Erin Little, An Every Day Mom, Runner And Photographer

Erin may be "Little," but she is a photography warrior and abuse survivor. Her genuine love of photography began at age 3. Her exploration of self, culture, and her versatility has earned her some impressive clients including People Magazine, GQ, Apple, National Geographic, Airbnb, New York Times, and much more here. With a vision and passion aligned, here is a light shining into Erin's life.

"I like getting older, your whole world changes."

-Erin Little

I do! Discovering more about yourself, feeling more comfortable and confident, and really relaxing into yourself is not an easy thing when you are young. I hesitate to say it because it sounds depressing, but it’s all the really hard moments in your life and the seemingly impossible situations that I believe are necessary to finding that comfort in who you are. You make it through and reach the other side stronger, more capable, and with a little more respect for yourself. So yes, I like getting older. It’s like buying a new pair of jeans. The longer you own them and the more you wear them, the more comfortable they become. But check back in with me when I’m dealing with wrinkles and everything is sagging…haha!

 
 Photo Credit: Nick Johnson

Photo Credit: Nick Johnson

 

I think it's safe to say you are a born photographer. At the age of 3, you held your first Polaroid camera. Can you talk about this experience and how it's lead you to where you are today? 

I think I’m a born observer. Photography is just my outlet for that. I’ve always been extraordinarily observant of people and my surroundings. As a child, I felt things very strongly and experienced everything at an intensity that was often frightening. So I came across as extremely shy because I had to limit these sensations which meant I often tried to be alone when out in the world. It’s funny how I grew up to be an extremely extroverted person who can’t get enough of new experiences! 

I think perhaps that when I was behind the camera, I was able to not only be one step removed from my situation which I benefited from when I was so sensitive, but it was also my ability to capture the things that were important to me, that others might not see. I have always been extremely drawn to textures, environments, and really artistic people. That has definitely carried through into my work today. But now instead of hiding behind my camera, I use it as an extension of myself.

Can you discuss the competitive environment of professional photography? Where do you fall within this?

I think that with any industry that relies on freelancing, it’s extremely competitive. You’re all putting so much effort and energy into landing that job, and it seems like you’re up against every other person in the world doing the same thing as you are. But I’ve always believed the opposite. There’s enough work out there for all of us to sustain ourselves. I tend to put a lot of faith and trust in people and I’m a very open person. I have done this in all areas of my life, not just professionally. And unfortunately, I’ve been burned too many times to count. I’ve been used for information, as a stepping stone…you name it. It’s made me a little more cautious in my relationships all around, but I think that’s just growth and learning what works and what doesn’t. I tend to find inspiration in photographers who are working with the clients I dream of collaborating with one day. But competition? I only find competition within myself. I am constantly competing with who I was yesterday, always striving to be better. I never want to settle for who I am at any particular moment. I believe there’s always something more meaningful around the corner.

What are you the most passionate about today? 

I guess right now I’m completely and absolutely obsessed with European design, interiors, and fashion. I have been for a number of years and have found it so conflicting for me creatively because I live in Maine. I am not surrounded by the things that I find inspiring and beautiful. Also, jazz music. I am constantly listening to jazz and I think the fact I was a jazz trumpet performance major and understand the art of improvisation helps me in so many visual and creative ways in my work as a photographer. And last but not least, supporting my daughter and watching her grow. I’m trying to give her a good example of being a hard worker, strong and independent woman, and teaching her that her voice matters.

What projects are you working on currently?

I’m working on a few, but one that I’m really excited about is a project about my father’s life. I started it after he died in 2015 and have been taking my time to complete it. It’s a pretty emotional project for me, as I’m not only photographing the things I chose to keep from his home, but also spreading some of his ashes each time I do it. My father was an extremely talented man, but unfortunately, he had demons he couldn’t quite control. So this has been a good way of really appreciating the things I loved most about him and what he taught me about life. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done before and involves moving pictures as well as stills, and the final presentation should be visually unique and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m really excited to wrap it up this spring.

Do you have a favorite photographer or someone's work you admire most? 

I am really inspired by Simon Watson, Peggy Sirota, Stephen Shore, and my friend Mark McCall.

A special message from Erin's friend and admired photographer, Mark McCall

"Erin has a wonderful searching aura about her. She has her fingers and toes in just about everything & soon incorporates any new pebble of interest into her orbit. She's a compassionate photographer, a natural musician, an athlete, a loving mother and a friend to the friendless. 

For one word I would say "Vision". She always seems to have view of the world & distant destinations that no one else can see. But she sends me postcards."

Something not many people may know about you is that you are a runner. You've run every day for 20 years, and you're fast! Why do you run? Will you train for a marathon someday? 

Well, I was a “band geek” and so sports were not my forte growing up. My older sister is a runner and I can remember when I was around fourteen she asked me how much I was running and I said “running?! Yea right…” And she looked at me like I was crazy. So I tried it. I began very slowly (literally in circles in my backyard to make sure I could actually do it) and then ventured out onto the streets. It took me a while to get past the fear of being stranded somewhere in exhaustion and not making it back home, but I have been running at least 4-5 times a week since and I tend to run on the faster side. I figure why go slow when you can go fast? But over the years people have commented on my speed and I guess I’m pretty speedy. 

