Elizabeth Messina is a photographer whose ethereal, dreamy shots make us swoon and want to get married again (and again) and have, like, a million babies just so she can do our maternity shoots (how can tummies look that glorious?). She’s also busy in and with quite a few other things, but we’re saving some of them for later (don’t you worry). Today, we’re focusing on her thoughtful, engaged, and incredible reflections on being a creative entrepreneur and a mother. In so many ways, this woman is a SpitfireMom.
Her approach to family life embraces the village we all hear about leaning on. Elizabeth describes herself as “tremendously lucky” to be married to a very kind and patient man who is so supportive of her being a creative entrepreneur. They’ve never had a nanny and raised all their children together with the occasional help of their parents. She says his support of their children and her is invaluable and he’s probably the person she depends on most in the world. She told us, “He has a calm about him that if it wasn’t so wonderful would drive me absolutely insane. I can be my whole self with him, my messy, unsure, over emotional self and he takes all of it, all of me, in stride. He continues to make me believe that anything is possible, and more importantly that no matter what, we are ok.”
In addition to his support at home, she has a very close relationship with the extended family. Elizabeth talks to her sister on an almost daily basis. She has a PhD in psychology, which comes in quite handy on hard days. Her parents offering unconditional love and support has been powerful in a world where sometimes it is hard to know your worth. At home, she says, she always know how much she matters.
Elizabeth is quick to acknowledge the good things and jokes that if she could ask for one thing at this time in her life, it would be more sleep and an occasional spa day.
As a photographer, and a person, Elizabeth describes herself as being guided by my heart. She thinks the artist in her was always there, even if she come from a family of academics. Yet she had really had no understanding of how to pursue a career as an artist when I was growing up, it wasn’t until my third year of college, when I was rather unhappy and lost, that I discovered photography was even an option. The world has never looked the same since. I love discovering and capturing beauty, and am still amazed that I have made a career out of being an artist.
Here’s what Elizabeth had to say about being a SpitfireMom.
How does being a mom influence your work?
Being a mother and a photographer overlap in so many ways, they truly interconnected. My business was born out of my desire to be a good mother. When I first graduated art school, I had visions of traveling the world and shooting glorious fashion campaigns. Ironically when I started photographing weddings it was to be near my home and children, to work occasionally on weekends and be a good mamma all through the week. Truth be told I work, and travel now more than I ever anticipated.
My three children are truly the most incredible, wonderful part of my life. They are a melange of laughter and bickering, art projects and scrambled eggs, bedtime stories and skinned knees. Motherhood is the most glorious kind of love. It is luminous and fills me with so much joy. It is that love that fuels me as I navigate the unpredictable twists and turns of being self-employed. I also take some pride is showing my children that I am a dynamic, contributing part of our family. I want them to learn that a woman participating in the world is a good thing. I find being a mother has opened me more to other peoples vulnerabilities and love stories, and that has truly enhanced my ability to create authentic and meaningful images. My children have certainly made me a more compassionate, more humble person – they have also made me a much, much more tired person.
Before I had children, I really loved things to have a place. I’d arrange my belongings on my dresser until they looked beautiful and balanced. I had little carefully created nooks around my home and now, well basically that only exists in my pictures – there is no lovely arrangement on my dresser – if I even attempt such an extravagance, it stays like that for all of five minutes. So I had to sacrifice any idea that I could have carefully crafted little nooks in my home, it is pure unadulterated chaos – a stray sneaker, a damp towel, a never ending stream of dishes, homework strewn, a forgotten snack, I could go on and on….you get the picture, they have taken over my beautifully curated life, but I am gonna keep them anyway.
Do you talk about your kids with clients or potential clients?
I am very transparent and open about my life. I’ll certainly talk about my family & children if it feels natural. I try to respond and connect with whomever I am interacting with and my level of openness will depend on how our conversation flows. With that said, I photograph a lot of intimate life moments, from pregnant women and children, to weddings and celebrations of love. Most of my clients either have children or are in a place in their lives where they are interested in starting a family. It’s a unique career, where perhaps being personal is more appropriate than in other lines of work. I certainly never purposely keep my family a secret. Most people who are familiar with my work, actually already have some knowledge of my children, since I do share images of them and our life from time to time.
