• Cara Cilento

How I Accidentally Became a Photographer and Its Lesson

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Becoming a photographer was nowhere in my life’s plan. I didn’t expect to like photography, let alone have showings and sell prints, but I do, and I have, and I owe it all to my divorce. Now, you are thinking, “Oh, she got a divorce and wanted a new hobby. So, she took a few courses and learned how to master the camera.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a simple case of ingenuity breeding invention. I wanted to redecorate my home and I couldn’t find pictures I liked, so I picked up my camera and staged my own photos. I never thought the photography would have merit. I just didn’t want bare walls.

Around the same time, I took part in a tricky tray. The only prize I wanted, the only one I played for, was a free consultation with an interior designer. I knew my chances were slim because there were at least one-hundred people at the event plus, never win games of chance, but fate smiled on me because they pulled my number. I couldn’t believe it. An interior designer was going to come to my house to help me remove all remnants of my ex and replace them with a new style. I couldn’t wait to hear how he would make my home say, “Cara Cilento” and not “Cara Cilento, Divorced Mom”.

I prepared all my ideas. I had questions about wainscotting my bathroom, color swatches and Feng Shui. I did not expect him to look at my photography because I had no intention of keeping my photography on the walls. After all, I was not a trained photographer, and he was an expert. I wanted his suggestions for wall art, not my photos I took with my beginner camera, makeshift lighting and two lenses.

When he finally arrived, he walked around my house cupping his chin with his hand and laying a finger across his lips. As he exited my bedroom, he said, “Where did you get that print?”. I told him I took it. I told him it was from my vacation in Key West. He asked me what camera I used, so I told him. He said that a camera was thirty percent of the equation to an excellent shot. The rest was eye and luck, even though most photographers were gear heads. I quickly corrected him and said, “I’m not a photographer.” He said, “Really? You have a good eye.”’

The rest is history.

I was no longer “Cara Cilento, Divorced Mom”. I was “Cara Cilento, Author and Budding Photographer”. I started researching contests and showings. I took a Photoshop class which was a bust. He had to keep coming over to my workstation. Every time he did, he would say, “Why is it doing that?”. We never figured it out, and I never learned Photoshop, but that didn’t stop me from having my photography shown in galleries from coast to coast and even Grand Central Station. Am I on the level of national recognition? Absolutely not. But that was never my goal. Remember, my original goal was to fill wall space. I didn’t predict I could fill other people’s walls, too.

Over time, photography taught me how to look at things differently. It developed my ability to look for patterns and compositions in the environment around me. I didn’t realize it but when I was staging my photos for my walls, I was arranging and capturing images that effectively communicated the message that I wanted to send. The interior designer picked up on natural talent, but it was up to me to improve the skill via practice as well as through studying and interpreting excellent photographs.

I learned that photography has had a significant impact on my life because it had documented important events, such as people, places, and my kids, while also helping me learn and grow. It had given me so many options for creative expression. It challenged me by taunting me with technical principles and diverse techniques that I was obsessed with getting right. For example, light waves. Now, I took Sound, Waves, and Light as my physics requirement in college... twice. I was not good at it. Even my tutor told me to give up, but photography taught me that light and time can be converted into great images which can tell a lot without using words or sound. If my professor had only taught me physics through photography, I probably would have only had to take the course once.

Now, I combine my love of writing with photography. I made main characters photographers in my books. I used them to show the reader emotional states through their work. I also took pictures to go with my poetry and designed a multimedia experience. I took photographs which captured human life in all its facets: the emotional, the intimate, the odd, and so on. I told stories in pictures, not only on paper.

Unfortunately, the pandemic really hurt my mastery of photography. There were no in-person classes to take, and my computers were being used for my children’s virtual classes. I had to cancel my trips. I had planned to visit New Orleans and Albuquerque. I was scheduled to take pictures of life in the Quarter and the desert as well as attend writing conferences, but none of it came to pass. So, instead of travelling, I made “Cara Cilento’s Photography Tenets” to help me prepare for when I can get back out into the world with my camera.

1. I must pay attention to details. My perspective is not the viewer’s perspective. Everything is subjective.

2. Taking pictures comes with responsibility. The stories I tell in pictures evoke emotion. They have the power to love, hate and change minds. I must be mindful of what you’re eliciting.

3. I must be simple. Complexity, for me, is like a wordy paragraph. I get lost and forget the main idea.

4. Learning never ends. Always approach each photo as a beginner. Always approach your camera as a beginner. It keeps you humble

5. Go out and capture the beauty that the world has to offer.

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