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After all, fear of the unknown took her outside her comfort zone. Treading on new territory, pushing the boundaries of her photography, and allowing herself to be stretched would take all the courage she could muster. In her mind, there were a good many others more qualified. In the end, none of that mattered, she would do it anyway.
Tasra Dawson** climbed onto the bus with 33 other photographers. They had met for the Pictage PartnerCon (a photography conference) in New Orleans, taking 4 days to network, learn, and be inspired by massively successful pros in the industry. Tasra herself had spoken, and helped write and produce a film series for the event along with her husband Ron, but the experience she was about to walk into was less familiar and more daunting than standing on that stage before hundreds of people:
Shooting street images of strangers… with their permission.
She would meet her goal while out on a photo walk. It was the first she had ever done. It was to be a time when photographers pile onto a bus, travel across the city, and take pictures of various things, places, and people.
The fact that this photo walk was in New Orleans was surreal for her. When Hurricane Hurricain Katrina had hit in 2006, her parents had been on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Being in a place that had been touched by the same destruction near to her parents, made her feel as though she was experiencing family history. She was seeing it all with her own eyes. She would be documenting it with her own eyes too.
Tasra breathed. She had her camera. She had her gear. She had comrades. Together, they could embark on this adventure, and she was excited about what might come her way. The sense of adventure motivated her. She was a capable and successful photographer. The confidence she always instilled in her students and blog readers would have to be placed in herself.
The tour would cover the lower 9th ward – one of the places hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. The first stop was Flood Street. She had ten minutes. She got off the bus, and didn’t allow herself any thought but one: Take pictures and go wherever it may lead.
She began to shoot. After a few shots, she turned and began taking pictures of what looked like a building just after destruction had passed – not years later. As she photographed, she noticed a man coming toward her. Her heart began to race wondering if he’d tell her to stop or get mad. She looked around for support but found herself alone.
This is it.
She took her courage and started a conversation. “Were you here during Katrina?” She asked him and received a nod in response. “Do you live around here?” His response “Not around here. I live here,” and he motioned to the building she had been photographing. He was there during the rising of the waters. He was there, in the top story of his house, when the water was up to his waist. He just couldn’t bring himself to leave, even in the face of danger; he had to stay.
For Tasra, the moment of truth came at that moment: “Would you mind if I took your picture in front of the house?”
To her relief, he said yes. After a few shots, the man asked if she wanted to go inside – inside his house. Her heart jumped. She was amazed. Amazed that the moment was not nearly as intimidating as she thought. She wondered if there were other moments and opportunities she missed because of her lack of confidence. She knew there were.
She walked into the house with a few other photographers. The first image she saw was the broken roof on the right side of the house. The light was streaming through the vacant opening, creating a beautiful shaft of light. As she took pictures, she asked about the different rooms, and the man shared. She could hardy believe how much she was able to document such a precious story of a man who would have rather died than leave his home. His courage was inspiring.
And she was able to experience this simply because she stepped out of her comfort zone.
The time passed quickly. After 15 minutes, she heard the bus honking for the return. She didn’t want to leave. The time had been unreal. As she walked back through to exit, the man passed through the light shaft – first image she had seen upon arrival. A quick snap captured one of her most precious images; not because of the rising smoke in the light, and the intense contrast of the textures, but because encapsulated in this one image was the entire story of a courageous man.
Tasra walked away with a new sense of confidence. She could be the photographer she had always wanted to be, but never thought she was. A photographer who captured beauty in stories and experiences that other people may not have. As she got back on the bus, she was content. They had only finished their first stop but she felt as though she had her story – the one she came for.
The lesson ushered in a new level for Tasra. She realized that situations may require certain risk, but sometimes the risk is not the end. There are rewards for stepping outside ones comfort zone. And often, those rewards are priceless.
** Tasra Dawson is a nationally acclaimed Senior Portrait photographer from Georgia. Tasra is involved with her husband Ron as a Creative team member for DareDreamer Media, and spends full time work as a photographer, blogger, and artist. Tasra takes part in “Pro: You”, a series of lessons learned on the road of professional photography. Her daily work can be found online at: www.TasraMar.com and www.TeenIdentity.com.
DPS thanks Tasra for the time she invested interviewing for this story.