written by kaitlyn stockton | photos by angela gonzales
Angela Gonzales spent 15 years building a successful company, but in her decision to walk away she found her freedom. Now, as a freelance photographer, she can enjoy her life again while still doing what she loves. Gonzales first discovered her passion for photography when she took photographs for her high school yearbook. Although she continued to dabble in photography after she graduated, Gonzales finally decided to pursue her passion after having her two children, Tyler and Ethan. Both boys were diagnosed with autism at an early age, and she struggled to find photographers who understood their needs. “I wanted good pictures of my sons,” Gonzales said. “At the time, you could only purchase photoshoots for kids at places like Sears or Kidshots. My kids did not do well with the lights or the confined and unfamiliar places.”
Not giving up, Gonzales set out to find a solution. She enrolled at Odessa College to study photography. “I wanted to study the art of true photography,” she said. “I wanted to master it.” After much practice, Gonzales found success and loved the photos she achieved of her boys. Soon, others would see her talent. At the time, her children attended an early intervention program with other children who were working with challenges of their own. She recalls that after she took the photos of her children, she gave copies to their teachers. “Those teachers are all in. I wanted them to have pictures of the boys because they loved them very much and worked with them every day,” she said. “I have so much respect for them still. I loved those ladies so much.”
It was after she gave her pictures to those teachers that others began seeing Gonzales’ work, and they requested she take pictures of their children. One of her first photoshoots was of a young boy named Austin. His mother, Karen, struggled for years to get good pictures of her son. For the photoshoot, Gonzales tried to complete the session in an environment the young boy was used to. “He was such a cool kid, and he loved airplanes,” Gonzales said. “We spent about an hour in his room where he was comfortable. There were no flashes and no squeaky toys to make him smile. He just spun the propellers of his toy planes and made his motor noises.” This was the beginning of Gonzales’s career in photography.
Austin’s mother cried when she saw the images. “She told me that no one ever sees him,” Gonzales said. “They just see a child with an illness.’” That was the moment Gonzales knew she had to do this for others. “I didn’t know I was beginning a career at the time. I wasn’t really asking for money,” she said. “I was still in school and just serving the needs of those who were asking me.”
However, from this moment on, Gonzales had found her style. Her natural imagery and use of landscapes were much different from the use of backdrops at the time. “No child was leaning on a ladder or laying on their stomachs for the photos,” she said. “They were just natural.” It didn’t take long for her work to attract the attention of others. Gonzales began receiving request from everyone, regardless of disability. Before long Gonzales was busy with appointments and eventually hired other photographers to help her with the workload. What started out as a small project eventually transformed into a large successful company. “I grew this large photography company with many employees that I started by myself. It was great for a while,” she said. “But every 15 minutes of my day seemed to be scheduled. I felt like I had no life outside the business.”
Ethan & Tyler at 10 years old.
“I was married to my job. I just had to do something that felt more purposeful with my life,” she said. “I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t want to stop taking pictures.”
Over the years, the studio grew and changed location each time there was a need for a bigger space. Along the way, Gonzales had no idea she would meet the love of her life. “I met Adrian just before the grand opening of my third location in downtown Midland. I attended one of his shows at a local jazz club/restaurant,” she said. “I loved the sound of his band and hired him to play at the street party of our big grand opening. I tried so hard not to like him.” That effort ended in 2014, when she and Adrian were married in San Antonio. “The rest is history,” Gonzales said.
After a few years, the couple decided to reassess where they were at that point in their lives. In the end, they both pulled back from their secular activities to spend more time focusing on their family. It was in September 2016 that she also decided to walk away from her studio. “I was married to my job. I just had to do something that felt more purposeful with my life,” she said. “I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t want to stop taking pictures.” After she left, Gonzales found her freedom again. She finally had more time to see her family and complete volunteer work. Throughout her career, Gonzales has remained a strong advocate for autism awareness and tried to raise awareness in her community through her studio. She hosted an open house during National Autism Awareness Month. She organized a few fundraisers for the cause and continues to support many of the local nonprofit organizations associated with autism. “Many have no idea that I came from that route,” she said.
Angela & Adrian Gonzales
It has been three years since she left her studio, and Gonzales has no regrets about her decision. “Success right now looks like freedom,” she said. “I get to do what I love and enjoy it.” Gonzales hopes to continue serving the community that she has always called her home. †