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Secrets of Inspiring Women
Celebrating Pictory’s first anniversary with advice worth repeating.
Best thing I ever learned from Scrabble: Apparently it’s considered bad manners to complain about your tiles at the National Scrabble Tournament, because everyone’s luck balances out in the long run.
Maybe that’s not always true. But the fact is, we don’t ever really know the hand someone else is playing with, or when their luck has changed for better or worse. Everyone, male or female, has a unique background of experiences and obstacles — if you want to know what they are, ask. Or start by reading these stories of strong and spirited women figuring out how to succeed in their own skin.
On another note, Pictory is celebrating. Tomorrow’s our first birthday, but today we take our first step towards being a sustainable business. I’m thrilled to share an ad model that I believe supports the photography and design communities, while creating a habitat for good advertising on the web. Read more about the thinking behind this at (!) the new Pictory blog on Tumblr — a companion reader to this site where I’ll share daily photo stories, outtakes, and more.
Fish and Chips on a Rainy Day ∞
I met her on the dance floor of the student union bar when we were both just 19. I knew then that I had just met someone spectacular. We stayed close friends for ten years before we went out on our first date. Marriage followed soon after. These days, I’m inspired by the way she balances her career and motherhood. She manages to take wonderful care of our 9-month-old while running a successful business and pushing her jewelry line in new directions. She has shown me that if there is a possibility of doing something, it should be done.
Photographer: Kevin Meredith
Kevin Meredith is a photographer, writer, and teacher in Brighton, England.
Shooting the Stars ∞
I took this picture seven years ago while leaving corporate America to pursue my dream of becoming a professional photographer. Since then, I’ve been able to capture images of the most influential women in modern America, like Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton. People who feel stuck in their professional lives often ask me if they should follow the same path. But I can’t answer that for them. Everyone learns differently and has to find their own way. Me? I’ve got my heart set on the White House. To be the presidential photographer, of course.
Photographer: Mona T. Brooks
Documentary photographer in San Francisco that may have the biggest laugh in the whole wide world. Her passion for photography is fed off other people’s passion in politics. She’s been official photographer for Obama for America, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic National Convention, Democratic National Committee, and SFDA Kamala Harris.
Strength and Weakness ∞
There was a time when I needed visible proof of my own strength. I was free of the abuse that ruled my childhood, but still getting used to the idea that I was in charge of my own destiny. I discovered weightlifting and it became my bliss, my meditation in motion. I could finally see the effects of intention and will, and I could feel myself growing more powerful.
In this self-portrait, I am almost 38 years old, healthy, happy, and strong. Motherhood has brought out my strongest and weakest moments, sometimes back-to-back, and taught me the value of balance. I don’t train at the same level that I used to; I keep it lighter and do more yoga now, because I need flexibility, literal and otherwise. But I’ll probably always be a weightlifter. In some sense, it will always feel like coming home.
Photographer: Jenn Wilson
I live and work in the Chicago area. Basically, I’m a writer with an amazing and patient family, too much responsibility, and too many hobbies.
Lofty Ideals ∞
In kindergarten, I drew a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. My dad kept the crayon drawing of me as a firewoman on his office wall for years. I took ballet growing up, but with the support of my parents, also juggled soccer practice, violin lessons, and creative summer camps. When I told my parents I wanted to get an art degree, they were just as proud as if I had chosen medical school. One thing I’d like to pass along from them: don’t consider what could hold you back, or what others think. Just do what makes you happy.
Photographer: Lauren Randolph
I am a photographer in Los Angeles, and I carry my camera everywhere.
Being Enough ∞
I’ve always loved to dance, but I never thought I could be a dancer. I wasn’t thin or coordinated enough. I wasn’t one to follow another’s footsteps. It’s funny how the things you thought you were no good at turn out to be the very things where goodness shows up later on in your life.
I was thirty-one when a friend invited me to a free-form dance event that changed my life. As I moved amongst the people gathered in the studio, I realized how futile it was to dance someone else’s dance. I don’t have to be any other woman other than me. That’s enough.
Editor’s note: photo by Alicia Inns
Photographer: Lisa Evans
I’m a movement artist and writer who lives along the Oregon coast.
The Way I See It ∞
We were all dealt a hand of cards from the same deck. The cards might be drastically different from one person to the next, but what really matters is how you play the game.
People assume that I had a rough childhood because I grew up in a wheelchair. Or they assume I can’t speak and ask my “helper” (wife) what I’d like to eat or how old I am. Or they assume that I am so disabled that I can’t comprehend that they are gaping at me.
What people are lacking is perspective. Maybe they’ve never met or had a conversation with a woman in a wheelchair. If they did they would find out that I am a college graduate, my own boss, and a world traveller. So, make an effort to understand someone else’s perspective. Or, start by sharing yours.
