The minute I decided to let go of control over our business is when real momentum began to happen for us.

LATASHA HAYNES

LaTasha Haynes

LaTasha developed a love for pictures early on and would spend hours upon hours flipping through family albums, although there were very few of her to admire. The day she was born was the day she was placed into the foster care system, and yet Tash turned her unfortunate upbringing into good. Her presence and personality alone sends ripples of joy to those around her.

Together with her husband, Isaiah Haynes, she has built a successful and purposeful business. They’re a powerhouse husband-wife team, known as Ike & Tash who have discovered their dream behind the lens. As travel wedding and portrait photographers they love teaching and shooting weddings, engagements, high school seniors and families. They specialize in sassy, bold, edgy and urban lifestyle portraiture.

They are also passionate about cultivating intentional community. They’ve created a hip and fashionable senior model program, with a strong focus on mentorship, called the Street Team and has also founded a boutique conference experience called BLINK for fellow photographers.

Her story is inspirational to say the least. With all odds stacked against her she has conquered and continues to push through environmental and social disadvantages. Today she is a boss lady, mother, wife, and friend. A woman with resilience, vulnerability and beauty. A woman on a mission.

What was your childhood like and how has it influenced who you are today?

 
I had an interesting childhood. From conception, I dealt with many battles. I was born to a woman who had a mental handicap. I don’t actually know what her disability is, but she functions at a 12- to 15-year old cognitive level. She was living in an adult group home when she got pregnant with me, and everyone told her, “You need to have an abortion because you’re obviously not fit to be a parent.”

Thankfully, the laws are that you can’t force someone into an abortion and that was something she wasn’t willing to do. So she gave birth to me, and the day I was born was the day I was placed in foster care.

My mother was raised outside of her family as well. She had a very similar experience to me growing up. I chose not to be promiscuous or become a bully, and instead include people because I knew what it felt like to not be included.

As a result of my upbringing, I always felt isolated and wanted to be a part of something; to feel like I could fit in. So, wherever I went, I built community – because I didn’t have it growing up.

Which is why the core of my business is community – through Blink, our photography conference, and the Street Team, our senior mentoring program.

Also, I value the family unit. My relationships with my family and friends are important to me. My friends are like siblings to me. I like to go deep. I’m incredibly loyal and I’m not quick to just throw people away.

When I got pregnant, it was so important to me to have a girl because I wanted that generational curse to be broken. I knew it couldn’t come through a boy. It had to come through a girl. When [my husband and I] knew she was a girl, I felt like I had a chance to redeem my family history and to make it right. I did, and I have.

My relationship with my daughter is so important to me. If you follow me online, you’ll see that raising her and watching her be free, have joy and know how loved she is is so important to me.

We’ve been able to create a life for her that’s different from what either one of us experienced.

It’s the first time on both sides of our family line we have been able to break this generational curse of absent parenting and provide Wisdom an incredibly privileged life.

Her life, her story and how she talks about her childhood will be so different from our story. Hopefully, having two very nurturing parents and a traditional upbringing will cause a change to our family line on both sides. I’m really thankful, excited and happy for the freedom she’ll have to just be herself.

 

What was the path that lead you to discovering your passion as a photographer?

 

When I travelled abroad in college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Photography was something I loved, and I experimented with shooting while traveling. However, when it was time to choose my career I felt I needed to do something a little more practical, something that would securely support me financially. It was difficult to see my future as an artist, mostly because of what people’s perceptions were of the artist industry. Today, though, the creative market is completely different and it has been proven possible that we can financially survive.

For our first anniversary Ike bought me a camera, but I didn’t pick it up until a few months after my grandmother passed away. I was so depressed and sad, and I felt hopeless. Picking up the camera and learning how to use it helped to ground me. It brought me back to life. As I taught myself how to use the camera, I discovered my passion for photography.

 

How did you turn your passion for photography into a profitable business?

 
In 2009 was when I got serious about practicing and began thinking about my future as a photographer. In May of 2010 I launched my own business, because by then I had several requests for my work. I still held a full-time job but seven months into the launch I felt I needed to decide whether I wanted to see where photography could take me, or if I wanted to play it safe and stay in my 9-to-5 role.

I knew I had to take the leap and figure out what would happen. So I quit my job with no plan or money and without ever having seen how a business is ran – just really no plan at all. My only plan was: we’re just going to do this and see what happens.

