On Being a Photographer

Photo by Lucas Chan ( @lucvschan )

Photo by Lucas Chan (@lucvschan)


You know how they say the camera adds 10 lbs.? In the case of my tan, the camera subtracts 10 shades. 😂 I've met some friends since I got back and trust me, they all had to do a double take to make sure it's me! It's been fun seeing everyone's reactions. "WHOA." "I didn't know you could get THAT dark." "You're like an entirely different person."

There is some truth in that. I am different. Not how I look but more so how I feel.

It's been 8 months since I left my full-time photography gig. To clarify, I didn't "quit to travel the world" as it may appear on social media. No, not at all. Traveling is my process, not my goal; it is a way to unwind, to clear my mind, to reflect. I also didn’t leave my job to pursue blogging or freelance full-time. (I was already freelancing before working for a company fyi.) I left because I didn't know myself anymore. It might not be the smartest decision professionally nor financially but it was the healthiest decision mentally and emotionally.

For 5 years, being a photographer was a huge part of my identity in Toronto. It has blessed me with an exciting life I never would have imagined when I first moved into this city. From shooting my own meals at home to restaurants and bars, from hosting workshops to meet-ups, from guest speaking at panels to TV shows, being a photographer has been nothing but an interesting wild card. It has exposed me to so many different industries, collaborating alongside notable chefs, brands and agencies. The work wasn’t always easy; there were a lot of challenges and unpredictability that came with the nature of photography but at least it was something I enjoyed.

Or at least I did.

What happens when holding a camera doesn’t feel right anymore? Am I still a photographer? One shoot after another, I started to doubt myself. If I couldn’t shoot, then who am I? The moment I began to question that was when I knew I needed to take a step away from photography. So without any backup plan, I let go of everything that I had been building myself up for in Toronto. I let go of what once was a dream of mine.

For the past few months I've been trying to recover myself and my passion in photography. I traveled to meet different creatives and photographers, learning more about their craft and the industry. I gained some new insights but not enough to reconnect with my camera. I brought my gear in every trip (even purchased a new mirrorless!) but my heart just wasn’t there anymore.

It wasn’t until my recent visit to Mexico that reignited something in me. For this trip, I had no itinerary nor a return flight. All I wanted to do was to be by the water every day and to go scuba diving as much as I can--something else I am passionate about. No networking, no projects, no content. Just me, some sun, sand and saltwater.

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While I was in Playa del Carmen, I stayed in Sayab Hostel where Good Vibes Diving (GVD) was also located. GVD took me in like family right from the start and I was inspired to document this new community I’ve immersed myself in. From Lieke trying on a drysuit, to Facu briefing for a group dive, to Verni prepping in the kitchen, I couldn’t help but capture those moments. To them, they may be doing their daily routine. To me, I saw everyday people doing extraordinary things. Through my lens, I saw the beauty in life again--and that was worth holding my camera.

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Verni's Birthday - Photo by Alexa Fernando @ajfernando 2019 - 1.jpg
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Here’s what I realized: Being a photographer goes beyond what you photograph--it’s why you do it. I had been burying myself into so much work to make it as a photographer that I lost sight of what drives me. Don’t let yourself get to that point. Your work doesn’t define you. What you do can shape you but it doesn’t make who you are. You are so much more than what you produce or how you perform. Remember that.

After 8 months of hiatus and searching, I’ve learned it wasn’t about recovering who I was as a photographer but about who I am as a person. By looking within myself, my values and my purpose, I found my drive. It is in the stories--of people, of culture, of life--and in sharing them with others. My passion is to connect people and being a photographer allows me to do that. Photography is a medium, a language, to the rest of the world.

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