Inspire Speaker: Arielle Doneson

Arielle Donovan

In this series of blog posts we are introducing the faculty at Inspire 2015. Today we’d like to introduce you to Arielle Doneson who will be leading a session called The Fine Art Film Wedding 2014-11-04_006

I had my entire life planned out by the age of 7: A. Go to Juilliard , B. Become Famous Opera singer and of course, C. Live happily ever after.

Every decision I made from that tender age was with these singing dreams in mind. I avoided most of the more risky/fun aspects of high school by concentrating on tri-weekly music lessons, Italian classes, performances, summers at prestigious arts intensives and early nights so that I could graduate a year early and go off to NYC to pursue my dreams.

My parents threw the first wrench in my plans when they were unable to pay the hefty NY conservatory fees and insisted that I accept a scholarship from the University of Michigan, a notable music school with its own merits, but not the one I had planned on a decade earlier. After an initially rough week or two, however, I found my music school to be perfect in every way and after 4 years of intense study, summers singing abroad, and many opera roles I finally packed up and moved to Manhattan.

You will note that at this point in my story I have yet to use the word “photography.”

It was about 3 years after my move to NYC when I finally picked up a camera. I was entrenched in my opera career, auditioning, lessons, coachings, out of town gigs, and just about every day job you can imagine (from admin assistant to assistant to a master magician– I have some crazy stories) when a gadgetry-minded friend purchased a DSLR. I had some familiarity with photography as this had long been my dad’s main hobby and I had played with his Nikon F100 on many occasions, but my only experience with a dSLR was having my own headshots taken. I borrowed my friend’s Rebel Xti, his nifty fifty and did a fun photoshoot with a friend using my cursory knowledge of film photography; somehow, those images turned out somewhat ok. That friend told her friends, and so I started spending my weekends shooting headshots for the starving artists of New York while on weekdays at my desk job (as an admin for an acupuncturist) devouring strobist, neil van Niekirk and other popular photography blogs. I apprenticed myself to a few NYC headshot photographers and before the year was out I’d managed to pay for my own gear from the $200 sessions I’d been doing for friends of friends. Over that year I found that the creative satisfaction I was getting from photography was dramatically overtaking the joy I got from performing. On stage I found myself thinking of lighting possibilities, while my eyes kept reverting covetously to the Lseries lens on the camera of the press photographer covering the event.

It was the following summer when I finally made the switch from opera to photography – astonishing my childhood self with the joy and satisfaction of my new career. I was singing my last professional opera gig, understudying one of the lead roles at a small regional company, when my now-husband literally rode his bicycle into me. The collision not only brought love into my life but reaffirmed my belief that the appearance of the miraculous always forces a divergence from a set plan – I wanted to be a photographer.

Fast forward six and a half years – I don’t think my seven-year-old self would believe what my life is like now, a professional photographer, married to a dreamy guy, a MOM (something not part of my plan as an opera diva) and a home owner in Boston. Nothing like my well-laid plans. But so much better.


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