Interestingly, a couple of years later when I became pregnant with Wisdom, Ike lost his job and we lost our insurance. It was absolutely devastating. Instead of Ike finding another job, we became a husband and wife team. Working from home together provided us with the flexibility we needed with our new baby. So in February of 2013 we became Ike & Tash Photography while also launching the BLINK Conference. In the next five years our business excelled!

However, I struggled with becoming a husband and wife team. I felt like it was my business and it gave me value and worth. I didn’t want him to take that from me. But I had to reconcile [these feelings] through prayer. A message was given to me during that time which was, “Until you let your husband be a part of this business as an equal partner, God is never going to let it go where it needs to be.”

We learned through trial and error what it takes to follow your dreams, how to put food on your table as a family business and figure out all the in-betweens.

 

The journey of navigating your family background has been a challenge, but your posture has been so powerful. Tell us more about that.

 

On August 17th, 10 years ago, I found my family. It was the day, after 25 years of being separated and raised in foster care, that the mystery of my origins were finally solved. It was also the day, that in a very small ceremony, with terrible wedding photographers, that I married Ike and my family began.⠀

The last 10 years, through dreams, through failures, through loss and pain, through feast and famine, on mountain tops high and through our most recent valleys, the person always standing by my side, encouraging me, taking care of me, supporting me, reminding me and pushing up hill out of Hell, until we both win, is Ike.⠀


The world will paint a picture that there is no long suffering, that marriages don’t survive through tough stuff, that black men don’t stay, that black families are far and few between, but I am so thankful for the one I get to be a part of.⠀

 

You guys have been a husband and wife team for the last five years. What’s the most challenging part of co-laboring with your husband? And what’s the best part about it?

 
It’s so cool because he’s so different from me and sees things differently than I do. He has his own unique strengths completely opposite of mine, which helps to bring a calmer perspective and a consistency to everyday challenges.

Ike is really even-tempered and emotionally stable, which balances me out. He’s also really amazing in his talent as a wedding, engagement and documentary journalistic photographer, whereas my love is as a portrait shooter. I love shooting families and seniors. We complement each other. I also love how he knows where my weaknesses are, fills in the gaps and always has me covered. In return, I get to do the same for him.

Also, being a creative, African-American husband-wife team is a strength in our industry because you don’t see it very often. You see a lot of men photographers or a lot of women photographers, but there are not a lot of husband-wife teams working together who are also African-American. I think it’s important for people to see couples, especially couples of color, working together and producing great things of quality. I’m really thankful.

However, we do have our moments. For instance, who’s in charge when you’re both equal partners? If you’re 50-50, who reports to who? I’m not his boss, we’re equal. We’re still trying to figure out what accountability looks like.

Also, what do you do when you are with each other 24/7? We’re always together; we’re never apart, and so it makes it hard. Sometimes, I would like to vacation by myself. It’s such a weird balance and sometimes a challenge to be home with your family all day long, all the time. But it’s a blessing I’m willing to embrace.

 

Not only do you run a photography business, but you’ve also founded the BLINK Conference. How did you come up with the idea for BLINK? What gaps in the market did you see?

 
When Ike and I would attend workshops, conferences or events in Seattle, we’d be the only people of color in the room. The lineup of speakers was filled with powerhouse people, but there wouldn’t be anyone who remotely reflected me, and it was really frustrating.

I wondered, “Where are the minorities in this industry?”

Ike and I started teaching and mentoring people who would fly in from Houston, Washington D.C., Atlanta and other major metropolitan cities. Our events had a lot of culture, and that’s where I learned even more about the underground movement of African-American and minority photographers.

After being frustrated with the lack of community around diversity, Ike said, “If you’re going to complain about it, do something about it.” I remember calling Melinda and basically sharing just how upset and hurt I was because it wasn’t true to the overall community of photographers. She really encouraged me to step up to the plate and to do something on my own.


 
She was the person who pushed me to realize my potential and how I could impact the industry in a positive way. Actually, when Melinda wants me to do something she generally punks me into it and kindly bullies me into doing the right thing! Seven days after the moment we had this conversation over breakfast in Sacramento, I had made phone calls and put together a lineup for a new event called BLINK, and from there we powered forward.

Today, we have one of the most diverse conferences, both in culture and expertise in the industry. I’m super proud of what has come out of it.

BLINK CONFERENCE
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BLINK has been a happening since 2013 what advice would you give to someone whose is launching their first conference?

 
It’s better to operate from the “slow and steady wins the race” mindset than try to acquire things too fast that are unsustainable.

