Running a business as a creative professional presents several unique challenges, some of which I never anticipated. I realized after a particular photo session a few weeks ago, that I need to do a better job of introducing myself and my garden before clients ever meet me, so when they do arrive, they have a very clear idea of what to expect. Some people tend to forget the personal side of being a one-person-business, so I feel like it’s important to get to know the person you have chosen to entrust as your photographer. So here goes!
My boys keep explaining to me in a very wise manner, that my friends and I are like unicorns (as in unique and unusual lol), and most people don’t know how to react when they meet a unicorn. My younger son also insists that Mommy is also the Queen Bee and has wings, so they came to a conclusion that I must be a unicorn with wings, which in the land of My Little Pony, is called an Alicorn. So apparently I am Alicia the Alicorn in the realm of my boys’ imaginary play. My family and I have been through a lot of stress and trauma in the past (mostly related to past health issues on my part), and my boys and I have found that imaginary play is an amazing stress relief. My boys often inspire my fantasy composite photos!
After several years of numerous surgeries and hospital visits, I am finally at a point where I am healthy and happy! My body has been through more trauma in my life than any person should have to endure, and it has left me with chronic pain and autoimmune problems, both of which I work hard to manage on a daily basis (so please, if you have a session scheduled with me and one of your children gets sick, please be sure to let me know so we can reschedule! When I get sick, I am down for a while!). During my last surgery, I had an amazing dream that I had escaped to a fantasy version of my garden, where it was always early spring, the air sparkled with fairies and fireflies, and my garden edging had all been replaced with glittering gemstones. My husband, our boys and I have been working on some garden decor projects in the back section of the garden that will make the imaginary version of our garden in my head feel a little bit closer to reality. I can’t wait to reveal the finished results!
I realized recently that not everyone understands that a lot of my fantasy photo edits are just that…based in fantasy, not reality! Fantasy edits are a specialty upgrade, and not something that I do for every photo. Just in case you are curious, I am absolutely not actually floating in the photo above…just some photo editing there. 😉 Here is the original image in case you are curious!
My garden is a space that I designed and created from start to finish (almost finished, still a work in progress in some areas!). I started designing it specifically for my photo sessions. It was just a bunch of half-dead grass and very few plants when we first purchased this property 7+ years ago. I had very specific goals in mind for the space…to create a beautiful, whimsical, unique space that has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland/The Secret Garden feel. The entire property is certified as a wildlife habitat and refuge because I made sure there were ways for wildlife to find food, water, shelter, and places to raise their young. I wanted to find a design that felt balanced between wild/natural (which encourages more wildlife to come visit!), and a semi-structured design that will give me lots of options for photo backgrounds. I also wanted to make sure that I was able to do all of that without wasting a bunch of unnecessary water, which we have managed to accomplish also! I garden organically, so everything is non-toxic and safe for babies/animals. With organic gardening techniques, I have learned to create a thriving eco-sphere here with beneficial insects, pollinators, and other wild animals. I do my best to deter any dangerous pests in the garden (like poisonous spiders!), and I have studied in detail which insects are helpful and which have the potential to be toxic. My own inner-child is a huge science nerd, and as a result I am a big fan of all things botany/geology/entomology related!
The front area of the garden (shown above) is the primary area that I use for several reasons, the most important being that this area gets the best light both in the morning and the evening. This is not a fancy botanic garden or the landscaping at Disneyland, where a crew of people come through in the middle of the night and magically switch out plants on a weekly basis. This is a space maintained and cared for with love and lots of personalized care. I take time to prep and inspect the garden prior to each garden session, to make sure that the area is clean and photo-ready (some of our wildlife friends are like messy little toddlers, making a mess in the garden in the middle of the night!). In order to have a garden next to my studio, my husband and I found a property for our home that had an office already built next to the house, which has worked perfectly for me. I love being able to provide the unique outdoor option for my clients, while still having the comforts of my studio just a few feet away! Since our home is located right next to my studio, I have found some good ways to manage that work/home balance here. For any maternity/newborn sessions involving older siblings, I shoot 100% of the family photos in this front area of the garden. This is specifically selected on my part to insure minimal distractions when passing through areas of the garden that are adjacent to where my own boys play. 😉 I know from personal experience as a mom that it can be quite challenging to keep a young child’s attention when there is something a few feet away that looks like a lot more fun!
