An interview with portrait photographer, Torii Bridges of 'Native Dreamer Photography'
"It's incredible how the push of a button can capture a moment, a memory made still, a story waiting to be told. The older I get, the deeper my roots grow into my art, the more I cherish the thousands of photos from my childhood. I've been so fortunate to be raised in a family where everyday moments were made magic by simply pushing a button and documenting life. Every first, every scratch, every haircut or crash, every emotion, every devotion, all made a celebration. It is so easy to forget the millions of blessings in our lives, but to see them and touch them and relive them through photographs is unlike anything else. "
As a full-time photographer and creative, Torii devotes her energy to capturing intimate moments in time. She has been through more than most will ever have to endure in a lifetime, and continues to embrace the spontaneity of life each and every day. When I relocated from New York, Torii and I met by chance of fate. The first time we ever hung out, Torii graciously offered to take me on a creative retreat with her. (but seriously, are you an angel?) The second time we ever hung out, we were camping and sharing a cot over a span of four days. Over the course of this week, we talked about deep, messy, uncomfortable life. We cried, we laughed, we created-- drank wine and danced in fields wearing flower crowns. (that she made from wildflowers, of course) This woman radiates a genuine love for life; for others. She knows loss, and has lived through hell to be the human she is today. Have you ever met someone, and instantly felt an impact? A footprint, left in your life forever? Torii is absolutely that for me. Read her interview to understand a little more about this BIG love and admiration-- you won't regret it xx
Introduce yourself and tell us a little more about the passion you are pursuing.
Hi my loves, Torii Bridges here. Aquarian born wanderer, full time dreamer and visual storyteller of Native Dreamer Photography. People are my passion and images, my love language. Ever since I can remember, when first interacting with people my mind does this overtake where I start to examine below the surface level, to get to know the depths of them as individuals. What they thirst for, what makes their heart beat faster, what makes their mouth water, what moments make them fully come alive. I strive to see what people are passionate about. Where do they go in their dreams? The way they tell stories. The stories they have to tell. This characteristic has been an incredible advantage when working so closely with individuals. Some call me a photographer, but I prefer the title, Visual Storyteller. My purpose with my camera is so much more than "Stand there. Do this. Smile. Click. Here is a happy photo. Enjoy." The art of photography, to me, is based off of the art of storytelling. Something that has been near and dear to my heart for as long as I can remember.
Prior to getting your hands on a camera, what pushed you to pursue the creative process and sharing yourself with others?
The outdoors has always been my home; my safe haven. Barefoot wandering with twigs and leaves intertwined in my nappy untamed head. My soul has always found it's purest serenity in the depths of the wild. Nature untouched, so majestic in every detail. From the playful whispers of the winds, to the graceful singing of the birds, the gentle crackle of the leaves beneath my feet, the roaring oceans waves to the trickling rivers and streams. There is a story to be told within each detail in every aspect of our creation. It merely blows my mind. These details have always spoken to me. As a child, I spent all of my free time roaming the lands of our house. 64 acres perfectly tucked away without another house in sight. Our "neighbors" consisted of frolicking horses, roaming cows and invasive genies who could not seem to resist the temptation of our land. Daily we would walk down our long windy driveway to catch the bus. Our sweet kitten, Smokey, would follow and the genies would greet us before the bus ever could. That's where the first story of the day would begin. Smokey's sweet purrs and dancing tail prancing with us down the long winding rocky trail, side by side with squawking polka dotted birds chasing our tiny feet, until we would say our goodbyes and enter the giant yellow rolling room where we are greeted by even louder squawking children. Everyday I was creating without knowing it. Throughout my youth I continued to tell stories in any way I could. Drawing endless play by plays, painting emotions until I felt they had been released, constructing creation with heart for the ones I love, journaling into the wee hours of the night. This was my day to day through my youth. It wasn't until my teenage years when I saved up enough to buy my first camera, that I immediately realized the power of this tool. My camera was a way for me to bring all of my work together; my writings, drawing, painting and creations, and with one tool, tell a story.
Knowing you personally, I know you have overcome quite a few obstacles to stand where you are today. Is there a specific time or experience that was particularly difficult for you?
