inspiration

It All Starts With...

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When I was young, I would pick up a purple marker to spell my name. “Anji,” that was my nickname at the time (it’s hard to spell Mitanjeli when you’re 3) and I usually wrote the J backwards. But I chose purple, and I chose it for years. I wore this color and painted with this color because for some reason it helped me express who I am. So I guess for me, it all started with a purple marker. 

And over the next few decades I cycled through many colors, clothing styles, glasses frames — I continue to do so. It’s because when I see something that helps me express who I am, I wear it. 

When Kristen filled out my Luxe Portrait contact form early this spring, I gave her and call and quickly learned that she had been inspired to do a photoshoot because of a dress. “I was at Saks in St Louis when, I saw it. The most beautiful gown, black with flowers and beading and I thought, well I have to have it!” So she bought it in honor of her 50th birthday and booked a photoshoot so she could express herself in her gown. I probably don’t need to say this but when she put it on and walked out of our studio dressing room, she came alive in a new way.

When Ashleigh scheduled a photoshoot for herself and her daughter, she asked me if Kaitlyn could bring her pet bird for a portrait. As you can imagine, this beautiful green bird lit Kaitlyn up and our portraits including him were breathtaking. She planned her outfit to coordinate with his bright feathers and I’m so, so glad she asked to bring him. 

When Bailey called me last year to do a photoshoot, she shared a personal part of her story with me. As she was coming out of a challenging time of counseling to address past and present issues with her body, she had come to a point where she was ready to celebrate it. She requested fine art nude portraits at the end of her shoot, and to this day they’re some of my favorite ones I’ve created. She truly was inspired by her new relationship with her body, and I was so honored to walk with her in that journey. 

It all starts with something... 

Maybe for you it’s a new career, a new outlook, or a new relationship. Maybe it’s a new pair of Louboutins or your late mother’s pearls. Whatever you’re celebrating and expressing at this point in life is worth it, and I can’t wait to hear about your journey and create something beautiful together. 

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The Middle

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"Dancing is creating a sculpture that is only visible for a moment." -Erol Ozan

Creative expression can be really difficult sometimes. If you dance or act or play music or make visual art or CREATE, you've probably dealt with the process vs. product problem. You've probably sat down to make your thing and been so focused on the end result that you forgot to trust the process. For me, I don't just forget to trust the process, I refuse to trust it. Nope! Give me the illusion of control instead, says my anxiety. Give me the hundred ways it could go wrong so I can solve those potential problems ahead of time and avoid letting anyone down, says my fear. I've got this final product in my mind and if reality doesn't match up to it in the end, it'll mean I've failed, says my insecurity.

Woah. But experience tells me this isn't true! Especially with art. I love movies. But I certainly don't watch them for the sole purpose of learning how they end! The ending loses all significance if we don't see how the characters arrived there. I love how Brene Brown puts it: "The middle is messy but it's also where the magic happens." Ah yes, messy. That's a good word for it. But when I'm feeling insecure or afraid or exhausted, I don't want messy... and what I'm retraining my brain to think next is, "Well, then you don't want real."

But I do want real. I want relationships that can make it through the messy times. I want to NOT follow recipes some nights so I can discover something new. I want to mirror my client's vulnerability when she steps in front of my camera so she knows she is in a safe space. I want to dig deep into my heart when I create a self portrait, even when I get frustrated and realize what I need to create is not the sparkly ideal that will look good to the rest of the world.

The middle is messy: the middle of creations, the middle of relationships, the middle of conflict resolution, the middle of good movies, and the middle of life. But you know, 99% of everything is basically the middle -- the process. "Trust the process." One of my friends has it tattooed on her arm. I've seen and heard it a thousand times, and only in the last year have I come to understand the weight of it. The result isn't "it." The process is. And when I don't want to be honest with myself about something, I put blinders on and focus on the product. And that's the paradox! When we trust the process, the product really does end up the way it was meant to. But when we focus too much on the product, we can overlook important parts of the process and risk creating a bad product.

When Bailie shared her dance and story with me, I was inspired. When most of us think of dance, we think of the 3 minutes on stage with the perfect hair and makeup and impeccable costume. What's easy to forget is the hours and hours of practice and struggle, the bruised feet and sore muscles, and the mental stress of expectation and insecurity. But these things are what make dance what it is.

The struggle to express is what produces art. And I think we could all use encouragement to push through that messy struggle in order to grow. Trusting the process makes us give up the illusion of control, and in my experience, that really is where the magic happens.

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The Problem of Following Your Dreams

When you’re little they tell you to follow your dreams.

When I was little I dreamt of being a princess and a filmmaker and an artist and a world-class chef. My favorite dream I had at night was the one where I was a mermaid, swimming in a public pool. An indoor one with Olympic Diving depth and lines of red tiles swirling through the white ones. I think this felt safe – the ocean is so big – and when you spend your first seven years in Canada indoor pools are what you know best. I felt so free because I could stay underwater as long as I wanted. No adventures were impaired by the need to come up for air! But I would eventually wake up in my dry bed and as reality rushed over me, I would cry. I would wiggle my human toes and long to be the girl I had dreamt I was. To not ever have to come up for air, that was the beautiful magic I could only experience in dreams.

When people find out what I do for a living they usually ask how I got started. The answer is simple but incredibly big: I tell them my career as a women’s portrait photographer came from my longings as a child. See, I could be a mermaid and a princess and a director and a supermodel in our vast, unfinished basement. My sister and I spent every afternoon after school, every endless summer day, and every sleepover in that basement. Our parents let us use their film and digital cameras, their video camera, their old clothes, and Dad’s tool bench to create whatever we wanted to. (I realize now as an adult what a rare and precious gift that was.) We created and expressed and tried and failed and acted and danced and sang. We played pretend and got to be mermaids. When you believe you are a thing, then that thing is what you are.

 

When you grow up they tell you your dreams won’t work.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. There wasn’t one big moment or specific person who convinced me that I had to work hard at a job I didn’t like and be a serious “grown up” when I reached a certain age.

You know I probably convinced myself.

Anyway, a few years ago I started to undo that damage. I caught a glimpse of who I was and felt a clear call to do what I’m passionate about the way only I, Mitanjeli Starkweather, can. And  then several months ago I photographed a beautiful old friend along with her sister and mother. While I was doing her makeup she said, “Remember those photo shoots we did in your basement as kids?” She found that picture, dated January 2004, and sent it to me. There it was: the lace curtains in the basement, the fake flowers I told her to hold, and the sepia tone effect I added to the photo later. We were thirteen years old and so, so proud.

Now, as a 27 year old adult with a mortgage and a business and a caffeine addiction, I realize I spent most of my teen years and early twenties searching for a purpose-driven career in every place but my own heart.

When you grow up and they tell you your dreams won’t work, make them work. The answer you’re looking for is closer than you think – maybe that’s why we miss it – it’s flowing through your own beautiful veins.

-Mitzi