Mary Beth Meehan



When Kayla’s first child was born, in 2013, she wanted a professional portrait made of the baby. But the photographer she called was charging $375, beyond what she could afford. Kayla had always had an interest in photography, so her husband, who owns a bush-hogging business, went to Walmart on Black Friday and bought her a professional Nikon digital camera for Christmas.

When her cousin had a baby, on New Year’s Eve, Kayla started fishing around on YouTube to understand how to use the new machine – “What is exposure?” “What is shutter speed?” “What is f-stop?” As a present to her cousin, Kayla made some pictures of the newborn wrapped in fleece and snuggled in a basket. She posted the pictures on Facebook, and was suddenly hearing from people asking if they could hire her. She started working right away and by the time she’d booked her third wedding without even trying, Kayla said to herself, “Okay, this is real.”

Kayla knew that she’d always been a visual person. She often found herself arranging pillows on friends’ sofas, straightening the rug on her grandma’s porch, insisting that her husband line up his toiletries in their bathroom in a certain way. But apart from the joy of arranging a scene just as she wanted it, it was the emotional quality of her new-found work that got her hooked.

She began getting calls from young men who wanted to propose to their girlfriends, asking Kayla to hide in the bushes until they popped the question. Or trailing a young couple with a newly minted key as they opened the door to their first home. Or waiting at a party to capture whether blue or pink confetti would be thrown in the air, to reveal the gender of an expected baby. “I can’t believe I get to be a part of all of these wonderful memories,” she says, “and they trust me to be there to capture the moment that they want captured. It’s just awesome. . . .

“I feel special, I feel honored, I feel blessed.”

Since picking up the camera, Kayla has doubled her family’s income, and she is overstretched with work. Her photographs have been published in a European magazine (she doesn’t know whether it was German or Dutch – “It was in a whole different language,” she says).

On the day that I met Kayla, she was photographing a little boy for his first birthday in Newnan’s Greenville Park. The light was low and glowing, and the famous Georgia azaleas were in full bloom.

I understand the feeling that Kayla describes: that it is an honor when people allow me into their lives and trust me enough to photograph them. The moment that the camera connects me with another person does feel like a blessing, even, sometimes, like a prayer. So when Kayla was finished with her portrait session, I went over and asked if she would sit for me.