Mall weddings, Mormon prom dresses, and that time I was paid in tacos.

(My original title for this post was “Two Decades as a Creative Weirdo.” I think we can all agree I made the right choice.)

When I was 9, I thought I was going to work in advertising. I was never one for watching sports, but my dad and I loved to watch the Super Bowl commercials every year. I have a very clear memory from one Super Bowl when I looked at my dad and announced that I was going to work in advertising when I grew up, creating the clever ads we saw on TV.

I interviewed with several ad agencies early in my career, but at every one, I got this strong sense that agency life might not actually be for me — fast-paced, client-driven group projects were probably never my destiny. Fortunately, they must have gotten the same sense, because none of them ever hired me. Instead, in 2007, I answered a job posting for the Ad Designer position at Comstock’s magazine. I’ve now spent the last twelve years working in some capacity with the magazine; most of those years as Art Director, but I’ve also left and come back, working as a freelance designer and photographer. I do wish my dad was still around to see my name printed in the masthead of the magazine; that would have made him happy (sadly, we lost him to cancer at the end of 2006).

In-between my work at the magazine (sometimes overlapping), I also had a photography business. I started out making the same mistakes we all do — “I photograph everything! Newborns, seniors, kids, families, weddings, graduations, boudoir, food (why not?)! Can’t afford me? How about you pay me with a ham sandwich?” (I was never actually paid in ham sandwiches but I was once paid in tacos — I traded with the owner of the Mexican restaurant around the corner from my studio when he wanted family photos). That was probably a poor business decision but an excellent taco decision so I have no regrets.

I also photographed a wedding at a mall, a line of Mormon wedding and prom dresses modeled by the store owner’s pregnant daughter, and famed martial arts fighter Frank Dux. I had no business shooting any of those, most of them were for free, and I do have some regrets. Anyway, once I finally niched down to what I was actually good at, my business thrived, I stopped being paid in tacos, and my studio even won the local Best of Yuba Sutter award.

Eventually I found my heart in documentary family photography and films, and although I’ve basically retired from doing any client photography work for now, that is where my heart remains.

Kelly Barr