Order your own copy of Flow-tography here.
This photography book is about falling in love with your life. Not about changing it, or wishing it was someone else’s, but about slowing down to truly experience and appreciate the beauty of your life, exactly the way it is right now. Flow-tography reveals the secret power of beauty as a source of creative energy and wellbeing. This book offers a way to cultivate your relationship with the mystical in daily life by seeing and photographing the world through the eyes of your Curious Soul. Whether you are just starting out or have been taking photos for years, you will benefit from this fresh approach to photography. Don’t be surprised if after reading this book you look at your photos with a new sense of awe and wonder. You may even be thinking, wow did I take that photo? The answer will be yes, yes, yes!
It is a large file with 120 pages of color photos and hand illustrated pages so allow some time for it to download once you purchase the file. Be patient it is worth the wait. Suzanne Merritt
Sample pages from the book. Practical step by step instructions for becoming more mindful through photography.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Suzanne Merritt.
Suzanne, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
It had not occurred to me until I went to answer this question, how I have come full circle from where I began. I started the Curious Soul Photo School because I felt there was no place for people to discover the beauty of life through photography. Of course there are endless ways to learn about how to use your camera, but very few ways to learn how to use your eyes. How to see the world in a fresh way and discover beauty where ever you are.
My mother was my kindergarten teacher and my father was the principal of the school I attended first grade through 12th. My mother started the kindergarten because there was not one for me to attend. From what she tells me, I did not like following rules, did not like to take naps, and always asked lots of questions. One things has changed, now I do like to take naps.
In high school, I had a very encouraging art teacher, Mrs. Davis. She thought I showed great talent as an artist and so I went to college with this as my plan. After the first semester, I was told by my advisor I did not have what it took to be an artist and that I should change majors if I did not want to starve. I did not draw or paint for the next decade. I changed my major to elementary education, and my advisor again told me I was doomed to fail since I was consistently changing the lesson plans and trying to do things in new ways all the time. Luckily for me, I was assigned to a Montessori School for my student teacher experience and I fit right in since arts and creativity were central to their approach. At this time I took an elective course called Aesthetic Education. This changed my life. Aesthetic Education explores the experience of beauty in nature, art and human conduct. It is a branch of philosophy with one central question: Does the experience of beauty matter, and if so, why? This is the question I would spend the next 40 years exploring. I ended up getting a master’s degree in Aesthetic Education by getting the Art department and the Education department to work together to custom design a program for me. And when I graduated, my advisor said good luck. I have no idea how you are going to earn a living with a master’s degree in Aesthetic Education.
How I got my first job. I bought a book about non-profit arts organizations and started through in alphabetical order contacting them and offering to create aesthetic education programs. When I got to E I found a place call the Essex Institute in Salem Mass. (now known as the Peabody Essex Institute) I contacted them and offered to come up from Pennsylvania and deliver a free program on how to incorporate aesthetic education into their existing offerings. They said sure come on up but just so you know, there are no jobs open. I went anyway, gave the presentation and as luck would have it, their assistant director of education had just resigned. So I wanted to get that job. They told me it would be a lengthy interview process and I told them that was ok, I was moving to Salem so I could be ready to start any time. I took a big risk. I moved to Salem, found a roommate thru the want ads and went through the interview process. I was not what they were looking for, but I was what they needed so I got the job. I was making $9,000. A year.
It quickly occurred to me I needed to make a little extra money on the side to make ends meet. I remember staying up all night one night thinking of one bad idea after another. I realized that Salem was a big tourist town and that many people were fascinated by the witch craft trials. I did not have money to invest in opening a shop, or in inventory of shirts or other articles but I did have a crazy idea very suddenly. I thought, what if I could get people to dress up like a witch and a judge and have their picture taken in front of the Salem Witch Museum? One problem, I did not know anything about photography. What I did know for sure, what that this was a great idea.
I went to the local camera shop and got some help. They set me up with an old press camera that used a Polaroid Back and peel apart film which I could then spray with a solution to turn it antique brown. Next I got some old graduation gowns and props, had a cart made and wheeled up in front of the witch museum. I very timidly asked if anyone would like a picture as a witch or a judge. It was terrifying and embarrassing at first. But after my confidence grew, so did the business. I soon had a line of people waiting for their turn and I was in business. At first I ran the photo business just on the weekends, and worked in the museum during the week. But quickly business grew and I wanted to be open 7 days a week so my sister moved from Pennsylvania to work with me. I eventually had such a crowd I had to give out numbers like at the butcher shop. In the middle of this crowd, one day a man handed me his card and said if I ever wanted to expand into Boston I should give him a call. He turned out to be the director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. I approached him the next summer with a proposal to set up photo concessions on the top 5 Boston tourist attractions including the Boston Tea Party Ship, and the Paul Revere Mall in the North End. No concession stands had ever been permitted here. He said come with me. We went across the street to the office of parks and recreation. A deal was struck. Parks and recreations would permit the Boys and Girls Club to set up photo concessions. I would train the people and pay a % to the club. That was over 30 years ago. And to this day you can see Boys and Girls Club concessions on Parks and Recreation properties around Boston.
So that summer I was running my photo business called Instant Ancestors. I had 5 carts made, costumes designed and created, by my crew, also known as mom and dad. I was buying Polaroid film by the case from a shop in Quincy Market owned by Polaroid. They were curious to know what I was doing with all that film. The manager of that store ended up hiring me to work at Polaroid and help them build their business of taking photos in costumes at theme parks and tourist attractions across the country.
