Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Okay, so I have looked at this interview, reviewed each question, pondered, and put this interview away, and then pulled it back out FAR more times than I really ought to admit. I wasn’t anticipating this particular reaction to something like this. I have come to the conclusion however, that there are people in this world that are the question-askers and people that generally are the question-answerers. I like to ask the questions, Ms. Jessi Bennion…so you’re kinda putting me in an uneasy spot. I know that YOU are a question asker, even more so than I am so I look forward to these tables turning on you and your interesting story very soon. Enough about you though. Let’s all focus entirely on me now (insert the goofiest look on my face right now).
Hello. I’m Skye Hatten. I call Helena, Montana my home and am nearly one year shy of rounding 40 orbits around the sun. A gentleman named Mike Hatten presented a pretty dang good case nearly 16 years ago and I opted to say, “What the heck, I’ll marry you. You seem like a nice chap.” We have a 12-year-old daughter named Cadence and a 9-year-old son named Grady, both of which carrying their own unique personalities and interests…all positive personality characteristics I gladly claim and all others, surely are a gift from Mr. Hatten. We currently do the school and activity juggle, bouncing between our local Grandstreet Theatre, the softball field, and the hockey rink throughout each year. A geriatric, deaf, and blind wiener dog named Lillian meanders around our home and bathes in the sun…and a lazy and neurotic French Bulldog who goes by the name of Opal transitions between snoring on her back to flying into our front window barking with each passing car…or insect…or air.
Family is my jam. Mike is the solid rock and always the voice of reason. He keeps me grounded. His love for his own family was what drew me to him and we were the best of friends long before we dated. We have a comfort level that can’t be beat…and as long as he continues to know that I’m always right, he’ll get to hold my teeth while we play bingo in those distant years ahead of us. Being a mom has been that definition I cherish the very most. Joy, purpose, love, gratitude, heartache, frustration, and complete enamor…all rolled into one. Those two buggers have my whole heart and watching them become the little beings they are has been the greatest thing.
I arrived into this world when my parents embarked onto unplanned parenthood when my mom was 18 and my dad was 23. I was born in Oregon. My parents decided to drive from Montana to Oregon while my mom was pregnant, bring me to the world in a Grants Pass hospital, take me home to a rental 16’ house on wheels with a hitch off the front, stay for a short spell, and then drive me back to Montana wrapped up cozily on the floorboard of a single cab Chevy. My memory is a little hazy of this time period. 😉
Through the rockiest of times, no flourishing income source, maturity development, a child, and the expectations of marriage, my folks somehow managed to graduate from a vocational college in South Dakota…my dad as a lineman and my mom a secretary. They launched their degrees with first jobs in Miles City, Montana. We lived in a crowded trailer park in a tiny mobile home less than a hundred yards from busy railroad tracks. At times, I remember seeing transients sleeping against the chain link fence that was the edge of our yard. Our living room ceiling had a three-inch hole in the middle and directly beneath the hole resting on the floor, was a bucket that filled and often overflowed with water during rain storms or when the snow melted above us. It was simply a part of the day to “empty the bucket” into the sink. I knew no different…and therefore, assumed everyone else had a bucket in their homes as well. We had a swamp cooler in our kitchen that exuded a musty smell and occasionally spit out particles into the air. I had a rabbit named Max and my mom had strawberry plants along the edge of our trailer. My dad was still growing up during these years in his own version of self-discovery and while he had a heap of great dad moments, he also found himself with rebellious ways, drinking more than he should and sometimes rebelling on these roles of parent and husband he had landed. And my mom balanced working full time and parenting not just me but often, probably both of us. I was an only child for 11 years before my brother was born and we upgraded to a bigger mobile home and moved 40 miles west to Forsyth, Montana where we could be found at school athletic events, or racing through the house closing windows when the “mosquito (spray) truck” was passing by, or pretending we weren’t home when the Schwan’s man stopped by because we were still stocked from the previous order. I graduated from high school and my parents ultimately graduated into a stronger marriage shortly thereafter.
Sure, we had rocky moments just like any other family… some worse and some better. But there is one observation that always sticks…I was impeccably loved and supported…and I still am. As a kid, I never went without and was provided for in various ways that other kids weren’t. I fished with my dad, I had a little motorcycle I would ride behind our house, my mom helped me with my language arts homework, my dad helped me with math…and I always had nice shoes. Because let’s be honest here…shoes are important.
As a mom and as an over-analytical nut, I am always analyzing how much of what shapes us is environmental and how much is simple genetic makeup.
