Inspiring Artists-Rebecca Sawyer

At this early stage in my artistic career, I'm often inspired by other artists and creatives who are doing their thing.  I want to highlight some of them here and learn more about what inspires them and how they make it all work. 

This is Rebecca Sawyer.  She's a photographer and part of my "photography friends" group.  We meet once a month to talk shop, laugh, and encourage each other.  I remember the first time we met, Rebecca showed us a few of her photos and I thought, "This girl's got it!."  She has an uncanny ability to notice the little moments of the everyday, and grab those shots with her camera in such a beautiful way.  

Rebecca is a pure documentary photographer.  That means she sneaks herself into the scene, and quietly notices the beauty that's already there.  She doesn't direct or request smiles. Her resulting images capture genuine moments.

 A few months ago, we were lucky enough to have Rebecca come take photos of our family.  I'll cherish these photos always because they will remind me what our life was like, how it felt to live in our time and our place (I've included a few favorites below...and that IHOP mug is bought, not stolen).  

Please be sure to look around Rebecca's website (you might recognize a few faces).  You'll see the beauty in the everyday moments she captures.  On top of being talented, she's super easy to get along with and has a great laugh.  

Tell us first a bit about you and what you do.

In a nutshell, I'm a mom of two boys (ages 8 & 12) and a photographer (hobbyist). I love documentary photography and I am trying to learn and practice as much as I can. If you aren't familiar with that style of photography, the easiest way to explain it is that it is photographing real life. No poses, no direction, completely authentic. Hunting for those meaningful moments and trying to capture them in a beautiful way is such a fun challenge for me.

When and how did you discover this outlet?  

I’ve loved photography for as long as I can remember and had various inexpensive cameras as a kid. My high school offered photography classes so I signed up and got my first SLR camera - a completely manual Pentax K1000. I took photography all 3 years I was there and also shot for the school newspaper and yearbook. I loved processing my own film and spent as much time in the dark room as I could. When I got to college I did a little shooting for the school newspaper, but I soon got caught up with other aspects of college life and stopped. Without access to a darkroom and no extra money for processing film, I hardly ever took pictures. I really didn’t use my camera except for special events and the little bit of travel I did. Not surprisingly,  the skills I had once learned slipped away and my photographs soon lacked any artistic qualities at all. When my first son was born I desperately wanted to hold onto each moment with photos and I shot a ton of film. I have a lot of great snapshots, but very few of them portrayed the feelings I was trying to capture. When my second son was born, digital cameras were becoming a lot more mainstream and I tried again. The immediate feedback of shooting digital along with a fabulous class I took a couple years later finally started making things click for me again. 

Tell us about the shift between idea and action. 

I had to laugh at this question because I don’t feel like it applies to me! I constantly feel stuck and any shift between idea and action is a series of decisions that I make over and over again for every tiny step I take. I’m not 100% sure where I want to take this hobby of mine. The only thing I know for sure is that I want to keep making pictures and I want to keep improving so I continue to forge along. Some days I’m unmotivated and feel like I’m in a complete slump. Other days I'm inspired and productive. Frequently I cycle through both scenarios multiple times in the same day. I try to take simple, manageable steps that don’t overwhelm me. For example, pulling out my camera in a place I normally wouldn’t, sharing some of my latest pictures for critique, or signing up for a new class. Those steps at least resemble action, right? 

How do you manage your time and energy?  How do you make your art a priority?

This is definitely not my strong suit. I tend to procrastinate and I definitely have squandered a lot of time that would have been better spent on photography. For me, getting started is usually the hardest part. Once I’ve taken the initial plunge, I usually get excited and make the time to get it done. Deadlines are a great motivation for me so taking classes, shooting for friends and participating in photography groups have been very helpful. 

One thing I do that I think helps keep photography a priority even when time is short is that I like to practice in my head. If I see pretty light or a connection between two people, I imagine how I would shoot the scene if I had my camera with me. I think about where I would stand, what I would include and exclude from the frame, what feelings and moments I would want to capture. The side benefit is that it keeps me entertained while I’m waiting for my son’s soccer practice to end or in line at the grocery store.

What struggles have you faced and how have you overcome those struggles?

I think I am my own worst enemy. I tend to lack confidence and frequently look for validation from outside sources. With the surplus of great photography constantly being shared online, comparison is also pretty detrimental. I’m trying really hard to just focus on what I enjoy and appreciate my pictures for how I personally feel about them. It’s pretty tough though. Definitely an area I still need to work on.

Who or what inspires you?

I find inspiration from anyone that shows their vulnerability and puts themselves out there. I love people that feel totally at ease being themselves and wholeheartedly pursue their interests whatever they may be. I’m also very inspired by all those people that have fully committed to making that shift between idea and action. In the last few months a couple friends of mine have made tremendous progress working towards their goals. While I have made tiny steps, they are making giant leaps to make their plans reality. I totally admire their courage and positive outlooks.

What impact does your work have on your children?

I think the impact is huge. My kids are my biggest fans and they are so proud of the pictures I make. (Even the less than stellar ones.) I love that they see me pursuing my own interests and I like to think that seeing me make mistakes and continually trying to learn new things sets a good example for them. 

Maybe even more importantly, I think that having a creative outlet that I love makes me a happier person. When I’m happier, I know I have more patience and I’m in a much better position to make good parenting choices.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I think one of the very best things that both stems from my interest in photography and propels my progress is meeting people that share a similar interest. There are a number of online groups and real life friends that I’ve met that have been super helpful as I try and progress. One particular group (that happens to include the owner of this blog) I meet with once a month. They are women that inspire me with their progress and push me to be better. They understand when I’m struggling and believe in me more than I would have ever thought possible when we met the first time a year and a half ago. If you have an interest or hobby that you want to pursue more seriously, I highly recommend trying to meet some other people that share your interests.


Thank you so much for sharing, Rebecca!

"If you have an interest or hobby that you want to pursue more seriously, I highly recommend trying to meet some other people that share your interests."  I can't agree with Rebecca more on this one.