For the next 15 years I worked at Polaroid in various positions of sales, marketing and finally served as founder of the Polaroid Creativity Lab. I got Dr. Lands original offices reopened and created a space where we would generate new product or service ideas. During the 6 years the lab was in operation we generated over 60 million dollars in ideas. Not bad for someone without a business degree, domed to be a failure according to her college advisor. I loved working at Polaroid and had many incredible opportunities. I traveled all over the world and often gave keynote speeches about creativity and innovation in organizations. When I left Polaroid, I started my own business, Ideas With Merritt. I ran this business for the next 15 years, training organizations how to break the rules, challenge assumptions and see differently to succeed in business.
Times have changed and now, most organizations don’t want to do in person training, they are happy with webinars. I’m not. I am old school and want people to have experiences. So I decided it was time to reinvent my own business.
I had to ask myself what really makes me happy and can I make a living at that.
What makes me happy is the experience of beauty, the art of photography, the creative process, and feeling that my life has purpose. So from those factors I have now created the Curious Soul Photo School. Along the way I researched the experience of beauty, interviewing thousands of people and asking them to describe an experience of beauty. These turned out to fall into 8 universal archetypes such as simplicity and vitality. And what is even more exciting, is there seems to be a connection between our sense of beauty and sense of purpose. This is what I am most curious about now and why I started the school. I want to create a place for people to discover what makes them feel most alive and connected to the world around them. I just happen to be using photography as the vehicle for that connection to occur. And we live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world so it is the perfect visual playground for exploring beauty in unexpected places.
Has it been a smooth road?
I would have to say it has been a bumpy ride so far. Lots of ups and downs. The thing about being an innovator and starting something new is, there is no path. There are no clear steps to take. And sometimes I am not really sure anyone wants what I have to offer. I am trying to teach an approach to photography that requires slowing down, seeing deeply and being more present. This is the total opposite of the pace of everyday life. Many people have become too busy for beauty. My methods don’t appeal to everyone. But when people do stop and really see something of beauty right in their own neighborhood, it makes them question what else they may have been missing right before their eyes. Not only in their neighborhood but in their life. This is not just about photography, it is a philosophy for how to fall in love with your life, just the way it is. Day by day.
I had to really learn to trust my instincts and see how things would develop step by step. The principles that make a good photograph also provide some guidance for me. So for example, one of my struggles is that I have too many ideas and start going off in too many different directions. So I have to stop, and focus on what matters most. When I lose that focus, I start to get lost and discouraged.
I had to take a huge risk financially when I left the corporate world to start my own business. There is no security and the income goes up and down so drastically that some months I wonder if I will make ends meet. Then out of the blue, an opportunity will show up and things flow again. I make it a goal to attend one in person networking event each week. One where I go with the intention to find a way to help one other person with what they are trying to do. This shifts my attitude and takes the pressure off going to get something for myself. And my experience so far has been, if you take a sincere interest in what others are doing, they are interested in you too. Then some new connections and alliances can happen. I went to a Creative Mornings event last month taking place in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood. During the networking time, I met the Director of the Friends of Fort Point Channel. It turns out this is one of the new photo tour destinations I am launching next month so she was super excited to hear about my business. The following week the Director let me tag along as she did an orientation tour for her new interns and I discovered all sorts of fascinating new treasures to add to my tour. This is good for them and good for me. I love it when that happens.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Curious Soul Photo School – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The Curious Soul Photo School offers workshops, photo walks and retreats for photographers of all levels. For the Curious Soul, the world is our school, life offers lessons, and beauty is our guide. Our method is called Flow-tography. It is a combination of mindful meditation and photography focused on experiences of beauty.
In our programs we reveal the secret power of beauty as a source of creative energy and well being. We introduce a fresh way of thinking about digital photography as a way to cultivate our relationship with the mystical in our daily lives. Imagine if you were to hand your camera over to your Curious Soul. What photos would it take, what would it find inspiring? This is what we explore as we wander through the lesser known neighborhoods of Boston and beyond.
At the Curious Soul Photo School, we believe the secret to taking great photos is not what you think, but what you feel. We offer a simple way to improve photography skills not by acquiring more technical expertise, but by getting back in touch with what you love. When you rediscover what makes you feel most alive and present, you have found something that connects with you. We start with visual elements like color, light and texture and then move on to the 8 archetypes of beauty found all around us.
What people love most about this approach is that it gets them to slow down and really appreciate the most ordinary things around them. This seems to make people feel re-energized, revitalized, and relaxed. Not a bad outcome for a few hours of fun with other like minded people.
What I love about this work is how it helps people discover that they are creative, and that they can create something of beauty through their photography no matter what their technical skill level. We work with iPhones, point and shoot, or dslr cameras. What matters is learning to see with a fresh eye. And Boston has so much beauty to offer. I have lived in the South End for 30 years and still see things I did not notice before every time I lead a photo tour through the neighborhood.
One thing I am proud of is the fact that we provide the volunteer photographers for the Walk for Hunger. This gives participants in our photography programs a way to put their new skills to good use.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love exploring all the different neighborhoods to try and capture the personality of each area through photography, conversations, and food. When we are on our photo tours, we don’t just take photos, we experience the neighborhood fully. I like to find the areas that have a juxtaposition of tradition and innovation. Old and new parts of a neighborhood learning to co-exist. Neighborhoods like the South End, Chinatown, and Fort Point Channel all have reinvented themselves and are in the process of transforming while trying to maintain the integrity of the original culture. I find this to be a good source of lessons for life. We all have to keep evolving and changing to survive but not at the cost of our true self and values.
What I like least would have to be the weather. It is so unpredictable that it makes it difficult to run a business based on outdoor photo workshops and classes. I am often needing to make last minute changes and always have a plan B ready. You can get some great photos in bad weather but there is a limit to how many rainy day moody photos one can take.
One day photo field trips in Boston and Beyond start at $125.00
Three hour photo workshops start at $65.00 and take place every weekend.
Private photo mentoring sessions are available at $125. for a 90 minute session