It’s a season of change. Talk to anyone these days and there seems to be some sort of change in their lives. There’s movement happening and it’s both exciting and scary to witness and be a part of. I am also currently riding in this boat of change and it’s a big one. One that I chose to do and one that I have been questioning a lot. Have I made the right decision? After being in the space for over thirteen years, I decided early this fall that I would let go of my studio. A space that has been a second home to me for oh-so-long. It was not an easy decision and I have questioned it ever since making it, but I know in my gut that I have done the right thing. My heart is pulling me in new directions and I know that releasing myself of the space and all of the responsibility that came with it, is going to all me to open myself up to all that is new in the world of opportunities.
Back in 2003, I was fresh out of University and was eager to be this thing called a Professional Photographer. I had worked hard at school, done an internship with an awesome photographer and got a job at an architectural photography company that belonged to one of my professors. I was working full-time for him and photographing weddings on weekends. All photography, all the time. Within a couple of months of working full-time, the company dissolved and became a new one and together we moved to what would become Studio 303. During construction, I would work at a desk surrounded by black foam core, trying to block out the light from those gorgeous West-facing windows, retouching those architectural images amongst the noise and chaos. Eventually I was given bigger tasks like the bookkeeping which I was surprisingly good at. The studio felt like home. Besides us, there were three other offices that creatives worked out of. We were a co-op of sorts and it was wonderful. I would work throughout the day there and then head home to work on my own photography from my small one bedroom apartment. All photography, all the time. Throughout the years, I slowly weened myself away from working for the architectural photography company to becoming full-time with my own photography. In 2008, the architectural photography company I worked (then part-time) for, who were also the leaseholders of the studio, decided they wanted to move and they gave me the opportunity to take over lease of that 1,800 square foot space. I felt like I was just a kid and taking on such a large space seemed like a scary move. I didn’t make a lot of money and I didn’t really know a lot of people. But at the same time, I had a vision and it was clear. I wanted to move away from working from home. I wanted a real-life grown-up office. I wanted to make portraits in that glorious light. I wanted to be in charge and I wanted to do it all full-time. Pretty much everyone in my life told me that it was a bad idea. That it was too risky. Even that professor of mine told me that I should rethink it. But my gut told me that I needed to take this opportunity and with that, I signed a three-year lease. I decided that the worst thing that could happen would be that I couldn’t afford the rent and if that happened, I would bail on the lease. I would figure it out. I would do whatever it took.
I remember going into Studio 303 the first time that it was truly mine. My heart soared. My Mom and sister came to help me move in and the first thing that we did was paint the walls. Anonymous Grey and Pineapple Soda. Those yellow walls were everything to me. Pineapple Soda. To me, there was life and romance, and all the good things just in that name. I bought furniture for my new office. I got rid of the junk that had been hanging around the studio. I made it my own space and then I got tenants to fill it. I already had one, a lifer of sorts, and quickly I found more. Photographers, filmmakers, painters, architects, an Ad guy from New York, a furniture designer, we were all in there, working away together but apart. Life was created in Studio 303. Clients would come in, amazed at the space and ask a million questions about it. The sun would set over the city and we would see it all from our windows. The same would be true for impending storms so we knew when it was time to duck out in order to avoid the rain on the way home. We watched the cityscape change as new condos and other buildings went up. We saw the neighbourhood of Riverside evolve from being a bit sketchy into one full of cute restaurants and cafes. I photographed countless people in that space. I photographed couples who then had babies who then became kids and I documented it all. I hosted photographer get-togethers and workshops. And in that space we celebrated birthdays and special occasions including my 10th Anniversary.
The space was my everything and I worked hard to have it work well. It wasn’t all sunshine and parties; it was a heck of a lot of work. When things broke, I had to fix them. When tenants gave me their notice of leaving the studio, I had to scramble to find replacements. When there was disputes between tenants, I had to be the middle person and mediate it all. Every month I would invoice my tenants for their rent and every month, I would end up having to chase after at least a couple of them to get their payment. It was work and it call came down to me. For the past number of years, I had at least six tenants to manage, on top of my own full-time photography business and the usual life things like a home and a husband and friends and family. I often told people that having the studio was at times a full-time job in itself and it really felt that way, but I always felt that it was worth it because it was my space and it was how I envisioned my life being. Me, a real photographer, with a real studio for shooting, for meeting clients, for sharing.
At the end of high school and into University if you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I would have told you: I want to be a full-time photographer, photographing real people and I will work out of a studio. About a year ago, I realised that I had accomplished this. I was doing exactly what I set out to do and it was a pretty beautiful thing to realise. I was doing it. I said it and I set out and I made it happen. Not everyone can say that. I patted myself on my back. Good job, Jess. It was great for a bit until I said to myself “Well, what next?” Because, the thing with dreams is that once they are realised, they aren’t dreams anymore, they’re a reality. I realised I didn’t know what my next dream was. Where did I see my life going next? I hadn’t a clue.