I was a good student and always had good grades…and was a practical perfectionist. When graduating from high school, I knew I would be going to college…and while I was looking for something I was interested in, I think my highest priority at the time was to be paid well. I chose engineering. And upon moving into my college dorm room, I was homesick, yet also absolutely fascinated by the fact that the room was encased in sheet rocked walls. No wood paneling. I had never had a room without wood paneling.
I graduated from Montana Tech with a degree in geophysical engineering. A technical field. Because it paid well…and I was good at math…and I had some interests in earth science. Done. Choice made. Path paved.
And now, after seventeen years of predominately practicing environmental engineering, I closed that chapter only a few weeks ago to solely focus on the photography business I created a number of years ago. Funny how life works.
Skye, your photography is breathtaking and you are so creative. I know this because you took photos of our family, which I cherish. Talk to us about creativity. What is life like for a creative? Where do you find your inspiration?
Is it hot in here???
Okay…so, first and foremost…I know I touched on this a bit with you before but taking photos of you and your family came at such a critical time for me this winter. I’ll explain the reason in a moment…
For so many fresh and raw reasons, it’s kind of funny and a little surreal to be asked about the topic of creativity. Through continuing personal growth and quite the journey of discovery, there is one thing I know for sure and it is this…for me, an outlet for creativity is necessary for me to have balance in my life. ANY balance. THIS I know…and have been reminded at times in harsh ways.
Up and down patterns, highs and lows, and really, an internal battle with no one but myself, has made up too many years to count. People-pleasing, perfectionistic tendencies, an active, over-analytical imagination, constant self-doubt, and desire to be “the best” (whatever that seemed to have meant at any given time) have actually stifled my creative potential more than I probably know.
Recognizing and coming to terms with this was a key moment for me and really only happened within recent years. Channeling the healthy personality traits and ignoring the traits that aren’t on my side is something I have to make a conscious effort to do each day in order to be MY best…today. Does this all make sense?
Riding parallel to these discoveries, our family has become busier than we have ever been. Work continued, activities and obligations increased, and my role as mom was transitioning from that “needed” person to what was starting to simply be conversationalist/cab driver. Little time was allowed to carry my photography from Point A to Point B, yet alone simply seek that creative outlet and I, simultaneously, was strongly questioning my purpose and contribution in life…as we all have or WILL have at various points along our individual journeys.
I was not conquering a single role I was playing. I felt strongly that I was failing at all of them. Every single one.
There were times that I had felt this way before and it would make me a bit frustrated but it would also sometimes, make me a bit motivated. This time was different. I felt defeated. And I didn’t want to play anymore. Which wasn’t a response I had shown before. The defeat left me with a heap of dark days. Smile on the outside. Absent and dark on the inside. Go through the motions. Act like you’re fine. That was the rhythm. All in conjunction with a long winter, I felt myself giving up on making joy a priority and that frightened me a bit. Because that choice was so not representative of “me.” This was very near to the point I asked you if I could take photos of your family…Jessi, your particular photo session was a hint of saving grace for me at a pretty down time.
Only months after, upon this low point and in conjunction with a solid buy-in from Mr. Hatten, I left my seventeen-year career as an engineer to focus entirely on photography. The moment I made that decision, this may sound odd but I literally felt warmth encompass my body. I, emotionally AND “physically,” knew this was the right decision for me at this point in my life.
These chapters are important in the journey and I really do feel that God puts us in places and in roles where we are most needed at given points in time. No regrets, only the gifts of today matter. We are a product of our experiences and it is these experiences that shape us and make us better. I’m better today than I was yesterday. And tomorrow, I’ll shoot for better than that. For all of this, I’m thankful. I’m in a good spot right now and I look forward to what’s ahead. New opportunities…and new doors.
As far as creativity goes, it really is exploring your limits and then having the courage to share your work. A cycle of sometimes feeling on top of the world to often feeling never quite good enough. This is normal. As the saying goes though…fortune favors the brave…and I continue to remind myself as such. What I do today ought not compare to what I do tomorrow. I hope my best work will always be tomorrow.
I find inspiration in light, in books, in cinema, in travels, sometimes from inspiring artists and photographers, and sometimes I find inspiration in taking breaks, and also in special projects geared toward shooting simply for my own heart.
Side note, there are several studies demonstrating a link between mental illnesses and creativity…I just can’t see how these could possibly be connected (insert wide-eyed surprised emoji).
What does your perfect day look like?
