Life as a Gift
In the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, I meet Sarah Beth Turner for coffee. The Plaza is charged with its classic splendor — orchids stand tall in vases, lush curtains frame massive windows, polished floors reflect the brilliance of the chandeliers.
Sara Beth orders a cappuccino, I order tea, and between the clanking of spoons and the murmur of conversations, Sara Beth presents a glimpse of the life she leads.
Sara Beth embodies the quintessential free spirit — independent, adventurous, and uninhibited. A freelance photographer, Sara Beth’s lifestyle does not fit the mold of a typical New Yorker. She spends her days shooting weddings, families, and for commercial clients such as DirecTV, Lulu Lemon, and Citibank. Summertime is her busiest season, booked solid with weddings and beach shoots of families and sun-kissed toddlers in the Hamptons. Winter is predictably slow. Each January, she takes a hiatus from the harsh city winter and spends a month surfing in Costa Rica.
Everything in between is a blend of work and play; she books shoots when clients contact her and books flights to Turkey, Haiti, Nashville, and everywhere in between when she finds herself with a free week.
In the Plaza, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice flows from the speakers and mingles with the voices of New Yorkers and tourists. I ask Sara Beth about her decision to move to New York City. She first visited the city in high school and prayed her flight would be canceled, she tells me. “I didn’t want to go back to Alabama.” She resolved to move to the city as soon as she finished college, which was exactly what she did. After four years of working as an event planner, she got laid off in the recession and saw the turn of events as an opportunity to pursue her dream of a career in photography.
Plunging into a freelance photography career wasn’t initially as glamorous as one might think. “Right now I’m working what I feel is my dream job,” she says, “but it hasn’t always been like this. There was a whole stage of my career when I couldn’t afford a movie ticket.” But she knew she had a talent for photography and that there was always going to be a need for more photos in the world.
Sara Beth views her life and everything in it as a gift, and she feels that her freelance schedule has put her in a unique position to serve others. Every Tuesday she teaches an art class to preschoolers in the South Bronx with a program called A House on Beekman, something she considers to be one of her most formative experiences.