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Morgan Pansing: The Artistic Activist
Morgan Pansing is in the house.
Morgan Pansing was a fantastic guest.
She’s a sweetheart.
She’s sweet, talented, a real activist.
She’s inspiring. I’m so happy that she came in. She is such a good force for us as women starting out our own business to have that inspiration behind us because she made a path on her own.
She came from being an actor and decided to take a shift.
The biggest takeaway from this episode was how connected and supportive she is with other photographers within the LA community. It was nice to hear because we should be doing the same. Every creative woman, working mom, not working mom should be doing this.
It makes everything better. I couldn’t agree more. We should talk about where to find her.
I hope you enjoy Morgan.
Hi, Morgan Pansing.
Thank you so much for having me.In life, all the challenges along the way are our greatest teachers and our greatest lessons. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much for being here. We’re super excited.
We’re very appreciative. It’s so nice of you.
It’s my pleasure.
I met you a few years ago at a Mother’s Day photo shoot. My son was one, but it still felt like a whirlwind of change. You had such a calm, loving, warm energy about you that my husband and I remembered since. I remember I told you, “I just got laid off. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m in this corporate world. I don’t want to go back.” You had such amazing advice for me and you were so encouraging for me to find my creative path. I always remembered that. Since Jennifer and I started this show, you’ve been on our wish list. I would love to hear more about your journey on how you found your path to this incredibly amazing photographer who’s not only talented but is making a change in our community and is touching people’s lives through your work.
I have seen the picture from the shoot. I’ve seen one picture that Mondi posted. That’s an amazing photograph. I love that picture.
I remember you coming in. It’s so sweet and beautiful. It’s gorgeous with a new family and amazing energy. I’m so happy to hear that that meeting had an impact on you as well. Being a new mom, I do feel that so much of the women that I work with are moms and that’s the world that I have love and enjoy working in.
You made me feel good and not alone in this big mom change. I would love to take us back when we met. I didn’t know this, Jennifer, but Morgan started out her career as an actress.
I wasn’t an amazing student as a kid. I think so much of our confidence as children come from what we’re good at. When you’re good at school, it makes things easier. For me, the school wasn’t where I shined. It became clear from a young age that creativity and arts were much more my path, which is an alternative path to be on from the beginning. I found theater and acting. It was something I was always interested in. My parents were artists and creative so I grew up in that environment. There was a lot of emphasis on art and creativity in my home growing up, which I’m hoping to have with my children and my family too. I found acting in the theater right around junior high. It saved me from distraction. It’s such a very hard time. We’re getting close to that age with my son. He just turned ten. It’s such an important thing for children at that age to find what they love, where they thrive and what they’re good at. If you have a kid who’s not excellent academically, it can be challenging. I put all my focus on art, creativity, theater and acting. It became my main focus and I ended up going to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a theater major.
Did you grow up in LA?
I grew up in LA.
That’s a big the deal to get into that school.
It was an amazing school. It was serious. What’s also challenging about it is that you hone in on your art while you’re there and there’s less emphasis on academics, which works well for me. If you have a more well-rounded kid, I’m not sure if it’s the right fit for every kid. It was a great fit for me because it allowed me to focus on what I love to do. I went there and then I ended up going from there to Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama.
Did you get a BFA there?
I did. I got a BFA from Carnegie. That’s a super focus program. I did not get a well-rounded education, but I did what I love. I then went to New York after college, I did theater, some small independent films and TV. A lot of 22 years old who show up in New York are like, “I’m going to be a huge star.” New York City is like, “You’ve got a long way to go.” What was challenging about my education is I had focused upon one thing and there wasn’t that fallback option that can be good to have if you’re pursuing a career in arts. It ended up serving me as an artist now as well. What has always interested me about acting and theater is the same thing that interests me now about photography, which is the storytelling component of it. All of the arts and creativity are linked.
They feed each other. When you can find true moments in photography, those in-between moments, it’s probably very hectic. I would imagine having done some photo shoots with my two kids, it’s like, “What is going on? It’s total chaos. Nobody is cooperating.” You get pictures and you’re like, “It’s beautiful.” You find those moments in between and that’s so much like acting.