Currently, I feel the market is oversaturated. When there are too many options it becomes difficult for people to make a decision about which conference to attend. Many conferences are struggling and suffering as a result of this dilemma. It’s really important when you start any venture to see what’s happening and research the things already in place.

I would encourage them to figure out what their niche is and what problem they are solving, because that’s going to be their strength as they move forward. Connecting with a niche means there’s already a group of people who are ready, invested and ready to go.
 

Many people struggle with finding purpose in the work they do. What are your thoughts on integration of faith and work?

 

Finding purpose in your work is really about figuring out what your gifts and strengths are and how you can use them to bless other people.

Our photography business isn’t something I specifically asked God for, but it was something He definitely gave us. We are committed to honoring Him in how we operate and will always give Him the honor He deserves.

 

You recently journeyed through a life-threatening experience. What happened?

 

I’ve been working really hard for seven years. Immediately after BLINK 2016, I wasn’t feeling right. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but my physical body didn’t feel right and my emotional spirit was so grieved. BLINK is like a mountaintop experience for me, but it also requires a lot emotionally. I just felt drained from the experience.

It usually takes me about a week to recover from BLINK. This time was really different, and I ended up getting shingles in December, but I looked forward to January. It’s my transitional month to move from year to year. I was excited to start my January fast as 2017 approached, to get clear on where I wanted to go and what God wanted to do in the new year.

February came along, and after attending a conference I got sick again with what felt like a common cold. Then, one Sunday in February I had a dinner party planned for 19 of my girls from the Street Team, with guest speakers coming in. I didn’t feel good that day and Ike even suggested I cancel. Well, I ended up sweating through the whole thing! But the next day when I woke up, I couldn’t move. I went to urgent care and they said I had a virus, it would just take care of itself and there wasn’t much they could do; so they gave me an antibiotic and sent me home. The next day after that, I woke up and couldn’t move again.

Ike and I had travel plans to go speak at a conference that week, and I was really concerned and needed to be well enough to fly so I could follow through on our commitment. I decided to go to the emergency room to figure out what’s wrong. I thought, “I’ll have a couple of days to recover before the conference.” But after going to the hospital again, they still couldn’t figure it out.

They’re saying, “You have some kind of viral infection. But there’s a million viral infections out there, so we can’t pinpoint what it is.” After experiencing several symptoms, I was really scared.

But then I came home and started feeling better. The following day though, I started packing for the conference and then I felt really tired and decided to take a nap. When I woke up I just felt weird. My breathing changed and I couldn’t catch my breath.

We have an intern living with us so I called for help to get to the couch. Immediately, I felt chest pain and couldn’t breathe very well. I was terrified. Then Ike comes in the door and he asks, “Are you ready to go to the airport?” I said, “I don’t know what’s wrong but I can’t get on this plane tonight.” He took me to the emergency room again, and for hours they looked for a diagnosis. They didn’t find one, but this time I was admitted. We obviously didn’t get on the flight.

After a quick phone call to a friend, I went downhill from there. I experienced heart failure. Between March 1st and March 5th, I was in intensive care fighting for my life. I lost so much blood that my heart rate was 287 beats per minute for the first two and a half days. I had a blood pressure of 75/50 – dangerously low blood pressure, yet my heart was racing.

The doctors came in to talk to Ike and told him if we didn’t get my heart together and get the heart rate down I would die because it would give out. It was just pumping too long for too hard. Somehow a virus had gotten into my heart, causing inflammation of the heart lining and inflammation of my actual heart [muscle]. In addition to all of that, I had pneumonia and internal bleeding.

Around day four or five, they gave me blood transfusions and things started turning around for the good. I spent a total of 15 days in the hospital. There were several other patients who came in with the same situation as me who did not make it out of the hospital alive.

I count it as a miracle that I survived, scary and surreal at the same time.

 

Looking back, how has this near-death experience impacted you the most in your your faith, family, and work?

 

Now in hindsight, I can look at it and know I needed to die to many things. It was my wake-up call. Although it was awful and has been so challenging, it changed everything about me.

I remember I could hear the doctors talk about how because I was on an organ list they were prepared to fly me to Harbor View for a transplant. I heard these conversations, but I knew I wasn’t ready to die and that wasn’t God’s plan for my life.

Through this near-death experience, I learned so much about God’s love, His faithfulness and what it really means to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and have no fear.

It wasn’t a physical death but it definitely was a death – I did not come out of that hospital as the same person.

I was definitely a workaholic before this experience, and as a result, I had missed out on a lot of really valuable things which could have filled me up if I would have seen them.

