Inspire Speaker: Emilie Sommer

In this series of blog posts we are introducing the faculty at Inspire 2015. Today we’d like to introduce you to Emilie Sommer of emilie inc. who will be leading a session that we can all learn from: Tell Me About Associates

Emilie Sommer

What’s your baseline?

I met Olivia back in 2000 when we were both working at USA Today. She was a reporter, I was a photographer. We were assigned to cover the Miss America pageant, more specifically the 24 hours following the crowning of the new winner. We were up all night attending press conferences, meet & greets, down-time in her hotel room with her family, soon breakfast and then a traditional romp in the surf for a row of cameras. Despite having also had the opportunity to photograph presidents, major sporting events and historical news stories, the Miss America pageant remains my favorite, likely because of the company.

Olivia became a fast friend after that assignment, and has remained as such though the years. She now lives in Pennsylvania but vacations in Maine each summer where her family has deep roots. She was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, a few years after I founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit for breast cancer for wedding professionals called Pink Initiative. Without going into too much medical detail, I knew Olivia’s week in Maine this past summer would be a significant one. She agreed that I should take some photos of her family, so long as there weren’t any posey ones, she said.

There were three days that our schedules aligned; one of those days I could bring my camera. In my head I envisioned an epic picture story would unfold: darling moments of teeth brushing with her son and toweled beach snuggles. The reality was much different; I was much less of a fly on the wall photojournalist and very much an engaged helper and friend throughout. I knew that I wasn’t able to truly capture what I was after because I was (gladly, of course) tying shoes, holding, helping or whatever the need at the moment might be.

What resulted aren’t prize-winning images, no, but some of the most meaningful I have ever captured because of the weightiness of their significance and how even more treasured they will become over time. In a profession where it’s easy to focus on the bottom line or the shiny new gadget, the heart and soul of what we do always brings me back to what matters, what’s important. My three days with Olivia have easily become my new baseline.

I made a sweet little photo book from Artifact Uprising of Olivia’s time in Maine that I’d be happy to show you at Inspire, come find me.


emilie_sommer_emilie_inc_inspire_01 emilie_sommer_emilie_inc_inspire_02 emilie_sommer_emilie_inc_inspire_03 emilie_sommer_emilie_inc_inspire_04 emilie_sommer_emilie_inc_inspire_05