Leveraging Your Unique Background: Turning Life Experience into Photographic Advantage

In the vast realm of photography, where every angle, every click of the shutter, and every brushstroke of light tell a story, your journey is uniquely yours. Your lens isn’t just a tool; it’s a vessel through which your life experiences, education, and passions converge to create something extraordinary. If you’re like me, your path to photography has been a winding road, rich with diverse influences that set you apart in a sea of talent.

My mother’s extended family. My grandparents are on the left, and he is the pastor of 1st Baptist Morganton, NC. My dad is the West Monmouth Baptist Church pastor in Freehold, NJ, and my uncle on the right is a photographer for the Home Mission Board in Atlanta, Georgia.

Growing up in a minister’s family, the tapestry of my childhood was woven with threads of faith, music, and community. Living in a Children’s home during my formative years, I learned the art of empathy and connection, which would later become invaluable in capturing the essence of human experience through my lens. With over 30 ministers in my family tree, spirituality isn’t just a backdrop; it’s a guiding light that infuses depth and meaning into my work.

My mother at the piano as a little girl

Music, too, courses through my veins, inherited from a lineage of talented musicians. From my aunt and her daughter, both concert pianists, to my years playing the trumpet in orchestras and praise bands, music’s rhythm and harmony have shaped my understanding of composition and emotion. Each note strikes a chord within me, inspiring images that resonate with soulful resonance.

My academic pursuits took me down unexpected paths, from studying social work focusing on alcohol and drug abuse to delving into theology, education, and communication in seminary. These diverse disciplines provided me with a multifaceted lens through which to view the world, offering insights into human behavior, societal dynamics, and the power of storytelling. Armed with this knowledge, I embarked on a career that bridged the gap between art and advocacy, using my camera as a tool for social change.

I am at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference, working with Anke Leuschner to review her portfolio and give her some feedback.

My professional journey has been equally eclectic, from my early days as a staff photographer for college newspapers and magazines to my tenure at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I honed my recruiting, sports, and research photography skills. Along the way, I’ve worn many hats, from workshop instructor to conveyor belt technician, each role adding layers of experience and expertise to my repertoire.

As I reflect on decades spent behind the lens, I realize that every twist and turn of my journey has been a gift, equipping me with a unique perspective and a diverse skill set that sets me apart in the competitive world of photography. My ability to connect with clients, understand their needs, and translate their stories into visual narratives is not just a product of technical prowess; it reflects who I am and where I come from.

Stanley as a guest speaker to Mark Johnson’s Advanced Photojournalism Class at The Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

So, to my fellow photographers and storytellers, I urge you to embrace your journey, however unconventional it may seem. Your background, passions, and experiences are not just assets but the building blocks of your artistic identity. Explore the intersections of your life and your craft, and you’ll discover a wealth of inspiration waiting to be uncovered.

Ultimately, it’s not just about taking pictures; it’s about telling your stories in a way only you can. So pick up your camera, embrace your uniqueness, and let your light shine through every frame. The world is waiting to see the world through your eyes.