Maybe you are curious about my story
I don't like small talk much or keeping up facades. I feel like it gets you nowhere, doesn't help you discover yourself, doesn't help you make friends or be happy. I prefer to get to know someone on a deeper level. I love watching The Voice, Survivor or Project Runway - but why do I watch it? I watch it for the stories. How did people get to where they are now, what made them who they are today? I want to know.
More importantly I want to know who the people I meet in my regular life are. Do we have something in common? Is there something I can learn from this person or can I inspire someone? I believe we have the need to be known, to be liked for who we are deep down. That's why I am going to tell you my story.
When I watch a show or movie I am always rooting for the underdog. Often I see myself as an underdog and that's why I can relate. Growing up in East Germany I can't say that my hopes and dreams were fostered. Given the fact that I was always a little rebellious and free spirited and didn't fit in, I was actually put down a lot by teachers and bullied by a certain class mate. In East Germany individuality was not appreciated. It does leave it's marks but one of my best traits is Resilience.
The CHC in CHC-Photography stands for my initials Carmen Heller-Chariton. For the first 13 years of my life I lived in Eisenach, Thueringen. In 1987, two years before the wall came down, my family and I fled from East Germany to West Germany. There, we settled close to a little town called Gaggenau, Baden-Wuerttemberg.
When we fled East Germany, we had to leave all of our belongings behind. Imagine leaving your house today with one suitcase and never seeing the rest again. I couldn't tell my friends Good-bye out of fear the Stasi would figure out our plan and put us in prison as they did with so many. Long story short, my parents and I started our lives over from zero. I was 13 at the time, new school, new home, new town. We traded all of our belongings for freedom. We had a nice life in East Germany but nobody could follow their dreams there. Life was already pre-written for everyone.
Due to the fact that we had to start completely over, I started working as soon as I could. My first real job at 15 was at a Department store, unpacking clothing and putting price tags on it. A very unglamorous job but it was the first time I could afford to buy a few things that I wanted and not necessarily needed. It gave me a certain independence. Seeing my parents start over and how hard we had to work, makes me appreciate everything in my life. Wanting to be independent financially made me start vocational training as an administrator at our town hall. I wanted to go to Fashion school and even got accepted but it would've meant not earning money.
My mom is Polish and we have a large family in Poland. From the time I was 6 years old until I was 12 I spend every single summer in Poland for 2 months. My mom dropped me off and then at the end of the summer my parents picked me up. I would travel between my mom's brothers and cousins. Most of my relatives there live in small villages and were farmers. Having this time in Poland as a child made me feel free and really get to know myself. I remember running through Orchards, fields and grass or climbing trees super high just to impress the boys.
Being that my uncles were farmers, I would see them work very hard every day and I had to help too. My dad was a machinist most his life and is one of the most hard working people I know. I learned from the best and that's why to this day, I have a high work ethic and appreciate the simple life. I love seeing people work with their hands, there is such honesty in that. I love listening to someone tell a story sitting by the fire.
I love tangible things, things that can be held, things that took time and work to make. Things that can be passed down to the next generation. Growing up I loved watching my mom cook or sew. I loved watching my dad make things out of wood. That's why I love photography and photographs and works of art in general. Whether it's a painting, a sculpture, a piece of handmade furniture or a hand sewn dress. There is something of that artist now forever in that piece.
So, at just a little over 20 years old I already felt like I was stuck in a rut. I felt a void and I didn't even know how to express that nagging feeling of unhappiness. My job was nice, I loved interacting with people and my colleagues were great. But it was this predictable life, an 8 to 5 job, that made me feel unchallenged. Maybe it was time to stop living the safe life and to take a chance...
My work contract was going to end soon and I began researching becoming an Au-pair. Some of my friends had done it and I thought why not take a year off and give myself a year to search my soul and see where it would lead me. You can only be an Au-pair up until 24 and I was already 22 years old and thought now or never. I've always had babysitting jobs, so I knew this would be fun.
So in 1999 I came to the United States as an Au-pair. For one year I lived with my host family in Farmington Hills, MI. (btw. my host family was the most amazing family ever!) Part of the program was taking college classes. Having always been interested in art and photography, made choosing a photography class a no-brainer. I saved all my money to be able to take every photography class offered. I started with black and white film and I was in love with the process of developing film. My parents surprised me and sent me my first professional film SLR camera.
My Au-Pair year was the best year of my life. I don't think I ever slept more than 5 hours, I was always on the go. I lived life fully, for the first time I followed my path without fear. I thought I knew myself well before but I had no idea I could have this drive and passion. Knowing I couldn't go back to my regular life in Germany, I started to think about applying for a student visa. Little did I know how much my life would change ; after a few months being in the U.S. I met my husband Jeff. Jeff is from Crown Point, Indiana, but he was working in Michigan at the time. To make a very long story short, I applied for a student visa and came to study Computer Graphics at Moraine Valley in Palos Hills, Illinois. I never intended to stay here forever and missing my parents is a struggle every day.
After college I was lucky enough to find a job at a local photo studio in Crown Point and worked there for 4 years. Right when my son was born the studio closed and I took the opportunity to officially only work for myself. It's been an effort to combine being an artist with being a business owner. I am still learning new things every day. What drives me most is the happiness I feel when I photograph. Bringing happiness into my clients lives is always my goal as well. Meeting somebody who believes in you and trusts you with their portraits is an amazing feeling. Photography is therapeutic for me. I am able to focus only on what I am doing in the moment and truly enjoy the process of creating!