Each year, the 40 under 40 nominees receive an email with 7 questions. We are told we get 45 seconds to make an impact on a room filled with community leaders and we won’t know which question we will answer in advance. AND GO. Since 45 seconds is never enough time, I decided to cheat and answer all the questions for you!
What is something you are passionate about?
I’m out passionate about building relationships. I see this as the common thread in all the work I do. When I’m photographing, I strive to create a really powerful one on one connection where my client can be comfortable and confident in front of my camera.
I love relationship building in the community. Joining FemCity, starting Wednesdays with Whitney, growing, starting the #dsmhummingbird community, growing the Unapologetically Extra ideology, all of these platforms showcase my strong desire to create connection.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Photography is the only job I’ve ever had. I actually went to school for photography twice. I received my bachelors of fine arts in Photography and BA in Journalism at University of Iowa and then went on to get my Masters at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, a really excellent photo school.
I’ve always worked in my field helping other small business owners achieve their dreams and run their businesses. So when it came time to branch out on my own, it was natural for me to move back to Iowa and start pursuing my first and only career path.
Also - I’m an 8 on the enneagram chart. The Challenger. Most common adjective to describe and 8 personality type are self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive and domineering. Sound about right?
Who is someone you consider a mentor and what is one thing you have learned from that person?
Buz Brenton. Buz has been officially retired for decades but hasn’t stopped moving and contributing a day in his life. He always has a project and he’s always looking to improve the city we live in. He’s spearheaded the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens renovation and created the Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center (my favorite place to take my dog Winston to roam on the weekends).
Buz has taught me what impact looks like. He’s taught me how to care for the city we live in and dive deep into passion to bring force all the good you can. And from our walks through Woodland Cemetery and Brenton Arboretum, he’s also given me a sincere appreciate for beauty of trees.
Please describe the significance of this photo.
Photos are my world. I believe that every intentional photo has significance. I happen to like to turn my lens on people. I truly believe photos are what we leave behind. They are the markers of a life filled with tons of gorgeous moments with special people. I am constantly documenting myself, my friends and family and my community, because I know what it’s like to loose someone, and I know how important those photos and those memories are after they are gone. I also know what it’s like to relive the joyful memories behind the photos over and over again. And I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
If you could repeat one fun or memorable experience, what would it be and why?
Most of my life is structured around giving me the ability to travel. My passion for new experiences and getting out of my comfort zone was ingrained from a young age. The most beautiful example I can think of was a trip I took with my mom during college. I had just gotten back from studying abroad in Europe. She wanted to spend some quality time together and said I could pick anywhere. I had just been on airplanes and trains for 8 weeks and couldn’t bare the thought of any more mass transit so I suggested an Iowa road trip. And that’s what we did. We spent four days driving around Northeast Iowa, stopping at every hole in the wall tourist experience and “best burger” joint we could find. We drove slowly and pulled over anytime I wanted to take pictures.
That trip taught that adventure is a mindset, not a destination.
If you could give one piece of advice to the next generation of Central Iowa business leaders, what would it be and why?
Show up consistently. And when I say show up, I mean, physically show up at network events, put yourself out there in leadership positions, start things, organize events, join boards and create community on social media.
Pick people and organizations you find meaningful and give back to them. For me, it was Dress for Success, FemCity, GDMBG, the Food Bank of Iowa.
And don’t be afraid to be bold, hold out your hand to a new face and introduce yourself. If you want to make an impact, the first thing you need to do it be willing to put yourself on the line.
What was the best advice you received when launching your career?
Say what you do with pride to everyone, often.
One of my first social events in DSM was as the guest of Joyce Chapman to a DSM Symphony event. Joyce has been a Des Moines Symphony supporter for years and she bought me as a guest meet some of her friends fellow music lovers. This was in the first few months of my business, when Ivory House existed but I didn’t really feel like I “owned” anything yet.
I remember introducing myself to one of Joyce’s friends saying that I was a photographer. Just a photographer. As we walked away, Joyce looked at me and said, “Whitney, say the name of your business every time you introduce yourself to people. This is how they will learn to know you. This is how they will remember you.”
That shifted something in me. I realized I had to own my brand and what I was building before anyone else could get behind no board.