“I’ve always loved photography but never dreamed it would be something that I could turn into a successful career,” she tells The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “Flickr really made that happen; it completely changed my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.”
Known on Flickr as sesame ellis, Rachel started taking pictures as a teenager and never really stopped. After college, she got into taking portfolio shots for kid models and did editorial work for magazines. From there, Rachel kept building her profile and officially went into business in 1995.
“I noticed Flickr as a way to share my personal images in 2004, as I was expecting my first child,” Rachel says. “I was a bit too uncertain about my digital photography skills to start posting, so I started to follow some people — specifically new mothers. I found it to be a great comfort as we had a lot in common.”
When Rachel gave birth to her daughter, Gemma, she developed postpartum depression (PPD) which nearly stopped her love of photography all together.
“My experience with PPD put me in a really dark place,” Rachel admits. “It was more than just the baby blues. It was something sinister. I lost the joy in life. Nothing inspired me to take photos. I’d go to the studio and do my work for kid models, but photography became ‘just my job.’”
Rachel felt completely alone, but unexpectedly, Flickr became a source of support.
“I was following some parents on Flickr with kids the same age as my new baby,” Rachel says. “These people were sharing daily life photographs, but really well done. They weren’t just random snapshots, but these parents were working on taking better pictures of their kids. Additionally, they were sharing their lives and were open to creating online friendships. Over time, it was their inspiration and support [that] helped me start seeing the beauty in life again.”
Rachel finally got the courage to post her own photos in early 2005. She joined different Flickr groups, made more friends, and they all challenged each other to take photographs and share personal stories.
Rachel says these new friendships helped her to focus on something other than the way she was or wasn’t feeling. After a couple months, Rachel’s PPD started to lift and she got better.
“I had unwittingly created for myself a support group of like-minded people all over the world,” Rachel says. “I was inspired by them, and we all helped each other get better and refine our own work.”
“People kept asking on Flickr when Gemma would be a big sister,” Rachel says. “At the time, I was going through many miscarriages and fertility struggles. One day after a loss, I thought, either I really open up and show people what is going on or I get off Flickr altogether. I made the choice to show them what we were going through. Being out there and open about our life and desire to have another child meant that the ‘perfect life’ they saw online had a deeper meaning… showing the real stuff, the dirty dishes and the sadness… that had meaning.”
“This was the real moment that I began to see how sharing my life so openly not only helped me, but helped others,” Rachel says. “The engagement was extremely powerful and rewarding; my viewers felt connected to me. They could see themselves in my shots. My series of images called Details, which documents my struggle with and ultimate success over secondary fertility, generated so many letters from women who said my honesty and openness gave them hope. They said it made them feel less alone. Eventually when my twins were born, there were 600 people saying ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Welcome to the world’ on their birth-announcement photo… It blew me away.”
Rachel says she instantly found her sub-passion via her time on Flickr: helping regular people share their stories through great photographs. Her Flickr page became so popular (posting/sharing photos) that she created her own blog called Sesame Ellis — thanks to Flickr, it now receives 100,000+ views per month.
Rachel’s greatest accomplishment was an idea for a book, aimed at the many people uploading family photos daily. She wanted to put together something that would help regular people (without a photography background) take beautiful photos of their own lives. After writing a book proposal, Rachel got an offer from Random House and today “Beyond Snapshots” is out in stores.
Looking back on her life today, Rachel, an expatriate living in Australia with her family, feels both bewilderment and gratitude.
“Flickr showed me that visual storytelling is powerful on a global level,” Rachel says. “It connected me to like-minded people around the world, who inspire me still to this day. Flickr didn’t just kick-start this part of my career, but it saved my love of daily life photography… and I will be forever grateful.”
Visit Rachel’s photostream to see more of her photography.
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