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Meet Monika Ottehenning

Today we’d like to introduce you to Monika Ottehenning.

Monika, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My first memories of enjoying photography was on a trip to see the German side of my family the summer after my 7th grade year. I had a little point and shoot and was so dazzled by the scenery and animals. I remember taking a photo of some wheat and thinking, “this looks like a photo from google.com“. My world was so small. But I kept exploring through high school, taking photos with my friends, dressing up and going in the woods, messing around with a flash at sleepovers. I documented a lot of my high school experience, not thinking it would ever be my career.

I was interested in so many things including art but was self-conscious that creative endeavors were not as important as social or scientific research. When I took my first photo class in college, it quickly became clear that a creative path was going to be right for me, and I had to face those fears around not feeling good enough because I wasn’t pursuing a more intellectual path. With the help of a professor who believed in my abilities, I got into the photo program earlier than I had anticipated and took a more serious approach to the art. During my years in school, I began making money shooting weddings, did a couple of summer internships in LA, collaborated with other artists, and even got my first commercial job while I was still in school. Thanks to all the people who supported my freelance career while I was still a student, I was able to save enough money to take the big step of moving to LA right after graduation.

Today, I have been in LA for nearly four years and have learned a lot about myself and my relationship to creativity. I have managed to maintain a freelance career and only hope that I always have enough to be able to keep doing what I do.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I have found that the biggest struggle is the relationship I have had with myself. Along the way, I have left the religion that raised me, I have ended relationships that were unhealthy for me, faced heartbreak that felt unbearable and dark and battled my own shadows over and over. The way that these personal difficulties have affected my creativity is immense. I have found that digging into the core, finding out what is getting in the way of my potential, has changed the way I express myself and the way I see myself. I have learned a lot about loving who I am and not attaching myself to my work as a reflection of my worth. To stay freelance feels like a risk most of the time, and telling myself negative stories is easy to do when you’re not sure when the next job is going to come. It has been hard to know who to trust, who to hire when to ask for help. I crave community and connection in my field and the process of finding that belonging comes slowly, but I try to be grateful for the wonderful people I have met along the way already. In many ways, I think my road has been very smooth. My mom always engrained a feeling in us growing up that we had more than we ever needed, and I still feel that way even though my job is not as secure as other people’s.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a freelance photographer, and at this point I don’t like to label my business as necessarily photographing anything in particular. I love people, but I also love places, moments, beauty, and still life. Some of my favorite work to do is people-based. I am known for my use of color, both in my directed shoots and in real life captures. I have also been told my subject matter feels natural, environmental, and warm. This year I was hoping to make my way into moving picture work and made my first music video with a dear friend of mine. It was magical, and I hope to continue to hone that skill. I’m always working on personal projects, and value that work over any of the work that pays.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’m not sure I really believe in luck. But I do think that things happen the way they are supposed to, and the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn are around trust, empathy, love, and how those function in relationships. There seems to always be this background orchestration happening all around us, and when things have worked out for me, I don’t think it is luck. Sometimes, we make really poor decisions, and sometimes, one smile seems to change the course of an entire afternoon. My poorest judgments have often turned into my greatest points of growth, and am forever grateful for them.

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Image Credit:
Monika Ottehenning

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