Today’s interview is with Mae Burke!
Hi, Mae! Congratulations on being the next CMpro of the Month! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a photographer?
Hello! I’m so excited to be here, I love this community so much and I’m chomping at the bit to get this month started! I’m a wife to my high school sweetheart, Eamon (AY-Men), mama and teacher to three little ladies, Lily, Norah, and Phoebe, and addict to limey salsa, music that is too loud, and all things Benedict Cumberbatch, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tina Fey.
Well, like so many of us, my photography journey started with an etsy shop.
I made little felt flower hair accessories, and taking pictures of them with the point and shoot I got for my high school graduation kinda wasn’t working out for me. So my husband bought me a Canon 20D (the last time I held a Canon in my hands 😉 ) in hopes that I could make my shop a success. Being in DFW I didn’t have a ton of desire to compete for clients among the thousands of photographers in my area (PPA lists 4400+ in Fort Worth alone) so I said unless I had something special to offer, I was going to stick to shooting my daughter and these little felt flowers. One day, many months later, I got a picture in my head of two of my friends breastfeeding their babies together and I decided this was what I was going to do, I was gonna make “breastfeeding photography” a thing. That’s what would make me stand out. As I evolved as a mother, my vision for my photography grew beyond the connection of a breastfeeding mom and baby, and onto motherhood as a whole and that’s where I’m at now.
You are one busy woman! You homeschool, deal with the stress of food allergies, run a photography business, and still find time for Crossfit. How do you manage it all? Do you have any productivity tips you could share?
Oh, Lawd. I’m so sorry if I’ve led you to believe that I “manage it all!” I’ll be real with you, there are a few days sprinkled throughout my weeks where I get up, workout, feed everyone their Paleo breakfast, homeschool all the children without falling asleep (because remember, I’ve been up for 8 hours by the time we’re in the middle of school), make lunch, play outside, put kids down for naps while I fold freshly laundered tiny lady panties, paint mini Van Goughs before dinner, remember to give my middle her meds, clean up dinner, bathe three little brown headed girls, read to them, put them in bed, edit a session, blog said session, order prints to said session, and hit the sack while watching an episode of Doctor Who or The Walking Dead (new season starts the 11th!!!)… But C’MON… that is not every day. Bits and pieces of it sure are, but not all of it. I get asked this question a lot, and I’ve found that my go to answer now is an odd one – to manage it all freely, I set boundaries. I take the time to map out a super, ridiculous, hour by hour schedule, and if I do what I’m supposed to do at the time I’m supposed to do it – I’m golden. …but I rarely do. And I’m learning to be better about it! If you’re a mama/boss lady yourself and wondering “Whoa. I can’t do half of that, why even try?!” Know this – this is a season in my life in which none of my babies are nursing, my husband sets his own work schedule, and I have to say “NO.” a lot. That’s how this works, for me, for now.
Capturing motherhood is a photography passion of yours. What is it about motherhood that you hope to show the world?
I have never been asked this, April. Thank you so much for asking me, because I have a very simple answer – I hope to show the world that Motherhood is worth it.
There are plenty of people out there telling us that motherhood is beautiful, and womanly, and cute, but those people sure do make themselves scarce when mama pipes up and says “But, dammit, this is HARD!” I no longer have an interest in being known for pretty photos, or being featured by popular baby blogs that make you focus on the exterior of a woman and the walls of her home. My only desire is to show the world that among the boogers, and the tears, and the poop, and the doubt, and the all of it, it is worth it. You are doing it. You were made for this. Don’t give up. And if I’m honest, I need to hear it as often as I’m saying it.
You have a desire to photograph women breastfeeding their babies. How did this become such a focal point in your career and why is it important to you?
Like I said earlier, it came out of my need to separate myself as an artist, growing out of my personal stage in life. I was nursing or pregnant for 6 straight years, I was 25.5 when I stopped nursing, so that’s a FIFTH of my life spent in that state. Totally immersed in it. My breastfeeding images were a way to communicate my feelings about breastfeeding as well as celebrate many women’s milestones with them. I’ve done about 500 breastfeeding sessions in the last four years and am still filled with joy when I see the way a mama looks at a baby on her breast.
