“Maybe you should dream a little closer to home,” was my high school counselor’s advice rendered to me as a bright-eyed freshman. I had enthusiastically narrated for her my life plan after high school — going to college in New York, finding the perfectly quirky studio apartment in Chelsea, earning a coveted position at Condé Nast, and being discovered by Anna Wintour herself to act as her successor. Then my advisor said it, the phrase I still dread and without fail hear more often than not: “That’s a little far-fetched, sweetie.” The more I’ve been told my dreams aren’t for me, the clearer it is that The Fashion Institute of Technology is the best place to make my put my ambition to work: between my innate ability to adapt to whatever situation I’m thrown into, to thrive in times of stress and challenges, and my natural self-motivation.
Taking a gap year dedicated to bettering my portfolio has given me a unique perspective most young people never get, an aperture between high school and college dedicated to interests I’ve never been able to pursue wholeheartedly. When I first decided to take a year “off,” I almost regretted the resolution; it meant another year in the small town I’ve resented growing up in, a town with southern values that don't align with my passionately-held beliefs, a town full of people who have been telling me “another year” will turn into a lifetime, “just like the rest of us!” they always add with a chuckle. But with time, I looked forward to the challenging oxymoron of starting fresh while staying in a familiar place, while watching my friends start a new chapter of their lives from afar. I thought the adjustment would be awkward at first — balancing working full time, building new friendships in an environment other than school, and managing to still feed my desire to learn. I’d been a student my entire life and now found myself in an unfamiliar limbo. But my capability to thrive when faced with challenges prevailed.
Looking back, I’m already regarding the last year as holding some of the best times of my life. The real world experience I’ve gained — social, professional, and otherwise — are immeasurable. Not only am I grateful for my experience, but for the time I’ve been allowed to appreciate my hometown in a light I’ve never been able to see it before. It’s been one not of resentment, but rather of valuing its quirks, close-knit community, and nuanced style. This outlook has expanded my vision when it comes to photography because an emotional attachment to this town of less than four thousand people has allowed me to capture it differently than I have before. While I used to dislike living in a place where walking down the aisle of a grocery store meant everyone you passed calling you by name, I’ve realized the familiarity is something I’ll not only miss living in a city of well over one million people, but something I’ll bring with me. I look forward to incorporating contrast of my small, southern beach-town to the bustling streets of Manhattan literally and in mindset when approaching my art and my peers. One of the aspects of this craft I’m drawn to is that it allows the reflection of said constant shift of perspective that I’ve experienced first-hand, which can in turn be observed and interpreted in such a fluid but subjective way, not only by onlookers but by the artist. I’ve kept myself involved in the industry in a unique way, constantly utilizing technology to stay updated with photography, fashion, and blogs, I came to feel myself on a first name basis with the best: Mario, Annie, Bruce; Leandra, Susie, Bryan. I’ve studied. I’ve entered and placed in the top ten of an international design contest online. I’ve blogged. I’ve interacted with other young people in the industry. I’ve constantly sought out the life I’m heading towards.
My photography over my life, the past months in particular, has reflected a change in me, through the way I see my community, thus the world beyond that. Not only now, but growing up — from reading New York Times articles about latest photography installations to watching fashion week shows online in between classes. However, I’ll hold onto my unique upbringing, being forward-thinking in an old-fashioned small town, optimistic it will give me an edge in my career.