Full Circle

Given that this is my first blog entry I want to first welcome you to the website.* I created this site for you. Though, I believe this is as much your history as it is mine, this is a very personal project. Because of that, I’ve had several requests from folks to create a space to post my personal thoughts along the way. I can’t promise that this will be anything like a journal, or even good reading, but I hope it will provide you with some context for why I’m doing this. I welcome you all to follow along.

Son of a son of a photographer

I like telling people that I meet for the first time that I grew up in a dark room. Though, obviously not true, it’s not that far off either. Up until I left for college at 18 years of age I was at my parent’s photography studio, Shipp Studio, six days a week every week. The “Studio” was literally my second home.

A small family business by all definitions, the Studio was started unofficially in 1946 when my grandfather, Joe Hardy Shipp, purchased his first camera. A farmer by trade, Joe picked up his new career in photography as a curiosity at first, but being that he was the only one in the county with a decent camera and the knowhow to operate it he quickly became The Town Photographer. He photographed about every community event, from wedding to funeral and everything in between, from about 1946 until his death in 1978. He died before I was born.

My dad, Ronald Shipp (everyone called him Ronnie), took over the business when Joe got too sick to work. Joe taught him the trade well, and my dad went on to build quite the reputation as the photographer to hire in the area. Very sought after, Ronnie perfected portraiture to a true art form. His portraits were and are still unmatched in quality.

Just as my dad took over the family responsibilities to the Studio when his father got sick and passed away, the same was expected of me too. My dad tried and tried to get me interested in photography when I was growing up, but I didn’t want anything to do with it. Not that I didn’t listen and observe carefully to his teachings (there were many), but I couldn’t see myself stuck in Centerville my whole life. The Shipp men always had a rebel streak, and I certainly got a good bit of it. Graphic design was my path.

When my dad got cancer and died suddenly in early 2003 my mother and I decided to shut Shipp Studio’s doors forever. To say the least it was hard. I felt like a failure — like I failed a legacy. I failed all of those people whom came by the Studio in those final days inquiring whether or not I’d follow in dad’s footsteps, only to see that glimmer of hope in their faces fade away as I told them I had bigger plans. I felt like I failed myself for not being thankful for what was being offered to me. I had made my choice and there was no looking back.

Eleven years later, after moving away from my home state of Tennessee and having created a successful graphic design career that has taken me all over the world, things are coming full circle. I’m happy with the choice I made not to be a photographer. It’s my own path and one that that my parents are proud of. I knew I could never fill my dad nor my grandfather’s shoes, two of the greatest men that ever lived I’m convinced. What they offered the world, I could not. I’m glad I didn’t try.

Design has taught me many things, one of those being the skills to tell other people’s stories. It’s now my time to tell the story of me. This is the story of where I’m from through the eyes of the men who made me. This is the story of the small town that shaped me. This is the story of Tennessee. This is the story of America. This is our story. From life to death. This is what I can offer the world.

Yours,
Joseph Shipp


*This story was originally posted on shippstudio.com on August 6, 2015

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