Photographer: Shannon Moore
People have nicknamed me “The Happy Prophet.” Have no pity and play your hand.
Just Getting Started ∞
At age 33, I am just now feeling like myself. It’s as if it took the entirety of my teens and twenties to fumble around and figure out who I am. But now that I’m here, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Oddly enough, it took being diagnosed with a chronic illness to really get my head in the game. I think I can sum up my revelation in short with this quote from Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Photographer: Jodi McKee
I am a photographer who daylights in the insurance industry. I live in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens and love to capture the colors and details of my urban environment.
Her First Bike Race ∞
Sometimes our accomplishments as women can feel like they are measured not in degrees, medals, or promotions, but rather in dress size and thigh circumference. As a result of external and internal pressure, I dieted destructively from kindergarten on. But all that changed when I gave birth to a daughter. The prospect of raising a girl knowing she would suffer the same outside influences that I did was bad enough — but much more frightening was the inevitability of handing over my own issues to her.
I got healthy in my head first and my body followed. Now I spend my days helping other women get on the path to loving themselves healthy, in order to provide my daughter with the example.
Her first bike race, shown here, was my proudest moment as a mother. I cheered her on as she came in dead last, after stopping to say hi to all the “puppies!” and “babies!” That’s just who she is.
Photographer: Erin Brown
I am a personal trainer and wellness coach in Lawrence, Kansas.
Stepping Forward ∞
When I announced I was moving to London, I was met with the same small town frowns as every other time I set off for a new adventure. The only person who openly supported my decision was my mother. I guess we’re more alike than I was ever willing to accept. I adore this picture of us, scouring our joint surroundings but, rather typically, finding different interests.
It reminds me that she once spotted a door and ran for it, when leaving her homeland. I wish she’d given me a map, but then again, I probably wouldn’t have taken it.
Photographer: Rachael Hogg
I’m a 25-year-old primary school teacher currently working at a state school in South London. The last school was nice, just so very nice. The new school is freaking hard work but it’s worth it. I choose my new life, every time.
I can’t believe I won’t hear her laugh again. Even when she was sick, she managed to joke about the little things and smile like she was young. She taught me that family always comes first, and that cigarettes are bad but sometimes you should indulge in life. I miss her every day.
Photographer: Mirko Zorz
Mirko Zorz is an amateur photographer living in Croatia.
Portrait at Home ∞
My parents raised me to be independent, confident, and multilingual. But I get the feeling that now they’d now rather have grandchildren than me living abroad. The reality is that there’s still a set of expected behaviors from women in Italy.
All of my girlfriends have settled down, and while I have the deepest respect for their choices, I’m just not ready for that. I’m 34, live in Spain, own nothing but books and a camera, and have been through a million breakups. I love visiting the world I grew up in, but at the end of the day, I have to be the person who came out of it.
Photographer: Arianna Sanesi
I’m a 34-year-old photographer.
Seeing Myself in Science ∞
Woods Hole, Massachusetts is the historical and spiritual mecca of biologists worldwide. I was honored to be invited for an intensive two-month-long course at the Marine Biological Laboratory last summer. We worked six days a week from early in the morning until late in the evening. This abandoned fume hood was in the hallway near a latest generation two-photon microscope. It was an invigorating experience.
But, I had to leave my new husband back in Oregon during those months. Another attendee left her twin two-year-olds for the summer. While scientific fields are attracting women at record numbers, many will not stay in the industry. There is not yet room for all the roles we want to play in our lives.
Photographer: Kat McCormick
I am a neurobiologist in training with so much left to learn about life.
Lago Maggiore ∞
I find my new wife indiscriminately beautiful. I fell in love with her ceaseless intention to be more, to do more, care more, and nurture more. Those who come into her presence get caught in her gaze and quietly transformed into greater visions of themselves.
Photographer: Alexander Birdsall
Former teacher, forever learner. Brooklyn–based student of languages spoken, written, seen, and imagined.
Force to be Reckoned with ∞
“Almost everything good that’s happened to me in Dallas is because of Sarah Jane Semrad.” These words are not only true for me, but for countless others who have been influenced by this artist, entrepreneur, mother, and visionary. As the founder of numerous non-profits and social ventures, she’s been a major force for cultural change in the North Texas area. One of her many skills is the ability to manage relations between artist communities and businesses with the grace and charm of a southern lady. She is a true pioneer who inspires all that surround her, and I have been blessed to call her a friend and mentor.
Photographer: Tyler Sharp
Tyler Sharp is a photographer, writer, and videographer, and is currently enjoying the fall leaves in Nashville.