Stand, literally. Ahah. Life is a crazy beautiful thing. We are given challenges day after day to help mold an shape us into the next version of ourselves. Life changing moments that literally test our strength and expand our limits. My 21st year here on earth started messy. On my actual birthday on a below freezing January night, I fell and shattered my ankle. That followed by surgery and 5 months of non-weight bearing movement. That was rough. Physically and mentally. Rough. I had just started pursuing my career and it was thrown into a complete halt. I had gone from a completely self-reliant, independent young adult, to living with my mother, being waited on hand and foot. Literally. However, with that came a genuine reconnection with my mother and a respect for her I had never known. It brought us together. My cast came off that June and life fell back into place. Loads more adventuring occurred and off I went to pursuing my next big dream. I was ready for a change of pace, a big move. I spent the month of August in my soon to be home, Oregon. The move was scheduled the day after Christmas and it couldn't come soon enough. I was determined to spend all of my remaining day in Virginia seeing all there was to see and connecting with as many people as I could while I still lived there.
"It was magic, until it was no longer.
What went from a beautiful day with friends.
quickly turned into the most tragic day of our lives..."
Then, one horrid November day, I met up with the sweetest group of Lynchburg friends to have a little photo adventure. The start of the day was absolutely incredible, the group connected in a way I had never truly experienced. We talked about life and death, the pursuit of our dreams, happiness and self-love. We climbed buildings, drank coffee, explored the city market and even made the largest leaf pile you have ever seen only to jump in it over an over. We took photos the whole day through and the joy simply beams from them. You guys, it was magic, until it was no longer. What went from a beautiful day with friends quickly turned into the most tragic day of our lives. While exploring a city park we walked down onto the train tracks. The most beautiful sight you've seen where a train trestle connects two mountains together-- hundreds of feet above a ravine. Sounds like every photographers dream right? Everybody loves a good photo train track photo, right? Clueless us--ignorant, mindless, clueless us. We walked out onto the trestle and within minutes a train came and forever rocked out world. I watched a dear friend pass that day. I looked a train in the lights nearly 50ft from my face. I saw the end. I could have reached out and touched it. I thought of everyone I’ve ever loved, of everyone that has loved me. I visualized my mom coming to identify what was left of me after the train had done its damage, and I jumped.
You guys, I don’t know how I'm here. I used to search for an answer to that but it is far beyond me. I lost some pieces of myself that day. But to be given another second, another minute, hour. Another day. Another year. I will never be able to explain it.
4. Do you feel this obstacle opened your eyes as a human and a creative-- pushed you to value your passions pursue them more openly?
Oh my, it opened up so many things for me. It was crazy at first. Numbing even, then one day-- I braved the photos. The images we had taken throughout our entire day. I opened them, and click by click the tears fell, but so came the laughter, the joy, the indescribable beauty of the day. They were like medicine to my broken heart, they provided more comfort than any family member or friend could, they were a calming blanked to my shaken body... and that’s when it hit me. That’s when I knew, without a doubt, this is what I was meant to do. To create lifelong memories for others. To give the gift of photographical medicine. To gift laughter and love to others through images and the beauty in a moment. To tell their stories as well as my own.
If I have learned anything from all of this it is that life is messy. It is challenging, painful, defeating and so very dangerous, but everyday you are given is SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL. Every single breath is a gift and I don’t take a minute of it for granted. This opened my eyes to so much as a human and as a artist. Remember smells, people’s laughter, the way someone’s hair blows in the wind. Put your phone down. Be present. Go climb mountains. Don’t accept defeat. Challenge those who doubt you. Never give up on what you believe in. Take road trips. Run through fields. Have sleepovers. Build forts. Tickle people. Have photos taken. Travel. Write. Read. Love unconditionally, with every ounce of your being. Go out of your way to brighten someone’s day. Call your parents. Give compliments. Always say I love you if you feel it. You guys, I mean it. You never know when you may reach the end. Make sure you love the life you have lived.
What about portrait photography do you feel is the most fulfilling?
The act of storytelling without a single word attached. People invite me in to some of their most personal life moments. Seasons of change, transition and often, times awakening. They open their hearts and truly let me in to a moment, in to a memory. Because if my clients trust in me, I am able to tell a story of their life, their love, and of timeless emotion. It is undoubtedly the most humbling experience, every time.
Has there been a particular someone/group of people who have inspired you to continue on your journey when times were tough?
