From Teen Mom to Award-Winning Photographer
Image credit: Rachel Telles
Rachel Telles finds beauty in overlooked details
Photographer Rachel R. Telles was born in 1976 in Minot, North Dakota. When she was 12 years old, she purchased her first camera using money she had earned from babysitting; it was a pink Kodak Disney Mickey-Matic 110 Pocket Camera. From there, she began capturing her first images.
Telles is now an award-winning photographer who studied photography at New Mexico State University, Alamogordo (NMSU-A). She spent three years studying digital photography, portraiture, and darkroom techniques, as well as her great passion, 35mm black-and-white photography. Inspired by her favorite photographers, including Sally Mann and Paul Caponigro, Telles loves to capture the often-overlooked details of ordinary things such as the veins of leaves or the beautiful textures in the petals of flowers. She also enjoys documenting the fleeting moments and details of her children’s lives as they grow and change.
I spoke with Telles from her home in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about her photography, life as a Solo Mom, and the things that inspire her.
Q: Tell our readers a little bit about your life as a Solo Mom.
A: I have found myself in varying degrees of single motherhood. I had my son Angel a few days before my 19th birthday. He was born with a cleft lip and palate. His father and I were high school sweethearts. After Angel was born, it didn’t take long before I realized that I needed friends and family around to help me figure out how to care for my son. I didn’t even know how to feed him because his cleft made it impossible for him to suck. My son’s doctor prescribed special bottles, but it still took him an hour to drink four ounces. My mother was working as a nurse at the time, and she was invaluable in helping me care for Angel.
Less than two years later my second son, Dominic, was born. He had multiple congenital heart defects. He passed away at 19 days. My relationship with the father of my boys fell apart. I moved into a home for single mothers. He spiraled down a dark path of drug and alcohol abuse. He moved back to Texas, and a few years later he began a 10-year prison term. I did the best I could to ensure that Angel maintained a relationship with his father. They exchanged letters sporadically. That was the only form of support we ever received from his father.
When Angel was still a toddler, I met the man who would become Angel’s stepfather. We moved in together early in the relationship. I think the transition was difficult for all of us. We had our daughter, Nicole, and eventually married. We are divorced now, but we still remain close, and we make coparenting a priority.
Q: When did you first get interested in photography as a career?
A: When I was a child, I was mesmerized by how magical photographs were. People would tell me how expensive photography was, that it was just a hobby. I let them convince me that it wasn’t possible for me. I was a high school dropout who worked waitressing jobs for less than minimum wage, and after my daughter was born I was a stay-at-home mom with no resources of my own. Everything I had went to taking care of the family.
I think the turning point for me began when my son Dominic was in the hospital. The nurses at the NICU knew how important it was for parents to have photographs. They kept a Polaroid with film for families to use. The Polaroids I have of my son in the hospital are the only photographs I have of him. They are priceless. When my daughter started kindergarten, I signed up for the photography program at NMSU-A. It has been all about photography ever since. A year into my studies, I decided that I needed to take business courses if I was ever going to make photography work for me. I finished the photography program and earned my associate’s in business at the same time.
Q: How has being a Solo Mom impacted your work as a photographer? What challenges do you face?
A: I have to put my kids’ needs first. I can’t just drop everything to go out on photo adventures or assignments without first making sure they are cared for. Sally Mann said, “It’s always been my philosophy to try to make art out of the everyday and ordinary . . . it didn’t occur to me to leave home to make art.” My kids are my reminder that I don’t have to go far from home or chase the vistas and the wow moments. I have incredible moments right here. My kids make me pause to see things from a different perspective. When I have those dreadful moments where I start to question everything, all I have to do is l look to them and I am inspired.
Q: Have your children contributed to your work as a photographer?
A: My son is always willing to help me out in the studio with cleanup or organization, and he has been very helpful in assisting me on photo shoots. He is great at making people laugh and feel at ease in front of the camera. My daughter loves to get dressed up and go out on location with me to model. It’s funny because she does not like for me to take candid photos of her, but she will model for me whenever I want her to. Even in the spur of the moment I can tell her “go stand by that tree” and she will stand by the tree with the perfect expression and body language.
Q: How has being a Solo Mom made your life better?
A: It has made me feel like I finally can let go of expectations. I finally feel like I am good enough just the way I am. Being a Solo Mom allows me to reduce the emotional noise that comes with expectations and allows me the freedom and acceptance I need to care for myself and my children.
Q: Do you have any advice for Solo Moms looking to start a career in the field of photography or visual arts?
A: Follow your heart. Make mistakes. Be unabashedly yourself. Do your best with the talents you have while developing new skills. Keep an open mind and set the bar high for goals. Recognize opportunities and seize them. When there are no opportunities, go out and make them for yourself. Chances are they won’t come knocking on your door.
Are you photographer or an otherwise creatively inclined a Solo Mom? Our Showcase section features visual art, music, short film, and writing by Solo Moms. Submit your work today.
Amy Rivers is a writer and mother of two. She has a master’s degree with concentrations in psychology and political science, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces about women and women’s issues. Her debut novel, Wallflower Blooming, was released in August 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @WritingRivers and learn more about her work at her website, www.amyrivers.com.
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