Ahh yes, my perfect day. Simple. A simple day filled with presence is my absolute perfect day. I envision an early morning hike with someone I love, followed by hot tea and a simple breakfast with my crew…just the four of us. The rest of the day is really about nothing but sheer presence. That is perfection to me.
On the less than perfect days, do you have a quote or motto that you use for encouragement?
Oh gosh, I have a private Pinterest board FILLED with quotes that have helped me at various times. A quote I read recently that stuck in my mind was one of Jen Sincero’s quotes from her recent book You Are a Badass: “It’s just as easy to believe we’re awesome as it is to believe we’re giant sucking things.”
We should all go with the “awesome” approach here…yeah?
What book do we need to immediately go out and buy?
Oh gosh, books. YES! I LOVE to talk about books with others. I’m going to share two books that I pretty much share with anyone and everyone. First and foremost, go buy the memoir called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Fascinating…the story, the writing, the perspective. It really is THAT good. Secondly, go buy The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. This book changed my life (seriously) and offered heaps of validation at a time I so desperately needed it. Every single person should read it.
One of my favorite questions to ask is about advice. If you could tell your 20-yr-old self a few things, what would you say?
I would say…
· Be true to who you are. Be authentically you. That IS the gift you offer.
· Have courage, take risks.
· For the love of God, stop overthinking.
· There will be ups and there will be downs. Always know the pendulum will continue to swing. Hang tight. It’s all normal.
We love a good story. Tell us about one of your happiest memories.
I mean obviously my kids have helped generate a heap of happy memories. Taking all of that to the side, there was one particular day I’ve managed to tuck into a secure spot in my mind. In the summer of 2014, we drove to Oregon and there was this perfect day where we stayed in Astoria, walked around by the Goonies house, watched ships come and go, we traveled south and went on the best hike and played by the ocean. Grady managed to accidentally fall in while running and Cadence later wrote about this day in an essay. It really was one of my most favorite days ever.
The thing about it is that it really did all come down to presence. I was fully there. The entire day, I was fully present. I remember everything. I’m tearing up thinking about how the simple component of presence IS the determining factor. How important yet sometimes the biggest feat.
Tell us about a person who’s had a big impact on your life.
There sure are a lot of them but naming one, I would surely say my mom. She’s a “Sensitive Sally” but she’s strong and patient and kind…and she’s always been that constant support for me growing up. She does this annoying rooster call in the mornings though (again, insert wide-open-eyes emoji). Love her!
What are some words your friends would use to describe you?
Oh gosh…this is a hard question. I think they would say kind, social, a bit moody at times, kind of humorous, pretty dang sarcastic, maybe a pain in the tooshie. Probably a little bit of all of these things. 😉
What do you most value in a friendship?
Easy…I value wit and humor, kindness, authenticity, vulnerability, loyalty, and just the small things that say “I care about you.”
Coffee or tea?
Anti-coffee…totally a tea girl.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Typically vanilla under most circumstances. Earl Grey or Chocolate Mousse cake though…there’s a hard lean.
Introvert or extrovert?
For the most part, extrovert. I like to take introversive breaks though.
Rural or urban?
Rural environment, urban food. Done.
Dress up or dress down?
I’d say dress down…but I like quality “dress down” clothing. Mr. Hatten can probably vouch for this. Side note, I have a strong dislike for jeans at the moment. Ick. Eww.
Cats or dogs?
Most definitely dogs. Cats think bad thoughts.
Sunrise or sunset?
Sunrise for mental health. Sunset for photos.
Classic or modern?
Call or text?
Text…unless it’s Mr. Hatten’s grandparents, which phone visits have always proven to be the greatest.
Fiction or non-fiction?
A little of both really.
Salty or Sweet?
Mostly salty with the occasional sweet treat.
Here’s the big question about Montana… tell us why you love living here.
The outdoor activities and the people. Enough said. Montanans thrive on Montana-pride, social interactions and friendly demeanors. Except in a construction zone. For the love of all things holy, the typical Montanan may or may not let you in the one remaining lane left open. I see you Mrs. Eyes-Straight-Ahead…I know you see me and you are hugging that bumper in front of you on purpose.
What lesson are you learning right now?
Oh wow…I suppose probably right now, I’m learning to not be too hard on myself and accept who I am. Aren’t we all sitting in on this particular seminar??
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I’m thankful for nearly 40 years of memories under my belt and though the regular day can prove to sometimes be distracting, I’m impeccably filled to the brim with gratitude in knowing on the deepest and most meaningful levels, I am loved and valued.