Catching up with Amanda Shields

It’s hard to believe it’s been another year. And what a year it’s been! Since my 2020 Guest Post, I’m still the Events and Marketing Photographer at The Mariners’ Museum and Park. They’ve kept me around for a year and a half now, so I guess I have successfully fooled them all! MWAHAHAHAHA! (That’s supposed to be my sinister laugh) I’ve learned and grown so much. It’s been wonderful to work in an organization that continues to serve and grow throughout hardships. My coworkers are the most hard-working, dedicated group of individuals you’d ever have the honor to meet. It sounds so corny and stereotypical, but they make me want to be a better person and photographer by simply working with them. This year, there aren’t only work updates but also lots of changes on the home front! 

In the Museum Courtyard. Photo by Brock Switzer, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum & Park

The Museum galleries closed to visitors in mid-March, but we were still offering lots of virtual programs and doing so much work behind the scenes to serve the community still. Once some staff was allowed to come back on a limited schedule with specific protocols in place, I wanted to document that. With the lights low and everyone working separately, I wrote a short photoblog series. I’ve been working on a hybrid of remote and on-site work. I was coming into the Museum for photography needs or digitizing books for our virtual storytime called Maritime Mondays. Then at home, I would edit and upload the images in to our photo management system. 

Digitizing those books led to a project idea. When kids create artwork inspired by the books read during the program, I upload the photos of the artwork into our photo management system that families email to the Museum. Unfortunately, sometimes the pictures of these adorable drawings and paintings weren’t very clear, and we wouldn’t be able to do much with them. This broke my heart! I thought it would be fun to exhibit this artwork in the Museum galleries to a near-professional level that is so clearly inspired by a very special program. I brought up the idea with the program manager/ storyteller and our director, thinking if they liked it, maybe they could do something with it. Well, they did like the idea! However, to my complete shock, my director decided that they wanted me to take the lead on this project!!? So, with their help and support in learning the ropes, I became the “Project lead in-training!” I am super excited that we’re getting it off the ground but extremely nervous that they entrusted me to do it. HAHA! 

In addition to all that, the Museum JUST reopened to the public over Memorial Day weekend. It’s been so much fun laughing with my coworkers again and having visitors back in the Museum! We all really missed that. The energy and excitement are palpable! 

Because I’m a nerd, while working remotely, I started participating in as many educational webinars, virtual conferences, and courses as I could find. Topics ranged from the color science of photography to digitization and collection management in museums, or cultural heritage course-related. I soaked it up! In October, the Museum had both my coworker (the Cultural Heritage Photographer) and I take the 2nd level training course and certification test for the photographic system we use to photograph the collection. Thankfully, we both passed the test to earn our Digitization Operator Certifications! 

Since I left you last June, I officially became a Sun Devil! I was accepted to Arizona State University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Digital Photography program, with a minor in Art History. Being able to view other cultures and historical events through art made during that period can tell you a very different story, which is why my Art History classes were my absolute favorites. Even my computer class, where I begrudgingly learned HTML coding, all the while complaining, “When am I ever going to use this?” But it ended up coming in handy for coding and directing links of popular image searches on the Museum’s photo management system so staff can more easily find photos. 
As you may have heard, there’s been somewhat of a pandemic going on. Therefore, far-flung travel has been non-existent. However, renting a secluded little house in the mountains at the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway made for the perfect getaway! It had a small path through the woods that led to a stream. I would go down there, take some photos, and then sit and listen to the water run. A chorus of frogs even serenaded me! So magical! 

Maxx walking down the path to the stream
Maxx walking down the path to the stream
Water flowing over rocks in the stream

Not far down the Blue Ridge Parkway, there was also a hiking trail and park called E. B. Jeffress Park and Cascades Trail, named for the incredible cascading waterfalls found at its end. I woke up bright and early one morning to beat the crowds, grabbed my camera bag and my travel tripod, and set for the falls. The whole trail was tranquil and picturesque. I had to stop myself from taking more photos almost quite literally every time I turned around. Once I made it to the falls, I spent a moment taking it all in before setting up my camera and taking oh so many photos of that gorgeous, flowing water. Never have I wanted to leave a place less than I wanted to leave the falls that morning, but magic hour was over, and the beautiful light had passed. I picked up my gear and trekked back out, but not before stopping along the trail dozens of more times to take lots more photos, of course. 

Cascade Falls

That trip ended up being extra special, if not a little bittersweet. It would be the last adventure our sweet old pup Maxx would get to take. Just a couple of days later, we had to say goodbye all too quickly. After 14 years of having a dog running around, it was all too quiet around our home. Almost two months later, in October, we adopted a new fur baby from Chesapeake Humane Society. Her name is Coco, and she’s a 9-year-old pit-bull mix who thinks everyone’s job in life is to pet her and serve her at all times! It’s been great to have the pitter-patter of paws in our home again.

Maxx exploring the property on the NC trip
Family photos with Coco! Photos by Chelsea Tracy Photography

After many years, I got another new baby of the mechanical kind. I took the leap over to Sony from Nikon with a mirrorless camera! And of course, I had to take it for a test run at one of my favorite places with my favorite pup. So, Coco and I spent a day at Colonial Williamsburg. I took pretty pictures, and she got to meet horses, sheep, and a pig for the first time! 

Coco being adorable at Colonial Williamsburg

As for military news, my husband, Chris, finally medically retired from the Navy!! WOOO!! [Insert Braveheart “FREEDOM!!” Gif here] HAHA! Because wow! The stress you and especially your spouse don’t even realize you carry until it’s gone is like night and day! Literally life-changing! So glad to be free of it. I’m grateful for all the opportunities military life offered us. We got to live in another country and travel all over the world. It taught us so many life lessons, and we’ve made lifelong friends, many of whom are luckily right here with us in Hampton Roads and are as close as family. Chris also has a fantastic new job as a Security Engineer for a military contracting company. He’s so much happier and far less stressed. Life has made a complete 180*. 

Chris’ last day in the US Navy – 15 July 2020

While things look different this year, I’m still doing lots of local adventures, usually with my dog. I’m always trying to broaden my horizons, learn new things, and meet new people. You never know what you might discover!

As for 2022, I have big, international travel plans that I dare not speak aloud for fear of a major catastrophe. I think we all have a hint of pandemic PTSD. HAHA! And as we move into this post-pandemic phase, my wish for everyone is that things don’t get back to “normal,” it’s that things get back to “better.” I’m genuinely honored that MilSpo FAN asks me to write yet another guest post. Maybe we’ll catch up again next year! 

– Amanda

IG: @amandashields_adventures
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