20/20 on 2020

Published by Catherine Nguyen

Perspective has been the central theme of my blog this year—maybe that’s inevitable, considering the events of the past 10 months.  It’s surreal to think that only a year ago, I was traveling through Japan, soaking in its natural beauty and reveling in the tranquility.  Now, of course, the very notion of travelling seems strange and scary.  

During my trip, I took photo after photo attempting to capture every wonderful, calming detail.  My travels and experiences reinvigorated me, and I came back to the States refreshed with new ideas and excited for the new year. 

My career had really taken off between the TV show (Love It or List It) and all the new jobs coming in through both my website and referrals.  January and February provided several fantastic shoots, including work for my new client Model Home InteriorsDemiRyanDesign by TulaAllure HomesLK DesignProvision Building Co.Kitchen and Bath Galleries of North HillsBrian H. Murray Interior Design, and Couture Haus.  It was a hopeful time and I felt that 2020 was going to be a year of growth both personally and professionally.  Then March and COVID-19 came along, and within just a few days, my livelihood (like so many others) was shut down indefinitely. 

My ideas for growth seemed squelched overnight, and I struggled with direction.  What was I supposed to focus on now?  What did this mean for the company I had been building for years?  Initially, I found myself glued to the news, in complete shock of everything I was witnessing.  I waited for someone to say that this was a mistake, that the situation was not as bad as we had thought, or that a plan was in place that would remedy the state of the world.  When none of those things happened, I experienced a sort of paralysis.

I’m a self-motivator by nature, but suddenly I had no idea what to do with myself.  I did have administrative tasks to fill my time (working on my portfolio, tweaking my website, etc.), but there were not many opportunities during the months of March to May for a commercial or editorial photographer.  While I was concerned about the future of my business, I was grateful that my husband’s job had not been affected.  I also knew that wasn’t the case for many of my friends and colleagues.  My heart went out to them, and it still goes out to those who have lost their jobs, careers, savings, and more.

It was imperative that I find something to distract me from what I could not control.  In the real world, I had been doing a lot of cooking and spending time with my husband.  Wonderful things to be sure, and ones for which I was grateful.  And while I’ve never been a gamer, I was surprised to find solace in an alternate world via a game called Animal Crossing.  This little universe allowed me to be creative and design fun spaces.  I felt like I was using my talents, admittedly in a very different way than usual, and enjoying the sense of accomplishment that comes from checking tasks off a to-do list.  I was also able to “see” other people when I played online, and I found inspiration their activities and designs.

Animal Crossing Custom Living Room Design by my alter ego CatSpice

Looking back, I realize that despite all that was happening and how I was affected externally, who I am on the inside never changed.  I am an artist by nature, and I simply needed a different outlet for my creativity during my downtime.

There was not a specific day that I decided to move forward again with work.  Rather, it was more of a gradual acceptance of our new normal.  Once I began getting new bookings, I was able to get out of my funk and reevaluate my plans.  I remember Hayes Barton Homes, Allure Homes, and SpeightBuilt contacting me with a few projects, which I gratefully accepted.  My next challenge was figuring out how to do my work safely.  I had to change gears and figure out new procedures so that I could make my business work.  It was not a question of whether I wanted my business to thrive, but rather how to make it thrive.  Fortunately, that problem was solved by the influx of work that came my way over the next two months.  Businesses began opening back up and moving their work online.  My clients were reviewing their websites, considering brand sessions, and determining how to get noticed.  After several months of getting more clients and more work, I knew I needed help with my own workload and decided to partner with Martin Communications, a local marketing firm, who is now assisting me with my marketing efforts.  The timing could not have been better, as the summer proved to be a very eventful one!  I did a shoot for interior designer Martha Schneider of La Maison, featuring the newly designed locations for women’s boutique Vermillion.  I was able to combine my passions for design, fashion, and photography into one project.

I was then approached to photograph branding sessions, a completely different genre of photography that helped me look at things differently and grow my business in a new and unexpected direction.  I was approached by Anna K. Bradshaw, a copywriter who specializes in gourmet foods, skincare, beauty, apparel, stationery, and fine gifts.  Anna asked me to photograph her in different locations for her new website.  Being new to the area, she looked to me for recommendations on locations that would highlight her brand.  We settled on some favorite local French restaurants, Coquette and Jolie, as well as other well-known establishments such as Sur La Table and Quail Ridge Books

When local powerhouse real estate agent Gretchen Coley saw my branding session with Anna online, she called me immediately to set up her own branding photo session.  I’ve also had the pleasure of photographing Inslee Fariss (artist) and Charlotte Russell (contemporary gallery owner), for their brands.  If you haven’t seen their work, you should definitely check it out!  Art always provides great perspective. 

In the fall I was even busier with Speight Built’s Parade of Homes project, shooting for Capitol Design Group and working again with Lori Moscato of Casual Elegance Designs.  I barely had time to catch my breath before capturing the new location for Warehouse Interiors at Lafayette Village.  “Busy” is an understatement, but I was enjoying every moment of it, realizing how incredibly loyal my clients had been throughout what has been a turbulent year. 

At the end of October, I found out that I was sick.  I was told that I had a very serious health situation and needed surgery.  The immediate outpouring of love was immense, and I was beyond grateful to have the support of my family, friends, and many clients.  Cards, meals, flowers, texts…it was wonderfully overwhelming, and it helped serve as a gentle reminder of what is most important.  Just as I began confronting going to back to a very physical job in a very limited way, I hit another bump in the road and ended back in the hospital.  This did indeed turn out to be my year of growth-just not in the way I expected.  

I acknowledge and appreciate the things we often take for granted: talent, love, health, and relationships.  I recognize how easily our perspective can be altered and how imperative it is to hold tight to the things which ground us.  Physically, I need to move gingerly into 2021.  I am starting to shoot again, but I need help.  Unfortunately, the New Year clock will not reset that reality for me!  I encourage everyone to consider a gentle approach into the coming months.  Everything will not end overnight, but there is hope that better things are coming, and that with strength, determination, and care, we will all heal. 

I wish you all wonderful perspective and a very healthy, safe and Happy New Year!

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