Featured Trailblazer Joanna Herr - Herr Photography
Interview with Joanna Herr
NTB: You have created your dream job with Herr Photography where you get call the shots as well as travel to exotic destinations with 'Phototrotting with a Purpose' but career's like this don't usually happen overnight, tell us about the journey that brought you to where you are now.
JH: Some of the first jobs I took after graduating from high school were in the arts as a window dresser and then at a local Newspaper as a layout and paste up artist. However, when I moved to San Diego the newspapers were closed shops (unions) and I couldn’t find a job in that field. By luck, I had gained some electrical experience from my years working at the newspaper in my hometown of Lancaster, PA and I was able to land a job as a telephone installer. After injuring myself on the job, I took some time off to re-evaluate what I wanted to do. My son was in high school so employment for me was important. I then met a couple who owned and operated a Professional Liability Insurance Company and they hired me as their Controller. I was taught on the job and became quite good at handling their books. The office was across the lobby from a Stock Brokerage firm who eventually persuaded me to come work for them as an assistant and researcher. I never dreamt that I would have jobs like this. I really was a corporate player and I am grateful that I stuck to it. The experience I gained through both employers was instrumental in starting my own company. Having the knowledge to handle the accounting and daily business transactions was huge. I had never given up the vision of being a professional photographer but I was constantly told that women don’t make it in this field.
NTB: At some point when you knew it was time to transition of out the financial industry, you took a leap of faith to start your own business. Ultimately did you rely on your natural talents and instincts to define your new business venture? How did taking the risk to pursue that dream / goal pay off?
JH: Instincts were a part of the venture; however, education and connections played a bigger role for me. I sought out established photographers and took a part time job to learn the ropes. I learned about the Small Business Development Center in Oceanside and applied for their counseling. I was encouraged to join the San Diego Chamber and I also applied to be a vendor for the Super Bowl. The risk was not knowing how to break into the male dominated industry at the time so following the trends and asking questions led me in some interesting directions.
NTB: As a growing entrepenuer you joined Women’s Global Network
to connect with other like minded business women but did you have
any idea that it would lead you to traveling to places like Tanzania
to bring resources and training to women in need? What inspired you
to participate in that first WGN trip to Africa?
JH: I really had no expectations when I joined. I wanted to meet other
business women and to share best business practices. When they
announced a trip to Tanzania, I jumped at the chance to help with the
travel plans since I had just been to Kenya. I was already sponsoring
a woman in Bukoba, Grace B. and I really wanted to meet her in person.
NTB: After taking several trips to Africa and working with the women
there, what did the experience show you about the similarities they share
with you and other women with resources?
JH: Yes, there were many similarities in how we operated our businesses,
they even had cell phones. These women are smart, resourceful,
connected and honest. By accepting the loans and esablishing their
businesses and independence they actually put themselves at risk for
NTB: At some point you met another special person, Rudy Schaefer of Water for
Life. How did you two meet and how has he inspired you to incorporate a ‘giving
back’ philosophy when you travel for your photo trips now.
JH: Rudy contacted me after reading an article about our trips to Tanzania and
Honduras and an upcoming trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. We chatted for
quite a while about his nonprofit and how they deliver and demonstrate the
Sawyer water filter. One of their destinations is Cambodia. So my little troop
of travelers joined Rudy for a fundraising event and the results were 35 water
filters that we carried with us to Cambodia.
NTB: Your perspective has surely changed as a result of taking risks to pursue your passions and traveling to countries that don’t have the quality of life we have in the U.S. In reflecting on that, is there anything that has been particularly enlightening or inspiring that you would like to share?
JH: Everyone should travel to a developing country and spend some time with the locals, engage in the culture, learn the traditions, go to the river to collect the water, use an out-house, bathe only once a month. After I returned home from the first Tanzania trip I was depressed for two weeks. I couldn’t believe that we have so much here and yet complain the most. The dichotomy between the states and developing countries is huge…and yet it is never enough for us.
NTB: With all that you’ve experienced on your journey, is there something
you’ve learned about yourself that may have even surprised you?
JH: Yes, I am truly blessed for what I have, what I have learned and where
I have been able to travel to. Ultimately, I've found a new passion for life and
I don’t want to stop.
NTB: Your story is inspiring in itself but what would you say to someone
who has a dream to do something, whether it’s inspired travel, perusing a
creative enterprise or simply giving back in some way but hasn’t taken that
first step because it’s out of their comfort zone?
JH: As a society, we are told how to feel, how to spend our time and money,
how to succeed, it’s a mold. Start with connecting with like-minded people
so you can share your vision with someone who will support your dream.
Stay away from the nay-sayers! Create a vision board; write down your
passions, goals and dreams. Develop a strategy to achieve your goals and
persist with patience.
NTB: What’s next for you Joanna?
JH: Creating a ‘tribe’ of like-minded people who will engage in volunteerism
trips and become involved in the local fundraising opportunities to support
these trips. I may get my Travel Agent certification to have better access to
information that will allow me to create affordable ‘Phototrotting with a Purpose’
trips to Africa, Asia, Central and South America.
Africa was a place Joanna dreamed of since she was a young girl of just eight years old, but it would take another twenty years for that dream to finally come true. For Joanna the urge to travel and take risks was well seated in her DNA.
Her mother set the tone for she married an American soldier and left her native home of Italy to cross the Atlantic and settle in Pennsylvania where she started her own family. Like her mother, Joanna married early and had a child but when things didn’t work out she did what came naturally and took on the role of single mother and raised her young son. Joanna also began to focus on the things that made her happy such as her love of photography and travel. When she heard about a trip some friends where planning to Kenya she said without hesitation, I’m going with you! And so she did. It was there that she finally got her chance to photograph the majesty of the Serengeti and dance to tribal music with the Masai themselves. After this experience, her desire to travel and photograph landscapes and indigenous cultures only grew deeper.
Joanna wanted to instill the importance of travel and adventure in her son and vowed to show him the world, starting at home in the U.S. Ultimately she and her 10 year old son set out on a cross country adventure to see all of the 50 states and when they landed in California, she knew she had found something special. Just two weeks later she and Jason moved there permanently and never looked back.
As a single mother, Joanna did whatever she had to do to survive in her new environment. She worked in the trenches of life taking on a variety of jobs which ultimately helped build the character she needed for the profession she would eventually pursue. After years of working in a limiting environment, Joanna’s desire to excel in a world of her making became her focus. She took a leap of faith and left the safety and security of a job with a 401K and insurance to pursue her true destiny. From there opportunities to travel and grow her corporate photography business flourished.
She found a new source of support and community when she joined Women’s Global Network. There came the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with a group of women to bring training and resources to the women of the villages there. Of course Joanna jumped at the opportunity to go back to Africa, but this time with a special purpose. After completing several trips to Africa and South America and understanding the needs developing countries, Joanna has incorporated a 'giving back' philosophy into her own business.
Herr Photography now facilitates ‘Phototrotting with a Purpose’ trips which offers folks the opportunity to travel to exotic destinations where they can immerse themselves in the local culture, learn photo skills while also bringing a practical contribution of much needed water filters to the developing countries they visit. Joanna has truly been the architect of her own experience and has built a dream career around doing what she loves, photography, traveling and being an ambassador of good will to the places she visits on her journeys.
Experience her story in her own words in the question and answer segment below as well as in her live video interview. Follow Joanna’s latest travel adventures on the New Trailblazer’s Facebook page where we will post her current trip. Also check out her website at: