Courage to Grow: My Art is Not My Own

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” –e.e. Cummings

Each week we share a piece of us on our photographic journey. We have titled this series, “Courage to Grow”. We hope that our own soul searching will inspire similar introspection in our readers and that together we can make our best art and live our best lives

A note on this post. Our upcoming issue of “The Long Way Home” centers around how culture, heritage and tradition inspire and influence our art. This post was written with that theme in mind.


Yesterday I was at the park with my daughter and son. They were playing happily. It was the first time I’d really taken my camera out after my trip to Hawaii and I needed to photograph. I knew that the evening light would be shining through the trees and that everything would be beautiful. I knew that if I could just take 5 minutes to pursue my art, I would feel full again. I needed that time.

I photographed my children on the swing, the dramatic backlight shining through my daughter’s wildly flowing hair as she pumps not with her legs, but with her whole body. I waited for the arc of her swing to reach just the right point where she would cover the perfect amount of sun.AmandaVoelker-2

After a few minutes, she got off and was playing in the most beautiful light. I knew I wanted her portrait right there. Just a moment of her time, then I would be done. I gently asked her to stay where she was just for a moment. She did not. I asked again, still gently, and she responded that she did not want to stand there.AmandaVoelker-4

My creative self panicked. I knew what I wanted and I knew it would take only a few seconds. I explained to her how it would be really quick then I would let her go. She continued to resist and at about this point, all the panic bubbling up inside came out. I told her that the sooner she listened the sooner it would be over. I told her that I help her all day long and all I’m asking for is a minute. I told her we would go home if she couldn’t just help me for a minute. All of these things make me feel sick as I write them, but I told them to her.

She stopped to let me take her portrait, the start of tears gleaming in her eyes. I took a few frames, that were indeed beautiful, but my cup was not filled from them. When I told her I was done she ran from me sobbing. Still, I could not let go. I went to her in comfort, but still also insistent that she understand where I was coming from. I could tell she wanted me to stop talking but I didn’t. I just kept going. Half apologies mixed with explanations of how much it hurts my feelings when she can’t take 3 seconds to do something that means so much to me.AmandaVoelker-5

I again apologized to her, which felt like a band-aid on a broken arm, and we went home, all feeling miserable. I spoke with my husband, who didn’t quite understand why I was so upset…which is understandable because I didn’t quite understand why I was so upset. I felt that something had shifted and I felt like we were in uncharted waters.

A few minutes after being home where Scarlett said she was going to “sit on her bed forever and ever”, she came in sweetly asking if we were still best friends and if I still wanted to leave and go away by myself. (Yes that was something I had said earlier). I hugged her over and over again, telling her how sorry I was. She of course forgave me instantly and wholly, but the event stayed with me.AmandaVoelker-6

Upon further reflection I started thinking about my mom. My mom and I have a wonderful relationship. She is my best friend. We talk every day and I there have been only a few times in my life that things have been strained between us. Still, the experience with my daughter made me realize something about her that I don’t think I had understood until now. There were times when she was just barely hanging on and I kept pushing. There were times when she asked me gently to stop and I didn’t. There were times when I was feeling crummy, but she was feeling worse and I expected her to fully come to my aid. I then thought of her mother, feeling the same pains, along with all the mothers before. All wonderful and strong mothers, but the title “mother” isn’t a magic word that automatically makes you completely selfless and able to put aside your feelings and handle anything. The incredible love you feel for your children helps, but being a mother also means you are completely vulnerable to creatures who, as amazing as they are, are not thinking about you as much as you are thinking about them. Little things who are completely dependent on you, but don’t realize that you are also dependent on them. Dependent on them for mercy, forgiveness, love, help, inspiration… Mothers are still individuals struggling daily with their own demons and often our children are exactly what we need to pull us through. I wish that I had recognized that more in my mother. I wish I could have offered my hand in support while she was already supporting me with both of hers.AmandaVoelker-7

Yesterday I realized just how vulnerable and dependent I am on my children. I’m sure this statement makes some uncomfortable, but I do not mean it in a way that puts pressure on them to take care of me. I mean it only in the way that Elizabeth Stone writes, ““Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” My children have my heart and I am often completely unable to control what they do with it. I depend on them to be kind when I fail and to love me even when I don’t love myself. I also realized so clearly how dependent on them I am for my art. Of course most of my work is of my children, but in those moments when I see truth and I need them to stand still for a moment so I can capture it, they ultimately are the ones to decide whether or not that will be possible. That is a struggle and I know the answer is to not fight and to accept. They are children, they are free, they are not mine but their own…but I am completely theirs. My art, while ultimately is made by my pressing the shutter, depends on their willingness to share with me their hearts as I share mine with them. I will try harder to remember these things and try harder to let go when they do not want to share. Sometimes, however, when my cup is empty and my spirit is weak, I beg them to help me make my art because I have nothing else I can do and no other way in which I can create.AmandaVoelker-8

Amanda VoeAmandaBioPiclker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer, focusing on capturing the fleeting moments of childhood. She is currently located in the Seattle, Washington area. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday and is constantly amazed by all the wonder in her life. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of herself. Amanda is also the co-Editor in Chief of  “The Long Way Home” magazine and co-founder of 30 Minutes in the Life. Aside from photography and family, Amanda is passionate about the ocean, seeing the world, diet coke, reading, and chocolate. You can find more of her work on her website and facebook


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  1. I too have been in this same position many times. My kids have long been my favorite subjects-my daughter always a little more willing. Admittedly, it hurts when she’s uncooperative. The rational me understands that she gets tired of being photographed and isn’t always in the mood to appease me. But the photographer sees the gorgeous light, just the right posture, the breeze picking up her golden hair; but oh, if she would just look at me, the image could be perfect; it could be one of THOSE images, the best, filed away to revisit many times in the future! And then, disappointment- it doesn’t happen. She runs away to turn a cartwheel or in the house for a drink of water, and the moment is over. I’ve reduced myself to begging, even bribing with a “sweet treat” if she’ll just stand still for a few more frames. I know EXACTLY where you’re coming from. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Children are very forgiving. I don’t think either of us is damaging them. My daughter told me I think about photography too much. I told her she was right. 😉

  2. Wow — Amanda that was very brave of you to share. I think we can all relate to it in our own way. As always, a beautiful read! xo

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