After 20 years and 3 kids, back to school
Sharon Rankin never gave up on her dream of becoming a professional photographer. Throughout her jobs as a general contractor, a hazardous waste environmental manager, a contract administrator, a personnel administrator and a mother of three children, Rankin took pictures. But it wasn’t until 2006 that the Dresher resident decided to scale back on her numerous responsibilities, including volunteering for her children’s schools’ parent committees and fundraisers, and see where her passion could take her. That fall, Rankin visited Antonelli Institute in Erdenheim to see about taking classes. She returned the next day with a completed application and was immediately shown to her first class.
It had been 20 years since Rankin attended school as an undergraduate majoring in science. Many of her fellow students in Antonelli’s photography program were 18-year-old high school graduates, which gave Rankin insight to the teenage life her three children were then entering. (When asked her own age, Sharon, a native of Southern California, replied, “Mature.”) Alec, now 16; Robby, now 14, and Melanie, now 13, served as muses as well as “reluctant models” for her numerous homework assignments.
One assignment was to take a photograph that evokes true emotion. In this photo, Melanie, who Rankin describes as “my old soul,” wears a wedding dress from the 1970s and looks directly into the lens. The expression on her face is due to her just having had two teeth pulled.
What obstacles did Rankin have to overcome to achieve her dream? She replied, “I don’t like the word obstacles. I prefer to think of challenges. Challenges make it fun. Things that are worth doing may be difficult, but they’re worth it. My biggest challenge was feeling like I was missing out on my children’s lives for the two years I was in school because I was so focused on my studies. I knew they understood and supported me, but I still felt like I missed a part of their lives. I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t look at what I can’t do but what I want to do badly enough.’ You can always give yourself excuses: no time, no resources or no finances. If you have a passion for something, follow your dream, no matter what!”
Fortunately, Rankin was not alone in working towards her goal. In addition to her children’s participation, “I couldn’t have gone back to school without my husband Scott’s support. I was taking six classes per semester, and I wasn’t comfortable receiving any grade under an ‘A’.” (When asked her husband’s age, Sharon said, “He’s the age that knows what a Solid Gold dancer is.”) When Rankin had to stay late after class to reshoot or work in the dark room, Scott left his work as an engineer early to pick up the kids from school; to drive them to soccer and ice hockey games, ballet and tap classes, and drum and cello lessons; and to make dinner and clean up afterwards.
Her growing confidence in her schoolwork emboldened Rankin to enter the Karastan Rug-ged America “Make A Statement” 80th Anniversary Photo Contest last year. She explained, “I had lots of ideas as soon as the contest was announced, such as the Philadelphia Zoo and a golf course. We had one month to submit our photos; all students had access to the same rug, and we could only borrow it for a weekend.” The nation-wide contest was open to students in select photography schools and programs and was judged by 11,000 online visitors to www.karastan.com in three categories: Residential/Home, An American Setting and A Public Space.
Rankin won two out of the three categories. According to Alexandra Kirkman, vice-president at Veeder and Perman, a New York-based PR firm that represents Karastan and helped to develop the contest, “Taking top honors in the ‘Residential’ category, Sharon Rankin … created a serene, inviting image of a cozy solarium, complete with indoor swimming pool and a roaring fire. The viewer is instantly drawn into the space by the Karastan rug that enjoys a poolside spot in the foreground of the shot.”
Rankin also won the “An American Setting” category. “Shot with a fish-eye lens, it was inspired by ‘the glory days of American muscle cars,’” Rankin said, and incorporates a 1971 Chevelle SS and a 1968 Mustang. In keeping with the theme, the image also features a cheerful chocolate ‘Lab,’ one of the most popular dog breeds in the country, perched upon the richly decorated Karastan rug.
In keeping with the family connections to her creative work, the Labrador in this photo is Rankin’s own dog Bula, named after the Fijian word for “Hello, welcome, we love you,” and the man is her husband, Scott. With the $7,000 prize money ($3,500 for each of the winning categories), Rankin treated herself to a professional photo printer and a Macintosh laptop to work on her digital photography in her home studio.
In May, 2008, Rankin graduated Antonelli with a 4.0 GPA and an Associate in Specialized Technology Degree. She currently works as a freelance photographer doing commercial work and portraits, including families, seniors, babies, corporations and weddings. She plans to enter other photography contests since she enjoys “how much work and detail it takes to set up a photo shoot, find the right flowers, magazines and lighting to get the shot just right.”
Rankin advises aspiring photographers, including this writer, who just received her first digital camera as a gift from friends, “Don’t delete in camera. Wait until you’ve downloaded the photos to your computer, and look at the composition before making a decision to delete. Then, reshoot! Keep trying. Do it. Have fun with it. Find the joy in all that you do. Believe in yourself. If it gets too frustrating or too intense, take a step back and remember how much you love photography. The only thing that stands between you and what you want from life is usually the willingness to try it and the faith to believe that it is possible. I always sign my emails with ‘No Rain, No Rainbows.’ Without the gray days and rain, we wouldn’t have the beautiful rainbows in life.”
Rankin continues to dream of becoming a travel photographer for a National Geographic-type magazine, shooting pictures in Thailand, China and Australia, and possibly teaching photography someday. She’s definitely living her own advice!
Sharon Rankin’s upcoming website will be sharonrankinphotography.com. Those interested in seeing some of her recent work can go to: sharonrankin.photoreflect.com
Germantown resident, freelance writer and English professor Betsy Self Elijah has taught creative and academic writing in schools and with organizations throughout Philadelphia.