Carey Kirkella

Photo:  Gaby Deimeke

Age || 41

Company Name || Carey Kirkella Photography

Job Title ||  Photographer

Company Start Date || 2001

Years Living In New York || 24

Social Handles || @careykirkella, careykirkellaphotographer, Careykirkella

Company Website || Carey Kirkella Photography

What did you want to be while growing up?

Either a photographer or a psychiatrist, and decided on photographer when I was 12 years old.

What drew you to photography?

In my middle school art class, I learned how to use a 35mm film camera and develop black and white film and prints.  It opened up a whole new world for me because I was always so shy, so it gave me license to go out of my comfort zone. I was always interested in both art and science and loved things like microscopes, so using a camera and creating photographs in the darkroom was the perfect combination of art and science to me. Photography still feels magical to me, even now that I use a digital process.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting your photography career?

Follow the 80/20 rule, also known as The Pareto Principle.  And I remember someone saying to be sure to focus on doing what I love.

How do you define success?

To me success would mean having a solid sense of fulfillment in all of the important areas of my life (at least some of the time). I try to remember that it’s a lifelong process, and that it’s important to appreciate where I am in the present moment, no matter what.

What is your creative process like?

I like to over-prepare and have some structure but also go with the flow and be spontaneous.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting out?

That there’s always so much more to learn. Also not to take rejection too personally, which is always difficult.

What is your go-to motivational quote?

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Can you tell us about your Sisters & Survivors photo series?

In August 2013, my sister passed away from Stage IV breast cancer that had quickly spread to her bones, at the age of 40.  In August 2016, I began photographing portraits of breast cancer survivors and fighters with their sisters. This project is in dedication to her and to her daughter, my niece Julia.

I don’t have any portraits of my sister that captured our special connection, and I hope my portraits do that for other sisters, regardless of the outcome of their journey with breast cancer.

My goal with this work is to create a book and also a traveling exhibit of the work to be displayed in breast cancer treatment centers. Many of the survivors I photograph are advocates or have purpose-driven businesses to help other people affected by this disease. I would like to help spread their messages and also raise awareness that metastatic (stage IV) breast cancer needs more funding for research. I’m looking for sponsors to help make the project possible.

Do you have a personal motto?

I like what the author John Maxwell said, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”  It might not be a personal motto per se, but I’m working on not being so hard on myself.

Which women inspire you?

These days especially, other mothers with their own businesses inspire me.  I’m especially inspired by women who have figured out how to use their talents and skills to help improve other people’s lives while also earning a good living.

How do you overcome moments of self-doubt?

I remember to acknowledge how far I’ve come and how much I’ve been through, especially in my personal life.  I look at the positive side of what that means, which is to simply tell myself that getting through those times have made me much stronger overall.  It shows me that I always will continue to keep getting back up.

What is the hardest part about being your own boss?

Prioritizing and time management, especially while taking care of my toddler.

How do you handle situations where you feel overwhelmed?

Slowing down physically and being mindful helps me.  Remembering to focus on one thing at a time. Making lists. Listening to random meditation music I find on YouTube.

What can clients expect when working with you?

Working with me is like hanging out with a new friend who you also feel like you’ve known for awhile already. I have a profile up on a site for advertising creatives called ‘Working Not Working’, which asks you to describe yourself in three phrases. Mine says ‘open-hearted, creative, hard working’.

The advantage of being really hard on myself is that I always give it my all when it comes to my work.  Working with me is a collaboration, and I also always do my best to deliver above and beyond what the client thinks they need or want.  And we have fun in the process.

What has been the most rewarding thing since starting out as a photographer?

It’s been nice to be recognized by Photo District News and have my work be published in their best of annual issues twice.  But something that may have made a more lasting impression on me was when my teen-aged niece Julia shared with me that she occasionally shows off my images I’ve made of her to her friends. Recently, a client told me that I had really made her vision a reality and she loved the images I made for her. It’s just been comments like that that are most rewarding to me.

How have you worked to keep female empowerment at the core of your work?

That’s just been the natural progression of my work and what I’m drawn to photographing.  When I was in college one of my photography teachers recognized that most of my best work was of women and girls, and encouraged me to continue. The process of making portraits is collaborative, and you’re also capturing an element of yourself as part of the process of photographing other people.  

What advice would you give to other women trying to enter your field?

People may underestimate you, but try to ignore that.  There are a lot more photographers these days than ever before, so it’s important to find your voice, which means you have to shoot and edit a lot of personal work.  Give yourself assignments that you would want to have, but please don’t make a habit of giving away your images for free or cheap. You could offer to shoot something for free for your portfolio, but make it clear beforehand that they will then have the option to purchase the images if they choose to. If you don’t believe in the value you bring as a photographer, no one else will either. A race to the bottom mentality only makes it harder for everyone.

What are some of your goals moving forward as a photographer?

My goal is to focus on doing more branding photography for clients who have businesses that are making a positive social impact in some way. I’m very passionate about photographing entrepreneurs with a really strong purpose behind their business, and I love to help them elevate their brands through my work. When I create their imagery, I feel that I’m part of their mission too.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarah Fielding