One of my favorite parts of the garden is having the opportunity to observe so many different animals who have now taken up residence here. It gives it so much more of the feeling of that garden in “The Secret Garden”. While I absolutely cannot guarantee that you will spot any wildlife while you are here, I will share that my grandfather always told me that the more you can train your body and your mind to be quiet and calm, the more likely it is that wildlife will be comfortable around you! I can teach you how to gently blow at bees so they don’t sting you (I’ve been gardening my whole life and never been stung by a bee once! They are sadly misunderstood hard-working creatures!). I can teach you how to calmly show a skunk that you are not a threat to them to avoid being sprayed (there is a skunk who lives in a tunnel behind my greenhouse and we peacefully coexist perfectly!). One of my favorite children’s books is called “Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt” and it does a wonderful job of explaining how each creature in a garden has a very specific purpose. I am even happy to tell you how I transformed the soil here from an area where almost nothing would grow to this thriving, healthy environment that you see here!
In the years past, I was a constantly stressed out mess with tons of worries about my own health issues bubbling under the surface. Creating this garden has been completely transformative for me. At times, I have felt like I was a grown-up (female) version of the handicapped boy in The Secret Garden, and the garden has completely transformed me. It has taught me incredible patience, a willingness to work myself as hard as I possibly can, and has given us a place to retreat from the noise and chaos of the city. I hope that everyone who visits this space can find it a peaceful, relaxing, and welcoming space!
I have signs in the front of the property letting everyone know that this is a wildlife habitat, and a nontoxic space. I also have a sign in the front that proudly states “Hate Has No Home Here”. It breaks my heart that hate crimes are still a thing many people have to worry about, so I want to make sure that anyone who visits knows that this is a welcoming and inclusive space. Since hate crimes have been on the rise over the past few years, one thing that can help is when the rest of us speak up and make it known that this area is safe and welcoming, and violence won’t be tolerated in our community.
Here’s where I tell you a bit more about myself…I grew up in Long Beach, so to my core I’m an LBC girl at heart, and willing to fight passionately for things like ending racism and bigotry. My own religion is something that I hold very dear to my heart, but I also understand that religion can be a divisive topic. I don’t talk about religion often publicly since I feel like it is a very personal topic. Please don’t think that because I say that I am religious that I will try to impose my own beliefs upon you or judge yours. 😉 My own religious education as a child taught me that ultimately we all have very similar core beliefs despite our differences. Our differences make us stronger, and I pray that one day more people will start to realize that. My religious education and family background also taught me that our Creator has entrusted us with this planet and the animals here…It pains me that so many people seem to have forgotten that. Part of the initial inspiration for my garden design was the hope of creating a space that would feel like a combination of Noah’s Arc (providing a refuge for all sorts of creatures), and a bit of Garden of Eden, with lots of edible fruits and vegetables beautifully integrated through the garden. My 6 year old son very wisely noted recently that he thinks our society has become so grumpy because so many people have lost their connection to nature, and I absolutely agree wholeheartedly!
On a personal level, I am probably one of the most ethnically diverse people you will ever meet and I hope in the future there are a whole lot more multi-cultural kids out there! My grandfather loved genealogical research, way back in the days before the internet made it so easy! He tracked down the ancestry of my family on both sides, and by his estimates, my ancestors came from at least 6 distinct regions around the world (which I later confirmed with my own research). So far my dna testing has come back as “does not compute” (seriously lol) but I am curious to find out if there are any stories hiding that we missed! I want my boys to know that they come from a rich cultural background, so I have created a variety of themed areas throughout the garden that reflects our multi-cultural heritage. The front area of the garden and our home also have a bit of a Texas feel so my Texan husband feels at home here too!
My first two years of college were incredibly difficult and left me with lasting damage to my body, but I have come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be who I am today without all of that trauma. I feel like a lot of times hate and violence in our world often comes from a lack of understanding, so I am going to start working on a self-portrait series that I hope will help in that area.