I do think that in life, everything happens for a reason in your path. Everything ends up serving where you’re ultimately going to go. All the challenges along the way are our greatest teachers and our greatest lessons. I was in New York and working but also struggling. I was living on 156th Street in Broadway. I was sitting on the fifth floor with my roommate and I heard the sound of mice scattering across the floor. I looked down and there was a mouse family living in our apartment in Washington Heights. I was like, “I think I’ve had enough. I’m ready to leave New York. I’m packing my bags and I’m going.”
How long was it after you decided to move?
I was in New York for a few years after college. I put some time in and then I came to LA. Originally, I was just going to come to LA for my family. I was going to what LA had and then I ended up staying and meeting my husband.
Talk about meant to be.
Soon after I moved back to LA, that’s when I met my husband.
Can we hear a little bit about him?If you're not sure what to do, just do something creative and start to reach out to the community. Click To Tweet
He’s amazing and he works in tech. It’s a perfect balance because he brings groundedness to our family and to me that I need.
Tell us about your tech-savvy husband.
I met him and we decided that we were ready to have a family soon. I focused up on that. I went back to school to work towards a Master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology because I was like, “What am I going to do? This acting thing didn’t work out.”
My mom did the same thing. My mom got a BFA and was a working actor. In her early days of being a working actor, she went back to school to get her Master’s in Speech Pathology and Audiology. Maybe it makes sense because of the diction, enunciation, pronunciation and vowel usage. My mom loved it. When she was auditioning in her early twenties in New York, she was also a speech and language pathologist. She made money off it. It was useful.
I started down that road and I could feel that it was not the right path. It was science-based. I started on that pattern and I was like, “This doesn’t quite feel right.” We had our babies and that’s when I picked up a camera for the first time. When I was pregnant with my daughter and my son was two-and-a-half, we moved from Los Angeles to Northern California. I had this book called Blog, Inc. by Joy Cho who has become a dear friend of mine. She’s amazing. I read this book. She has this incredible blog and I had been a huge fan of hers. I read the book and the book was like, “If you’re not sure what you want to do and you’re in between, start a blog.”
I was like, “I am going to start a blog. I’m going to pick up my camera and I’m going to start a blog.” It’s the best advice. The other version of it is to have a podcast. If you’re not sure what to do, just do something. Do something creative. Start to reach out to the community. What’s cool about a blog or a podcast is you’re talking to a lot of different people. You’re listening to other people’s stories and learning about what makes people happy or maybe finding your path along the way. I picked up my camera and it was one of those divine moments where you’re like, “This is completely what I’m meant to do. This is synchronicity.” It flowed from there.
Are you at your late twenties at this point?
It was the early 30s.
I love hearing the ages because people think you have to figure it out all in your twenties. I think it’s good for everyone to know. You can figure it out at any age.
There’s no timeline for life. Everyone has their own path, their own journey and their own experiences.
Walk us through those first days where you were talking to your husband and you were saying, “I’m going to start a photography business. I’m going to start doing this.” How did you get those first jobs? How did you create your own business? Who were those people that backed you up and inspired you or your go-to mentors? Did you have any that you look back on that you’re so grateful for?
I started shooting and I was just shooting everything I could. I was learning and taking classes. I then got myself a great camera and I was at that point giving my photos. I was like, “Can I photograph you for free?” I was photographing families. This was mostly in Northern California, which is where I got started.
Are babies your first subject?
It was babies and then other people’s families. I was like, “I’ll take your picture.” I was learning without being pressured in the beginning. We then moved back to Los Angeles and my first big job was at a group called Crafting Community. It was run by Karen Kimmel and Stacy Bernstein. They would have this huge gathering of families at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. They would rent out the whole Ace Hotel. They were mostly families from Los Angeles. There are a lot of female business owners and creatives. They would bring everyone together. It was a family art camp thing and it was amazing. They’re not around anymore, but they were amazing.
