always look closer at everything; to see everything as lines, shapes, shades and colors and notice how they all connected and interplayed.
Dad was a photography teacher himself, so he further reinforced this at home. Growing up, he bought us every novelty camera you could dream of - goofy toy cameras, quad cameras, every spin-off Polaroid ever concocted - and constantly reminded us to move slowly, keep our eyes open, and look closer, look closer, look closer.
The shutterbug gene ran so deep in our family that for most of my life I honestly didn’t think of photography as one of my artistic outlets - it was the water we Lyons folk swam in. As a kid, I remember looking at my cousin's black and white photos in her room and feeling like I’d been hit by lightning. All incredible photos still have that impact on me: they knock the wind out of me. Yet despite such intense feelings I never connected that we were all artists; just as fish don’t know they’re wet, I never would have thought to call photography my art because my life was so saturated in it.
So I stuck with my vague "artest" aims until I hit 9th grade. In high school instead of taking dad's photography class and being relentlessly teased, I took a journalism class. I was given an assignment to design a CD cover and after turning in ten album covers instead of the required one, I realized I wanted to be a graphic designer. That assignment had not been homework for me - it had been pure, unmitigated joy.
I’ve been working as a graphic designer for about 16 years now. The bulk of which I’ve spent my livelong days pushing pixels and my free time mostly triathloning, until a dog attack and subsequent rabies vaccine brought the world caving in on me. The last 10 years have been a lesson in fortitude and my health has been a battle I at times have thought I would not win.
But back in those first few years in the onset of chronic illness, I was too sick to express myself creatively in my usual ways. I was too fatigued and brain-fogged to write, I didn't have the energy to sit up at my drawing table or desk. For awhile I was too sick to even walk; I was confined to bed for months on end.
Then came Instagram. While too weak to move or think I could still at least operate my phone. One of my first Instagram posts was a selfie of me sick on the couch, surrounded by stacks of DVD’s borrowed from a friend for entertainment while bedridden.
Years later as my Instagram feed progressed and evolved, friends and family began noting and encouraging the creative exploration. One particular ex began pushing me to pursue photography more seriously. "You see the world like this, don't you?” he once asked while arranging his fingers into a frame with a mischievous grin. It wasn't really a question - it was a statement of the obvious (hence the mischief). We went everywhere together and I captured it all, every moment of every adventure. So he well knew how I saw the world - yes, mostly through a lens. I could not put my camera down to such a degree he himself had always joked I must have come out the womb with a camera.
His campaign to get me to take photography more seriously gained momentum over the years. He badgered me about why I didn't have a "real" camera and constantly pushed me to get one - pull out a loan, rob bank! Do whatever you have to do. "Alison, you're a photographer. What are you doing with that PHONE?"
Though robbing a bank sure sounded like an adventure and as obsessively pro-adventure as I am, eventually I did go the more measured route and pulled out a loan. And I did start taking classes to properly learn my way around the technical aspects. I knew rule of thirds, leading lines, perspective, etc thanks to dad, but the exposure triangle was a whole new ballgame.
As I began digging in deeper into classes, the feedback I got made me return over and over again to that question of why I edit the way that I do. My professors and classmates focused mostly on the postproduction of my work. I had finally learned to scale back a bit on exaggeration, but was still tweaking relentlessly and it showed.
I finally came to realize I’m trying to match what is captured on the camera with what my reality is. I want the end result to look the way I see it. And I am an artist - I see feelingly. Those amplified colors are the way I see the world: I am joyous in a desperate way. I'm seduced by light. I see a world with charm to burn.
When you naturally see the world in HDR, photography becomes how you express your gratitude for life. It's my way of preserving the beauty I am lucky enough to be surrounded by. It's my love language.
So in the interest of harmony I hope you'll follow me into this world with charm to burn - I've found some breath-taking places and I'd love to share their stories and their beauty in the hopes it will inspire you to slow down and look at the world around you—I think my Pawpa and dad were really onto something there. Life moves quickly and it’s only in slowing down that we can catch the beauty of it all.
I’ve learned how to slow down the hard way, but accumulated much beauty in the process. And I can’t help but want to share such bounty. I pray for contagion; for as a wise friend once said “One breeze stirs another.”
We’re not here for long, let’s take it all in like gospel while we can.
I got into the only thing I was capable of at the time - postproduction, editing on my tiny phone screen. That became my creative outlet. I loved cropping and tilt shifting and tweaking the contrast and abusing the clarity and vignetting my butt off to no end. But my favorite was pulling that saturation slider about as far as it would go to the right. It was like a gravitational pull for me to exaggerate all I saw. Like any artist, I had to push the limits to find my boundaries. I took some of the editing overboard and more than mildly wondered why I was so drawn to altering so excessively, besides the obvious lack of other creative outlets at the time. It felt like there were deeper reasons why I was so heavy-handed.