In the Spotlight: An Interview with Miki Devivo, Photographer and Owner of The Lovely Now

 

photo courtesy of Miki Devivo, The Lovely Now

photo courtesy of Miki Devivo, The Lovely Now

Miki Devivo, photographer and owner of The Lovely Now, specializes in capturing the ordinary moments that make our lives extraordinary. Her devotion to seeing and reflecting the unadulterated beauty of daily life, allows people to view their lives in a new way. She doesn’t just capture images of people. She really sees them.

Every photographer brings a unique set of gifts to their shoots. What is the essence of your mission as a photographer?

My mission as a photographer is to see you and your life, the beauty and love that’s there all the time, but that you might have become blind to because you’re surrounded by all the busyness and “stuff” of living.

I want to help people focus on what matters most to them. I want to make their love tangible, to help them literally be able to show their families just how much they love them.

I believe that seeing is loving. And that when we give someone the gift of being truly seen, it strengthens and deepens our connection with each other.

Before I begin each shoot, or if I find my inner critic getting too loud during a session, I say a little prayer. I ask to see what the families I work with need to see in themselves. In this way, I get to be a reflector of the very best parts of who they are in all their realness.

Tell us about The Book of Love. What inspired you to offer this to the families you photograph?

I wanted to create a relaxed and thoughtful way to capture the perfectly imperfect, candid, in-between moments of everyday life that tell the story of a family. 

As parents, we have those moments when our hearts overflow with love, and we feel deeply connected and fully alive. We want that feeling to last forever, but we cannot capture it ourselves, and we know that eventually the moment will pass and that life will move forward.

Based on the belief that our love grows when we make the time to truly see one another, the Book of Love experience artfully chronicles a family’s history through a collection of stories that give voice to what’s in the heart, and images that capture the tenderness of the little details and in-between moments that make up life together.

The Book of Love experience captures not only what your family looks like, but also how you feel about each other, so that you can strengthen and deepen your connection to each other in the present and relive that heartfelt tenderness for years to come.

I’ve been privileged to witness the evolution of your photography over several years. How would you describe the changes and growth you’ve experienced from the time you started taking pictures until now?

When I was first learning, I looked at the work of a lot of great photographers and tried to make my work look like theirs. This is a really great way to learn about an art form, and to see what’s possible. But I noticed that when I tried to recreate someone else’s look, I felt really stressed out and it took me out of the present moment. The amount of pressure I put on myself and the negative self-talk that ran through my head was really damaging to my tender heart.

I actually stopped photographing for a while because I was so burnt out. And then one day a friend asked me about my photography, and I said, “What I’d really love to do is just take pictures of people hanging out at home in their living rooms,” and I realized that if that’s what I wanted to do, then that’s what I needed to start claiming as my work.

Once I freed myself up to create the conditions to do the thing that I loved doing, my work got so much better. I was able to make conscious and intentional the things that made me happy, and that set me and the families I work with up for success.

So now I’m really leaning into that process. And it’s also allowed me to trust myself. I take a LOT of pictures when I’m working. And I used to have a hang-up about that, because there’s a saying in the photography world that there are “picture takers and picture makers”. And of course, I wanted to be the better one, the maker. But that led me to feeling so much shame around not being able to nail it in one shot.

But when you’re working with real life, the moments come and the moments go, and I have to keep shooting through the moment in order to catch just the right gesture and shape. Ansel Adams photographed mountains. They didn’t move on him too much, so he had a lot of time to plan. With kids, with families, they move fast, and I need to be right there with them.

The biggest shift is that I’ve learned about how I work best, and honed my process so that I can be fully in the moment. And that’s what brought me to the place where I can reflect back to people the beauty that I see in them. Because I’m there, and present with them. I couldn’t do that before, when I was trying to be someone I’m not, or being super judgmental of myself.

What was your experience of shifting from a hobbyist to a professional photographer?

I think the shift for me was that process of coming to believe in myself. Also, in realizing that this is my business, and I can arrange it just exactly how I want it to be. For a long time, I thought I had to structure what I did to look just like what the professional association said photography businesses should look like. But that was just pissing me off. So I went back to the drawing board and created my offering to be exactly what worked best for me and my strengths. And I also got rid of all the things that made me cranky.