Around that time, a new store opened up on Roncesvalles that I instantly became obsessed with. They sell cards and books and all the thing that I love. It’s impossible for me to walk in without spending at least $50. Impossible. On my first visit, I found a card with an illustration of a desk and on that desk was a camera, a plant, a mug, bulletin board and lots of paper. I clutched the card and thought, “This is my desk.” I bought it thinking that I would hang it near my desk at the studio. I took it there the next day but realised there wasn’t a place for it. I brought it back home and forgot about it.
In late May, my husband and I launched Bartender Atlas. It was an idea that we had floated around in 2014 and I had even bought the web domain, but we had just let the idea sit. I came home one day after a particularly bad day at the studio, ready for a big blow out. I was frustrated with what I felt was a pretty stagnant, cushy life – my photography business, which I love, seemed to be running itself and I wasn’t being challenged. I was itching for something more. Something to push me. To push us to somewhere new. We had a great
argument discussion that night and in the end, we decided to step out and really do this Bartender Atlas thing. Having a new project, especially one that we could work on together, made my heart soar. And I felt good for a while. Wedding season was starting and I had some pretty darn great ones lined up to photograph that summer. I was pumped on life.
But then things seemed to take a turn. The studio wasn’t this sunshine-y place anymore. It didn’t seem like a positive, creative environment that I had dreamed of and strived for. I would often go into work and would find that space all to myself, which was great when one wants to get lots of work done, but not great when you are a self-employed person in a shared space looking for some company and shared creativity. After thirteen years, Studio 303 was just not what it had started out being. In September, two of my tenants gave me notice that they were leaving and I entered a bit of a panic mode. A few years prior, I had experienced the same thing and had taken off to Mexico for a week to spend with my sister. It was an opportunity to get away and to assess my situation. To decide what I should do. Together with my sister and my own ideas, we decided that I should stick it out. Because when the studio worked, it really worked well. So I did and Studio 303 worked for a while. But this time around, I wasn’t so sure. My gut whispered that it was the end of an era. Without directly saying it, but gently nudging me into it, Josh said that he felt it was time to move on. To let go. He had experienced firsthand all of the trials and tribulations that I would go through by having that lease and he worried about me. He wanted me to be happy and he wanted me to just have to worry about me (and well, us). I knew he was right. My heart told me he was and when I was finally ready to admit it, I did. I felt a release and I began taking the steps to rid of that 1,800 square foot space, tenants and all.
My heart breaks a little knowing how close to the end my time at Studio 303 is. In some ways, I also feel that I am going backwards. I started working from my tiny one bedroom apartment and moved to this beautiful, big professional space. With that transition, I grew as a photographer and as a professional. I took my work more seriously. My clients treated me more seriously. I felt like a real photographer. I worried what it all meant with me transitioning back to working from home. Is this me moving backwards? Being less of what I used to be? Some of these days I do feel that. But then others, I know that I am not. I know that had I not taken that risk back in 2008, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing from my new home office which is a separate room in our home that even has a door and a window and if I can look really hard, I can see the lake from it. The day we moved my office furniture home and I realised that everything fit exactly how I imagined it, I knew that I had made the right decision. After getting my computer and hard drives set up on my desk, I remember that card with the illustration of my imagined desk. I dug it out, stuck it in a frame and put it on my real-life desk in my home office. My eyes immediately welled up. It fit. Everything fit. Everything was exactly as it was supposed to be. It felt so good. I rushed into the kitchen where Josh was cooking and I burst into tears. He looked so concerned until I told him, “It’s perfect. Everything is as it is supposed to be.”
Life is about movement and taking risks and making changes. Staying stagnant has never been my thing. The idea of it terrifies me. I am always ready with my passport in hand for my next move. Letting go of my dream space has been hard. It’s really hard. A piece of me is there. My heart breaks for it all and a lot of that has to do with knowing that this change was entirely my decision. No one kicked me out, I chose to do this. I had coffee with my friend Amber about a month ago and I told her about my studio moves and once I was done speaking, she simply said, “You have already left that space.” And it was true. I had. In my mind, I saw my home office, I saw the simplicity of my life with being able to focus solely on my own business and my own dreams. I was already there. I was ready to let go of Studio 303, a place that did so much for me. Without having had the experience of the studio, I would not be who I am today.
So I bid adieu to Studio 303, that beautiful bright space with it’s Pineapple Soda walls. We had a good thirteen year run. It allowed me to live my dream. But now, it’s time for me to live new ones and that is something that I am excited about. Taking risks allow you to explore all that you are capable of. Knowing that your heart and guts will always tell you the right moves to take, despite what others may tell you, is a wonderful thing. Listen to them. Trust them. Thank you to everyone who ever came to Studio 303, who allowed me to photograph them there, who celebrated life there, who danced and laughed and drank beer, who brought me coffee and who sat with me. Thank you. You brought life to that space and through that, you brought life to me. Change is good and I am so excited to see what will unfold in the coming months.