We all do life differently but those of us who’ve discovered photography have been given the incredible gift of creative expression. Are you making the most of it?
The first podcast episode I ever recorded was never released because I talked about my story and background and then decided no one wanted to hear that. Our egos are such funny things. But it meant that there’s been things I’ve talked about in later episodes that might be lacking some context so it’s time to own my story and explain how I became so obsessed with creative photography.
I was born in the time of Generation X and they’re not wrong when they categorise this generation as cynical and disaffected. I was, and still am in many ways, the poster girl for that. I spent my teens and 20s searching for meaning among music, literature and popular culture, wearing my Nine Inch Nails, ‘Now I’m nothing’ and Smashing Pumpkins ‘Zero’ shirts to tell the world I didn’t matter. In stark contrast to the millennial generation we were raised with essentially no hope and no promise as our heroes belted out songs about the futility of life before overdosing on heroin.
For a long, long time I went through life, as many of us do, wondering what the point of it all was. Eventually I reached a point where I decided I was going to make nothing of my life. I had no special gifts and nothing to add to the world so I chose to be ordinary. Because you can’t fail if you don’t ever try.
But then one day I was staying with a friend and had a glimpse of my future. I discovered she spent her days watching TV and was addicted to talk shows and knew the plot of daytime soaps intimately. And I remember feeling horrified. Is this what life is supposed to be? Wasting it away in other versions of reality? TV and gaming are fantastic ways to wind down but they’re no way to live life full time. So it was in that moment that I decided to take the reins of my life. I didn’t know what I was going to be but I was damn well going to find out, because I did not want a life like hers.
As I’ve touched on briefly in a previous episode I decided I was going to complete 52 new year’s resolutions and write a blog about it in an effort to give my life some direction. This involved going to places I’d always wanted to but never had, trying out new hobbies that interested me and generally pushing myself out of my very safe comfort zone.
Week 2 of that challenge was a commitment to be better at photography. I already had a vague interest but it was nothing I was especially attached to yet and so I read a photography textbook, asked more learned friends for advice, went on a photography excursion and made the commitment to take a course and get serious. Little did I know how profoundly my life would change from week 2.
Week 3 was to learn Photoshop. I started a CD course, read another book and really struggled to understand it because the ways Photoshop is taught are rarely helpful, with a focus on the tools rather than the process. This is why I’ve made such a conscious effort to teach Photoshop in a really practical hands on way. Did I become an expert in Photoshop that week? Certainly not. But I broke the seal of my fear and resistance and well, now I create Photoshop work professionally so obviously something sunk in.
I was just re-reading my blog from that week and this is part of what I wrote:
Something else I’ve learnt from the challenge is that it really is incredible what you can tackle once you put your mind to it. We are all guilty of putting off things that we don’t want to do or that we feel will be too hard but instead of wasting time complaining about our lot or feeling frustrated that things never get done, with a little persistence and the right frame of mind you will be truly surprised what you can achieve in next to no time. The crazy thing is, I’ve read quotes to this effect in countless books but it wasn’t until I embarked on this challenge that the words really began to take on a personal meaning.
Funny really, I still use those same words 12 years later.
Unfortunately completing the other 49 resolutions diverted my attention and it was another year and a half before I got really serious about photography and committed to taking a course to learn manual. This was when I became well and truly hooked.
Previously I’d been the kind of person who struggled to be good at anything. I was really impatient and if I wasn’t good at something right away then I saw no point in trying. But because my camera’s auto function was clever enough to do the hard stuff for me I was able to trick my brain into thinking I was already good at something and then it was only natural to want to improve. Clever tactic that.
And so I became utterly obsessed with photography in a way that I’m not even sure was healthy. I read every single photography book, magazine, and blog post I could get my hands on. Spent a tonne of money on online courses. It didn’t matter what genre they were talking about, I wanted to know everything. I filled several notepads full of ideas and instructions that I don’t think I’ve even looked at again. I took my camera everywhere I went and if photography wasn’t allowed then I saw no point in even being there. I’ve always had this weird approach to learning something. When I’m in, I’m all in.
Tell me, was it like this for you too?
But like many photographers, I eventually hit a wall because all this learning and practicing wasn’t really going anywhere. And yes, like I’m always saying, my hard drive filled up with a bunch of average photos, which truly was my breaking point. My photography mojo had up and left.
But life has mysterious ways and it was around this time that I was hanging out a lot on CreativeLive. I happened to see an ad for a course about turning photographs into art by one of the most well-known conceptual photographers, Brooke Shaden. After watching her class for a couple of hours I knew with every fibre of my being that I too wanted to created artistic images and the course of my life changed in that moment. I loved this idea because it meant I could use the thousands of images I’d already shot and remix them with Photoshop into new realities. My hard drive full of photos suddenly became useful. And because I didn’t really enjoy editing lots of images, meaning most of my photos went unseen, the idea of refining just one was immensely appealing.
And ultimately I’ve always been fascinated by storytelling and wonder. When I was a child I was enthralled by fairy tales and bitterly disappointed to discover they weren’t true. So this new photographic medium allowed me to play in a world where magic could be reality.
But, because I tend to become fanatical about things it was not enough for me to just start creating. I wanted to learn every single creative Photoshop technique available and so I started blog number 2 where each week I researched and tried a new Photoshop compositing technique. And that really started my obsession with creative experimentation. I always want to push my own boundaries and try something new. And when I felt I’d conquered Photoshop that’s when I moved on to creative photography, learning all the different ways to create unique images primarily in camera.
I’ve been serious about photography for ten years now. And when I say serious I mean I live and breathe it. It consumes my every waking moment, even now ten years later. It’s a truly beautiful thing to discover a purpose so grand that you never feel bored and still jump out of bed every morning feeling excited about it.
Photography took me from lazy, unmotivated and completely without hope to someone who is motivated, hardworking and continually inspired. It was a profound change that still blows my mind every day. It gave me the means to completely reinvent myself and most importantly of all, a creative process I could use to express all the feelings my generation were taught to hide so well. Photography is my therapy. I use it to tackle my emotions and process difficult situations. I use photography to relax and escape but also, to live, and push myself out of my well protected comfort zone over and over again. And as I’ve talked about several times before, it showed me I was creative when I truly believed that was not an option for me.
There are many roads I could have travelled with my photography. With all those years of passionate learning and practice, any path was available to me. But because photography changed my life so profoundly I decided to dedicate my life to helping others find meaning through photography too. I help other photographers come alive creatively to find purpose. Give people a beautiful, meaningful hobby all to themselves.
Photography may have its challenges but it’s also incredibly rewarding and profoundly life changing if you let it be.
So that’s me owning my story and finally sharing it with you all, even though it’s actually quite different from that very first podcast which centred more around my struggles with creativity. What did you think? Did you find it interesting? Should I finally release that one too?
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