Ah, 2011. The mystery year. If you're extra observant you'll notice 2011 is the only year I don't have a "Best Of" post about since I started the tradition in 2009. 2011 was a difficult year. I won't dwell on specifics but in case you think my life is unicorns and butterflies at least know this: 2011 sucked bad. Yet, somehow in the mess it's also home to some of my favorite memories as a senior at UMBC. Life will give you the good and the bad. Sometimes it will toss depression, anxiety, heartbreak, or loneliness on top of that. Cry it out, by all means. Don't shower for a week. Eat cake for breakfast and then go back to bed. But eventually you have to do something. You can either sob alone in your room or put on your favorite dress and go dancing with your friends. I did a solid couple months of the former before I finally reached the latter. And you know what happened? I found myself exercising a muscle I never knew I had before: courage. I knew I had foolishness. It was how this whole business came to be. I knew I had diligence. But courage? That had never truly been tested until 2011.

My first order of business was to get a new camera. So, in January my current camera and best baby Nikon D700 arrived on my doorstep.

In March, I photographed my first wedding of the season in Florence, Arizona. A friend of Andrea's, Anna was married by the only body of water in the entire state. Well, that's an exaggeration. But it was definitely a welcome surprise after the long dessert drive.

Since school was already in session, I quickly returned to Maryland and jumped right into my last Spring semester of college. It was bittersweet! As I've mentioned before, I adored college. My creative, unsorted, procrastinating mind found sweet solace in scheduled assignments and required learning. Like, come on. I was required to learn new, amazing things about art. It was heaven.

That semester was especially up my alley. I took a documentary photography class (hallelujah!), a collage class, and a printmaking class. Bowling too. Which was more like my twice a week belly laugh. But, for a PE requirement, it much more my speed than rowing or water polo.

In printmaking we learned about solvent transfers using a laser printer, Orange-Glo, and a spoon. And here I thought magic could only be found in the darkroom! It was mind-blowing. Printmaking brought out a whole other side of my brain. It was the perfect mix of photography and drawing.

Later in the semester we learned wood-cut, intaglio, lithography, and screen printing. I loved something different about each of them. Wood-cut was the hardest (I'm not patient enough to carve wood all day) but the texture it produced was unparalleled. 

Intaglio was lovely but a little repetitive. Also, our class used plexiglass for our engravings which made the same noise as nails on a chalk board when I carved into it. I thought I was going to die. Thankfully, if I turned up my music really loud in my headphones I couldn't hear it. Everyone else in the room, however….

Screen printing was definitely the easiest and most versatile. You can put anything you want under the screen - tshirt, tote bag, skateboard - and the ink will work it's magic.

Lithography was probably my favorite, albeit the most time-consuming and physically exhausting. I spent days on end trying to perfect my 3-color print of the lion door knob below. Arcade Fire and Dr. Pepper got me through those days. 

Printmaking struck a cord with me. I eagerly used this new platform to express the hurt that was going on in my heart. It was so freeing. During critiques my professor would often ask us to explain the inspiration behind the peice. I'm pretty sure I came close to tears trying to explain this last print without spilling my guts out in front of the class. I enjoyed printmaking so much that I decided last minute to add a Print Media minor to my load. It only required one more class and I would use any excuse to eat up some printmaking knowledge before graduation.

On May 15th I photographed my second wedding of the year. It was for a couple in my church and I knew practically everyone there. Normally that would be a great thing but that day my whole body felt heart sick and I was struggling to keep it together. I remember making it all the way to the reception and in the middle of the father/daughter dance just losing it. I kept my camera close to my face to hide the waterfall, even pretending to take photos when I wasn't so nobody would notice. As the song ended I wandered off to a corner, cleaned up my mascara, turned around, and put a smile on. I love my job a lot, but some days are hard work. That night was especially hard.

Back at school I worked tirelessly to finish my printmaking, collage, and documentary photography classes before my Senior Show in May.

I need to say a few things about my collage class before I move on. Collage was my favorite class in my entire 4.5 years of college. The professor, classmates, assignments, combined with the overall curiosity and creativity made it my favorite 3.5 hours on a Friday ever. 

Professor Durant didn't give us grades for our assignments. Some may think that encouraged us to BS stuff the night before. But, honestly, it was the complete opposite. Without the pressure of impressing the professor or earning a specific grade, my mind was free to make whatever I wanted. Again, this class was perfectly timed to arrive in 2011. I'd never been in a class that felt so much like therapy. Between the class discussions, silent protests around campus about cats (!), and class 'critiques' where we made sushi and ate cake, it was the highlight of my college career.

On May 19th I had my Senior Show. I honestly can't remember much of that night but it was wonderful to have my friends and family there to meet my classmates and see our hard work.

