In continuing with photographer Sharon Hallman’s Second Act Story, she tells of her journey to Maryland and eventually Northern Virginia, and how she came to [re]discover photography as her life’s passion…
A Series of Very Fortunate Events
“It was as if the waters were parted for us and we walked right through it.”
So here’s the play-by-play after Sharon and her husband decide to give up their successful lives in NY:
– They sold their house themselves – *reminder: in the Great Recession* – while Sharon was closing up her company and her husband was shutting down the construction company he owned.
– They now had nowhere to live and no jobs.
– Sharon’s husband is chatting with someone in Starbucks that he sees occasionally in line. He tells the guy their story, concluding with the fact that they had no place to live. This guy says he’s going to Ireland for 6 weeks and they can stay at his place.
This guy hands him the key. To his house. In line at Starbucks.
– Sharon’s sister had some construction work done and mentions that her brother-in-law is moving to the area and wants a job in construction. Sharon’s husband gets the job at a time when, due to the recession, NO ONE is hiring in construction.
– The construction owner happens to have a house he’s going to re-do. It’s empty but they can rent it for a great price.
Turns out it’s a McMansion. On a golf course.
– Our happy couple has all their belongings in 3 pods. They unpack 2 Adirondack chairs and a bed.
“It was just the two of us…and can I tell you that time was the most liberating time in my whole life.”
And this is how your life works?
Sharon: No, I never ‘won’ anything in my life, not even a $5 lottery ticket, but for unknown reasons, once we decided to take a leap of faith, everything started lining up for us in a magical way. Throughout my life whenever times were challenging, my father always said to me, “Hang in there, Sharon, good things happen to good people. And you’re a good person.” I used to say, “But Dad when is that going to happen?”
So it all came around. It comes around when you least expect it.
In Upperco, Md, a ‘teeny tiny farm town,’ our heroine is not working for the first time in her adult life. Here she finds the space to “start crossing things off my bucket list.”
Bucket List Adventures? Alpaca bag!
“I didn’t have to do anything. I had the freedom to explore.”
Sharon: I decided to go and meet the townspeople. I love talking to people and listening to their stories so I would walk to the tiny, quaint country town and start up lovely conversations with the very friendly townspeople and shop owners. I found myself walking everywhere. I lived 2 miles outside of town and just loved walking down the country roads with corn filled fields and animals everywhere.
Dee: And you were in a beautiful area.
S: It was so beautiful. I was surrounded by bucolic farms and it spoke to me. Ever since I was a little girl, I had always felt like a farm girl deep inside my soul even though I grew up in suburban Long Island, NY.
So I thought, “Okay, well, I have nothing to do and we don’t know how long we’re going to be here, and I always wanted to find out what alpacas are like.”
(Alpacas? What the… what?)
S: Years ago, I saw Jane Pauley’s show “Your Life Calling” which featured people over 50 reinventing their lives and she featured a successful businessman who also wanted to check out of corporate life and do something completely different. He had met someone who had an alpaca and fell in love with these animals. So the second half of his life, he bought a farm and a large herd of alpaca. He and his wife then invited kids from schools to their farm to learn about them, and he loved it. I remember seeing that episode and ‘IT’ always stuck with me.
‘IT’ was the idea that you could change the course of your life and do what really speaks to your heart. I believe her show, the concept of reinventing yourself, sowed a seed inside of me that ultimately changed the course of our lives. If someone else could do it, why couldn’t I/We?
I loved her stories and I’m so excited that you’re doing Second Act Stories and that I can be a part of it. I hope my story of reinvention gives someone else the idea and courage to follow their own heart and do what speaks to them.
Originally we were on the lookout for a farm with a barn we could renovate and turn into an event space, bed and breakfast, art space…something along those lines. With animals and a huge garden. We thought we would really enjoy that. Since I didn’t know anything about caring for farm animals I started there. Specifically Alpacas. I knew I had to have at least 2 on my farm to be- I had fallen in love with their quirky smile and big hearts.
I searched the internet to see if anyone had an alpaca farm nearby, and I found this lovely couple ten miles from where we were who lived on a 10 acre farm with a herd of 30 alpacas! I couldn’t believe my luck.
We got along great on the phone. I went over, introduced myself, and next thing you know I’m volunteering on an alpaca farm.
I went there almost every day. I learned how to drive a tractor. I scooped poop – and I made it my mission to be the best pooper scooper I could be. The owner was surprised. “I have never seen my barn so clean in my entire life.” So they gave me the keys to this huge tractor and went off to work.
Then after I did my “chores” I would get out a lounge chair and sit on this hill, at this farm, and bring a book, and just sit among this herd. It’s a beautiful thing. There was one alpaca… we had a love affair. She was so funny looking – alpacas make me laugh, they’re the funniest looking animals ever – but she was special, and she had the most beautiful baby. We clicked. When I drove down the driveway, she would recognize my car and she would run. And when alpacas are happy they’ll cluck, so she would run out to my car going, “cluck cluck cluck.” When I got there she would be waiting for me, and wherever I went, she would lay at my feet. We just had this kinship.
(No regrets about leaving NY biz life?)
I remember one day, I was on top of this big hill with the tractor, and I took a picture as I looked around me at the bucolic setting, wearing my ripped jeans and farmboots and said to myself…”This feels like home & this is my new corporate chair.” I loved every minute of it.
