Photography was a passion of mine, even as a child. My grandmother used to encourage me to take photographs with her little 110mm camera when I was very young. We would walk together to the local drug store to drop off the film, and a few days later we would take another adventure there to pick up the developed prints. I could always tell which pictures my grandma had taken, because her tell-tale thumb would be covering most of the image.

Those early days fostered in me a love for photography that has never gone away. I became determined to document memories. I was in high school when I received my first point and shoot digital camera as a gift. I was completely fascinated with the fact that I could take a seemingly endless amount of photos and not have to pay for the images that I didn’t like. It opened up a whole new world of creativity for me. It was also the age of computers and my older brother was always aware of what new technology was gracing the market. It was he who first introduced me to Photoshop. At the time I had no idea what I was doing…but I could see the potential. I knew that with this one simple program I could take an image and manipulate it (essentially altering reality.) Like every teenager, I was very concerned about my complexion. I used to take self-portraits and load them into Photoshop and zoom into the image so close that I could see each individual pixel, and if there was any blemish, I would tirelessly sample colors and paint them on until any redness was gone.

Still, it never occurred to me that I could someday make a living from photography. I also loved singing and acting and I had dreams of becoming a Broadway star. All of that changed in the fall of 2002. Living in Rochester (the birthplace of Eastman Kodak) certainly has its advantages when you are a photography enthusiast. Somehow I found out that Steve McCurry was going to lecture at the George Eastman House. I was familiar with his famous image from National Geographic of the “Afghan Girl” and I was deeply moved by it. Though it happened to be the night of my Senior Ball, I was determined to attend. Somehow I knew that this event would be significant, and that nothing was worth missing it.

After listening to Steve speak about his travels and journeys around the world and witnessing the breathtaking images that he was able to capture, my heart was never the same. I had a new longing in me to do what he had done; to see someone’s soul and capture that moment with a single photograph. I knew that I had to be a photographer. I was in my Senior year of high school and I hadn’t yet decided on where I would be attending college. I was running out of time.

That’s when I put all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak. A coworker of my mother’s was also a photography enthusiast and during a conversation he mentioned to her a college that he knew of in the little town of Turners Falls, Massachusetts called Hallmark Institute of Photography. When she told me about it I knew that was where I wanted to go. It was the only college that I applied to and thank God I was accepted. What I loved the most was that they didn’t require a portfolio of images, they actually preferred that their students begin with a clean slate so that they could teach the foundations of photography from the ground up. It was perfect for me because I loved photography but had never taken a class.

At Hallmark I finally learned how to use Photoshop and I can proudly say that I’ve been using Photoshop for more than 15 years! I graduated from Hallmark in 2004 and I have been photographing people up and down the East Coast for more than 10 years. As my grandmother grew older, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and I saw that memories truly are a gift to be treasured. I have yet to travel the world on a crazy photographic tour, but I have learned one very important lesson: life is meant to be lived, and the good times are worth remembering.