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Rebekah Carlson - 2023 Sawyer J. Boyd Creatives Grant Recipient

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

Alpena, MI - September 2023

Earlier this month, The Sunset Project was honored to award Rebekah Carlson of Alpena, Michigan, with a Sawyer J. Boyd Creatives Grant as part of the 2023 grant cycle!

This year's grant recipients each received $2,000 worth of funding to put towards resources that would help advance their personal creative endeavors and help them pursue their passions further.

We sat down with Rebekah after the awards ceremony to discuss her unique story, why she applied, and what she is hoping to accomplish with her funding!


Hi Rebekah - can you introduce yourself quickly for those who may not know you already?

Hi! My name is Rebekah Carlson, and I am a Photographer from Alpena, Michigan.

How would you describe your creative pursuit to someone unfamiliar with it?

Photography has a lot of depth and perspective to it depending on the role you take on. I like to think of photography as having three main parts, with each part having a goal. The first is one that everyone is most familiar with- seeing the photograph that has been taken. Looking at an image is more than just meets the eye. Beyond what the eyes can see, the heart can feel. My goal for photography is to encourage emotion in the viewer, whether that emotion is joy, confidence, or even curiosity, I would like the viewer to feel something.

The second part is the subject- either a person, a group, an inanimate object, or even in some cases an idea. The part the subject plays is crucial to photography because, for me at least, the subject is what inspires the pictures. Being able to capture a person’s personality, conveying a specific mood/idea, or even a person in their natural state is such an empowering feeling on both sides of the camera. My goal for the subject is for them to feel comfortable being photographed and to help convey a specific message that they want to send.

This leads to the third part- the photographer. As a photographer, it is more than just pressing a button and playing with colors. There is a unique complexity behind having to communicate between the brain and the image, formulating lighting, composition, and camera settings to create the perfect image. A photographer is there to capture moments to be held in time forever. My personal goal as a photographer is to help convey messages, help cherish memories, and to encourage people to be comfortable, confident, and content both in front of a camera and in life.

The art of photography is a continuous cycle that knows no limits, everyone benefits in some way, somehow, somewhere. Each part is dependent on the other and cannot be complete without each part.

Being a photographer to me is all about taking moments, people, and ideas, and being able to create lasting images to have and to hold onto for as long as possible. Photography is not just reserved for special moments, photography allows for the mundane and ordinary to be highlighted as extraordinary. It aids when the words feel incomplete, or when you can’t say enough. Photography brings me so much joy, one of my favorite quotes of all time is from Christopher McCandless, “Happiness is only real when shared.” This is one of my philosophies when it comes to photography. I enjoy it so much myself, but being able to share the experience with others brings a level of humility and is a connection that unites us all.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in this space?

My inspiration comes mainly from my brother. He was extremely talented when it came to drawing, he was charismatic, humorous, kind, and all-around a loving soul. His death in 2013 shattered my world and after many years of therapy and grief counseling, I found a healthy way to live with the emotions. I have always loved taking pictures and I turned to photography as an outlet for my emotions and now it has become a great passion of mine.

Can you share a memorable experience or milestone from your creative journey?

There are so many memorable experiences I have with photography, every time I use my camera it's like magic. Every experience is unique and has left a notable impression on my creative journey. The biggest milestone that I have had would be between receiving the Sawyer J Boyd Creatives Grant and my first featured exhibit for photography at ACC. Both being a recipient and having my work on display have encouraged me greatly to pursue a lifetime of photography.

How have challenges or setbacks shaped your approach and vision?

By having challenges and setbacks I have been able to find alternative ways to accomplish my goals. Because of the different challenges I have faced, I can approach adversity with a smile, which allows me to make the most out of the material and situation at hand. With the challenges I have faced regarding photography, I can work around the bumps in the road and if it doesn’t work how I imagined it, it is okay. As Bob Ross has said, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.” My vision during creative processes is constantly adaption to any situation at hand. I take what I can and give the best I have.

How do you envision your creative passion evolving over the next year?

Over the next year, I see myself gaining new skills and experience thanks to my new resources and equipment. I am taking Photography II at ACC so I am learning and growing with an education. This next year for me is all about gaining experience, building my portfolio, and hopefully having something published or in an art show/gallery.

How do you plan to utilize your grant funding to further your creative journey?

With the generous grant funding I have received, I am getting a Macbook Air and Adobe Creative Cloud for a year. This will allow me to edit my pictures to professional standards and allow me to expand my skills and abilities in the field of photography.

What advice or message would you share with someone looking to pursue their own creative dreams?

There is a reason behind why you dream of what you do. A lot of people spend their whole lives searching for their purpose and even though I am young, I have a good feeling that there is a direct correlation between passion and purpose. Pursue what you love, have faith, be humble, and take chances. How will you know if you don’t take the first step? It can be scary but nothing is scarier than not chasing your dreams.

Are there any social media profiles, websites, or other resources where our readers can follow your journey and/or support your work?

My instagram is @bekahcarlson_photography!

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your experience, dreams, or the impact of The Sunset Project on your creative pursuits?

The Sunset Project has created such a positive impact on my creative pursuits. In the short few weeks between applying for the Sawyer J Boyd Creative Grant and now, I have gained so much confidence in my ability to achieve what I once dreamed of. New goals and aspirations have been introduced into my life. It is so great to be supported by a non-profit that has the mission that TSP has. I am truly beyond blessed to have the opportunity that I do. Thank you to The Sunset Project and all of the sponsors and supporters, you all are doing fantastic work in our community and the lives of many. Thank you again and I cannot wait to see where this opportunity leads!

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