I am writing today to share my story, of where I have been and where I am going; It is a long story, but one I feel worth sharing. Over the past two years I have taken a somewhat unwilling break from photography. From some of my past clients I've received queries about this, about why I suddenly moved out to California from Rhode Island, where I began Kirstin Bimson Photography. I didn't answer these questions with much detail, partly because I didn't really know what to say--the story was still in progress, and I wasn't exactly sure how I got to where I was. Now coming out the other side on this long journey, I'm ready to tell my story.
It begins in my youth. I have been attached to a camera since I was ten; that is when I got my first camera, as a Christmas gift from my grandmother. It was a bare-bones point-and-shoot consumer film camera, but I adored it. I spent Christmas eve taking photos of the family cat from different angles, marveling at how big he looked when I took shots angled upwards. Years later, my mother would receive a digital camera from my father for Christmas--the first digital camera in our family--but it would quickly become mine; as the tech savvy one in the house, I took to it faster than my mother. Another two Christmases later, I would receive my first and very own digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix, from my mother--an attempt to end her frustration searching for the camera only to wind up knocking on my door demanding it back. Though hardly an advanced piece of hardware, I consider this Nikon my first serious camera, as it was the first camera I began to attempt serious photography with. I took it on all our family vacations: it saw the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls in Oregon, the Space Needle in Seattle, and practically every major river and lake in California (my father was an avid fisherman).
The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, taken on a family vacation with the Nikon Coolpix.
It was when, the summer after my freshman year of high school, I surprised my parents with studio-style portraits of my sister and I using bed sheets as a backdrop, that it became clear to all the direction I was headed. My father took notice. Always one to support my sister and I in our passions, he approached me one day with an offer: he had just received a bonus at work, and wanted to spend half to help my sister buy a new guitar (music was her passion) and half to help me buy a new camera. I still remember walking up and down the camera section in Best Buy, analyzing each on display critically, while my father watched me with that twinkle in his eye he always got seeing his children engage their passions in a way he wasn't able to as a child. I will always be grateful for that gift.
Early portraits of my sister and I with the Nikon Coolpix.
That camera, a Sony Cybershot, was the camera from which my career sprang. I practiced taking portraits of family members and friends from school, eventually winding up with a few paid-for family portrait sessions from those same friends' mothers. After a time I built a website, started constructing a portrait portfolio, and began branching out into other types of photography, namely events and weddings, but keeping a keen eye out for other photographic opportunities.
Early Portraits with the Sony Cybershot
One of my more notable spot news submissions for my photojournalism class at Sierra.
That ended up being easier said than done. As a member of the class of 2009, I graduated high school amidst the financial crisis of 2008. The economy was in chaos and I was tasked with navigating towards a degree through the mess. I began my higher education at Sierra Community College in the foothills, deciding to work on my General Ed at greatly reduced cost while I developed a concrete plan for pursuing my degree. I was fascinated by the world of assignment photography and photojournalism, but didn't want to give up my budding portrait, event, and wedding photography business. I settled on a compromise: a photojournalism major with a business minor. But as I progressed with my courses, that degree became increasingly out of reach: tuition was skyrocketing while acceptance rates were plummeting, and housing costs rose to match. Near the end of my time at Sierra, my husband and I, then fiance, discussed the issue and decided to take a year off to consider our options. In the course of that year, little improved and much got worse. We decided to take what remained of our college funds and start fresh somewhere in the country we'd always wanted to see, somewhere significantly cheaper to live than California. Both of us had an interest in New England, and after an initial scouting trip in December 2011, we settled on Rhode Island. The following February we moved to Providence's Federal Hill; and we loved it.
Some wedding favorites from 2013.
Late in 2012, I formalized my photographic efforts and Kirstin Bimson Photography was born (though it technically started as Kirstin Adams Photography, the name was changed in 2013 to reflect my marriage). I started small--discount packages to draw in a clientele, picking up odd jobs as a second shooter, networking with other professionals--and worked my way up. By late spring 2013, I was doing weddings full-time. It was, often times, exhausting and time-consuming work, but I loved it, and thanked my lucky stars to be able to engage my passion for a living. I photographed weddings of all sorts and at very different locations: the Blithewold mansion along the coast, in the forests of central Mass, at beautiful historic churches throughout the region, on the Boston harbor, in backyards, on Cape Cod Beaches and in the shadows of lighthouses. I photographed my heart out, and learned so much. But ultimately that first year of weddings proved how greatly I'd underestimated the true cost of my own tools.
