I have always loved the symbolism of crossroads. In traditional folklore, a crossroads represents a place between two worlds – a place where magical things can occur. In our spiritual and poetic traditions, a crossroads occurs when the life we have known comes to an end, and the life we are meant to live has not fully revealed itself. The important thing is to stand at the crossroads long enough to work through the fear and uncertainty that always accompanies the prospect of radical change. If you can find the courage to lean into the fear, new life is possible.
Michelle Fiorello is a lovely demonstration of what happens when one finds the courage to move through the crossroads. Michelle is a Charleston brand photographer who works with clients to create cheerful, clean, and colorful images for their brands. Scrolling through her Instagram feed, it’s hard to believe that not too many years ago Michelle was much more at home with a calculator than a camera and a lot more comfortable with CAD than Lightroom.
Growing up Michelle loved to paint; but, like most of us, she was conditioned to believe that no one earns real money as an artist. So (with a natural aptitude for math and science) when the time came, Michelle decided to play it safe. Instead of going to art school, she decided to study engineering. After graduating from engineering school and becoming a licensed engineer, she worked hard, being given more and more responsibility as the years went by. She did well, and by any measure was a success in her chosen profession. But her love for art, and her burning desire to do creative work, never went away.
Weeks turned into months that turned into years. Michelle kept grinding it out. She was given more and more responsibility at her firm, and along with this increased responsibility came increased stress. Then suddenly, one day, she decided she’d had enough. And Michelle found herself at a crossroads. To her surprise and without warning, sitting in her supervisor’s office during the middle of her annual review, Michelle told her supervisor that she was done. She was tired of being an engineer.
While that decision was clearly good for the soul, it wasn’t so good for her firm. Michelle was a good engineer and a highly valued member of her firm. So, not surprisingly, they scrambled to find a place for her within the company. They created a marketing department and made her the head of that department. And that scratched the itch for a while…but only a while.
As marketing coordinator, Michelle was responsible for headshots. And that was when she first laid her hands on a camera. It wasn’t long before she realized that what she really enjoyed doing, more than anything else, was taking pictures of people. Running the marketing department wasn’t going to cut it.
But what options did she have? All her life she had been told to play it safe…to go to school and get good grades, to find a job that would offer stability and security. However, she had come to realize that as well intentioned as that advice may have been, there was more to life. To follow one’s heart was really what mattered. Inspired by our mutual friend, Diana Deaver, she allowed herself to believe that she could earn a living with her camera. So, she quit her day job.
Success didn’t come overnight. It seldom does. Michelle worked several part-time jobs to pay the bills while focusing on building her portfolio. She watched scores of YouTube videos on photography, helped a local photographer with post processing to learn the nuances of photo editing and received a lot of love and support from close friends and family. It took several years, but today Michelle runs one of the most successful brand photography businesses in all of Charleston. Marketing firms and young entrepreneurs alike call her regularly. Her calendar is booked months in advance. And her photos can be found on dozens of websites for a number of local businesses. Her pictures are easy to spot. They are bright, cheerful, and brimming with charm. She named her business Vision Balm because she wants her photographs to create the comforting feeling a good lip balm creates when placed on chapped lips. How perfect.
Maybe there’s some truth to those old folktales—maybe real magic can happen when you find yourself at a crossroads. All it takes is some patience, and no small amount of courage.
(I recently had the privilege of photographing Michelle in my studio. Below are a few images that capture a bit of her lovely artist-turned-engineer-turned-photographer self.)