Sara Hembree – The story behind The Grit of It

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(above: photo of me by Tuesday Martin)

I decided to have my friends and family ask me questions for the launch and introduction of The Grit of It. If I am hoping to have others share their grit and be somewhat vulnerable then I should have the same experience.  Here is my interview……

Nikki: What inspired you to do The Grit of It?

In August 2013, I had just been coming through a large amount and change in my life, some very difficult times. It had been almost a couple of years of rebuilding and trying to figure out who the hell I was. I was lost. I was fortunate enough to have some very supportive people around me. They believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. They knew what photography meant to me and how I lit up when I was shooting. It had been three years since I had really picked up a camera and my friend Scott Dunlop sent my portfolio into Rifflandia Music Festival. I was so surprised when I got the message that I was able to be on the Rifflandia photography team. Not only had I not been around people very much at that time but I had also never shot music before! Needless to say, I was terrified.
My first assignment for Rifflandia was shooting at Artlandia. I was to follow Chris Vickers around and take shots of him “club-zone” style. I grabbed my broken Nikon D80, even bought a flash for the assignment. I was full of anxiety!! I met Chris outside Rifflandia Headquarters and we chatted a bit before we went inside. Out of the blue, i nervously asked Vickers if he had ever had an interview go bad, as he interviews the musical acts who come to Rifflandia. He thought about it for a moment, and told me about how he had interviewed his musical idol, Wayne Coyne. The interview was a mild disaster and Chris had been pretty choked. (Read more about that interview here).  Little did i know, at that moment, that I was about to take the worst photos I’ve shot for anyone!! I couldn’t get my new flash working so I rushed the shots, the composition was off, they were mostly blurry! It was a mess!
I went home devastated. I didn’t know how I was going to send the photo’s in, but I did. I was certain I would be pulled off the Rifflandia team. I was certain I was not to be a photographer. My dramatic little mind was everywhere. For two whole days I was bummed.
I made it worse by hitting Facebook! I searched local photographers and looked at how great they all were and compared myself to them! It was horrible! On day two of this ridiculous behaviour, I suddenly remembered the story that Chris had told me. I remember how he had felt so disappointed. I asked myself, “what can I learn from that?“…..he kept going. He was still acting and still doing interviews for Rifflandia. He didn’t quit or dramatically throw in the towel. I needed to learn that it was ok when things went wrong.
His story kept me going. In the weeks to come I would shoot for Rifflandia, and get some pretty great shots. Had I quit I would have missed a great experience and probably not continued to shoot music or go on to do this blog. Here’s one of my shots on the Rifflandia website ……..…….Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 1.33.35 AM
I started to seek out more stories from people. A friendship with photographer, Casey Bennett, taught me how normal it was for things to not always be perfect. His honesty helped me when I doubted myself. Mistakes are made, tough times come and you learn.  A simple concept of course, but easily forgotten in the pages of beautiful selfies and lives that seem so amazing on timelines.
There is a real beauty in mistakes and hard times. A lot of humour too! It’s just part of this amazing human experience. I wanted to start a blog that featured this strength of people. Who can say “fuck, it’s not always easy” but who can also laugh and look back at those times where mistakes were made and hope was lost and share those times with people. Send some hope to those who are in that discouraging leg in their journey. Let them know they’re not alone. Life can feel shitty sometimes. It doesn’t always make sense. But we can learn from each other. We can take off the masks and be real.  We don’t always need to be so separate. It’s so easy to prejudge people and assume we know their story. I think we are all imperfectly perfect. The blog also is an opportunity to see what people in Victoria are up to. The creative projects they’ve started, their art, music, business, books etc. True Grit comes with the pursuit of a goal or objective so I wanted to feature people who are currently working on a creative endeavour.

Justin: What would you like to see happen with The Grit of It? What are your plans for the blog?

S: Just getting it organized and ready to launch has been my main focus. Still have a lot of interviews to post. I want to keep interviewing people. I have an idea to take it to a secret location next fall or spring. I’m working on it. I like to keep those plans on the down low until it gets confirmed. My hope is that it grows and is a source of inspiration and an escape from Facebook or media. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is great for keeping in touch and networking but its easy to get lost in and compare yourself to people. My hope is to feature real stories of people who are going after what they love to do and making it happen. Real stories of overcoming adversity and having grit. I also hope that people can laugh when reading it. Sometimes i reread David Chenery’s interview because it makes me laugh. Thats the most important part of this blog. I don’t want it to be heavy. Adversity is a tough topic to talk about. It can be heavy and it’s serious. I’m learning to find a balance in it. I don’t want people left with the impression that to talk about adversity is a downer. I want to focus more on the grit of it all. The strength and what gets us through. It’s a blog for everyone. An inspirational blog for people who don’t like inspirational blogs….ha…i’m not even sure, I’m making sense now.

Grace: What is “True Grit”?