In the fall of 2013 I started to experience consistent pains in my right thumb. I was working through the bulk edits of all my peak-season weddings in summer, probably in the realm of 10,000-20,000 images total resulting in hour after hour on the computer, due to be completed no later than the spring; and I still had one wedding a month through the remainder of the year. I didn't think much of it and just attributed it to overwork. I iced it regularly, and gave myself more rest breaks and the occasional massage, but it didn't go away. It persisted throughout 2013, and by early 2014 it had become worse, spreading from just my thumb into my wrist, with occasional swelling. I was becoming concerned but didn't feel a need to panic just yet: I must simply have not taken enough time to let it heal. In the January-February-March wedding lull, when I was shooting mostly the odd engagement session or assignment job, I gave it more attention. It seemed to get a little better, but once April rolled around and the weddings began to pile up again, it became exponentially worse. The same early pains I'd felt in my right thumb the year prior were now affecting my left. My right thumb was now constantly swollen, my fingers ached, my right wrist was painfully stiff, and shooting pains lancing up my arm to my elbow became a regular occurrence. Simply opening jars became a monumental effort. Chronic neck pain from the weight of my camera and eye strain headaches accompanied by vaguely blurred vision were also becoming routine. Seeing a doctor for regular treatment was not a feasible option as I had to leave the state to see a physician covered by my insurance; but I knew I couldn't go on like this.
My mother-in-law, a physical therapist whose advice I will forever be grateful for, while unable to diagnose my hand from across the country through video chat, was able to determine that, in all likelihood, it really wasn't good. Growing up, I had watched my poor father push past such warning signs so he could keep working, destroying his body in the process. He dealt with extreme chronic pain, and had to take weeks at a time off work when it became too much. I didn't want that to happen to me, didn't want to be forced to put the camera down for good because I refused to pause. I had weddings stacked straight through June, but little booked after that. With heavy hearts, my husband and I planned to put the brakes on work at the end of my June wedding block and move back to California to reside with family so I would be able to properly address these problems without the burden of the very work that caused them.
Sunset over the Vacaville hills in summer, just outside Davis.
We arrived in California in time for the 4th of July. The remainder of that year was spent finalizing my work from Rhode Island, at a much slower pace than I had been working. The rest I was able to get without the pressure of upcoming work and assignments was a tremendous boon. It was, however, a long and trying road before I was able to see a doctor regarding my conditions. That August I suffered an adverse reaction to an insecticide sprayed over the city to quell the mosquito problem. My initial doctor's visits were consumed by addressing those side-effects. By the time I'd recovered and was ready to move on to the next hurdle, I'd lost my insurance--the very thing I'd moved all the way out to California to take better advantage of. That winter was spent getting enrolled in a new plan, and coverage didn't start until the next spring. Then it was picking a new facility, a new doctor, wresting my medical record from my previous insurer, establishing with my new doctor. By the time I was able to bring up my work-related ailments, I'd had a good long break from hand and wrist-intensive activities, and many of the symptoms had subsided, though they would quickly re-emerge should I spend any length of time using my camera or the computer.
The eye strain and neck pain proved, thankfully, to be a temporary ill as a result of overwork. With regards to my other pains, though, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both wrists, and later, severe golfer's elbow in my right. It was a blow that took a several weeks to absorb. I hadn't been expecting something so serious and permanent, and hadn't prepared myself to alter the very way I approached, well, everything. But I was determined to do all I could to keep doing photography. I was referred for physical therapy, and began OT and PT a few months later. Through the course of my 7 month long treatment, my physical therapists Jana and Richard, who I am so very, very grateful for, helped soothe my aching joints and tendons into a healthier place, and taught me the in's and out's of how to live with and care for these conditions. Through it all, I've been able to come to better understand the nature and structure of my hands and wrists; been able to invest in ergonomic computer and camera gear with feedback and guidance; I was able to practice new computer routines and postures through a back-and-forth dialogue with my therapists; and the support and encouragement they offered me was so very welcome as I struggled to come to terms with what this would mean for my future. I "graduated", as Richard put it, in December 2016, after spending the last few months under their guidance re-approaching photography to great success. It has been incalculably difficult to set aside my craft for this long, and only now as I begin again have I come to realize the hole it left.
That is where I have been. As I come out on the other end of it all, despite the doubts and fears I felt about my decision to leave Rhode Island, I am glad I chose this path as it's proven well worth it. This experience has humbled me, and put some things into perspective I may not have otherwise given much thought to.
2017 is where I am going. As the year begins, I hope to make it the year of re-emergence, the year I resume what I hope becomes a long and healthy and sustainable career in photography. Thank you Jana and Richard: though I know it's your job, you went the extra mile in your kindness and thoroughness, patiently answering all my questions and working with me. Thank you to my family which has supported me as I've worked through this difficult time. Your love and care has been... unbelievable. There are no words.
See you all on the other side of the shutter.