I’m so thankful to be a photographer and to be a part of the creative community, but 20 years from now, will I look back and be proud of how many Instagram followers I have? Will that be what I want to remember?

I want my legacy to be about what Wisdom is able to say about her childhood, how Ike is able to talk about me as a wife, what my girls will be able to say about the time we mentored them and how what I created changed people’s lives.

I am now able to shift to see the bigger picture and what is really important. Before this, the idea of letting go completely – stop working completely – to take care of myself and my family was not something I was willing to do. But I realized God has got me, He has kept us and our business. We were able to come back to our work with everything being okay. I am not defined by my business.

I also learned how to fight alone when it’s just me and God walking it out, because even though I’ve had a lot of support, no one has understood what it’s like to be here. It’s still my journey and I’ve learned to rely on God to make it through. Lastly, I also learned how much community we have who supports us, and how much they really love us.

 

What does your relationship with God look like?

 

This is going to make me cry. The only thing in my life that has been consistent is my relationship with God. The one thing my mother ever did for me was take me to church, which was the best gift. I chose God at 17 years old, was baptized at 19 years old and I’ve been walking with God ever since. It’s been beautiful and also complicated at the same time. There are so many things I still have to learn and receive, but one thing I know to be true is I am covered and He walks with me through every season of my life. It has been proven to me so many times and I’m so thankful for that.

 

What’s a scripture that means the most to you and why?

 

I love Isaiah 61:3 about just turning beauty from ashes and sadness to joy. In the Bible there are many scriptures repeating this message over and over again. I just love the beauty for ashes – like no matter what the situation is, I know God is going to turn it around. I may not be the benefactor, but it’s all purposeful and it’s all a process.

 

So many of us struggle with focus and time management. What’s your system, or secret, for getting things done while also juggling the responsibilities of a mother, wife, and leader?

 

It’s important to have boundaries and balance. I’m not always great at it, but I make it work for my business and life situation. All the parts of my life overlap. I’m thankful about being a mother. It’s my number one priority! It’s my job to steward Wisdom and make sure she’s getting what she needs, growing to be the person she’s supposed to become. I don’t separate her from the other things that are important to me, like being a good business woman or being a leader. I feel like she gains so much from watching and being included.

I’m a mom all the time so we’ve learned how to manage expectations of the people we’re working with and letting them in on how we function as a family and business. We’re literally a family business – which means our child is also a part of our work. At times she will be with us on photo shoots, or attending our conferences.

As women, we’ve got to take off of ourselves some of the pressure to feel like we have to have everything together and organized. Don’t worry about how people see you, or who will judge if you’re being professional or unprofessional. We choose to be entrepreneurs because we want to have a different lifestyle. You get to design your life around your business, not the other way around.

 

You’re a big advocate for underrepresented groups in the marketplace. What encouragement or advice would you give those who have a passion or a dream, but don’t see a way forward?

 
There’s always a way forward. I don’t believe God puts passion and dreams in us without the ability to move towards them. We don’t always get the big picture, and that’s probably good. Because many of us wouldn’t pursue the things in our heart if we knew what we were going to have to go through to get there.

When there is a passion and purpose put in front of us, and in us, we have everything we need to make it happen. It’s about doing it afraid, stepping out and doing everything you can do to move towards it.

I always pray, “God, meet me where I end.”

I would encourage people to do what they know to do and trust God with the rest of it. If you’re doing your part and you’re doing everything you know you can do, what is in your power to do, I believe God will meet you with the next step. It’s step-by-step. It’s like one thing at a time, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting, even when you can’t see it.

 

How would you advise brands on how to become more inclusive as it relates to diversity?

 

Being more inclusive is about being intentional, even if you don’t understand how to start.

I believe it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone as a person who is an influencer and making the choice to get to know people; finding where those connections integrate with people who are different from you but who also line up with your mission, your brand, and where you’re trying to go.

It’s not about making people view you as someone who is being inclusive in terms of diversity – that’s not authentic, and we can feel when it’s not coming from a real place. It’s about genuinely connecting, coming together, collaborating and moving forward authentically because you stand behind the individual.

 

What books or resources would you suggest our Grit & Virtue community add to their reading list?

 

Everything Steven Furtick has created. I am reading Your Beautiful Purpose By Susie Larson, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Uninvited and The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst, Marketing Like Jesus by Darren Shearer. I would also add one more I’ve gotten so much from – Tribes by Seth Godin.

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We’d like to thank Tash for her time and for sharing her beautiful story with our community. If you enjoyed this feature leave a comment below and share it with it friend!