Another piece of the shift for me was in the self-trust. I had proven to myself that I could be reliable and consistent in my quality. I discovered the why behind what I do. So more than being just a person who could take pretty pictures, it’s become about creating this emotional experience for clients, and creating images that have an emotional impact for my families. More than any financial threshold, it’s that mindset that has helped me claim the title “professional” for myself.

Did you face any fears or practical challenges launching your photography business? If so, how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest things that has helped my photography business is actually my day job. There can be a lot of pressure in the art community to upend the starving artist trope, tell the day job to fuck off, and make your entire living off your art. And making a living off your art is amazing. I am all for that. I do think that art should be as valuable in our society as other things that pay way more. But for me, embracing my day job, taking the pressure off my art to be the thing that put money in the bank, allowed me the freedom to structure my art just how I want it. And it allows me to do it for the love of the work rather than the hustle for money. I definitely believe that my art should have a price attached to it. It has value. But because it’s not my sole source of income I don’t have to take jobs I don’t want. When I stopped thinking of my day job as something holding me back, I started to see it as something that gives me the luxury of creating my artistic work to be just how I want it.

Do you have anything new in the works that you’d like to share?

I think that it’s time to reclaim the art of the family snapshot. When we were growing up, someone usually had a camera around to document what was happening. But because it was film, there was a different quality about the image. It was less self-conscious. It just was what it was. It was real. And looking back on those images, we know how much we were loved, and we know we belonged. I’d like to get back to that feeling and way of documentation. I’m working on creating a class to help people bring the snapshot back into their lives, as a way of deepening their connection and fostering belonging.

Another thing I’m fleshing out is some type of support for people who are making something that matters to them, but have somehow gotten stuck and can’t see their way forward. I’ve recently come to realize that, just like I make things visible with my photography, I also have a way of doing that that helps people see a way forward when they’re stuck. So it will be a process of helping people feel the feelings they think they shouldn’t be feeling, imagining possibilities, and crafting a question that can help them move forward. I kinda suck at making goals. But I’m really good at crafting a question and then figuring out all the ways to answer that question. I think a lot of creative people are the same way.

And I’d also like to create something that allows moms to be real. There’s so much external pressure to be “perfect,” and I think that it’s really hurting us. I’d like to create a way where moms can give voice to what’s in their hearts and be supported in their realness. A way to support them in creating an internal compass of what they want their experience of parenting to be like, rather than forcing themselves to conform to an external set of “standard” expectations.

I think we all want to be seen for who we are, and heard without judgment. I’d like to do that for as many people as possible in whatever way I can.

Launching a new creative business entails a lot of hard work and attention to detail. There are the things we know we should be doing and procrastinate, but there are also the things we had no clue we’d need to do until they’re staring us in the face, at which point, it can be sticky! If you could give a three-item “You probably don’t realize it yet, but you’re going to need to do this,” cheat sheet to new photographers starting a business, what would it include?

1. Your business is about you. The more you can structure your business around your particular interests, skills, and desires, the happier you’ll be. You may decide to take jobs for the money, and there’s no shame in that. But on your website, only show the type of work you want to be doing. Being true to yourself is also the only way to stand out in the crowded marketplace. But also, know that discovering your “you-ness” is an ongoing process, so give yourself permission to let it take time to develop, and to change course when you need to.

2. A photography business doesn’t sell photography. If colored ink on paper was all that your clients wanted, they could go to Walmart. A photography business sells an experience, and a way of seeing the world. It sells feelings. Your clients don’t consciously know this, which is why they’ll focus on the cost of your 8x10s. But the more intentionally you craft your interactions at every touch point with them along the way, the more you can meet their unspoken need to be seen in the way they want to be seen.

3. Figure out why are you a photographer. Yes, you love taking pictures. Yes, you love capturing moments, and memories, to cherish for a lifetime. But why? To what end? Dig deeper. Why do your photographs matter? How do they really help people? What is your purpose? Knowing your why not only helps you stand out in the crowd, but helps you make every decision about your business, and helps you keep going when the going gets tough.

Who inspires you?

