Interview: Me Ra Koh
Originally published : August 26, 2016
Shoot Along: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you located? Do you have children? What ages?
Me Ra: I'm a dream builder. I believe the impossible is still possible. I believe in counseling, and Brian and I are proud to have had the same marriage counselor for over twenty years. You need a great marriage counselor when you work, homeschool your kids, eat, sleep and vacation together. It's a LOT of time together.
I don't like to call myself a photographer because it limits my creativity to photos. Instead, I like to see myself as a working artist who chooses to embrace tenacity, rejection, and living in the unknown. Creating in the dark is work and often scary, but after twenty years, I've found it to be the most rewarding place of all.
Fear and doubt are constant companions of mine. They seem to be having coffee at my bedside almost every morning, chatting about all the reasons why my latest dream won't come to fruition. I used to strive to reach a place where I would no longer battle with fear and doubt. Alas, I've come to accept they are part of the cast. Most days I ignore their taunts, but some days they get the best of me. Brian and I have three children. Two with us, and one waiting in heaven for us.
Pascaline is our strong-willed, creative, driven 15 year old daughter. Since she was a toddler, people would notice her strong-willed nature and say "Oh, you just wait till she's a teenager." If you have a strong-willed child, I have great news for you! She's a teenager, and I've never had more fun parenting her than ever before. Her strong-will is a powerful gift that will help her be tenacious with her own dream building.
Blaze is our easy going, everybody's friend, team player, 12 year old son. He is kind, generous and has a heart of worship. He's the first one to offer a hug when you're discouraged, and will often give you his Monopoly money so you can stay in the game.
Aidan is our baby boy that is in heaven. He is the reason I found photography which I'll share about more.
I guess you could say we're in the midst of teenage years. And these are the BEST years I've ever known as a parent. When you model for your kids what it means to build an impossible dream again and again, they start to have their own dreams. Whether I'm helping Pascaline with her senior photography business or Blaze is recording tutorials for his Minecraft channel, we were meant to risk, create and fly. Seeing your teenage kids start to take their first flights...leaves me speechless.
We've always lived in the Pacific Northwest, but 18 months ago we moved to Dallas, TX. What a change!
Shoot Along: How would you describe your work to someone who had never seen it before?
Me Ra: My work is story based. I love to dive into the family's story, their mannerisms, subtle gestures, and personalities, and through all this information we create photos that are unique to them.
My work is a dance of light and shadows. For years, I used to see my own pain as shadows in my life--something to get rid of. But photography has shown me that shadows define where the light is. Shadows outline the light so that it can be fully illuminated. This realization changed everything for me. You'll often find me hunting not for light but shadows.
My work is an evolving lens. I have embraced every season of photography as if that was the only season, and in doing so my focus has evolved. I started with family photography. Brian and I switched to shooting high end, million dollar weddings around the country for several years. But our heart is to empower women, especially moms. So we left our wedding boutique business and launched our brand The Photo Mom to be a leader and inspiration to moms everywhere. In the last four years, we've started incorporating our family's love for traveling abroad. And now we take women to Italy and Thailand, empowering them to travel to distant cultures and capture their experience.
As I look back over the last twenty years, I definitely see the gift of an evolving lens.
Shoot Along: What inspires you as a photographer?
Me Ra: Light, emotion, travel, writing and stories inspire my photography. I love the sassy smile of a three year old girl in her princess dress. I love the way a woman sinks into her husband's embrace. I love how light dances across the rolling hills of Tuscany with shadows adding drama as the clouds slowly crawl across the sky. I love studying the Renaissance time period, although Brian is definitely the history buff. I love knowing that all the endless hours of photography practice I did on my children has left us with a home that has stories on every wall. I also love writing. My writing bleeds into my photography in the most oddest ways. And without question, traveling abroad ALWAYS inspires my photography but also my creativity in general. When I can't understand the languages being spoken around me, I feel the freedom to sink into a deeper place of creativity and personal growth. I can never get enough of this experience.
Shoot Along: What is the best photography advice you've ever received?
Me Ra: The best photography advice I was ever given is when the industry started to leave film and go digital. We could now take endless photos with cards that just got bigger and bigger. But the advice kept me from that. It was to imagine that I still only had two rolls of film, 36 pictures per roll. If I'm limited to around 70 photos, how am I going to spend each one. What are the key elements to this specific story (birthday party, family vacation, family portrait shoot, etc)? I was challenged to find the story before even shooting. To take the time to pause and exhale before I've even lifted the camera up. From this practice of slowing down, I've learned that you have to miss shots to get great shots.
Shoot Along: How do you make documenting your family through photography a priority?
Me Ra: This is a beautiful question because it has evolved as my children have grown. In the early days, I could take endless photos of the kids. Since they were babies, they didn't know the difference. This was such a fun season for me to be learning photography and to have a creative outlet as a mom. But every season that has followed has also been just as rewarding.
As toddlers, I had to outsmart them so they didn't know I was taking photos of them by often making things a game with lots of laughter, surprise and wonder. I LOVE what I call the "Wonder Years" the most, ages 3-5 years old. That's when their imagination is more real than reality and they seem to stop noticing the camera because they're caught up in their own world of creating.
