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Life & Work with Bridget Shaw

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bridget Shaw.

Hi Bridget, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Ever since I was a little kid, I knew that the standard vision of a so-called ‘perfect life’ wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t have a degree in anything, I dropped out of high school halfway through senior year, I’ve never had a 9-5 and I never want one. I got my first camera when I was 14 and fell in love with photography.

Freshman year, I opted for the darkroom over the art room where I was able to develop my own photos, from then on I knew photography was what I wanted to do forever. When I was 16, I moved to Phoenix the summer before junior year and that’s when I got into digital photography. The magical desert landscape and exciting city environment gave me the push I needed to get creative. When I moved back to Illinois at age 18, I took the only two photography classes Lincoln Land Community College had to offer. I’ve been self-taught ever since.

I got my first freelance photographer gig back in 2016 during the Route 66 car show. I was walking around taking photos of the cars and bumped into the creative director of a local publication, Springfield’s Own, a magazine run by The State Journal-Register. He was in need of fresh photogs for the newly revamped mag, and when he looked over my limited portfolio he was impressed enough to give me a job. For the last 3 years that magazine was alive, I shot photos for countless articles and got the cover photo 3 times.

My first cover was of a guitarist on stage at Downhome Music Festival, a local summertime favorite here in Springfield. The next year I was asked by the festival coordinator to cover the whole weekend, and I did, and then the next year, and the next. Those two jobs helped broaden my range and push me into becoming a better photographer overall.

Near the end of 2019, the magazine was shut down, which put me back to just taking photos for fun and working my day job. I looked for photo gigs daily but was struggling to find anything. Then 2020 happened. The festival was canceled, no one was in the market for a photographer, and understandably so, and my drive to make anything of myself in that regard was put on the backburner. I barely picked up my camera for that entire year. The few times I did go out and take photos I felt like a fraud. Then in February of ’21, I changed my tune, I started asking for help.

I knew I wanted to do this for real, but just needed a little encouragement, Friends of mine who run their own creative businesses, I asked how they did it and I followed their advice, along with just going out and shooting nearly every day. I started to gain creative momentum. I did countless free photoshoots for friends to revitalize my portfolio and stay active online. From there, I started getting paid work, slowly. The biggest push I got was early in the summer, I started making friends with other photographers, shooting with them for fun, hyping each other up online, and doing group collabs. It wasn’t all fun and games, there were plenty of snags along the way, but the highlights are well worth the lows. I saved up and bought a new camera, the Canon R6, invested in studio and lighting equipment, and renovated my spare room into an office.

I shot a stage performance for the Springfield Ballet Co., executed my first ever storyboard photoshoot, dabbled in video, had my photos featured in Activator Magazine, and then again in their 2022 calendar. I shot my first wedding in 7 years on a pontoon boat at purple hour on Lake Springfield for a local artist/poet, then flew to vegas and shot another wedding for two good friends of mine. I took photos of a rad burlesque/circus troupe, 217 Burlesque, on multiple occasions, made business cards and stickers for the first time, made my first website, cleaned out my garage to use as a studio when I wanted, and the list goes on.

The thing I am most thrilled about was in August, I got to shoot one of my favorite musicians, Laura Jane Grace, at a free show in an alleyway between Good Heart Tattoo and Dumb Records, two shops owned by friends of mine. It was a surreal, special, and incredible night to be a part of, with my camera.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The road has never been smooth, but without the bumps, I wouldn’t be who, or where, I am today! I wouldn’t say anything has ever been easy thus far. I lost my mom in 2017 and haven’t had any sort of relationship with my father since a few years before that. My siblings, their families, and one-half of my twin uncles are the only family members I really have a relationship with. My friend circle has been my chosen family, my support system, and it’s been that way for most of my adult life.

I’ve learned to be independent, resourceful, and strong as diamonds because I had to be. Growing up, my parents divorced when I was 6, so I moved around a lot and went to 8 different schools, dropped out of high school and college, moved to and from Phoenix before I was 20, and had plenty of mental health and other struggles along the way. But, during that entire time, I had art, music, photography, and eventually self-portraiture as a creative outlet to explore and release every emotion my young mind had. I still do this, use photography as a form of therapy.

Fast forward to current struggles: After the mess of 2020, I think a lot of people, including myself, realigned their priorities and started to focus more on the things that bring them joy, as well as long-term aspirations. This year brought a whole slew of new photographers out of the woodwork, and they didn’t disappoint. I mentioned how I found a crew of creatives, much like myself, who wanted to make something of themselves. As inspiring as it is, it’s also incredibly nerve-wracking to be around so much talent, and it gets in my head from time to time, creating self-doubt and lending to comparing my photography to that of my peers. Not to mention Instagram and all of the constant comparisons it brings. I had to back off social media for a couple of months just to get my head right.