Certainly I’m inspired by my family. I see the way my kids look at me, with their open souls, full of love, and I want to be worthy of that. And I want to be able to capture that feeling for myself, and for other families, for all time. And I’m inspired by my husband. He sees what needs doing, and just does it. He’s very thoughtful. But he’s also a very logical engineer, so I’ve learned a lot from him about balancing my artistic, feeling nature, with the logical, doing nature.

I’m inspired by Brene Brown, for her work in helping us know we’re ok, just as we are, and for the way she makes meaning out of our collective stories. I’m inspired by Christina Baldwin, for her Circle process, that brings people together through story and conversation. Rachel Naomi Remen, for her work with helping people see the power in her stories. And Magda Pecsenye, for her work at Ask Moxie ,that encourages and empowers parents to have faith that they are the best parent for their child, and for supporting growth in our parenting journey in a way that is uniquely suited for our own needs.

And I’m inspired by anyone and anything that’s real. Parenting can be really hard. Creating something that matters to you can be really hard. Anyone out there who’s calling it like it is, instead of pretending that everything is all fluffy bunnies all the times, is doing their part to help us all feel normal in our struggles. When we know we’re not alone, it helps us let go of our shame, which in turn frees us to let our own light shine.

What are your favorite types of shoots?

My favorite kinds of shoots are when a family welcomes me into their lives, and lets me be a fly on the wall for who they really are. When they are willing to show up, and let themselves be seen, it makes me teary-eyed and the hair stand up on my arms. The fact that they are willing to let me witness them as they are, in their pajamas, without makeup, making breakfast, that’s such an honor for me. To be the one to capture that moment when the mask falls away, when the little boy leaps toward his father with love, when the dad is doing his daughter’s hair, when mom is changing a diaper and leans in to kiss a belly, that’s it for me. I could do that all day long.

What equipment do you find indispensable?

Because I’m working in people’s homes, rather than a traditional studio, I need a camera that has really good low-light performance. I also really like my 35mm lens. It gives me a wide angle, so that I can include not just the subject, but also their environment. That’s also an evolution in my style. When I first started out, I was really intent on just showing my subject. Now my style has developed to include the subject in relationship to their environment. The other benefit to that 35mm lens is that it’s small, so my gear isn’t intimidating. And that focal length also requires me to get physically closer to my subjects, which increases that feeling of intimacy that I really love.

Creativity and motherhood, and the effects they have on each other, are hot topics. In your experience, how are the two intertwined (if they are)? 

Ooooh, good one! They are totally related. Motherhood is an inherently creative process. At every step along the way, you’re making something out of nothing. And learning how to parent is very creative because you’re never faced with exactly the same set of circumstances from moment to moment.

Motherhood has also strengthened my creativity because it’s given it purpose in that I want to model what living a creative life looks like, and why it’s invaluable. Also, being a mom has informed the purpose of my art, in that I use my photography to strengthen family connections.

Motherhood has also given me constraints. On the surface that might seem like something that would limit creativity, but in fact, without some type of limitations, it becomes impossible to create. The edges of the canvas, the frame of the viewfinder, these are what give a piece meaning. They say, “Look at this.” We often think that we have to wait until the “perfect time” to be creative, but that time never comes. The constraints of motherhood force you to be creative with how you use your time. A friend of mine is a writer, but he’s also the father of newborn twins. He writes amazing haiku because he’s got nothing but time in the middle of the night, but no way to write anything down. His constraints inspire his creativity.

And finally, nourishing my creativity, giving myself a way to express my voice, makes me a better mom. I can be fully present with them and give of myself fully when my cup is full. 

Miki Headshot

Miki DeVivo is a lifestyle photographer, family story chronicler, and creator of The Book of Love. She believes that to see is to love. She is passionate about collecting and tending stories, and reflecting back to people the very best parts of themselves. Her favorite thing to do is to climb into chaos with people, and help them find their through line and make something that matters. When not behind the camera, she plays nerdy board games, reads everything she can get her hands on, and knits soft things. She lives in Phoenix with her two kiddos and her hubby. Connect with her at TheLovelyNow ,on Pinterest (pinterest.com/mikidevivo), and on Instagram (@MikiDeVivo).

 

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