Linda Niehoff is a portrait photographer by accident and chronic notebook scribbler by choice. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous publications both online and in print. She lives in a small Kansas town where she is probably right now looking outside to study the light or watching an old episode of Scooby Doo.
Describe your creative process—schedule, environment, inspirations, etc.—compare and contrast writing with shooting.
I write daily—almost without exception, though I’ve grown a little lax in the last few years and will occasionally take a day off. This means I write on holidays, weekends, and while on vacation. I’ve written in hotel lobbies, waiting rooms, moving cars, trains, planes, surrounded by crumpled up wrapping paper. And I don’t do that out of some weird puritanical discipline. I do it because I love it. I do some of my best thinking, analyzing, and daydreaming on the page with a pen in hand. For me, writing is a blanket fort I build daily and climb inside.
Photography (even though it’s my money-maker) is like a bratty kid brother who doesn’t eat vegetables, who doesn’t take a bath when he’s supposed to. I never had the dreams for photography that I’ve had for writing, and so I’ve always had an ease with it. Much of what I shoot is done on my phone. I like the idea of keeping it a game. Of fooling around. When I shoot clients, I use my big expensive camera, but I’ve dreamed of doing an entire photo shoot with just my phone! I think that’d be so fun to try! I’m also in love with instant photography and have a (growing) collection of Polaroid and toy cameras. I love the hazy, nostalgic look of instant film.
I’m mostly a morning writer (I like to make sure it actually gets done!) though sometimes I squeeze it into other areas like late afternoon or late at night. And I almost always shoot in the golden hour when the light is low and slanted and mellow. (I could shoot early mornings, but that’s writing time!)
I’m interested in the same types of themes in both writing and photography. I love old timey. I love nostalgia. I love graveyards and the woods and tiny towns with silver water towers and old run-down motels. I love places that feel haunted with old, imperfect memories. Things that are slightly unkempt and almost forgotten. And I love that shadowed time that’s halfway between light and dark.
I love writing and photography because they are the same, and they are opposite. One is words and one is wordless. But writing is, hopefully, painting a picture, and photography is , hopefully, telling a story. It’s all about the story. That’s the key for me and why I love both so much.
Tell me how the final products—stories or photos—reach the consumer, including marketing.
Mostly online! When I shoot for clients, I use an online gallery or I share images I take on social media. The stories I’ve had published have mostly been in online venues—though a few were print only. As for marketing, I’m a big believer in just sharing what you’re doing. My entire photography business was built simply because when I first joined Facebook, I uploaded pictures I took. People started asking me if I’d do portraits for them. Or asked if they could buy things I’d posted. I’ve always loved photography and would be taking pictures regardless of whether or not I made money from it. But Facebook is what got it started as a business.
Initially, I was a lot shyer when it came to writing, and a lot of people didn’t even know I wrote. It was easy to share pictures. You could just upload something to Facebook and have instant feedback. I wanted a similar experience for writing, so I decided to start a blog. I figured it’d be an easy way to get used to having people read my words. And it did help. I got more confident about sharing my work and submitting it for publication.
I really do think that if you put yourself out there and share what you’re doing, you’ll find your people. And most people, when they love what you’re doing, want to help you—by hiring you or buying or sharing your work. Probably I could be way more successful if I took out ads or ran specials or really worked at marketing or even indie published some of my writing. But for where I am in life right now, this works.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.
First and foremost, I’m very lucky to have been raised by an artist and a physicist. My mom taught me to love words and layers and symbolism. My dad taught me to love the mystery of it all and to dream. They were my first cheerleaders.
And now, I’m also lucky to have married someone that has never once questioned why—even in motel rooms on roadtrips or at home on holidays—the very first thing I do is write. He’s made sure that regardless of any success or failure (99% of what I work on won’t ever be published—so much of it is either practice or first drafts or just for me) I have the time and space to get writing done. And he’s helped me guard it. My kids (who are older now) are the same way.
I also have a great writing group that I met online almost 5 years ago in a writing workshop. We all stayed writing together after the workshop and have stayed in touch both online and in real life. I’ve gained a couple of really close friends through that. It helps to have others sharing in the same struggles and (hopefully joys and successes) as you.
How does life influence your creative work and vice versa?
Sometimes this is a danger zone. Because for me, it’s too easy to let my self-worth get tied up in something I’ve created. There’s always a natural ebb and flow and there are always days where the work is easy and days where the work is hard. I fail often in separating how I feel about myself based on how the work is going, but I’m trying to improve! Even so, everything I do is setting up for the creative work—how I spend my time and how much I schedule all revolves around leaving enough space to make stories and art. And often, places I go and things I do are done with an eye toward asking myself, “How would I write about/photograph this?” I’m always looking for an opportunity to be inspired.
What do you love most about your creativity?
With creativity, I’m never bored. Everywhere I go, I’m watching the light and shadows, I’m framing something in my mind. Now that phones have cameras, it’s easy to snap quick pictures and edit them on the fly. But even before that (or if I’m without my phone), I am always looking at the picture of something. How it could be framed. And I love that. I love being an audience of one and finding secret moments that maybe everyone else has passed by.
But stories are the same way. Sometimes I’ll see a stand of trees against a purple fading sky and think, why does that make my heart ache? And I know only a story will answer the question. So I start casting about for character to go into the darkening trees. To turn it into a story and answer it for me.
Writing and shooting are a way to stay inside moment just a little bit longer. A way to hold onto something that is, every second, slipping away. It’s finding something to fall in love with. To swoon over. That’s why I love creativity; it makes the ordinary important. It makes everything you see a possibility. And when you have that inside you (and I truly believe we all do in some form or another), it’s like having the best stories and the best photographs with you all the time.
Connect with Linda:
Photography website: www.lindaniehoffphotography.com