Many photographers struggle with mixing business and personal topics on their blogs but you don’t. Why do you feel comfortable posting about both and how did you come to that conclusion?
This is a question that really had me think. I think it’s because I’ve truly been called to my work, and I’m honest about it. I think many people shy away from mixing business and personal junk because they 1, are scared of letting people in because judgement is downright crippling and 2, if they are putting on airs, they’re afraid of being found out, so it’s easily better to just stay in two different worlds, right? Being completely me all the time benefits me in several ways. It creates a large network of accountability in my faith, forcing me to live in public what I live in private. It enables my clients to feel at ease with me because even though I know very little about them, they’ve seen me succeed, fail, and misspell a lot of words, so they know I’m not perfect and they don’t have to be either. And lastly, by sharing myself, many people have found hope in knowing “No way, you’ve been through this too?” and regardless of whether or not that books a client, that person feels a little less alone in the world. That is a very powerful thing.
I love your use of light and admire you for not shying away from strong or dappled light. What would be one tip about lighting that you would offer CM readers?
I can officially retire happy now! What a compliment, thank you!
Don’t be mad, I’ve got two suggestions. 1, Follow Sarah Wilkerson’s creativity exercise on Finding the Light in the CM Forum. Creating a “light journal” is a genius idea. 2, Get serious about your life and do a 365. Just do it. You don’t even need to share it with anyone, but forcing yourself to shoot every single day, rain or shine, will help you get comfortable in every lighting situation. We have four windows in our teeny tiny two bedroom town-home, and that has forced me to learn to use what I got.
Would you please share with us a current favorite photo and the story behind it?
I know this may seem awkward, but it’s this one.
Katie, who I’ve photographed since 2011, is my best friend. We met in a prenatal yoga class during our first pregnancies. She gave me a ride home from class one evening, and the rest, as some really old people say, is history. I’ve watched her transform into a beautiful woman, and every time I photograph her, she takes away my breath. She’s very photogenic, of course, but this picture is Katie more than anything. She absolutely hates having her picture taken, but tolerates me somehow, and every year her pictures get more and more authentic. The light isn’t stellar, there’s a team of videographers behind me (shooting a BTS for my breakout) and her kids have absolutely lost it. I love it.
You’ve stated on social media that October is going to be a busy but exciting month for you. What all do you have in store?
I broke out into nervous laughter just reading this question. First up is Click Away which I am thrilled to be attending and teaching at. I get to share my knowledge of Maternity and Breastfeeding Photography with a pretty rad group of ladies as well as meet some amazing women that I’ve admired for years (Kate Parker, Sue Bryce, Lisa Tichane, the list goes on and on) I may be introverted but I’m bold as a lion and have no problem going right up to someone to say “Big fan. You’re beautiful. Adopt me.” (or something like that…) Then I get to come home, recover for a few days and WAM! My breakout releases! I’m so excited/nervous/freaked out about being given the opportunity to share my guts out about everything that makes this crazed little heart thump. Putting everything I know about Motherhood Portraiture all in one place in a way that touches other women’s souls is no small task, I’m excited to see how it is received. In the middle of my breakout is my husband’s birthday, and well I can’t tell you why that’s exciting without spoiling the surprise for him, but I’m an awesome wife sometimes and love to shower him with love on his birthday. He tolerates it most years. And all during this I’m training for Savage Race in Houston with the ladies I work out with in the morning… Who I made start a Whole 30 this week… I’m starting to understand why people think I’m crazy.
Speaking of the future, what is something you would love to achieve with your photography in the next 5-10 years?
I’d love to do a Ted Talk on the effect the images we take and through social media have on our identities, particularly as women, artists, and mothers. Jimmy Fallon will introduce me onto the stage. Coldplay will come out having written a little something special to play in the background that is perfectly emotionally manipulative, making the audience laugh, cry and cheer at all the right times. And Sue Bryce will do a voiceover for the entire presentation because anything I have to say will be made more awesome in her accent. I’m sorry, I’m sure you wanted something less audacious, but the simple truth is that my greatest desire is to Glorify God, and I hope that in 5-10 years I will be able to do that in whatever avenue He brings my way.