 
 "Well, many of you know I've been training for the  @tdbeach2beacon  and it was an amazing experience! What a great and inspiring day. I was happy to get to spend some time with  @joanbenoitsamuelson  this past week, who is the reason this race happens! Thanks to  @themainemag  for welcoming me to their team and I can't wait to do it again next year!" via  Erin Little's Instagram

"Well, many of you know I've been training for the @tdbeach2beacon and it was an amazing experience! What a great and inspiring day. I was happy to get to spend some time with @joanbenoitsamuelson this past week, who is the reason this race happens! Thanks to @themainemag for welcoming me to their team and I can't wait to do it again next year!" via Erin Little's Instagram

 

I run mostly to keep my sanity. It grounds me and I find pride in myself after completing many miles. I feel strong. I have run to center myself through many extremely challenging life situations and I often wonder how I would have made it through without it. I ran through Lyme disease and Babesia, even though on most of those runs I actually wondered how I would make it home. But I pushed through. One of my worst fears is injuring myself to the point of being unable to run. I feel like it’s my lifeline. I love it so much and I’m so thankful I have that to guide me through life.

I often refer to negative experiences in our lives paving the way for growth and opportunity. I also think it's important to share the voices of women who have survived abuse and have triumphed. Can you share your story with us? 

Abuse takes on so many forms and the one thing I’ve learned is that it’s very complicated. I used to hear stories of women staying with their abusers and I could never understand that. But when you find yourself in that situation, there is so much more to it that makes it extraordinarily difficult to extricate yourself.

Abuse can creep up on you, making you think it’s a one-time thing. You find yourself justifying the behaviors to normalize it, and when the good parts of the relationship are so good, it just adds to the justification of why you stay. After years of anxiety and fear, one day I woke up and almost stepped outside of my body.

 I think it was my inner strength and intuition that could no longer be ignored, so it took over despite what my thoughts were trying to do. It took control and I made the extremely difficult commitment to leave and started moving forward making decisions while I felt I was in autopilot mode. I would literally hear decisions come out of my mouth that I almost felt were forced by something greater than myself. I think because my heart and my head were so tied up into one entity, that making these decisions had always been so painful. But then my head just took over and left my heart out of it. Survival mode, I guess. I did question whether or not I was doing the right thing, if I could survive, if I would regret everything, etc. But when I woke up in my own bed the first morning after I had moved, I felt so safe and I knew everything was going to be okay.

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The emotional process of recovering after something like this is a rollercoaster. There was grieving a relationship and someone I loved, and there was the aftermath of the abuse and the shame I felt, not to mention all the memories still so fresh. I had only told one close friend over the years what was happening, so support from friends and family came after. Which was complicated because people didn’t understand why I didn’t talk to them before, and some were angry. But I don’t think people understand the shame you feel, or how you try to justify the actions to make them normal. It’s a very complicated emotional process. I think looking back, I wish I had confided in more people, but at the time it didn’t seem possible.

Going forward, I feel like this experience has been such a blessing. I really dissected myself, stripping myself down to the fundamentals and took a look at my strengths, flaws, hopes, dreams, needs…everything. I feel like I needed this experience to shift gears in my life and have an awareness that I didn’t have before. But obviously, it would have been better if that could have come about without an abusive situation as the catalyst.

 Photo Credit: Nick Johnson

Photo Credit: Nick Johnson

What is your proudest personal and professional accomplishment? 

This is a hard one, because people who know me well know that I never truly indulge in the now…I’m always working towards the future. But I think I need to find pride in present accomplishments. One of my proudest moments was playing with Dave Brubeck. I will never forget that night! I remember crawling into bed around 3 a.m. after the show and thinking “Okay, now I can die happy.” It was the best night of my life.

In terms of a personal accomplishment, that would be my daughter. She and I have been through a lot and she has brought me such joy and satisfaction watching her grow into such a healthy, talented person. She is one of the most amazing kids I have ever known, and I say that being completely unbiased because I can step outside my role as her mother and know that I would actually want to hang out with her if she were not my kid. She’s insightful, smart, funny, and incredibly mature for her age. I feel like she is on her own predetermined path in life and my job has always been to just support her. But it has been so fun to expose her to as many things as possible as she’s growing up like art, culture, travel, music, and unique experiences. I hope these things help shape the person she is in the future and give her a good awareness and foundation for her life.

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I'd like to share a message with the world on your behalf, what should I share? 

I feel like anything I would answer this with would sound so cliche, but I guess I would say to trust your path. And never, ever give up.

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote? 

My favorite quote was thought to have been said by Meryl Streep after it circulated on Facebook with her picture attached to it, but it was actually by a Portuguese self-help coach and author José Micard. I have it up on my bulletin board and read it often:

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me.

I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship, I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.”

In one word describe yourself:  

Determined

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To Connect with Erin: 

 
 "Why go slow when you can go fast?" -Erin Little 

"Why go slow when you can go fast?" -Erin Little 

 
 "2018 is going to be the year of growth, and I’m so excited about that! Thank you to all the friendships, new and old, who have just been a huge support and source of laughter. So here’s to 2018!!" -EL 

"2018 is going to be the year of growth, and I’m so excited about that! Thank you to all the friendships, new and old, who have just been a huge support and source of laughter. So here’s to 2018!!" -EL