I like to share a lot of stories about my grandfather because he was a very wise man and I’ve found that the best way to grieve his loss is by passing on the lessons I learned from him. I remember him telling me often as a child that I had to work extra hard to learn to manage my temper, because I was born with a multi-cultural firey temper lol. He taught me mindfulness techniques through gardening, and taught me to observe the way that my grandmother and her friends prayed with unwavering faith. He taught me how plants unite us as a global culture, and how throughout history, cultures have learned from each other through plants and medicine (he was amazingly intelligent with dual medical degrees, both Eastern and Western medicine!). He gave me a deep rooted understanding of how bigotry affected his life and my grandmother’s family. He lit a fire in me to try to find ways of creating social justice and change. He also encouraged me to find a career path for myself that somehow incorporated my love of plants, art, and creating social change. I didn’t ever think that would be my path at the time but I love how I eventually found my way! He taught me that I am a “magical realist”, where I often imagine drastically better world, and hope to find ways that we can get there as a society.
My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, which is apparently the least common of all of the personality types, making up about 1% of the population in the world. So my boys are right, I’m probably a bit different than most people you may meet. The primary function for INFJ personalities is introverted intuition. Embracing my introversion has helped me grow as a photographer because I’ve realized that the way extroverts run a business is not something that works for me! I tend to focus on emotion and capturing details. I’m more about soft direction and observation, and don’t enjoy sessions with large groups (absolutely no party photography or family reunion sessions for this introvert!).
I’ve been judged enough for my own background and beliefs in my own life, so I make an intentional effort to provide a space that will be welcoming to everyone. My #1 rule is just “be kind” when you are here…to yourself, to your family, to me, and to the plants and animals in the garden! I honestly don’t care what your personal beliefs or background are. I don’t care if you don’t see eye to eye with me, but I do care that you behave in a respectful manner while you are here. I do have strict policies and boundaries that I have developed over the past 8 years when I have been pushed too far by clients. I am one of the most patient and loving people you will probably meet, but I do have boundaries (like everyone should!), and I do stand firm by those policies. In the past, I let clients push me too far and then I often ended up resentful when things didn’t go well. I’ve learned from those mistakes and now have firm policies in place that help protect me, keep my clients safe, and protect my family (which includes my plants and our wildlife friends!).
I’ve had a lot of strange requests from clients over the years, and I finally realized why. A lot of my Yelp reviews tend to mention how “magical” my garden feels or the “magical” quality of my photos (which comes an experienced knowledge of lighting and from my digital paintbrush!). Most people take that as a positive thing, but a select few people have taken that in a particularly negative way (my boys call those people “unicorn hunters”). There is magic in a living, breathing garden space that is bursting with energy and life. It is an energy that cannot be faked with artificial plants. There is magic in observing healthy, happy plants. Science has proven that plants respond to their environment, so I take it seriously when I ask that clients leave their family disputes at the curb!
There is magic in observing the changes of seasons through the plants. The garden was created through hard work and lots and lots of studying, reading, and careful observation (i.e. the garden was not created with the wave of a magic wand from a fairy Godmother!) My intuitive side has helped me plan many aspects of the garden design, but mostly it’s been the result of hard work!
Here are some of the frequently requested things that I cannot “magically” change:
-I cannot control the weather, as much as I wish I could! My arthritis does however give me a very accurate heads up about when rain is coming soon though!
-The garden changes through the year, and various areas come in and out of use depending on bloom cycles, etc. There are some plants that only grow at specific times each year and there’s no way to change or force them onto a different time frame.
-Certain areas of the garden are designated for wildlife use, and occasionally that means certain areas may be closed off temporarily. Trust me when I say you don’t want to take photos in an area where there was recently skunk placenta nearby lol. That is one of the many reasons I’ve worked hard to create a variety of areas throughout the garden that can be used for photos. The garden space in total is approaching 7000 square feet so if one area isn’t available, there are plenty of other areas to use.
-I cannot magically change someone’s mood or attitude! I have tips for clients that will help ensure the best possible photo session but it’s up to the adult clients to take those recommendations seriously.
-While I love to include fantasy elements into my photos that remind me of fairy tales and Disney stories, I cannot actually provide my clients with real fairies! Any “magical” elements are done with editing or props. It amazed me that anyone would think that was possible but I guess I’ll just try to take that as a compliment. 😉
I hope this post has given potential clients the opportunity to get to know me on a personal level before meeting me! As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out and ask me! The easiest way to reach me is always via email, which you can find here: https://aliciainwonderlandphotography.com/contact-us