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it started like this: my story (rocky mount, nc, photographer)

Note: I have been hesitating to share this with readers and clients for a while now.  But I think it’s important for you to know how seriously I take this.  And so here it is…- so you know where I am coming from when I insist you buy every photo that you love.  When I insist you get in the picture with your children even if you don’t feel photogenic.  This is where I’m coming from when I see a moment behind my camera and actually tear up a little (and, yes, I try to hide it).  You may have called me to cover an event or special occasion or milestone in your life and I was booked but insisted you make sure you hire someone to be there, even if it couldn’t be me.  This is my story.


It’s hard for me to remember exactly when I started paying attention to the beauty in images – noticing the color of light, the depth of field, composition.  But I can tell you exactly when images themselves became immensely important to me.

I’m pretty sure it started here:

It’s my little sister Lora and I.  Nothing spectacular about it.  It was taken in a Shoney’s parking lot.  On a very overcast day.  The weekend of my college graduation and just a short couple of hours before she boarded a plane to go back to finish her freshman year in college.  No, it doesn’t look especially amazing.  But it was special.

Because as fate had it, it was the last picture I’d ever take with her.

What stands out to me about this picture, besides it being our last, is that we almost didn’t get it.  We had just finished breakfast, and my out-of-town family (including Lora) was in a bit of a rush to get to the airport.  I don’t remember who suggested it or insisted.  I think maybe me.  On second thought, it might have been Lora.   But the point is, we paused a moment to take them.  Pictures of my family.  And that last squishy-sweet one that is (was?) so us.

Just after, my best friend Ginger and I scooted Lora to the airport. I asked if she wanted me to wait with her for her flight (back when you could) but she shrugged it off and said no; our grandparents were going to be there.  She wanted to spend a little time waiting with them.  We exchanged a hurried hug and kiss good bye.  I promised to meet up with her to get the matching tattoos she’d suggested when she went on a college singing tour and would be in close-by Kentucky that summer.  One more hug.  And she was gone.

She was killed in a car wreck and taken from us just two weeks later.

That summer is the first that I remember photography and pictures – recording moments in time that you can’t really get back – became important to me.


(Photo credit: Kenton Rowe)

A husband and a baby later, we asked a photographer friend to fly out to our daughter’s first birthday party in Nashville, Tennessee.   My husband was scheduled to deploy to Iraq a second time just a few days after the party.  The assignment was a particularly dangerous one – we’d known soldiers who had been killed in such missions.  And for all I knew we wouldn’t see him again.  I wanted someone there who understood me and my passion for photography ~ and the underlying weight of my request.  I needed someone who was willing to exhaust himself to capture that day.  Just in case.

Two days later, James left, and I started a blog. And photography became about capturing time not just for posterity, but for James.   Half a world away from his baby girl.  A year of her life he would never fully understand or experience or remember.


And now.  Now it’s important to me for so many reasons.

This display is from a session I did with my children days after my son Cam was born.  I frequently look up and stare at their darling faces, marvel at how small Cam’s little features were…how excited Evyn was to hold him and how Ashlyn just didn’t know what to think of him.

I have a canvas in the same office –  a piece I proudly show off when my friends come over.  I have plans for it to travel around my house – maybe above my mantle next year, or at the top of the stairs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost left my camera in the bag instead of snapping a photo, only to think “what the heck” and lug it out anyway.  I am always glad I did.

These images help tell my story…mark moments on our family timeline.  I imagine myself ten…twenty years from now, flipping through a shoe box, or album or coffee table book of images that remind me of the way we were.

And I imagine that for you, too.

Katie Rutledge - I knew your background, and I’m really sad for you, but I think it makes you a better photographer because of it. It’s a really great reminder how important photography really is. Awesome post!

Mysi Fortenbery - What a beautiful story. I am so glad to know there are other people who treasure photographs the way that I do. I don’t even like to crop them to fit in frames b/c the background often times tells a story, too. I am rarely w/o a camera as my family and friends will tell you and, like you, once I go back and look at the day’s “shots”, am so glad that I lug it around. I am not a professional photographer, but I treasure all the photos that I have. I am sotry you lost your sister but what a great way to honor her memory!

blogadmin - Thank you Mysi (and Katie). Obviously I support the notion of having a photographer help record your memories and interpret them artistically but really I’m just a huge advocate of capturing it however you can – Iphone, point and shoot, blogging, etc.

Thanks for the kind words – Our family still feels the pain of losing Lora. We get to keep her in a lot of ways, though. One of mine is photography. My mom recently reminded me of all the “SP’s” (self portraits) she used to do…she’d get a kick out of my business, I’m sure.
~ Crystal

kristi - I am speechless……for your tremendous loss, and for the beauty of what you give to others…..

Josephine Casanova - Wow, that made me cry. I think all photographers have a special reason why they became a photographer. I guess my story is similar to yours, and that is why I can relate. I am so sorry for your loss, to loose someone you love so much is so hard and life altering. I love your work and I will be following your blog.

Joanna - Hi Crystal! I just want you to know, that your story is so touching, I am literally sitting here in tears. I’m sure that you sister sees all of the amazing moments that you are capturing for families and she has to be exceedingly proud of you. I myself now have a 7 month old daughter and I am constantly following her around with a camera (I wish so badly that I could have a gift like you do)! I am very glad that you are following your life’s passion.