S: perseverance, strength, resilience

Wiki Grit

Erin: If you could go back in time to interview someone who is no longer alive for True Grit who would it be & why? Who would you want to interview who is living? Who in Victoria would you like to in interview, but haven’t yet?

S: Maybe Jesus. He seems like a pretty cool dude. He had grit. But most of the others I’d love to interview lost their grit at the end…. Kurt Cobain and Alexander McQueen.

If I could interview one person alive, it would have to be Vivienne Westwood. The Godmother of punk rock. She inspires me. Her story inspires me. She co-created The Sex Pistols in order to sell clothes for goodness sake!! Think of that for a minute!  That’s pretty insane. I’d also like to interview Isaac Brock. I can relate to his lyrics more than any other songwriter. He’s brilliant without being over the top. Plus, I’ve always had a little crush on him.

There are so many I want to interview in Victoria….some of those are in the process and some I still need to ask.  Berkley Vopnfjörð and Lia Crowe are a couple that I would like to interview. I love their work and I know very little about them, I’d like to see what inspires them and get to know who they are. I also want to feature more couples. True Grit Love!

I’m excited about an upcoming interview with The Mants. I seriously love those guys!

Nikki:  Favourite sexual position? 

S: NIKKI!!! Nice try! You took full advantage of that “ask me anything”…haha

Perry: When was the last time you felt discouraged? How do you keep on keeping on?

S:  Discouraged…today, yesterday, the day before that. Some weeks are worse than others. I’m new at this. I’m learning as I go. I’ve never built a website, I don’t’ know that end of things. That can be frustrating.  I’m not a writer, so I stress about my grammar, spelling and proper sentence structure. I have a lot of hope for this project and I think it can help people and be a good source of inspiration, laughs and something real. I stress about it because I want it to do well. It’s hard not to take it on personally. I have to write a lot of people, ask them to share about themselves, hoping they’ll see my vision, often not knowing them at all. I feel vulnerable and people are busy, I don’t always hear back. Definitely, I can take it on personally. My mind does that….it’s Danger Bay when that happens. So I try to focus on the positive. I keep going and focus on the amazing people I have met and I get excited about the hope they give me and the hope they will give others. At the end of the day I can usually pull myself out of my own head and remember that this project isn’t about me. It’s about giving back a little of what we’ve been given…some grit.

Erin: Without adversity would life be as interesting?

S: I don’t think it would. I think that it’s a crucial part of development. It’s the balance of life. No one can escape it. I think it’s what you do in those times that make life interesting. For myself, I don’t look back at the times of adversity and feel sorry for myself or wish it didn’t happen. I see it as beautiful, humbling and strengthening. But I didn’t always see it that way.  I used to drink it away or shell up….enough of that kind of pain and unconsciousness eventually forced me to change.

A few years ago, I would have never done anything like this project. I was afraid of everything. Really cynical of people. It’s amazing to look back at that person. Seriously, I don’t know her. I remember her. I feel like giving her a hug or something. I had to hit a really big bottom. I was stubborn! I wasn’t living or challenging myself at all. I was completely unconscious. I just escaped as much as I could and eventually it caught up with me. I’m so glad that it did. The years of rebuilding weren’t easy. There were days I thought life was never going to get better. I just kept going. I met with people who had experienced the same, counsellors, Buddhist monks, anyone who could give guidance. It was a really beautiful time in my life. It didn’t feel that way at the time, but I can look back at it now and see the beauty in that darkness.

Shonna: What takes your breath away?

S: Being in a forest. Driving through the mountains. Alberta thunderstorms. Stairs.

Darren: If there was one problem on earth that you could solve; be it political, religious, environmental, health issues/disease for example, which would you choose and why?

S: Goodness, that seems impossible to answer and feels a little sad….there are so many. I suppose it depends on what is affecting me on what day. I’ve been working on The Inside Out Project – Victoria and getting to talk to lots of people regarding conserving our coast and that’s pretty damn important but I think the last time I got really frustrated and felt emotional about “world problems” was when I was thinking of child abuse. That stuff goes on in our own backyards and it’s often so well hidden. The little children, they’re helpless, you know….what are they going to do when the person they look to for love and encouragement is their abuser or their needs aren’t being met? It’s hard to think about and I guess I would wish to solve that. To have a safe and loving environment for every child….imagine how different our society would eventually be if we could solve that.

Nikki: After doing quite a few interviews for The Grit of It, do you feel more confident or feel like you have more grit, yourself, from hearing people’s stories? 

S: Absolutely. It seems like right when I’m feeling down or feeling like I can’t possibly live up to this idea I had for the blog, I get an interview sent back to me and I read it over, there’s always something that keeps me going. In the last few weeks, it’s been a huge source of inspiration for me. I replay these words in my head. Like Rad Juli saying “It’s going to be great” or Mark of Hundy Thou talking about how when they started their duo it was sloppy and over time things get more tight. These things help me. Every interview inspires me and keeps me going.

William: What has been the greatest thing you’ve learned over the years?

