Erin Knowles recently made the leap from full-time employment to work-at-home enterpreneur. While her business is events and family photography, she is an artist who holds a camera. Erin is also active in the community, serving on the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum Board of Directors as well as being involved in the UP Center of Champaign County. Erin and her partner of 17 years, Cari, are parents to Henry (4) and Millie (2), who never cease to make life interesting. Her favorite quote from the week? “No, Millie, NO! There’s poop in there!”
See why we think Erin is a Chambana Mom to know.
Q: You recently made the decision to leave your job to stay home with the children and start your own business. How did you reach the point where you felt you were ready to make that leap?
Photography has always been a passion of mine, and I think I reached the point of wanting to pursue it as more than a hobby about a year-and-a-half before I actually took the leap. For a long time, starting my own business wasn’t something I thought I could ever do, and honestly, I didn’t think I would be happy as a stay-at-home-mom. I always had this vision of what my “career” would look like, of where I would be in five or 10 years, and I had (mistakenly) used that vision as a measuring stick for defining what I thought a “successful” life looked like. I had been struggling with this for a long time, worrying that it would be absurd to step away from the professional track I had been on to pursue something like photography, for which I had received no formal training or education.
After our daughter was born, I took on a new job, and I really thought it was going to be the start of something great. It turns out that it was, but not for the reasons I had anticipated! What I experienced in that position, while discouraging at the time, turns out to have allowed me to gain a deeper, clearer, and more confident understanding of who I am, and gave me the final push I needed to take the leap. In the last few months, I’ve realized that I have landed exactly where I am supposed to be.
Q: Your photography is strikingly beautiful. What is your favorite subject and why?
My favorite subjects to capture are people, particularly people who are experiencing moments of honesty, whether that’s while reading a book or performing on stage. In these moments (sometimes quiet, sometimes not) I’m not always searching for a smile, but something a bit more raw, a bit more exposed. If you follow me on Instagram (@erinkv), you’ll notice that my children take front and center, with bits of street photography interspersed. The beauty of children is that they do a good job of holding a mirror up to you, and keeping you honest – not just with them, but with yourself. I didn’t expect the transition from full-time working parent to stay-at-home-mom to become such a philosophical journey. In my life I look and seek out moments of connection, whether that be with people or things I see while walking down the street. It’s usually at those moments that I go “click” on my camera (or iPhone!).
Recently I was asked by an artist friend to display some photos as part of a “Gallery Walk” night over in Lafayette, IN. I participated in the “Draw Every Day for a Year” show on May 11. In my mind I was all set to show some of my street photography, until my friend suggested I show some of my people pictures instead. I had never considered that because it seemed too personal and like too much of a risk. Posting things on Instagram, for me, is comfortably anonymous. Hanging pictures on a wall and then being able to witness people’s reactions feels scary! To be honest, I’m not really certain yet how my side projects or more artistic endeavors fit with my business as a Family and Events photographer. But, I’ve decided to take what is to me the biggest leap yet – to just open myself up and see where things take me.
Q: What does Mother’s Day mean in a two-mom family?
I imagine it means something a little different for every two-mom family out there, depending on your roles within the relationship and family, and how you identify individually with yourself and in the context of your children. For us, it’s a celebration and a reminder of just how lucky we are to have the family that we do. Specifically, we divvy up the “parent days.” We celebrate my partner (who the kids call Mommy) on Mother’s Day, and in our house Father’s Day becomes “Mama’s Day,” and it’s my turn to be celebrated. This way we each get to have our own special little day!
Q: What makes Champaign-Urbana a good place to raise a family for same-sex couples?
I believe Champaign-Urbana is a good place for us to raise our family for many of the same reasons that other families probably list. The smaller community anchored by a top research institution provides great access to a diverse array of activities and experiences. Though my partner Cari and I both grew up in the Midwest, we had lived in large cities for about 10 years prior to our move here. While it took some time to get used to, now I believe that though this community may be small, it’s mighty. I’ve really come to appreciate the practical things that make this a wonderful community in which to raise kids: no commute to work, low cost-of-living, great opportunities to experience high-quality arts and music programs, and strong park districts that provide a variety of activities. I have also been excited to get involved in community service here, and am currently on the Board of a local gem, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum.
We are thankful to live in a community where everyone we’ve come in personal contact with sees us for what we are, just another loving family. We have experienced kindness, openness, and support from many wonderful people, ranging from loved ones and acquaintances, to preschool teachers and medical professionals. We feel strongly about living in a place (region/state) that affords us, as a same-sex couple (and family), (most) of the rights and legal protections available to other couples and families. While we have some progress that still needs to be made, the State of Illinois is definitely ahead of the curve in many respects. Cari and I were married in California in 2008, and when the Civil Unions bill passed in Illinois last year, our marriage became recognized by the State of Illinois. This kind of recognition is important for symbolic and practical reasons. For example, I wouldn’t have been able to stay home with our kids or pursue this new career path if not for the ability to get benefits through Cari’s employer (the University).
Q: What does it mean to you to hear the President throw his support in favor of same-sex marriage?
I believe it’s an important moment that a sitting President, heading into an election season, would state his support for same sex marriage. While his statements were probably of little surprise to most people (despite his “evolving” sentiments), it still carries some risk to go on the record. I believe he could have been even more bold, and made this the national/federal issue that it is, instead of saying that it still needs to be decided at a local level. No doubt though, this is an important step, and one that means so much to so many people who thought they might not have ever experienced this moment in their lifetime.
Q:If you could give an amateur photographer one tip, what would it be?
Capture images that move you, be it a manhole cover on the street or the eyes of loved ones. Maybe it’s the tree in your front yard, or the bee, or the worm wriggling on the ground. Even if you don’t understand what draws you to push the trigger, don’t hold yourself back. As someone said on a program I was watching the other night: “Don’t be perfect, just be yourself.” Don’t allow a lack of formal education in the arts prevent you from picking up the camera (or paintbrush, spatula, basketball, etc). Friends may look at you strangely for being inches away from an eroding brick wall, wondering why you are taking a picture of such a small section (not that i would ever do this!) of ugly, peeling, layers of wall foundation, and that’s ok. You don’t have to have an understanding of the reason behind what attracts you to an image. Experience, technical ability, and a greater understanding will emerge along the way. Just be open to the possibilities and see where it takes you.
Erin Knowles was nominated to be a mom to know. Nominate a mom or dad today — contact us!