I started taking my photography seriously when I was 19 years old. I was at art college, deeply immersed in making what I considered to be art. I was unsure of myself and couldn’t always articulate what it was I was trying to say, but those three years of experimentation gave me the space to explore my creativity. I left college at 22 and back then (1995) the photography I wanted to do didn’t seem to have a place in the world yet. I didn’t want to be an editorial photographer, which is where most of my peers were headed, but I couldn’t see how I could make a living as a fine art photographer. I’d left college with dreams of solo exhibitions and a fine art book, only to find myself back in the real world. So after a couple of years working to pay the rent, I went back to university to study journalism; I put those original dreams on hold, indefinitely.
It’s now sixteen years later and today I’m preparing the online space for my photography class starting next Monday. My photography path unfolded in ways I hadn’t imagined and along the way I learned that you do not need to be published in books or magazines, or belong to a certain association, or even earn money from your images, to call yourself a photographer (or writer or artist or musician, or whatever your heart yearns to called). All you need do is hold a camera in your hands with the intention of creating. Recording beauty and decay. Capturing memories. Documenting a scene. Telling a story. Catching a likeness. Exploring your inner world in pixels and film.
What I’ve learned in my many years of being a photographer and not being a photographer is we have to trust that our creative path will unfold exactly as it wants to. 22-year-old me wanted to make books and be seen, to be recognised as having some talent, some purpose, something to say. Back then I craved validation — these days I see that being a photographer is not a badge I wear but simply the way I move through the world. I take photographs everyday — it’s like brushing my teeth.
I’ve been thinking about how the time in my life when I felt most at peace with who I am as a creative person was when the opportunity to pen two books came along. Last week I mentioned that the books were a childhood ambition realised. And they are — i’ve imagined seeing my name on a book ever since I could read. But what I’ve been feeling lately, aside from the vulnerability of sharing my thoughts and stories in such a public way, is a quiet sense of rightness. I don’t feel validated or seen or any of those things younger me craved because somehow this isn’t about me anymore. I’m making things for others that I hope will be useful, and I feel just like I do on Christmas eve when I’m busting to give my family their presents and see their faces when they open them. It’s about sharing and giving and delighting.