Photographer Profile: Madeline Heising
Hi Madeline! Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, then moved to Boston for college and have lived here ever since! I still end my sentences with "y'all" but consider myself a New England gal now. My days at home revolve around cup after cup of strong, black coffee (a habit passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me!) and sorting through stacks of post-it notes I've left for myself of things to do. On other days you can find me buried deep under layers of sweaters strolling the streets of Beacon Hill and Back Bay, still with a cup of strong, black coffee.
When did you begin taking pictures?
My mom would let me use her film camera growing up, so my earliest photos were taken around age 4 at the park near our neighborhood in Virginia. I always had a disposable camera on me through elementary and middle school, although I used them sparingly, waiting for the most magical moments to happen. Ninth grade came with my first digital camera, but I didn't have a DSLR until I was 20. Once I had a digital camera I was constantly taking pictures of my friends who, by the way, always act annoyed that I had my camera out but loved having that new profile picture!
How did you know that photography was a career path that you wanted to take?
I didn't. Right after college I got a job in TV production, but knew the work environment wasn't right for me. Everyone was competing to be the busiest and most stressed, like being strung out on work was a badge of honor. After a couple of seasons I hit a breaking point and walked out on that job without a plan. I started doing freelance photography to help pay the bills while I figured out my next step, but about a month in I realized that photography was what I should have been doing professionally all along. All my life people told me I should be a lawyer, a manager, or a producer. That I should be someone adjacent to the art, someone on the business side. I think it was meant as a compliment, their way of congratulating me for graduating at the top of my class and being a self-starter, urging me to choose a job that would easily guarantee success. I listened to those voices, and they held me back. Once I started striving for success in myself and my own creations, and not for someone else's, I knew I could be the artist that was held back for all those years.
What steps did you take to start working for yourself? How did you find clients or projects, establish rates, gain recognition, etc?
Unlike the rest of my life, these steps weren't planned out. After quitting my job I needed to make rent, so there was a fire lit under me to find freelance work and get it done. I posted on a bloggers Facebook group that I was available to do portrait sessions and got 75 sign ups overnight. I was completely overwhelmed, but because I needed to make rent, I had to say yes. Food photography was my forte up until that point, so I was terrified to start working with portraits. But people hired me and I said yes, so I dove in head first to what I now lovingly call the "Portrait Boot Camp" stage of my life. After finishing those sessions I was exhilarated and had no doubt that photography, especially portraits, was my calling. A lot of clients now find me through Instagram (turns out hashtags really are important y'all!) but really it's by the grace of those first women who hired me that I've been working mostly from referrals ever since.
You are able to travel quite a bit! What upcoming trips do you have planned?
Somehow I've spent just as much time traveling in 2017 as I've spent at home in Boston! It's insane. Self-employment gives me the freedom to work from wherever I want, so I try to take advantage of that gift. I think there's a small part of me that's afraid I'll take a 9-5 job any day now and won't have that freedom anymore, so I have to travel as much as possible before then. I'm visiting Oregon in August, then spending two weeks in Los Angeles (Joshua Tree, I'm coming for you!) in September, followed by Savannah, Georgia in October. The Savannah trip is actually to photograph a destination wedding. I can't believe I get to explore a new city and capture the sweetest couple's love while I'm there! If you had told me a year ago this is what my life would look like, I would have laughed in your face.
Do you have a favorite subject to shoot?
Women, especially older women. Feminine strength can be easily trampled in photos, so that's what I work to highlight. Soft, dainty details can get lost in a photo. But when they are the focus of the photo, it's often over-the-top to fulfill a "girly" stereotype. Women can be soft and delicate and strong as hell all while being beautiful in their own way. At the Women's March on Washington (which I attended in D.C. this past January) I was drawn to the older generation of protestors. Grandmothers with their daughters and granddaughters, hair and faces worn and wrinkled and soft from time, but with hard and determined eyes. You know that they've seen and experienced injustice, and are determined to right those wrongs, but haven't let bitterness invade their feelings or rule their facial expressions.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I love knowing that I can help people see themselves in new, beautiful ways. Whether it's how their loved ones see them, what their friends see in them, or even seeing something new in themselves that they hadn't noticed before-- it's a true gift to bring light like that into someone's view of themselves, especially in the form of a photograph they can look back on.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face as being an artist and working for yourself?
The biggest challenge has been accepting myself as an artist. I didn't go to art school, and a lot of people in the industry will look down on me for that. They'll tell me that I'm not a "real" photographer; that I have no business calling myself a photographer. But then I go to work, I make art, and I see tears in my client's eyes when she tells me she's never actually loved a photo of herself until now. And that's what drives out the negative voices a little more each day.
Do you have any resources that helped you learn?
Yes! The Rising Tide Society's Facebook group was a huge help at first. I didn't even post in the group, I just read everyone else's questions and answers. Just reading answered a lot of the questions, but most importantly, all the questions I didn't even know I had. I also adore Amy and Jordan, photographers and educators based in Arizona. Their online shooting and editing course, and their new posing course, are game changers.
How do you take time for yourself?
This is SO MUCH harder than anything business or photography related! When I first started out I would only take a day off every 6 weeks or so, if at all. I still haven't quite figured out how to take a regular day off, but I do make sure I always have quiet time in the morning. I take an hour to make coffee, get ready for the day, and then sit at my desk and journal. I have to process things on paper each day or I get lost in my mind!
Would you like to share any of your long term goals and creative aspirations?
My long-term goal is to be able to support a family by making art. I know that my creative aspirations will fluctuate and that I'll be called to different kinds of projects based on how my work develops, but eventually I want to be a mother and I pray that I won't have to sacrifice my art in order to do that. It's one thing to be self-employed as a single 25 year old with few expenses; taking care of myself has always been easy. But if all goes well, I'll hopefully be able to model for my children what my parents modeled for me-- that you can pursue your passions and still be successful, that you don't have to choose the "safe" or "traditional" path.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I don't know what I would be doing without the women in my life. They are the ones who supported me when I made the brash decision to walk out on my job. They're the ones who talked me through panic attacks late at night when I realized the mountain of work starting a small business required, and subsequent panic attacks a month later when I realized the mountain had somehow gotten bigger. They're my dreamers and my reality check. The ones who raised me and inspire me every day. Most of my clients are women and small business owners, and there's a special dynamic when we come together. The relationship doesn't end when I deliver the final photos-- it's not transactional. We keep in touch, we help each other out of pits, and we celebrate each other's successes. In short, it's because we care for each other. And when you know someone truly cares about you, you can do anything.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
There is a whole world full of creative women I find inspiring. But if I had to narrow it down, the most inspiring to me is Willetta Brand Heising. She was my grandmother, and one of the first female ministers in the Lutheran Church. She even led a feminist-centered bible study out of her house. My drive to invest in other women comes through her. I learned most of this about her after she passed away, but it has become a strange comfort to model my life after this great woman and get to know her through accounts others left of her. "Ministry may not seem creative on the surface, but to me creativity is taking your own experience and using empathy to turn it into something comforting for others, like music, painting, writing, or ministry."
What are some of your favorite places in Boston?
I'm obsessed with Tatte Bakery, especially the ones on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. It's where I have all of my client meetings, just an excuse to grab one of their giant pastries! I'm obsessed with Beacon Hill in general, it's one of the oldest neighborhoods in America and is full of so much history and incredible architecture. I walk by Robert Frost's old house on my way to Tatte!