President’s Message: Find Your Purpose

©David Desilva

I’m dating a mermaid. She’s not just a mermaid, she’s the Pittsburgh Mermaid. It was through her and her cause that I found new purpose. To understand that, we have to go back a few years.

About 10 years ago I began entertaining the idea of running for the PPA Board of Directors. I knew from talking with people who had served on the board that should I ever realize that ambition, the time commitment would increase as the years of service went on. That was fine with me; it fit my plans of slowly downsizing my business, giving me the necessary time.

As I became less busy with the studio work that had kept me occupied for so many years, I stepped back and looked at the big picture, realizing I was so busy making a living, putting out fires, and satisfying customers that I’d lost sight of some important things. I wondered not just what I could do to stay busy but what I should do. What could I do to make a difference? You might say that satisfying clients for 30-some years does make a difference, and I wouldn’t argue against that. But I started thinking more along the lines of things that might inspire others to help affect change in a society so desperate for it.

"There are times in our lives when we know we’re where we’re supposed to be."

Mark Campbell

The past decade of my life has been so full of coincidences that I can’t possibly accept they’ve been random. Meeting Danniella Donahugh nearly eight years ago was one such coincidence. Each of us was going through a dark time that only someone who’d experienced similar circumstances could understand.

We began working together, first to satisfy her need for promotional photos as an actress and then to help expand my creativity in areas like underwater photography. We found we both loved the creative process and soon we were bouncing lots of ideas around.

I knew she’d battled cancer for some time before I met her. Three years ago she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. This would have absolutely demolished many people. But as she began round after round of chemo and radiation treatments, she began to focus on people other than herself. She saw people who struggled because they didn’t have access to the resources she did, and she was moved to help. She came to me with an idea that wasn’t fully formed but was something we both felt had the potential to develop into unique opportunities.

She combined her love of mermaids with her love of Pittsburgh and created the Pittsburgh Mermaid to promote awareness and preventative care as well as to prompt fundraising opportunities to help people in need. She coined her tagline, “Protect your seashells,” to help start conversations about a difficult topic. The idea immediately caught the attention of local groups and national fundraising campaigns. She began making appearances at events and creating content to further those efforts.

The work of photographers has always been used to tell stories and promote awareness. What a coincidence that as my career wound down, I was presented with the opportunity to help create images that will inspire people to join this fight.

There are times in our lives when we know we’re where we’re supposed to be. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that as keenly as I do now. Take time from your busy schedule to find something you’re passionate about, something that can help make change possible. You’ll find rewards that can fulfill you more than you might have thought. 

Mark Campbell owns Prestige Photography in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Tags: visioning