What they created was amazing and I got lucky enough to photograph it. I met so many amazing women at that retreat. I would say that was the beginning of everything for me because the community that I met there helped form a community of creative moms. From there, I started working more and more. I’ve always leaned on the community of women for my work. I realized that if we stick together and we help each other, there’s more for all of us. I would say that 90% of the people I work with are women and 80% moms. Most of my clients are women and most of them are moms. Those are the people that I’m interested in working with because they’re like me. They’re juggling and balancing it all and I’m inspired.
They have the same mindset to help each other about the community and kids.
Understanding what life looks like from a certain perspective that a working mom can understand.
You are now working. You’re juggling working mom photography business and you start as a lifestyle family photographer.
I’m doing fewer families now and I’m more on commercial work.
When did you take that shift? What made you decide to pivot?
One of the reasons is that family work is almost all on the weekends. If you want to photograph families, that’s on the weekends and I want my weekends with my family. I’m trying to transition out of working on weekends. I’ll always have to work a little bit on the weekends. I run my own business. I’ll always be on emails or editing and working to a certain extent on Saturdays and Sundays, but I don’t want to be leaving to photograph other families on Saturdays and Sundays. I want to be with my kids. The commercial work is weekday work and it pays better. It’s also creatively fulfilling for me to work with brands and help them identify what their visual identity is going to be moving forward. I like working with female-owned brands, mother-owned brands, helping them establish what their messages are and what their visual branding identification looks like.
I see that with photographers that I ended up loving on Instagram or people that I know who I think is so talented. They start off with family sessions and over the years start to gradually back off of those and into editorial, which makes sense financially and time-wise.If we stick together and we help each other, there's more for all of us. Click To Tweet
It seems to be like a smooth transition.
I find that LA’s photography community, in general, is very supportive of one another. There’s no competition cutthroat. Everyone supports each other.
I don’t think it was necessarily the way that I saw things before meeting this incredible community of photographers. I have this amazing network of other moms who are photographers. We are also supportive of one another. It’s changing the mindset from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset.
Everything gets good for everything across the board because there was enough for everyone.
There’s enough to go around. There’s enough for everyone. What I’m offering is so different than what my friend is offering. She’s amazing and she’s a different artist. We understand that we’re not in competition with one another but we’re here to lift each other up. It has been life changing for me to come to that realization with my community of women.
It’s been life-changing to see for all of us that if this is happening in one area of business, this should be happening across the board. You are the industry or the niche that’s leading the way in that because I don’t see it across the board yet. In the photography LA community, I see it and I see women being highlighted more because back in the day, it was more of a traditionally male job. You saw more of that in the ‘90s. I remember going to family weddings and it was all male photographers, but now we’re seeing women and mothers who have that delicate touch with taking pictures of other women who are mothers. It makes an impact on the feeling and what you can show in those pictures. It comes out.
If I’m being photographed, I prefer to be photographed by another woman. It’s not that I don’t enjoy man. There are so many incredible male photographers but there’s something about a comfort level that a woman has with another woman. We have the understanding and being seen in a certain light and seen in a certain way, especially with motherhood. Only another mother can understand motherhood on that level. I do think it’s an amazing thing to have. Some of the women in my community and other photographers that I’ve become friends have shown me the way that we can all work together. We can all lift each other up. When I entered the industry, I came from that acting mentality a little bit more that there’s not enough to go around. We are all in competition with each other. Hollywood is so male run, whereas, with the small community that I work in with lifestyle, editorial, photography here in Los Angeles, there are so many women that are creating in that space. It’s interesting to see when a group of women come together and what can happen. It’s magic.
You said you picked up your first camera around 30-ish. When did you start to feel that you got good and started to gain confidence? As adults, it’s hard to learn new things. It’s hard to put yourself in a beginner mindset and be like, “I’m going to try this. I think I’m pretty good. I love doing this.”