We know a SpitfireMom like Elizabeth has tips to share, so we asked for her best time saving trick:
I think life is challenging, for all of us in different ways. My favorite working mother trick is this: I make the little boring routine errands of life a special treat. I have three children, so time alone with me is very special for any of them. So I have them on rotation – one day my youngest “gets” to go with me to FedEx, yup “gets” like it is a special occasion. You see the thing is I HAVE to go, the treat is getting to go alone with me, we get to hang out, maybe sing a song in the car or something. The next day, maybe my middle child “gets” to go to the grocery store with me, and I’ll “let” him push the cart. The then the next day my oldest will go with me to my lab to drop off film and so on and so on and so on…
I often don’t have time to take a whole day off or abandon my responsibilities but, by including my children, I get my necessary errands done and we get some good one on one time together. I never have to remember whose turn it is, they all know exactly where they are in the cue.
What’s one thing you haven’t figured out?
Everything. Seriously I don’t feel like I have anything “figured out.” I am a work in progress. I am and I confess probably always will be a woman in search of balance. It is elusive. The moment I feel like I might have it figured out, something inevitably comes along to rock the boat. It is perhaps the beautiful conundrum of the life of a working mother.
On a day to day basis, it’s the little things that make that ok. I am really good at bedtime, I’m the best cuddler in the house, hands down. So I make my way to my children’s beds, we whisper and reminisce about our day. Sometimes I rub someone’s back, other times I read stories or maybe council on how to handle a not-so-nice girl at school, it’s a special time when all the secrets of the day reveal themselves. It’s those little rituals that help us stay grounded and connected. In the mornings my husband is king, he’s up early and has everyone organized, where I am not really available for comment until I have had at least a couple of sips of coffee. Our roles at home evolves naturally, we never had a conversation like “you do breakfast & I’ll do bedtime.” It just happened over time & now there is an unspoken understanding that I cherish. I think all families should make their own rituals, there is no one way to do anything.
My truth is this, I have not figured out how to do anything perfectly. I just try to do my imperfect best, which often times could be a little better. Every now and then I get an impromptu hug from one of my offspring that lets me know I am not doing all that bad. Same goes with photos. I spend a lot of time working and wondering how I can do better. And then every now and then I’ll be editing and I’ll pause on a photo and think “Ahhh, I caught something special there” and I feel my purpose. I am in love with the journey, both of being a mother and being an artist, neither of which are static. And then I am off again, an artist in search of another beautiful moment, a mother in search of balance, a woman exhaling only to pause and inhale again.
And, if you’re a mom entrepreneur and just found out your expecting, Elizabeth says:
Be kind to yourself. No matter what you do or how thoughtful you are about doing it, someone will think you are doing it wrong, so just do what feel right to you – becoming a mother is a journey and your path won’t look like anybody else’s. I am still surprised by people who think it is somehow easy for me, it is not. I struggle and wonder if I am working too much or not enough. Am I a good mother? I try to be a good person, but sometimes I am overwhelmed and lost still. I am so grateful I found photography, it soothes my soul and my children are the most wonderful blessing I could ever imagine. I am sure I am doing lots wrong, but I put my whole heart into it, no matter what.
*Bonus!* For our photographer SpitfireMoms, Elizabeth suggests:
My favorite photographer’s tip is Instagram, really and truly. I used to, and still do, love to blog, but I have become increasingly busy, I’ve had less and less time to create posts like I used to. I have found Instagram a lovely and simple way to share current projects I am working on, it is so easy and not very time consuming. I love that it helps me stay connected by sharing with others.
It’s also another place my home life and work life overlap. I’ll share a favorite images from a recent wedding or editorial shoot, mixed in with images of my children and our day to day life. It is a great resource for creative people, especially busy working moms/photographers.
Elizabeth, you are stupendous. I don’t know, y’all, but I feel like a book of poetry is in this woman’s future. She does so much so well, and with such grace and lyricism. Here’s to magical works in progress.
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