The wind was harsh. It was the first day that really felt like spring, but with the temperature came wind and somewhat terrifying clouds. I pulled up to a quaint, two story house and the door was open. Mikaela stepped out of the door and waved, so, relieved I was in the right place, I pulled into the driveway and ran through the wind into a lovely smelling, cozy room.
She asked if I wanted coffee or tea and I held up the full mug of coffee I brought from my home. We sat on separate couches and caught up.
“I love people,” she said, pulling her feet up and sitting back on the couch. “I love getting to know people, I love hearing what people are passionate about, I love capturing them in their own element and telling the story through my eyes.” She was extremely comfortable with being asked what she’s passionate about but still took the time to form the answer. “And I really love traveling.”
“Where have you been?” I asked, wanting to (hopefully) vicariously live through some of her past adventures.
“Last year was crazy,” she laughed, getting more comfortable, “last year I went to 16 states. Which is… crazy.”
Excited and a little bit jealous, I asked if she had been to all 50 states, a dream I’ve had since beginning college.
“I actually counted once and I think it was like 38, and that’s part of the reason I love what I do. I get to travel and document. It’s for myself as well as other people, just to go back and remember stuff that I might not have without those pictures. And along with travel I just like to be outside,” she took a sip of her coffee and looked out the window. “I’m super inspired by nature and exploring the outdoors. Going on a hunt for good lighting or finding something really beautiful in something that might not necessarily look that cool.” (Mikaela's photos)
“When you’re shooting, do you prefer people in your shots?” I asked, wanting to go further into what draws her into her craft. “For instance if you were in a new city, what would you be drawn to?”
“That’s a good question… I would probably say people. Incorporating people with the architecture. Everyone is so different. I love capturing someone in a way that they don’t see themselves and kind of capturing a culture within that.”
Not always thinking of herself as creative, Mikaela, who started her college years as an injured soccer player going to James Madison University in Virginia, went into the summer after her graduation not knowing what city she was going to end up in.
“I think I was scared to say I wanted to do photography because I was scared of failing.” She said and, for the split second, I caught a glimpse of what seemed like a competitive, sporty side. “I happened to get a couple of weddings that year, through friends. They were people that just trusted me,” she laughed and took a sip out of her dark mug and then set it on the table. “At this time too I knew I didn’t want to stay in Virginia. So I was thinking, okay if I want to do photography, where would be a good creative city to go to. I made a list, Portland, Charlottesville, Atlanta, Nashville, and then back to Austin.”
I started to realize that more inspiring than her innate desire for exploration was her fearlessness to pursue her craft. She was between Nashville and Austin, which had been her home for a short time before moving to Virginia for school.
“Basically I just decided I would take myself more seriously if I had to make rent and not live at home with mom and dad. So I travelled that summer,” again something like jealousy, but more like entrancement arose in me, “found out through a friend of a friend that there was one spot open in this house, and I moved three weeks later – to a house full of strangers.” She laughed again and seemed to reminisce for a second on the craziness of such a huge risk. “I think it was one of those things that happened so fast that I just didn’t really have a chance to think about it. As I was driving down, we were two and half hours out and I had the thought ‘What am I doing?!’ But that was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Taking risks and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, sucks, but it also grows you so much as a person and I had to prove to myself that if I’m doing all of this, clearly, this is something I want to do.”
“Music was kind of the same thing,” she answers as I pressed into a different side of her creative work. “When I moved to Nashville I had no intention of doing music at all, but it’s just worked out so well. I moved in across the street from a sound engineer that became one of my good friends.” She looked out the window and pointed out a smaller, but just as charming house across the street. “I was playing one of my songs one day and I decided that this meant enough to me to do something with it and I asked him to record some stuff for me and he said yes and it just kind of blossomed from there.”
Her band, comprised of her and her good friend Amanda Bantug, is called Traveller and their debut EP ‘Home’ came out last December. Self-described as “semi-depressing folk music,” the sound that comes from the stage is moody and inspiring, every time.
“I think it’s very freeing that I have the option, or the ability to say that I’m not relying on music for my life, it’s much more of just a completely different creative medium that I feel like makes me a better photographer.” She shifted in her seat. “A good analogy I like to use is I need both music and photography the way my body needs both food and water – it just creatively sustains me in a different way but they both work together to make me an artist.”
Those words rang in my head for a while as she went on to describe her journey with Traveller. Something, she mentioned, that has helped her discover a community that surrounds her in this incredible city.
“All I’ve been able to see is that people are super collaborative and really encouraging with one another. It can be scary coming into a world of really good photographers and musicians, but for the most part people are just so willing to grab a cup of coffee and hear your story and encourage you to keep shooting and stop comparing. There’s such a fine balance with that. I think all of us as creatives can get into a well really fast. I wake up some days and just feel really dissatisfied. I think it’s really easy to get in that spiral of wondering why we should even try when someone is already successful at what we want to do. But I’ve learned to take a step back and see how far I’ve come, and see why I do what I do, and give myself grace.” As she spoke I began thinking of all of the times I’ve looked at my work and wondered why I’m not at a certain place. “It’s really important,” she continued, “to rejoice in what you have done and give yourself credit for that and then take that and move forward."
I’ve known Mikaela for a little while now. She's infectiously adventurous and creative. She has shot some awesome lookbooks for Wldflwr.ink and done a lot with some other friends and companies around Nashville. I’ve been to a couple of her shows and have been thrilled with everything Traveller has put out – from music to merch. Everyone I meet seems to know who Mikaela is or at least has seen her work.
Something I’ve picked up on over the past few months is that being a human entails being a creator. And discovering that drive for creativity and beauty, wherever we each find that, keeps us going, turning, moving towards something.
“Personal projects are so important. No intention of making an income, or anyone else seeing it, just something I really want to do. A lot of personal stuff I’ve posted has even ended up getting me paid work and the more I shoot and push myself in that way, it makes my paid work better.”
One of these personal projects, a simple and intentionally curated set of how-to’s, was in the works and it sounded awesome. We talked for a while about ideas and different ways to collaborate – the importance of finding people to explore the connection of different mediums with.
I left that day thinking about a lot. Mikaela is infectious - rarely do I meet someone who is so passionate about what they do and not feel incredibly inspired. However, I left with a feeling of something more. Not only should we, as creatives and human beings, find that drive inside of us but we must do it together. The community builds us and sustains us. Collaboration feeds our creativity and finding what gives us life is that much more enriched when we share it in community.