Wrinkles are beautiful
S: During the time I took off to discover what I was going to do and be next, I volunteered for various jobs relating to things that I enjoyed doing. I thought that I might want to work in the field of geriatrics, because I really have an affinity for older people.
I love talking and spending time with elders as they are so wise. A lot of people never view them in that way, but I see they have so much wisdom and so much to share if you give them the time to talk, and care and value them. I volunteered at a nursing home and requested one-on-one companionship. I worked with one man who very much reminded me of my dad and who was younger but ill. I taught him how to get on the computer so he could speak with his grandchildren. And he loved art, so I’d bring my art supplies and we would paint, and we would draw, and we would spend time together. I just adored him.
I also worked with a woman who was 99, and I would sit with her and we would talk and she would reminisce and we would smile at each other. I still was thinking I was going into geriatrics, but at the time (just getting back into photography) I would go to the farm and take pictures of these beautiful alpacas, and the interaction between the mothers and the babies – I loved that.
D: Were you posting them?
S: Not at all. Professional photography wasn’t even something I was thinking of doing. But, then I took my camera to the nursing home, and fell head over heels with photographing this genre. I started thinking, this really speaks to my soul.
I love the wrinkles. I love their eyes. I love the wisdom. I love part of the sadness, the loneliness – I don’t love that, but something about capturing it. I almost want to say, “This is your elder. Go see them. Go spend time with them. If you sit with them they will share a lifetime of stories, advice, love, history and wisdom with you. Love them.”
Time passes and Serendipity continues to pave the way to a wonderful home in a rural part of Northern Virginia (yes, there is such a place.)
S: We decided we wanted to do a farm stay for my husband’s birthday (or I wanted for his birthday for us to do a farm stay, it was not his idea at all). I found the lovely WeatherLea Farm in Lovettsville, VA that offered farmstays on their land that featured sheep, a vineyard and wedding venue housed in their vintage barn on their 35 acre farm. The owners were wonderful! We really hit it off on the phone, her birthday was the same day as my husband’s, and we had a lot of other little things in common.
I really wanted to talk to her about how she ended up with the event space, because I love the idea of learning how someone made their passion happen and how they got from A to Z. It’s one thing to think you want to do it, but it’s another thing to get there.
I asked her if I could come back and talk to her about it, so I went back in March. We started talking, and she found out that my husband was in the field of construction. I told her that we were just exploring, looking for a new place,we weren’t sure where or what we wanted to do next. She said, “My best friend’s son has a construction company. Send him your husband’s resume, I’ll call him to just let him know it’s on the way.” I went home, I looked at the website, however there weren’t any job openings. I looked again the next morning at the website, and there is a job opening. And I’m thinking, this is unbelievable! They hired him.
In spite of his very long commute from MD to DC, we were thrilled and still pinching ourselves! We set out to move to VA. My new farm friend again steps in and introduced me to a lovely real estate agent, Kathy Shipley. I was with the real estate agent, driving around talking, and I shared with her that I was volunteering at a nursing home in Maryland. She says, “Oh, my grandmother lives in a nursing home in Maryland.” I told her that I was caring for a woman who was almost a hundred. When I mention her name, she says, “That’s my grandmother.”
That’s what I mean by our journey here…it just keeps happening – as if the stepping stones were being laid out for us and the waters parted. We can’t even believe our luck.
Kathy finds us our house. I then volunteered at a hospice center as a companion and am assigned to an amazing 98 year old woman. Beautiful Grace. That’s when, with her permission, I started bringing my camera – and she loved it. At first she was like, “Oh, no, no, no,” but then it was, “How about you capture me like this?”
I was her companion (and she mine) for two years. Every Tuesday night. I documented her stories and her lovely smile for two years. She was such a delight and I will forever cherish the time we spent together.
After she passed away I became a volunteer hospice photographer which I really enjoyed as I saw how much it meant to the families. It was not an easy job, but it was a very rewarding job.
Making the last picture of someone is very bittersweet and an honor.
Still searching for who I was to become, I started taking care of Lilly, a 7 week old newborn baby girl.
Now, Lilly’s life has been documented since the minute I started caring for her. People started seeing the pictures I made, and were asking, “Can you take pictures of my child?” So that’s kind of how all of that started. People were really into the baby-in-the-basket style images, which I thought I would really love, but I didn’t.. It was really challenging. I was spending two hours trying to make the baby fall asleep only for them to wake up again?
I questioned myself: What about capturing the tender moments when you’re just holding the baby, and falling in love with each other? What about documenting real life? Capturing love and connection in an authentic way? Why only photograph children? What about capturing an individual meeting their own self and seeing their own beauty in a way they never saw before? That’s the photography I enjoy. Not making the baby fall asleep and putting flowers around their face. Yes there’s a place [for that] and yes they look beautiful, but that’s not my joy.
That’s when I started questioning how I was going to make a business out of this? People are more interested and willing to spend money on staged images. OR- was that a story I was telling myself?
I wasn’t going to give up…my soul just had to find its own path…
Taking creative risks like this and giving herself room to think outside of the box is what led our heroine to discover her artistic niche…
Stay tuned for the third and final installation of Sharon’s Second Act Story to hear how she found the confidence to fully pursue photography, and get a sneak peek into the thoughts and purpose she brings to her work!
With mirth and laughter , let old wrinkles come .