It depends on what day you ask me because sometimes I’ll be like, “I know nothing. I have so much to learn.” What’s amazing about art and creativity is I don’t think I will ever get to a place where I’m like, “I know everything.” I always want to learn more. I’m always interested in what is this next creation I want to have. In terms of images, I always see images that I’m like, “That’s gorgeous. How did that photographer do that?” I’m constantly looking and so inspired. It all fell into place. After giving my services away for maybe three years, I was doing it on my own time too. I had babies. They were little so I was also just playing around with my camera and enjoying it so much. I came to a point where I was like, “I’m enjoying this, but I also need to make money doing this. I’m not going to keep on doing this for free.” It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when that happened. I didn’t feel ready to start to charge until I felt confident with what I was delivering.
What advice can you give people who are starting a new venture and it’s taking longer than they think it’s going to take? What advice can you give them to continue going down this path? It’s hard sometimes when there’s not a lot of movement happening and you’re putting all this time and effort into it.
There are a couple of things I would say. Find your community because the community is the key. Find the people that are doing what you want to be doing. Meet and ask them questions. Learn, keep on expanding, exploring and reaching out to the people that are inspiring to you. When you’re on the right path, the universe helps push you along on that path. I can see that when I was on this path as an actor. It was not my right path. Now that I look back on it, I can see that it wasn’t gelling in the way that things gel when you’re on the right path. You have to look inward and say, “Is this bringing me joy? Is this going to be something that’s going to be fulfilling? Am I going to be able to make enough money doing this that’s going to feel good for my family and me?” We learn so much from our failures. There’s one quote that’s like, “I judge my successes by how quickly I recover from my failures.” That’s a good one too. It’s how fast you get back up and you’re like, “I’m going to get back on this first and I’m going to keep on writing. What comes my way, I’m going to take and I’m going to learn whatever lessons are presented to me.”
Do you have any others that you live by?
Brené Brown’s Rising Strong is her new book and it’s been amazing. She has that amazing FDR quote that she always talks about, which is being in the arena. It’s so true. I want to be in the arena. I want to be creating. At the beginning of her Rising Strong book, she says, “To the brave and brokenhearted who have taught us how to rise after a fall, your courage is contagious.” How beautiful is that? She does talk about going for your dreams and taking those lessons as they come and getting back in the arena.
You embody that because I remember vividly you telling me that when I met you. You were like, “Can you do something creative?” I was coming at a law firm account management. This is what you do and then you go do this. You seem very creative and it was the first time that somebody said that other than my husband. You embody that.
Watching other women come into themselves is such a joy.
That kind of spirit has led you to become an activist in the community now. Let’s talk more about it.
It’s life-changing for me. After the Kavanaugh hearings, I was devastated watching Dr. Blasey talking about her incredible testimony. The fact that this man was still appointed was beyond horrifying. This is what was happening in our country. For me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was like, “I will not sit and watch this anymore.” It was a force that grabbed me and made me make a gazillion phone calls. I texted my dear friend Lulu Brud who’s an amazing activist and actress. I was like, “Let’s do something. We’ve got to do something about this.” I got in touch with another dear friend of mine who’s an incredible artist and the three of us were like, “We’re going to rally the troops.” It was amazing because as soon as we started to contact women in the community, everyone showed up.
We organized our first shoot downtown. We were like, “We have to say something.” I’ve wanted to work with my friend Gabrielle Weissman who is the artist that does all of our signs. I had wanted to work with her. She’s a dear friend that we met when we were pregnant with our babies together. I’ve watched her come into herself as an artist and as a creative as well. She’s amazing. We’ve been trying to figure out what we could do together and I was like, “Here’s the deal.” I’ve always been incredibly inspired by the activism, feminist movements and civil rights movements. I can’t believe we’re finding ourselves in that time again in this country, but we are. I wanted to pay homage to those fighters and those people who’ve been raising their voices. We created artwork to bring us back to that time period with all the signage on point for this.
All the images are black and white and it’s a super simple concept. It’s about women in the community raising their voices with signs and talking about the change that they want to see. Lulu did an amazing visual deck and Gabrielle made the signs. I was like, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” We sent this email out to the women in our community and everyone showed up. I couldn’t believe it. We were like, “Come downtown. We’re going to shoot in the Arts District. Come around. We’ll be there at 4:00 PM.” Everyone showed up and people showed up with their babies and their kids. They were like, “We’re here. What can we do now?” As artists and as creatives, it is the time to rise right now. It’s the time that we need to. We need to make our voices heard. This was the way that I knew how to make my voice heard and how to stand up for the change that I want to see. It’s been amazing. We’re working on everything that’s going on with the reproductive rights being taken away from women. We’re focusing on that and we’re taking an issue by issue. There’s a lot of work to be done.
