Sarah Barlow never planned on becoming a photographer—at least not until her dad bought her an SLR at age 13. Sarah was a natural, and she’s been shooting ever since, working with everyone from Taylor Swift to USA Today. But her career path wasn’t a straight shot to success. Without the help of friends and collaborators (one in particular during a rough stretch in Nashville), she may not be where she is today.
It’s definitely a mixture of the two. A person has to have an eye for photography but also a passion for it. Everyone thinks they can be a photographer, but your passion is the only thing that will keep you going. There’s so much more involved with it that most people don’t see. A huge part is how you interact with the subject. That’s something people discredit a lot. It’s really about how comfortable you can make a person. Most people don’t like having their photo taken, so it’s about being able to tear down their walls and make them feel comfortable just being themselves. It’s about emotion more than anything.
The only training I had was an internship in Chicago. It lasted a year and a half, and it ended up being a paid job after a while. I just learned everything—all the basics. I was in high school at the time, and I ended up graduating a year early and starting my own company.
From there I shot photos for a good six years or so. I was living in Nashville and tried pursuing music photography, but I ended up hating it. It wasn’t what I expected. So I had a little identity crisis. I just wasn’t sure what to do. And then I became friends with Stephen [Schofield]. We figured out that we worked really well together, and we started collaborating. We did tons of test shoots, and he said, “You have a great eye. I think it would be cool to move more toward fashion [photography].” So we did some fashion shoots, and people started noticing the change.
Yeah, the identity crisis was really just being burned out on the type of photography I’d been doing. Stephen and I started working together, and we immersed ourselves in art and fashion and everything we could find. I realized we were both leaning toward a very similar style. And it was cool because even though I’d been shooting for six years at that point, it felt like a brand-new thing. I felt like a baby photographer again.
I mean, even after being in the field a while and having an established name, I still go to workshops sometimes and ask the stupidest questions. And I feel like people are thinking, Are you for real asking that question? But you should never be scared of asking stupid questions.It’s almost like that identity crisis pushed me toward an entirely new thing, you know? If you look at my old photography, it looks so different.
I still have the same eyes, but I taught myself to shoot a bit differently. I’ve gone through different phases. But that’s the thing about art: You constantly reinvent yourself. You have that identity crisis which ends up birthing something even more beautiful.
Remember that scene in Jerry McGuire when he keeps repeating to himself, deliriously: “Breakdown. Breakthrough. Breakdown. Breakthrough?" Sometimes it’s the low-points in our careers (and our lives) that help us find the path we should actually be on, that lead us to the work we should actually be doing. And sometimes it’s our friends and community who help get us there.