Crafty Ladies is an ever-evolving, ongoing, personal photography project connecting me with creative women. I’m documenting their faces and their stories in order to better understand the role of creativity in women’s lives, and its impact on my own.
Catherine Giel invited me into her piano room in the Atlanta home she shares with her husband Michael. They’re both musicians, and the room is full of warm light and a soft carpet and stacks and stacks of sheet music. We chatted about the challenges of being a professional musician, then Catherine played for me while I photographed her. I wish I could’ve curled up on the rug next to her dogs and taken a nap in the sun.
“Before I lived in this house, I didn’t have a piano. Being a pianist is tough. You can’t carry your instrument with you. So I’d have to rent space from a church or find somebody with a piano. I didn’t even own a keyboard. You live this sort of nomadic lifestyle as a pianist, because every instrument you play is different. You never know what you’re gonna get. And then you never know that you’re going to have a place to play, anyway. So I kind of went through a dry spell where I didn’t have a practice space. This space is really important for me because – here it is. I don’t have to travel. And I know that this instrument will be the same instrument every time I sit down.”
“As a musician, if you say no to too many things, people stop asking you. You have to just keep doing it. I’ve done some really weird gigs, but they’ve always led to better opportunities. And I’ve done some things that were outside of my comfort zone, like… I’m not a great jazz player, but I’ll still try! And as long as I’m trying, I’m learning something. And then the next time it’ll be better, and I might get a different opportunity. Basically, I just say yes to as much as I can, and that helps me continue to learn.”
“I had a gig last year playing for a festival, and they wanted a pianist and a singer to come. We were told they’d provide the piano and sound guys – no big deal, right? So I get there, and the setup was, like, a craft table with a keyboard on the craft table. No power cords, no pedal, no music stand. They had just taken the keyboard and set it on a table. No chair. I was like, ‘Okay…’ There wasn’t even any power. So, I went to the sound guy and I’m like, ‘What do you expect me to do here?’ And he said, ‘Okay, we need to find the keyboard owner and find out where the power cords are.’ So, we got that sorted out, but there was still no music stand and no chair. I ended up standing and playing. Thank god it was on one of those big tables, because I just laid my music flat on the table in front of the keyboard. So, I’m standing and pedaling, and leaning over and playing. It’s getting dark; there was no outdoor lighting. And the singer was singing opera into a microphone – which they hate doing. So, yeah… it was really… [MICHAEL: It sounded HORRIBLE!] HEY! We did the best we could in a difficult situation! [MICHAEL: I didn’t say the talent was terrible. But the mix was the WORST.] Yeah. It was so bizarre. I’m better now about being specific about what I need. Like, I definitely need a chair.”
I think every creative experiences obstacles when working with people unfamiliar with our field. I remember one time showing up for a shoot at a location I’d been told was “flooded with natural light.” But there were no windows in the space at all. When I asked my client about the natural light, he said, “Oh, yeah, we can just turn on the lamps.” To him, natural light was just ambient light – tungsten, fluorescent, whatever. And why should I have expected him to know any differently?
Communicating my needs for my particular craft has felt intimidating at times, but, when I’ve done it, I’ve never regretted it. If it means making better images, I think I can adapt to being a bit of a pain in the ass on the front end.
But I also think enormous growth happens when I’m pushed to “make it work.” I discover that our tolerance is higher than I thought, my boundaries are broader than I realized, and my determination to DO is richer than my fear of failure.