One week later a very special event happened. My brother and dearest sister-in-law got married!

Bestie Kristen shot the wedding but I did the portraits of Mike & Joce. Their wedding was one of the most wonderful days ever. I've never seen my brother happier and it meant to the world to be asked to photograph such an important day in his life.

(PC - Beth Murphy)

It's difficult for me to remember the rest of the summer. My mind was in a haze and my body was just going through the motions. I loved my clients, loved my weddings, but everything inside hurt. It got to the point where I started to doubt my very interest in art. Did I even want to do photography anymore? I'm grateful to say I emerged from this haze by the end of the year, but it took a toll on my confidence. If you've ever wondered if I still get nervous before weddings, the answer is yes! There are times I wake up and worry that I've lost all my talent in my sleep. I fear that I won't be able to produce the wonderful images my clients hired and paid good money for. So if you've ever felt this way, you're not alone! I've walked away from so many weddings thinking "Well, that sucked. I didn't get anything good that time!" and then I start looking through my camera and I'm relieved to see really beautiful images. It's all a head game. At some point, you have to sit back and trust your ability. Work hard, tirelessly even. But at the end of the day you should stand with confidence knowing you earned it. 

I needed to clear my head and find my inspiration again. Well, leave it to my dear friends in England to make that happen at the perfect time. 

August 28 I boarded a plane for London to shoot Ruth's sister Hannah's wedding in Brighton. She saw Ruth's photos and loved them! Having briefly visited it the year before with Kristen I was out of my mind thrilled to be asked back to officially shoot there. A few days before the wedding I did a session for Ruth & Hannah's family. My heart is so full when I look at these photos. I dearly love this family and the opportunities they've given me.

The trip was exactly what I needed. I was able to visit my favorite art museums, eat amazing food, and meet up with my dear friend Sylvie who happened to be in London at the same time. More importantly, I was far, far away from everything that gave me heartbreak. I made new friends, revived old ones, and cleansed my mind. I can still smell the sea and hear the sound of the gulls.

Finally it was time for Hannah and Tom's brilliant, beautiful wedding. It's impossible of me to choose just a few photos of this wedding so enjoy the binge from one of my top 5 favorite weddings ever.

Hannah and Tom truly have hearts of gold. While their wedding day was absolute perfection, my highlight was getting to know these two and their family/friends. I'd already gotten to know Hannah's family in 2010 but Tom's family welcomed me in as one of their own. It's no exaggeration to say I think of their generosity every time I remember this trip. I joined countless family dinners, was given so many glasses of wine, and even invited to give my input on wedding decorations! The day before the wedding I found myself in the tent with a box of decorations and the freedom to dress the walls as I saw fit. Incredible! Both Hannah and Tom's families viewed me as a legitimate part of the wedding. Having shot plenty of weddings were I felt strangely like "the help" I knew how remarkable and special this was.

I returned home with a renewed excitement for the rest of the year. I had three more weddings before the end of the season, ending with a dear wedding of two fabulous and favorite people in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. What a way to end the year.

My final semester of college was light but challenging. I was enrolled in an upper level writing class and an incredibly complex darkroom course called Alternative Processes. If I was going to keep up my stubborn goal of a 4.0 GPA at graduation I would need to focus.

My final for Alternative Processes was one of the biggest headaches of my college career. I had no idea how long it would take me when I dreamed it up.

Starting in the darkroom, I used the Van Dyke and Cyanotype methods and brushed them onto numbered scrabble pieces. I then flattened the pieces under glass with a patterned transparency on top, slid them under the light table, and exposed them for a couple minutes. Then it was drying time. The pieces were wooden so I gave them a day or two to completely dry. Finally, I mix-matched the patterns to create the final print. In the case of the money plant photo, I upped the difficulty by creating spaces between each of the the scrabble pieces. It was exhausting. I love the final result though.

Alternative processes critique went well and I got the A. Writing class was intense and I'm pretty sure the professor hated my guts but, hey, she gave me an A! My independent studies earned me an A and just like that....4.0!! I did it! This full time photographer, full time student just earned herself a Summa Cum Laude. It's perhaps the thing I'm most proud of in my 25 years of life. Man, did it feel good.

2011 was over and it was time to say goodbye to wonderful college, wonderful professors, and wonderful classmates. The classmate goodbye was the hardest. I formed some of the sweetest friendships during my time at UMBC. Not only were they brilliant artists, but they were hard workers and kind souls. It also didn't hurt that they were as obsessed with cats as I was...which is saying a lot. Club JOBO, you will always be in my heart.

(PC - Megan Lloyd)

It was time to turn the page. Since the start of my business in 2006 I'd always been a full time student. What would Lydia Jane Photography look like without semester restraints? 

Find out tomorrow in Part VII!