S: I’ve learned so much. It’s been a few years of huge transition. I’ve learned that to find acceptance I had to face pain instead of resisting it. I’ve learned that on the other side of the pain is freedom. I’ve learned that life is magical if you let it be and if you’re really looking. I’ve learned that it’s ok to let go and that I can’t control anything. I’ve learned that what I focus on grows and with that I learned to love people rather than fear them. That changed my life.  I’ve also learned not to take things so personally and get stuck in negative thinking about others because that can make my world a grim place. I’m no better than anyone and no worse.  I’ve learned to say goodbye when I need too….that was a hard one.

I’m still learning

Erin: Which is more appealing sitting in a cabin overlooking a quiet lake or tucked in a hammock on the beach listening to waves crashing in?

S: The cabin senario, hands down. I’m not a beach girl. I haven’t had an opportunity to be. I grew up in Alberta. I love lakes. I’ve spent a lot of summers in Invermere, BC. I love that part of BC. Also, my family has a cabin in Alberta, kinda in the middle of nowhere. Creeks, beautiful forest, solitude. I spent a lot of time there growing up…tagging along behind my brother and fishing the creeks for rainbow trout.

Nikki: Who were you most intimidated to interview so far?

S:  Ilja Herb….but the interview didn’t happen. He’s an amazing photographer and I admire the work he choses. He’s intriguing. I was nervous but we had to postpone. I still really want to interview him…hopefully it will happen. I was nervous to interview Chris Vickers too because he was a huge source of inspiration for this project. I don’t know why that made me nervous but it did a little.

Perry: What is something that people wouldn’t guess about you?

S: hmmmmm……I don’t know what people think of me or how I’m perceived….or if they think of me at all. Maybe they wouldn’t guess that I spend so much time alone. Yeah, probably that. I have no problem spending  Friday nights alone, watching Louis Theroux documentaries and getting work done. I’m alone a lot and I’m always working on something.  I don’t really enjoy being out at bars or anything like that. Even when I am shooting a show, I sneak out early.

Zoubi: What inspires you?

S: I’m inspired by people. Seeing others follow their passion. It’s inspiring to me to see people overcome adversity. Just the other day, my mother who in her sixties, called me to tell me she’s sold everything she owns and is moving to Africa to run an orphanage. She’s talked about doing that for so long, since I was young. It’s inspiring to see her do it so many years later. Those big dreams don’t go away, even if it doesn’t happen when we want it too.

Also, I get inspired by cities. New York inspires me. It’s so diverse and I walk around there feeling like an ant. It’s a cool feeling. You can really be an observer. The energy, the people, the grit. It inspires me. Detroit inspires me too. I love history, architecture and stories of rebuilding. There is always some light out of the darkness. The contrast of that inspires me.

Sometimes I watch the Chrysler Eminem Super Bowl Commerical. Haha…it inspires me. I relate to it. Weird? Watch it. It’s powerful. “It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel”. I like that.

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Justin: What are you up to this summer, besides working?

S: I don’t know…. working!! I’ll be also trying to keep my daughter entertained. I’m looking forward to Shake/Arama. It’s a music festival that my friend Mattie has organized along with Animal Productions. The Lad Mags and The Betrayers will be playing it and I’m excited to see them again….hopefully get an interview out of them. But really just happy to see them again.

Undoubtedly, I’ll be scoping out the Taco Justice truck. Hopefully, I get outdoors more this year. maybe get a boyfriend or something.

Grace: Who are your favourite photographers?

S:  I grew up pouring over the pages of Vogue and other fashion magazines. I’m not so much into fashion now or fashion photography but definitely my huge inspirations were Peter Lindbergh and Mario Testino. I’m an 80’s child. By my teens those were the top shooters and what made me start loving photography. Their work was dark and beautiful and it was the era of the “super-model”.  It was captivating to me. But when I started to really get into photography, in my early twenties, I gravitated more to guys like Claudio Edinger. His work opened me up to something new. His book Chelsea Hotel, inspired me a lot. I think it was partially why I chose to go to school and learn film photography in New York. I went there, stayed at the Chelsea and took a lot of grainy photo’s. His other work is amazing too. I love photography that isn’t super staged. I love seeing people in their natural environment and real portraits of them.


But really, there are so many amazing photographers out there!

Nikki: Can you tell us a secret?

S: ummmm….I can’t wink. When I’m shooting and looking through the viewfinder I often have to hold my eye shut. I have a photo of me from when I was little and I was doing just that. Some things never change.

Erin: If the greatest gift we could give each other is love, then what is the second runner-up?

S: Tolerance and forgiveness. I think that comes with love? I’ll throw hope and acceptance in there too.

Mieke: Do you know how amazing you are?

S: Hopefully, at least half as amazing as you are!

 Erin: What do you imagine your spirit animal is?

S: I’ve been told it’s an owl. I can see that. But if I died and came back as an animal, I’d like to be a wild horse.


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