Setting Out to Change the World ∞
My mother was on her own after my father died when I was 9, and brought me up the way she knew best. She taught me that kindness is the most unforgiving weapon. She taught me that I am a strong, talented, and intelligent woman. She taught me that I can do whatever I set my mind to and that no one can stop me if I use tact, knowledge, and respectful determination. Without her, I might not have had the courage to volunteer my time in places like Kiwohede, a school for trafficked children in Tanzania. One might not be able to teach passion, but she ignited mine.
Photographer: Hayley Boyle
Hayley is a student at La Salle University in Philly. She’s learning the world person-by-person and place-by-place. She might not be able to save the world, but she’ll die trying.
Teaching and Learning ∞
Moving to South Korea as a single female got me a lot of attention. Everyone wanted to know where my husband, father, or brother were and how I was surviving over here on my own. It tended to annoy me in the beginning because, of course, I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But as time went on it became evident that anyone can benefit from the right help at the right time.
Even a five-year-old can tell when a hand is needed. I had been in Korea for less than a week, and instead of letting me fail miserably at the first Speech Contest in front of the whole school, they took their places and didn’t even wait for my cue. I wish I could have found some room for them in my suitcase so I could show everyone at home the jewels I’ve had the blessing to be around everyday for the past year.
Photographer: Cassi Klipsch
Teacher. Student. Traveler. Resident of St. Louis, Missouri.
Victoria Rubio Diez ∞
She took care of our family for decades. Now I take care of her. She fled Spain and the dictator Franco’s regime sixty years ago for a new life in Venezuela. She started working and living with us shortly after, and became like a second mother to me. Now she is nearing 85 and still as loving as ever. I feel so lucky to have found a role model with such strength of character and humility.
Photographer: Consuelo Mendez
I am a visual artist from Venezuela who retired from university teaching a year ago, and who now lives in total creative freedom.
This is a photo of a beautiful, amazing woman named Cynthia. My grandmother was a self-taught seamstress, ran a soup kitchen, and took more than 30 foster kids into her home. If there was anyone who needed help, young or old, she was there. I’m glad my mom has her spirit, and I hope it surfaces in me.
Photographer: Paul Octavious
I am a photographer and designer in Chicago.
After the Marathon ∞
My best friend Lili held this sign for me when I ran the NYC Marathon, my first. I’d had a tough year, but Lili had lived through a nearly impossible one. She gave birth to premature twins after a month of bed rest and other complications. While the babies were in intensive care and she was recovering, she learned her husband had been unfaithful throughout her pregnancy, the birth, and recovery period. The marriage imploded, but the babies grew strong, Lili adjusted, and found a way forward.
“You’re going to be an astronaut” is a quote from Brendan (our other best friend) who first said this to me the day after a highly unlikely success with a documentary film shoot: “Well, kid. I think you did it! I think you’re going to be an astronaut!” Really, it’s about surviving in the face of adversity, and arriving at an exceptional success because you refused to give up. And while maybe that applies to a first time marathon runner or a film shoot, it’s more applicable when I think of what Lili did that year and continues to do today.
Photographer: Christopher Butler
I am a guy in Los Angeles!
Central Park ∞
I have a lot to be grateful for. But when my long time, love-of-my-life boyfriend cheated on me, I thought my life was over. I wanted it to be over. I moved out and took a trip across the country alone. I focused on doing the things I loved most and doing things that scared me. Most recently, I’ve been subletting in New York City. I never in my wildest imagination thought I could “make it” here. But then again, I’m capable of a lot of things I thought I wasn’t.
Photographer: Heather Van De Mark
I am a designer and writer traveling across the US. I’m currently in Brooklyn and seeking adventures of all kind.
I tried to find the balance between the desire to separate from my husband and the desire to stay married. Since then I’ve realized that the same pattern affects the rest of my life: I want things and their opposites. Many people do. I’ve realized it takes courage and creativity to manage conflicting desires, make decisions, and transform.
Photographer: Toni Gauthier
I am a web designer and photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Everything at its Right Time ∞
As a woman who has juggled career, children, art, and all the rest, I’ve gained some perspective on this thing called life. I’ve realized that you can’t have it all at the same time. Some things have to wait while others take precedence. But if you have patience, it all falls into place. There were years of focusing on the career and myself, years of losing myself in raising children, and years of working to find a new voice. Life is messy — far from perfect — and that’s what keeps it interesting.
Photographer: Aline Smithson
Photographer, editor, educator, Aline Smithson lives in Los Angeles and yes, still shoots film. She writes and edits the blog, Lenscratch.
Who’s an Inspiring Woman in Your Life?
We asked @Pictory Twitter followers to tell us about their influences.