“Creating Boundaries,” an Interview with Kym Ventola
In the midst of wedding season, local photographer, Kym Ventola, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about her work and what inspires her. She talks to us about the choices she’s made regarding her career in photography, how she sets boundaries in her life, and why it’s important for her to be as waste-free as possible.
What was your first exposure to photography? When/How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I was always interested in photography as a kid. I had a Kodak 110 with a cube flash. Do you remember those? I’m getting old. I think those are from the 70’s. In the mid 80’s, my parents surprised me with a Polaroid. I didn’t love it as much as my 35mm (I love the element of surprise when you pick up your prints from the lab). I picked up a more mature love of photography in my first year of college. I was super quiet about it; no portraits, no events. Street photography, I guess it was. Dang, I wish I knew where those negatives were.
I dropped out of college to travel and go on small adventures (best decision for me, not necessarily others!). It was so helpful to find myself and photography. I struggled with anxiety and I think having a creative outlet really grounded me.
Could you tell us a bit about NINE retreat? What inspired you to start it? What successes have you seen?
Definitely! This is my new baby!
“Other women are not my competition. I stand with them, not against them.”
That, right there, sums up why I started it. I’ve always had an unshakeable pull to bring women together in a safe, supportive, uplifting, educational, healthy, and peaceful place.
I acknowledge that things are better for women today than they were decades ago. Women are more independent, and though we are still fighting for equality, we are more vocal and have new tools to escape abusive relationships and workplaces. But in some ways, things are going backwards. I am deeply concerned with this new trend of using social media for validation. There’s too much emphasis placed on the number of likes and followers we have. WHO. CARES.
After a lot of conversations with women about social media, I hear that they feel depressed, lonely, and develop self-hate talk after comparing themselves to what they see on Instagram or Facebook. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” right?! It is, one hundred percent.
I’m also concerned about the number of women burning themselves out today. Women with or without children. It doesn’t matter. So many of us are trying “to be everything to everyone” and we can’t sustain that forever. In the past, I have mentored women in trying to find the “balance.” I’m the first to recognize that there’s no answer to a perfect balance. But having an outsider help you evaluate all that you are responsible for, all that you have taken on, all that you are anxious about, all that you’re afraid to try, and all that you dream of doing is invaluable. It’s hard to do alone. At NINE, these are the things we address. We want women to arrive with honesty, humility, openness, and the willingness to hear truth and solutions.
How do you negotiate your time between personal projects and work for clients?
Six years ago, I was humbled by the reality of putting too much time and energy into my business. I was neglecting my marriage, family, and health: it was not the life that I had intended to live. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to my old job, sitting in a windowless office, but I needed to work less. How the hell do you do that? I realized that I needed to outsource the things that I didn’t have time for and raise my prices. I was so scared that this would all backfire and I would lose business.
I re-wrote my business plan. I created a spreadsheet that allowed me to evaluate all of my responsibilities, and from that I had a clear picture of what I needed to outsource. Once I created that list of things that I no longer had time for (or passion for), I saw a new job position: Studio Manager.
I hired my first manager one month later. That was 6 years ago. I’ve had a total of three since then, and they were all incredible! The first two have moved on to new careers, but left on excellent terms! We still keep in touch. In fact, one of them helped me purchase our home last year. My current studio manager, Kimberly Goeman, is the greatest human ever. Seriously, our couples love her, too. They send her gifts in the mail. She’s a dream. We work beautifully together because we both created boundaries in the beginning and have clear expectations of our work-life. I’m also really flexible when she needs to take care of her family. We created a space for her to be able to work from home anytime. That was very important to me. I mean, isn’t that what I get to do? She deserves the same opportunity.
Has your style changed over the course of your career? If so, how?
The biggest change was narrowing down the projects that I accepted.
I evaluated all options: families, food, products, weddings, portraits, lifestyle. There’s so much to photograph.
I rated each one and weddings came out on top. I decided to only accept weddings (and engagement sessions) to be happiest. I do take on some lifestyle and product shoots here and there, but those relationships were born from weddings (couples and vendors) and I feel a connection to them.
What are you most interested in right now?
First and foremost, this is our choice and is in no way something that we judge others about. It’s a challenge we wanted to accept.
Back in December of 2015, my son and I watched a documentary on trash and we just stared at each other afterwards with our mouths open. My 9 year old said, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?” He was counting on me to teach him how to reduce unnecessary trash in our lives, reuse whenever possible, and recycle items in more ways than just throwing it in the recycle bin. The next day, I researched “zero waste” and discovered a woman that reduced her landfill trash down to a small mason jar for an entire year. For a family of four.
Her motto is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order).”
This is not an easy thing to commit to. It was a source of contention in our house for quite a while. I had to ask my family to stop buying anything with plastic. That means: our usual loaf of bread, the organic strawberries from Costco, the jar of almond butter, produce wrapped in plastic, plastic toys and supplies, the list goes on. Seriously. You have no idea until you start looking around (your home and store).
