Welcome to another edition of The Conversationalist with Emily Voss, the founder and sole photographer of VOSStudios in Wausau, WI. It was refreshing to sit down in her local studio in the town where I grew up-it certainly felt much more familiar than doing segments in Silicon Valley or London, and her delightful dog Finn just added to the homeliness. The warmth of VOSStudios is not simply due to the bright decor, smiling portraits, or jumping dog, but from Emily’s own lightness and welcoming nature. From the minute I walked in with teas in hand (a poor decision in hindsight as it was an 80 degree day), she made the conversation incredibly comfortable, even helping me with my equipment as, of course, she knows her way around a camera much more than I.
Emily’s connection to New York started during her junior year at Luther College, where she studied Spanish and Fine Arts. She sent her portfolio to many photographers in New York in an effort to be productive during her winter break. It ended up being a good fit to intern under fashion photographer Jill Wachter. This experience, although unexpected and thrilling on its own, led to something even bigger; through working with Wachter, Emily also became connected with an assistant to acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz. This led to flying out for an interview after her return home, and eventually, Emily worked under Leibovitz for six months during the first part of her senior year, deciding to take time off of school to pursue this opportunity.
After graduating college, Emily decided to open VOSStudios in Wausau instead of New York, where she had created many networks while interning for Wachter and Leibovitz. Emily addressed how her resolution to come back to the small town environment instead of staying in bustling New York City was largely due to the tremendous support she felt from the community. In our interview, she describes the difficulties and benefits of owning and developing her own business, and how finding balance between work and her personal life has become extremely important to her. Emily continues to give back to her community through a group she started that centers on trying to connect 20-somethings working in the area. This is all in an effort to retain young professionals in the area (a problem certainly not unique to Wausau, but to many small towns across the United States).
We conversed about the importance of taking risks, the skepticism surrounding the value of a college education, giving back to the community, dealing with the pressure to get a stable job, and even were graced with the presence of a special four-legged guest. The conversation in full is available at the end of this article, or continue below to listen in on specific segments.
(Finn wants you to…)
After opening VOSStudios in Wausau, WI, Emily did not have any trouble finding work, but instead, was forced to decide how she might turn people away in an attempt to find balance in her own life. She comments on some of the expected and unexpected aspects of building a business.
“The big fear is sitting in this empty space with no one here…but it has actually been the opposite problem, like learning how to say no and how to turn people away, and just being so busy that I feel like I can’t give everything to everyone.”
As the cost of a college education continually rises, there is increased skepticism surrounding its value. With such an investment, I think many millennials feel pressure to find a stable job right out of a college in order to repay debts and become financially stable. This often prompts students to take positions at large corporations and firms in an effort to eliminate uncertainty in lieu of pursuing careers they find fulfilling or stimulating. I asked Emily what she thought the value of her college education was, and how she dealt with the pressure to pursue a stable job.
On her website for VOSStudios, Emily describes the power photography has to encourage empathy, stating:
“When people see my work I want them to feel integrated into the images so that they may feel and relate to whatever emotion is pulsing through the subject. I wish to demonstrate the similarity of the human being that lies within each of us that transcends differences in race, religion and gender, making us global citizens of our planet.”
Emily commented on how her mission has adjusted while working in the commercial realm because it is less creative in some aspects, but still has the ability to empower clients by making them embrace their emotional and physical selves. She explains how photography is emotionally and creatively satisfying, and how opening her own studio has changed her definition of success.
The largest theme that I identified from this section of our conversation is authenticity. For Emily, doing a shoot with a client is always about exposing the true beauty in them, even if they can’t see it themselves. When I asked Emily what advice she would offer to her younger self, the idea of authenticity emerged again. She answered:
“I think the most important one that I have seen in my life is to embrace yourself and be you. I am very quirky and eccentric and it took me a long time to appreciate that and be able to share that with others, and I feel like so many of us are so afraid to be ourselves.”
It was great having a young and local voice on The Conversationalist. Thanks to Emily for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk, and to Finn for gracing us with his presence.
Watch my full conversation with Emily Voss:
Thanks for watching, and don’t forget to check out my podcast with Emily on the Eavesdrop page. Speak to you soon.