An Encouraging Word

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How a Texas School Instructor Changed My Life
by Cat Threadgill

What you say to someone can make a big difference in their life. About 15 years ago, I was entertaining the idea of pursuing my passion of photography on a full-time basis and leaving the field of family law in the rearview mirror. A friend encouraged me to meet with one of her colleagues (who shall remain nameless), show him some of my images, and get his feedback. She was kind enough and able to schedule a meeting for me, and I went to his studio where I was in awe of his setup. I could only dream of being at his level.

After showing him a number of my images, he spent a minute or two reviewing them. I was in no way expecting rave reviews of my images. However, I was also not expecting his critical and brutal comments. Instead of giving me constructive feedback, he proceeded to tell me “Your photography is so bad it makes my eyes hurt and I suggest that you keep your day job, if you are any good at it.” To me, this was most devastating and, on that day, I lost my passion and dreams for photography and slowly packed up my photographic equipment and put it in storage. In addition, I stopped traveling to places to admire their beauty and photographic opportunities. A camera was something I barely used anymore.

I was good at my day job, so I kept it and proceeded to obtain additional credentials to become more successful in my field. But I always felt as if there should be more to life and that something was missing. I tried a couple of other ventures but the passion simply wasn’t there. The next thing I knew, I was just months away from turning 65, yet there was still something missing in my life. It was about that same time that I received an email promoting the Texas School of Professional Photography. It had been more than ten years since I last attended this event, so I asked myself, “What could it hurt to take a photography class?” After looking over the various class descriptions, I noticed one class that didn’t involve photographing people at all. So, on January 23, 2023, I signed up to take a class in commercial photography. Hopefully, the samples of my work requested by the instructor would not be too painful to his eyes.

By April 23, 2023, I was now 65-years old, plus a couple of weeks, and second-guessing myself about signing up for that commercial photography class. I had a heavy workload at my “day job” and had to schedule work meetings during the week of Texas School and, while doing all of this, my insecurities were growing. I had already been told that I was not a real photographer. What was I thinking about taking a commercial photography course? I pushed myself to go to registration, partly because I had previously told a friend that I would meet her for dinner. After dinner, I felt obligated to go to the initial meeting and then meet up with the class to see about the location and schedule.

After going through the steps, meeting with my fellow classmates was intimidating. They all seemed so confident, and I felt like I was a fraud. After all, my photography made another photographer’s eyes hurt. Those words haunted me and I was trying to figure out a way to simply slip away and not show up for the class. But there was a need to help shuttle classmates to and from the hotel and classroom. Being born and raised in Texas, you don’t leave someone in need. You always go out of your way to help others, so I offered to pick up two fellow classmates and take them to class and return them to the hotel for the next week.

On Monday morning, I went to class because two other people were counting on me. I really didn’t want to be there, so I sat in the back of the classroom. When samples of each student’s work was displayed, I knew the rest of the class was out of my league. Their work was phenomenal.

By the end of class on Monday, I was trying to figure out how to get out of the class and to get out of my commitment to my fellow classmates. On Tuesday morning, I dropped off my classmates and told them I would be there by the end of day to take them back to the hotel. I returned to class after lunch and still wasn’t sure that I wanted to be there but I knew that I would be there the next day, sitting in the back of the classroom.

On Wednesday, I brought in an item that I had tried to photograph for a friend a number of years before and asked our instructor if he could show me what I was doing wrong. He asked the rest of the class if they wanted to learn how to photograph that specific container and then changed his schedule to work with us on learning the techniques necessary to photograph a white container and the pen tool techniques for this item. By that afternoon, I was beginning to actually enjoy the class, even though I had to step out several times to take business calls. By Thursday, I actually wanted to be in class but, unfortunately, the class was coming to an end. How much did I miss because I was absent from class, emotionally and physically? Apparently, a lot because when my classmates kindly shared their notes and screen shots, I was amazed.

The instructor was kind and encouraging and he NEVER made me feel as if any of my many questions were stupid or rudimentary. He encouraged everyone to work together and to feed off of each other’s strengths. We laughed, joked around, and shared our work with each other. No one knew that my work was 10 years-old and that I was so intimidated by them and their work. The instructor asked permission to share questions and issues brought to his attention so that the class could benefit as a whole. One piece of advice he gave us was to give yourself assignments rather than waiting for one to come along. I’m not sure what day of class that was, but it was some of the best advice I had ever been given.

During the month of May, after Texas School had concluded, I found myself contacting the instructor with pen tool questions. He always answered them in detail and ended each conversation with encouraging words. I also began thinking about where I could go to photograph the beauty of nature. By the end of June, I had begun pulling my photographic equipment and props out of storage and was surprised with my findings. Whenever I had a question, I knew I could reach out to our instructor and receive the answer and an encouraging word.

At the end of the first week of July, I found myself staying up until midnight taking and editing images and then waking up at six in the morning to get back to working on those images. I was excited again about photography. At the same time, I had an “ah-ha” moment concerning the pen tool and, suddenly, everything finally clicked and made sense. Before that Texas School class, the pen tool had almost brought me to tears and had heightened many of my insecurities. What had previously taken me hours to accomplish, could now be done in just a few minutes.

Recently, I woke up one morning and went to my computer to edit the images that I had taken the night before and began to cry. At first, I wasn’t sure why I was crying. But, as the day progressed, I realized the tears were for the renewed passion I had found for photography. I will probably never get those original harsh critiques and brutal words completely out of my mind. Perhaps I will probably never get over all of my insecurities. I may never fulfill my dreams of being a full-time professional photographer, but I have made many new friends along the way. More importantly, I rediscovered my passion and my love of photography.

All of this has resulted in a new balance and new energy in my life. Taking my instructor’s advice, I’ve begun formulating a potential business plan for a future business endeavor, which would mean that my one-time nemesis, the pen tool, and I would be working closely together for a very long time to come. Friends have asked what has changed because, all of a sudden, I am walking with more confidence and as one person said that I am glowing with happiness. I am so grateful to my two classmates who needed a ride back and forth to class because, without them, I probably would not have gone to class at all on Monday, which means I would not have rekindled my passion for photography. But I would also like to give a big THANK YOU to my instructor, Joe Glyda, for his teaching style, his kindness, and his continued encouragement.

Cathy “Cat” Threadgill’s love of photography has been evident since she was 10 years-old when she saved her baby-sitting money to purchase her first camera. Being a “military brat,” Cathy was blessed with being able to travel the world and live in Europe and Southeast Asia. Her family settled in West Texas which brought about her love of photographing horses, ranches and farms. After taking a 10-plus year hiatus Cathy is getting behind the camera lens again and is excited to see where it takes her, people, places and things… only time will tell.