As the kids started approaching 7, 8, 9 and 10, I realized that I needed to invite them into my creative process. If I continued to take photos of them without giving them warning, time to prepare mentally, or even a say in having their photo taken, they would feel invisible. This is the exact opposite reason of why I wanted to take their photos. So we started creatively collaborating together, and this became a season of empowering their own creative voice. I think this stage was key. I see so many parents beg, barter, and insist on their kids cooperating with the camera. But at this stage, kids need a voice. They need to know there's a time limit. They need to know they can say no.
By being sensitive to those years of being 7-10 years old, I feel like Brian and I set a strong foundation for their tween and teen years. They often want their photos taken now, brag to their friends about what their parents do, and are even starting their own side photography businesses. The tween and teen years have felt just as rewarding as those early years when I shadowed them with my camera all day.
My daughter, Pascaline, often jokes that f-stops were her first words. Photography has always been a part of their lives. To keep a healthy, growing dynamic with our family relationships and photography, we've had to learn how to be intentional about when we're shooting and when we're not.
Shoot Along: Tell us about the image you've shared? What makes it special to you? What did you do to make it happen?
Me Ra: Our family is kind of funny in that we like to create family self portraits. This is one of my favorite ones. We didn't use a top of the line, professional camera body or super expensive lens, we used one of our favorite Sony prosumer cameras. And we got the photo we wanted. We wanted to capture a self portrait that showed the huge adventure we were about to embark on of filming a family travel TV show across the globe. We had expressed interest from networks but no guarantees. We debated, prayed, and prayed some more on whether or not we should just go. There were two networks that were interested and yet taking forever to make a final decision.
When you're building what feels like an impossible dream, there comes a point when you have to decide if you believe in your dream regardless of what anyone else says or does. Brian and I knew we were standing at that ledge. So we decided to pack up all our belongings, put them in storage, put our home of ten years on the market and bought one way tickets to New Zealand with no idea of when we'd be back or how far we'd get around the world. We had enough money to bring one other camera person and get through three weeks. Through divine intervention, again and again, we somehow circumnavigated the globe for almost five months filming our show.
But before we left, we took this photo as a symbolic milestone of what we were headed into. I'm standing on the ladder, still holding on to my blanket/bed because I'm struggling with leaving the comforts of what is familiar. I loved my home by the sea, and yet I knew we needed to let go of everything. Brian is ready, and he's already in the uncharted territory fearlessly leading us forward. Pascaline is also ready and has already crossed over, but she's sketching. This was symbolic of how our kids watch everything we do, and they make sketches and notes for their own future. How could I tell her someday to follow her dream if I didn't first model it for her? And Blaze is standing beside me because he got so tired of trying to jump into the field with the camera's timing. He decided it'd be easier to stand beside his mama and wait for me to be ready to go forward.
We used the Smart Remote app that comes with Sony cameras so we could see with our smartphone what our camera was seeing. And then we triggered the shot from our smartphone. So fun!
Four years into this process, and we are still tenaciously pitching our show to networks and brands. Some days we feel discouraged, and other days we feel unstoppable. I think this is part of the cycle when building a dream. And that is what I want my kids to learn most of all. It's okay to feel a little lost when building a dream. After all, how can you not when you're choosing to live in the unknown.
Bio: I've got a professional bio that I could share here, but honestly I'd rather share my story from my website. I'll just share the beginning, and you can visit my website to read the rest.
I didn’t find photography.
Photography found me.
And then it healed me.
I started as a writer.
For 10 years I worked on one book, Beauty Restored: Finding Life and Hope After Date Rape. The heart of this book was to be a message of hope to women and their husbands/boyfriends, parents and friends. I wanted them to know they were not alone in their pain. It is based on my own painful experience of being date raped in college and how I went from living out of my car, checking into a psychiatric ward, and eventually finding hope to rebuild a life worth living.
Almost ten years later, on March 20th, 2001, the first day of spring, I birthed two babies; my beautiful, firstborn, Pascaline and Beauty Restored. When Pascaline was three months old we hit the road and for the next 18 months did over 50 National TV Shows and Radio Interviews. While my little one slept in the backs of churches and colleges, I was up front sharing my story and hoping one woman would feel hope again.
After two amazing years on the road, Brian and I were pregnant with our second. His name was Aidan, our little fire. While in TN for a week long speaking tour I started experiencing abdominal pains and three weeks later our baby Aidan’s heartbeat stopped.
After losing Aidan, I couldn’t speak or write and sought refuge in Brian and Pascaline’s love. During those times of grief, I picked up a camera. Pascaline’s innocence was precious from every view point. I found myself working to capture her story: the times she couldn’t stop giggling, the times she curled into the safety of daddy’s arms, the asleep time, the fussy and frustrated times, the first time she played with a yellow balloon… Friends and family started noticing the photos and asked me to photograph their kids. Soon brides were contacting me for their weddings. I had gone from speaking to 800 women at a conference and sharing my story, to finding healing behind a camera. Life had taken this unexpected turn and now I was given the privilege to artistically capture another woman’s story on her wedding day. Photography had found me.
My journey with photography had just begun, click here to read the rest;
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