I donated most of our plastic containers to charity and purchased glass and metal containers. I also purchased cloth produce bags that I take everywhere I go. At the grocery store, I focus on the bulk area and fill up my cloth bags and glass jars. Now, I make our bread from scratch or I buy them from the local bakery and bring my cloth bag to save on plastic. I also make my toothpaste, lotion, lip balm and hair conditioner. I switched from lighters to matches. Pretty simple, right?
The biggest change, thanks to my incredible husband, is our compost bin and garden. It’s so nice to step outside and grab the herbs and vegetables that I need for our meals! And by having the compost bin, we have reduced the landfill waste by more than 80%. I think we take our trash can out to the road once every 5-6 weeks now.
We are not 100% zero waste. Not even close. But the few things that we have done are now just a part of our lives. We don’t think twice about it.
Oh! Three simple things for your readers to do today if they’re inspired?
- Buy a bamboo toothbrush! My favorite is Brush With Bamboo. “Over 4.7 billion plastic toothbrushes that will never biodegrade are dumped in landfills and oceans every year worldwide.”
- Turn down plastic straws and to-go cups at restaurants and cafés. It’s okay to say “can I have that in a glass cup with no straw?” or ask for your coffee in a ceramic mug if you’re sticking around. If you’re really motivated, carry around your own coffee mug and mason jar. Problem solved!
- Buy reusable bags. Bring them everywhere you go so that you’re prepared when you run by the market! Pass on the plastic produce bags. Just put your produce in your reusable bag as you shop. They’ll survive without being sorted in plastic.
What is it like for you to be a creative professional and a mom? How do these two parts of your life overlap?
It is so great. It wasn’t always, of course. I worked really hard to get here.
For the first 2 years of my son’s life, I don’t think I slept more than 3 hours each night. I was a walking zombie. I’d be home with him during the day, trying to do work in between laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, nursing the baby, shopping, and getting a little exercise. Then, in the evenings and weekends, I’d schedule photo shoots: as many as I could fit in to make enough money.
Finally, in 2010, I made a change. I hired a studio manager, outsourced much of my work, focused on getting more sleep, make my family a priority and simplified my life. I lowered my expectations, too. Less is definitely more when you own your own business. At least it is for me.
Today? I have so much more free time and I get to do more things that I love. My studio manager has taken over all communications with clients and vendors, everyone. She processes payments, creates my schedule, handles our business Facebook page, and pays the bills. She designs, orders, and ships all of our albums and prints, too. All that I have to do today is meet with couples for coffee, shoot their wedding or engagement session, and edit their images. That’s it. I chose this business structure. It may change one day, but it works for the lifestyle I want right now.
In my personal life? I’ve been the Class Rep of my son’s class for the last 2 years, and next year I’ll be a Co-Chair on Parent Council. I volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Bank 2-4 times a month. I really needed this balance of being a business owner and a volunteer. It’s something that I crave, having worked with homeless kids years ago.
I’m also much more present in my marriage. My poor husband put up with a lot when I started my business. I was so stressed out. My husband is pretty much the greatest person on the planet and I can’t believe he freaking chose me.
I feel like I’m the mom I always wanted to be. I get to take my son on adventures (sometimes work-related) when he’s out of school and I’m crazy patient with him. We have a great relationship and I love the person he’s become. I respect him, he respects me.
How do you pick the projects you want to work on?
I am all about boundaries.
I mentioned earlier that I started evaluating all of my “responsibilities” and asked myself if each thing genuinely made me happy and if I had time for it.
When it comes to photography, or being in the creative field, how do you do that? You don’t take every inquiry/project that comes through your email. Ask yourself, “Do I connect with this project/the client?” “Do I want to work/shoot outdoors in the middle of the summer in Phoenix?” “Do I want to shoot very large weddings or small, intimate celebrations and elopements?” The list goes on. Each artist should take time to define their ideal projects: what they look like, what inspires you, what you have time for. Trust your instincts.
For me, I burn up when the temps are over 80 degrees in Arizona on a sunny day. I just love the cold, the rain, and the clouds. So, I decided to turn away all (full day) weddings from late May – August in Phoenix. I save my international and out-of-state weddings for the summer months, for the most part.
Also, I’m a huge believer that you will attract the type of work you want by putting that type of work out into the world. Does your portfolio reflect your true style and what it is that you want? Does your social media feed reflect that as well? If not, you have to take responsibility to either change that or accept the work you’re not connected with.
We’ve noticed you do a lot of traveling with your work, but is there anything in particular that you notice about being a creative in Phoenix? What does this city have to offer a photographer?
I have loved being a photographer in Phoenix. There is an incredibly supportive and talented group of artists here. There seem to be fewer egos here, which is fantastic. I’ve heard sad stories from wedding photographers in other cities. They feel lonely and competitive in an unhealthy way.
In Phoenix? You can be friends with your “competition.” I refer them if I’m booked and vice versa.
I love getting together with them when wedding season is over. Have you ever hung out with a large group of wedding photographers when there’s alcohol and music?
OMG, watch out.