There’s a DJ that I don’t know at all. I follow her on Instagram. She’s inspiring too. Daisy O’Dell is an amazing DJ. She’s a very active political activist and she’s always doing events for the things that are important that matters.
It says a lot about our city that so many people showed up to that.
I love LA. There’s so much going on in LA right now especially with women. The community of creative women in Los Angeles is constantly blowing my mind of what everyone is doing and creating together.When you're on the right path, the universe helps push you along on that path. Click To Tweet
What is your dream for Vote Your Change?
Is that the name of your group?
Vote Your Change is the name of our campaign. We are always trying to figure out what our next steps will be. We want to start to travel a little bit with it so that we’re reaching into other communities. What’s a little bit scary is that we are in such a bubble in Los Angeles clearly. I’m in a specific bubble where everyone feels the same way.
I’d rather stay in this bubble right now. I never want to be in a bubble, but this is a safe bubble.
We have to branch out so that we can start to reach other people so we can understand. I do want to start to hear from people that do have a different mindset. I’m interested also in connecting with young women who will be voting for the first time. It’s the new voters in this next generation of eighteen-year-old girls. I want to hear more of what they want and what they’re looking for in other parts of the country as well so that I can hear what’s going on. There are different narratives in different parts of the country.
I would love to see where this takes you because it’s been very impactful in our community.
We’ll have some stuff coming up. It’s going to be a big couple of years here.
Burst our bubble a little bit with the education and the feedback you get when traveling. I think it’s good for all of us to learn from.
It’s crucial to reach out because this is such a safe place to recharge where we are in this bubble, but otherwise, we have to understand that everybody is different where they’re coming from and why they feel this way. My husband’s family is in the part of New Jersey where there’s a lot of Trump support. You talk to them in the human aspect as a takeover.
We’re so divided right now. We all need to be listening a little bit better.
When I go to Northern California, I feel the divide there and I could feel it’s not the same ideologies that we share here. I feel it and it’s very strange because it’s one state.
We’re more divided than we’ve ever been since the civil war in this country. We’re going to figure somehow out a way to make a change.
It will be impactful to talk to the young new voters because they’re not divided as a generation. They’re much more able to coexist together.
I listened to Anthony Bourdain talk about how he would sit down with people, have meals and share food with people. He has completely opposing political views from them, things that they vote for. They have very little common ground. He was like, “Until you sit down with them and you still completely disagree, but you can talk about things on a human level and share a meal with them.” You will leave feeling that you understand a lot more and that’s where change can happen.
Morgan Pansing Photography.
Sadly, there are no more family sessions.
I still do some family sessions. We’re not completely done with family sessions, but I’m working a little bit more towards commercial work now.
What is the next stage? What’s the next goal for your business?
We think of expanding on the commercial photography that I’m already doing. I love working with a larger team or larger scale shoots that I can do some additional creative planning ahead of time. I’m creating images that are planned out and hopefully impactful.
I’ve learned about a lot of new brands through your work on Instagram locally. Jennifer and I always support everything that comes from local women.
My favorite is working with a lot of local creative women for sure, hopefully some more political work.
We’ll have to have you back here. We should have your partners for Vote Your Change.
Hopefully, we’ll get a little tour going on.
Morgan Pansing, the always radiant, ever talented, wonderful woman. Thank you for coming.
Thank you so much for having me.
- Morgan Pansing
- @MorganPansing – Instagram
- @VoteYourChange – Instagram
- Blog, Inc.
- Crafting Community
- Rising Strong
- Gabrielle Weissman
About Morgan Pansing
I’m a Los Angeles based lifestyle, family, and editorial photographer. I believe in authentic storytelling, adventure, and risk-taking. I love working with other creatives, and I’m always up for interesting collaborations.