Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”


She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”


MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”


She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.

The History, Culture and Legacy of the Barker Family

It’s the story of legends and fairy tales: love at first sight.

Laurie Hahl, a freshman at Fort Lewis College in 1977, decided to stay in Durango over the summer instead of going back home to Littleton. With her high school experience in the restaurant business and her love of singing, Laurie applied at the Strater Hotel to join the singing wait staff. When she arrived at the hotel to meet assistant restaurant manager Rod Barker, she came down the short stairs that led to the hostess area and met his gaze. It’s a moment that both remember vividly nearly 40 years later.

Laurie got the job, and her first night was working at a Republican dinner. She collected pink elephant shaped tickets as the party¬goers came through the buffet line, while Rod carved the Baron of Beef at the opposite end. They spent the night sneaking glances at each other. “The one thing I think is kind of special is I didn’t know anything about the Strater, the Barker family or the legacy,” said Laurie.

Their first date was a few weeks later at the old Solid Muldoon, where Laurie had her first drink, a hot buttered rum. More dates would follow, and one night, they stopped on a back road to sit on the hood of the car and look at the stars. Laurie would only later learn that the road was just above the Barker family ranch.

“I genuinely cared about him and not about who he was and what he represented,” said Laurie, who continued to work at the Strater in various departments. “I wasn’t putting together the magnitude of what it all meant. At the time, the Strater had singing waiters and waitresses. I liked the singing part. I didn’t know about the legacy or all that. I don’t think I knew the whole picture yet.”

Becoming a part of the Barker family was a clash of cultures for the middle-class Laurie, who didn’t grow up around boats, horses or mountain cabins. Laurie’s family was healthy, but they didn’t eat vegetables fresh from the garden, or incorporate fish into their diet. “My horizons expanded,” said Laurie of her time with Rod’s mother, Jentra Jarvis, who would become her mother-in-law. “I learned how to can, make jelly and garden like the olden days. In my family, we just went to the grocery store.”

However, the differences in their families didn’t stop her from marrying Rod two years later, in May of 1979. Two months after that, Rod took a hotel management training position at the Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City, and the newlyweds left Durango and the Strater. While Rod worked at the hotel, Laurie continued her degree in medical technology at UMKC. When she became pregnant with Jeremy, she scaled back her classes, eventually going into labor in her physics lab in 1981. In 1983, Rod’s father called with the news that he was selling the hotel. “I’d left town with the reality that I might never return,” said Rod. “When he put it that way, all of the things I’d been denying came to the forefront. I wanted a hotel, and here was one about to slide away. I said, ‘Dad, don’t do that. I’ll come back if you give me the space to run it the way I want to.’”

Coming back to Durango and the Strater meant that the Barkers started the third generation of Barker family ownership. Over 30 years later, their daughter Allison is working her way through the Strater’s departments and learning how to run the hotel, setting in motion the fourth generation of Barker family legacy. Allison went to CSU in Fort Collins after graduating high school in Durango. She lived there for 10 years, and for a time, she worked at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. The Stanley Hotel is an Historic Hotels of America member, like the Strater, which sparked her love for history, culture and the legacy her family had worked so hard to develop. When she heard her father was going to sell the hotel, she couldn’t let it go. “It really hit home with me because it felt like part of my identity wouldn’t be there anymore,” explained Allison. “It was quite the wake up call to think that our family history at the Strater might disappear. The Barkers know the heart and soul of the Strater, and it would be a shame to see the hotel turn into something that it isn’t.”

The Barkers’ oldest child, Jeremy, now lives in Lafayette, CO, with his wife, Meghan. Jeremy worked at the Strater during high school as a bellman and in housekeeping where he had a brief stint that required him to wake up at 3am to vacuum the dining room before going to class. He now owns and manages a housing unit, while picking up work on the side in voiceovers.

While there have been difficulties running a family business, Laurie has enjoyed being a part of maintaining the Strater. “The hotel has always been a really fun thing for all of us,” said Laurie.

A favorite yearly event for the hotel, which Rod started in 1987, is the Open House in April, which offers a “thank you” to the town for years of support. Selected staff and family dress up in historical attire and provide tours to locals. Laurie wore her great-grandmother’s wedding gown at the first few Open Houses, while Rod wore her great-grandfather’s tuxedo. The vintage clothing was only part of what Laurie brought to the Strater. Her family had more roots in Durango than either Rod or Laurie knew.
Their families had already started to encounter each other years before the couple had even laid eyes on each other. The Moores, on Laurie’s maternal side of the family, owned a hardware store in Denver that went out of business in the 1950s. The remaining merchandise was purchased by Jackson Hardware in Durango. When the Barkers and the Hahls all met for the first time at the Barkers’ cabin on Electra Lake, they discovered the connection through an antique ice box the Barkers had purchased, labeled “JM Moore & Sons” Denver, CO. In addition, Laurie’s great-uncle, Lucius L. Moore, often traveled through Durango with his work for the southwest division of Mountain Bell Telephone. Lucius took numerous photographs of activities and sights around Durango and Grand Junction. Many of his photos were published in the Denver Post and Laurie and Rod have a collection on display at their Wagon Road Ranch Event Center. One of the pictures shows him skiing near a cabin owned by the Jarvis family. Other photographs feature rodeo riders, with the La Plata County Fairgrounds in the background. “It was meant to be that the families would come together,” said Laurie. “It’s like our paths were crossing and we didn’t even know it.”

The family traditions continued when Laurie’s parents, June and Leonard Hahl, followed by her brother, Tom, moved to Durango. Tom has worked for seven years restoring and maintaining walnut furniture at the Strater, and June and Leonard worked in the hotel’s food operation. Leonard set up the continental breakfast and June hosted Victorian tea. Currently, Tom’s daughter, Jessica, works at the front desk of the Strater.

The years of hard work, giving back to the community and continuing a family legacy have paid off. In October of 2014, Allison and Rod went to The Hotel Hershey, which was established in 1933, to receive the 2014 Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year award. “The Strater, Barker family and all the details that have transpired over many generations, only have added to the characters that helped shape our story. The Strater is the anchor that has held our family in a position to be proud of in the town we love,” said Laurie. “Knowing that we get to share that with the guests that come through our doors over the years only makes us more committed to making sure that good hospitality continues.”

Originally published in the February 2015 edition of Durango Neighbors magazine.