We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa O’Gara and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, can you tell us about a book that has had a meaningful impact on you?
As an English Literature major in college, I have read many of the “Greats” throughout my years of study. So it might be odd that a novel that had such an impact on me would not be one of those. But Jan Karon’s novel series starting with “At Home in Mitford” is always the first book that comes to mind when I am asked about my all-time favorite reads. I think that what I like most about it is how the story itself makes the reader slow down, reflect, and appreciate the everyday moments of life. In each of the novels, I get swept away into a world in which I wish I could live. Mitford is a small, southern town where people of all different beliefs and ways of life manage to get along and learn from each other. Life isn’t perfect in Mitford, and the challenges we all face in life are not absent in the stories. What I like most is that we, the readers, live these imperfect lives with the characters, and we grow to love the characters because of their imperfections. When I’ve read other stories that involve difficult life issues, there is a lot of angst and darkness. But these books all approach the journey with humor, sarcasm and hope. These novels all continue to have a great impact on how I strive to face the challenges in my everyday life. They make me remember to count my blessings – because as dark as things get, there is always something to be grateful for. If we focus on the negative, we are sure to find it. Jan Karon shows her readers that life is never perfect simply by making her idyllic fictitious town of Mitford imperfect. In these stories, she tells us that approaching life with humor and a strong dose of gratitude will help us see the bumps along the way as steps towards something better. The messages of these stories even plays out into my photography. When I take photos, I am always looking for the simple beauty that often might go unnoticed. I look for a unique expression or movement an individual makes when I take a portrait or ballet photo. I also take macro photos so I can highlight a part of a flower or insect that I find interesting. Many photographers advise others to create a specific style that serves as a brand and is recognizable to all, but I struggle with that concept. I just want to share the beauty I see in the world in a way that best suits the subject. For me, that may not be a one-size-fits-all approach. I hope my life, and my life’s work, bring the same positivity and slow-down-and-reflect-on-the-good-things-in-life feeling to others as the Mitford series did for me.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Photography is mostly a hobby for me, though I am slowly opening the door to other possibilities. I have always loved taking pictures of people – especially my children as they were growing up and participating in sporting activities and ballet. I am excited about working with people I meet in this photography journey. All the photographers I have met, both in person and through social media groups, have been just lovely individuals who willingly share their talents and ideas with me. I look forward to learning even more from those I will meet in the future. I am still learning, and the best advice or encouragement I received in my photography lessons is that a photographer should always be learning. I have had my bad photoshoots and felt frustrated and disappointed, but those setbacks only taught me lessons and allowed me to make improvements. I have learned that it is very important to invest in the right gear, and to be patient with results. I have also discovered the importance of joining communities of people who are willing to help each other reach goals. I hope that my photography brings a sense of positivity to others, and highlights the true beauty of people, nature and landscapes.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There is so much to visit and enjoy in Southern California! I would start with showing them all the iconic locations – Venice Beach, Santa Monica Beach Pier, Griffith Park, Hollywood, and of course at least a whole day at Disneyland and California Adventure (assuming we kick this virus away for good!) They would have to try a hot dog at Pink’s, a taco from Tito’s, a Double-Double from In-N-Out, and a French Dip sandwich from Philippe’s. When the whirlwind tour of the famous sites is behind us, we would go to my favorite getaway of Big Bear Lake. We would hike the Castle Rock trail and hop a ride on the Pirate Ship, “Time Bandit” for a relaxing tour around the lake.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Any success I have with photography comes from the support of many – my ballerina daughter, Katie O’Gara, and her ballet friends who allow me to test my skills on them; my friend, David Lee, who teaches me skills to try out with each new photoshoot; and my husband , Michael O’Gara, who gives me honest feedback with continuous encouragement to keep going.
The photos used here are all mine. My daughter, Katie O’Gara, is the ballerina pictured