I wish my answer was different than it is. I wish I could say my friends and family have been my biggest supporters since day one of my journey as a visual storyteller, that they have always encouraged my pursuit or even recognized it, but I would be lying. They have always acknowledged my creative heart. They have openly discussed how I see the world through different lens, since I was a young child. But when it comes to a career, they still don't understand it. I come from a vey small town of the south, where tradition is the only road openly understood. For years now they have only seen photography as a hobby, at most. They acknowledge my talent, but more often than not I am being asked, "What's next? What am I doing for work? When am I going to get a real job?" I chuckle when I say it out loud. I honestly don't give it to much thought or let it get to me much, anymore. I think it's just a different time from what they know. We live in an age where we can aggressively pursue our passion and create a career based around that. They are all laborers, manual, hands on. Work a job you have to, to get the bills paid and enjoy your "hobbies" on the side. It used to be really lonely, but I have accepted we just see it through different eyes. Though I must say, as of recent they have come around a lot more. Addressing my work as more than just a hobby, but a career. On a happy plus, more recently I have come to know the hearts of other creatives who are also passionately pursuing their careers and anytime we have questions or doubts, we come together to lift each other up. I am eternally grateful for these ladies. My soul sisters, you know who you are.
We often discuss both the beauty and ugliness of social media. I know you and I value the word "authenticity"-- can you touch more on this subject as a photographer, business owner, and... human?
"Young boys and girls, artist and creatives, constantly swarmed by people just like them, but perceived as better, more loved, more beautiful, more talented. I think that is tough if people fall for the spell of it all.."
Oh social media, where to begin. Honestly, social media has transformed into a beautiful thing for creatives and small business in the past year. It is a powerful tool to share your passion with the world, and it is damn good, but where there is beauty, ugliness lurks closely behind. Social media can be more destructive than it can be helpful. The comparison game became a real living breathing thing when social media, instagram especially, exploded. Young boys and girls, artist and creatives, constantly swarmed by people just like them, but perceived as better, more loved, more beautiful, more talented. I think that is tough if people fall for the spell of it all. I remember when the hashtag #liveauthentic first came out. It was like a revolution telling the world to be you, be real, realness is beauty. But the genuine response was brief and soon after the staged photos returned. Beautiful lattes placed perfectly next to plants and trendy sunglasses. Staged photos, only for the sake of the photo. I couldn't image growing up in a time like that, and I am only 23. To be authentic is to be true to yourself, without pretenses or standards of what the world thinks it is supposed to mean. The definition of the word is literally "of undisputed origin; genuine." If people spent half more time honing in on their genuine hearts, and less time on social media, the world would have an insane amount of beautiful inspiring one of a kind people.
Can you share more about the non-glamorous side of working as a photographer?
For me, it is undoubtedly the technical aspect-- aside from my giant camera and lovely editing systems. The fact that every interaction with my clients is solely internet based, is overwhelming to me. Emails, contracts, direct messages, Facebook messages, comments, and even text messages. I have to write to do list just to keep the order of who to respond to first and address pieces of the conversation one by one. It sounds super silly for someone living and working in the age of technology, I know. I grew up in the boonies with dial up internet and shotty cell reception until the age of 16. So internet interaction naturally is not my preferred form of connection. Communication to me is so much deeper. I crave genuine connection with my clients. I prefer meet ups, coffee dates, and phone conversations. The detail and the beauty is in hearing someone’s voice and watching their facial expressions throughout a conversation. That type of connection is unmatched.
You share the same love of travel and experiences as many other creatives. Do you feel exploring (past + present) has influenced your drive and your work?
Honestly, I feel exploring is essential to the heart behind any creative. When we travel to new places we learn so much about the world around us, we learn new depths to our own self, and with that comes a deeper form of expression. My initial drive for pursuing photography as a way of storytelling came when my 20 year old self set off on a four moth solo trip across the country with no schedule, no itinerary, and no plans apart from exploring lands unknown to my eyes. It was during that time that I realized that images can be a way for me to allow there to go back into a genuine moment and feel what it was they were feeling. My work has always a reflection of my adventurous spirit. Whether it is for a session or for a day of soul searching I am constantly traveling to new places. Exploring the ends and outs of every location I visit. In many ways, it sets my soul on fire.
To see more of Torii's travels, visit her on Instagram
If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring portrait photographer creatives-- what would it be?
Love yourself first, believe in your ability, do not compare yourself or your work to others and never stop chasing what sets your soul on fire. If photography is that for you, pursue it wholeheartedly and it will flourish into more than you could ever imagine. You are enough, you are worthy and there is no one else in the world like you. Do not let your mind be clouded by the ideas of society. You are you. All your flawed, weird, quirky, imperfect characteristic are what make you you. That is magic. That is genuine beauty. You are living art.