So, this year was a struggle for sure. I needed to find my style, my demographic, my visual voice if you will. I’ve been taking photos for a long time, but like all artists, I needed to reinvent myself, and that came with a whole new set of problems. I had to start asking myself the bigger picture questions. How do I stand out from everyone else? How do I book clients, and keep them coming back? What aspects of myself, my lifestyle, need to change in order to bring forth the things I desire?

The biggest change I made was in October 2020, I quit drinking alcohol and never looked back. Without the distraction of drinking, the mindset of self-pity, self-hate, I was able to take care of myself and focus on creating photos and building up relationships with the people around me. It changed my entire life, every single little aspect, and every big one. I credit my successes thus far to my sobriety and the fresh mindset, work ethic, and drive it brought with it.

However, I can’t say I’ve figured it all out, but I have found that by being yourself and making art that you’re proud to put your name on, it will translate to the people paying attention to you. If some drop-off, new ones will find you, and that culling process has been a very beneficial concept for me to finally fully understand and accept.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I think what sets me apart is also what I’m best known for, which is the cinematic/film-like/nostalgic feel and moody aesthetics in portraits. I love to capture raw emotion and tell a story with my photography. I try to take cinematic-looking images, being heavily influenced by music and cinema, I aim for my photos to look like stills from a film or music video. That being said, I’m also known for my portraits of musicians and concert photography.

Some photos that I’m real proud of are some self-portraits I took this year. In these self-portraits, my goal was to try and visually capture what depression feels like. ‘Drowning’ was the first word that came to mind when brainstorming how I wanted to execute these photos. I knew I wanted to wear this long, flowy black dress I had, and I knew I wanted to be soaking wet. I woke up one early October day and it was warm, yet storming, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So, I drove out to a nature reserve just outside of town, set my plastic-wrapped camera up on the river bank, sat on a giant rock, and allowed myself to get in my feels in the rain and let the rest unfold.

I’m also quite proud of the ballet photos I made this year. That shoot was a nightmare internally. I was having an anxiety attack the entire performance, due to my lens malfunctioning among other things, but when I started editing and culling the photos I found that the images I shot were some of my favorites to date. You can find both of these shoots on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

We love surprises, fun facts, and unexpected stories. Is there something you can share that might surprise us?
I guess a surprising thing about me is that I’ve been sober since October 2020. I’ve mentioned my sobriety already, but it does seem to surprise people when I tell them I don’t drink, mostly that I bartend and don’t drink. I’ve been working in the service industry my entire life, and that fun industry lifestyle helped fast track me to alcoholism before I was out of my mid 20’s. I got sober in 2019 at age 27, then relapsed on my 28th birthday, 6 months into sobriety, and then lockdown happened a few months after that.

I tried drinking myself to death during that spring and summer, and it was working. When I realized that type of life wasn’t what I wanted, after all, I quit cold turkey. It was nothing close to easy however and still isn’t. I cried a lot (still do), I slept more and ate less. I read a lot of books on recovery and addiction, books on battling self-hate and overcoming childhood trauma. I did yoga and breathwork, tried meditation for the first time, and picked up a few dozen new hobbies like watercolor painting, bass fishing, and tarot reading just to name a few. I tried to learn how to feed myself daily and not oversleep every night. I’ve gotten a lot better at taking care of myself over the last year, but there’s still a lot of things I need to unlearn and learn.

It’s a soulful journey as well as a physical one. I suppose it’s surprising to people to see someone who seemingly has their sh*t together at a young age, followed by sobriety being the reason for it. The thing about addiction is that it doesn’t discriminate against age or gender or anything. Recovery looks different for everyone, and the stereotypical ideas of what an addict looks like are a falsity. The most surprising part about it is that I don’t struggle with it anymore, nor do I miss it, or even entertain te=he idea of drinking again. The desire is just plain gone.

(If anyone out there reading this is also struggling with their drinking and wants insight on how I did it, I highly recommend reading the book ‘This Naked Mind’ by the author Annie Grace. It changed my life and helped me realign my priorities with photography, sobriety, and everything in-between).

Thank you for reading my story!


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1 Comment

  1. Zach Adams

    January 12, 2022 at 7:45 pm

    This article was great! I’m happy that this happened for you and I hope it gets you noticed in a big way!! Keep going!

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