A Seat for Everyone | Guest post by Shannon Roddy / by Annemie Tonken

A couple of months ago, we decided to invite some of our former attendees to guest write for our blog. There are so many conferences and retreats and workshops out there, and we know how hard it can be for people to try to figure out which one is right for them, so we figured we’d let the people who’ve already taken the leap talk about their experiences. What we didn’t want were recaps of the jazz hands and glitter we all feel when we first leave a conference… we’ve got a long list of testimonials right here that do a great job capturing that amazing sense of YES!!! What we asked for instead was an honest reflection on the most valuable lessons that our attendees have taken away from The Family Narrative… lessons that have taken deep root and really made a difference in their businesses and lives.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve read about how Jenna Elliott’s whole focus changed when she realized that for ten years she’d been shooting for parents, when what really inspired her best work was shooting with the idea that her photographs were for the children in those families, now and in the future; you’ve read how at TFN Kristyn Miller was able to name the source of her creative inspiration, and in so doing, discovered a path that would pull her lens in a different direction; and you’ve read how Amy Hanen found the inspiration and the support necessary to change up her business model so that she could keep doing the work she loved while also making space (and some extra money) for herself in her life.

Today’s guest post is a little different, though, and honestly, really, really exciting to those of us who founded The Family Narrative. When you host a conference, your first obligation (we believe) is to provide content that is helpful and actionable - that offers value for the time and money that people spend to come. We took it a step further, though, and when we first dreamed up this crazy idea, we decided that if we were going to build a platform, we were going to put it to work for some other, bigger purposes. We at TFN are big believers in Family-with-a-capital-F, family that goes beyond definitions and boxes and tradition. We believe that all people have a right to be seen and heard, and we think that it’s our responsibility, individually as humans and collectively as an industry, to promote inclusivity.

To hear that this made such an impact on today’s guest blogger- that it changed her business and her life - means the world to us. So without further ado, here’s Shannon Roddy: TFN alum x2 (soon-to-be-3!) and Brooklyn family photographer extraordinaire:

The Family Narrative in 2017 was the first workshop that illustrated to me how we can only truly grow with purpose as an industry when there is a seat for everyone at the table.


The Family Narrative created space for a meaningful and honest connection through their thoughtful curation of teachers, the intimately-sized group, and a focus on real issues. I learned lots of things that week, but my biggest take home was TFN’s vision and commitment to address inclusion in the family photography industry. I saw that I could make an impactful contribution to that cause in my own business as a family photographer, and it was a wake-up call that I had a lot of personal work to do to get there.


It’s easy to make assumptions and try to pigeonhole, but families are not monolithic, and I realized that it’s important that my clients name and define themselves.  Sarah's Deragon talk on how to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community helped me become more conscious of my words and understand the difference between gender identity, expression, and orientation. I walked away feeling more confident in communicating with my clients in a way that made their family identities understood and valued. 



Margaret Jacobsen shared their experience of feeling invisible as a Black child raised in a predominately white suburb. That feeling of invisibility was reinforced by their surroundings: neighborhood, classroom, magazines, movies, and advertisements. Hearing Margaret made me reflect on the message I was communicating with those families not represented in my photographs.  Our conversation helped me seek a deeper purpose in my work as a photographer, celebrating a wide range of family identities and working to strengthen their sense of belonging. 



One photographer at TFN shared her difficulty booking a session for her and her children after she got divorced; another helped me to go beyond my own experience as the daughter of a single Mom and empathize with the perspective of a single parent in the context of family photos. Since that first year at TFN, I have repositioned my client consults to talk less and listen more. I ask more open-ended questions. What are my client's hopes, dreams, and fears? How can I reflect the beauty that exists in their family rather than fabricate beauty from some templated ideal?



What a gift! Connecting and learning about my fellow attendees’ families and communities between lectures and live shoots fostered new perspectives on my own experiences and deepened connections with my clients with self-reflection and cultural humility.   

However we experience it, photography creates opportunities to step, however briefly, into a place where different realities intersect; a place where new windows are opened, both on the world and on ourselves.
— Carla Jean McKinney

After TFN, I began to adjust my business practices and implement change with sensitivity, respect, and transparency. Portfolio building sessions, expanding my referral network, volunteer work, and continuing education have been a few angles of approach.  It is an evolving work in progress and moving toward progress has been so rewarding to me personally and professionally.  I am forever grateful for The Family Narrative and its growing community… your presence, connection, and sharing was such a gift. See you in March! 


Need some inspiration in your business? Join us in March… we’ve got a few seats left and are just days away from closing ticket sales!