[self portrait from 1995, aged 22]
Yesterday it was brought to my attention that someone had launched an e-course that not only had the same flavour as my own but the course plan was almost identical and, most bizarrely, the website was pretty much a carbon copy of my Unravelling page. After emailing with this person I’m happy to report that the matter has been completely resolved, the site has been taken down and i received a very sincere apology. I don’t feel i need to speak any more about this, but it got me thinking about originality and how we find our own voice.
It took me a very long time to find mine and it is still a work in progress as the things i want to say with that voice, and the things that i know, change and evolve as every year passes. The most wounding accusation you could ever level at me would be that i wasn’t original, that I was copying someone else. As babies we learn to speak by imitating the sounds our parents make and even into adulthood we learn by imitation. And we are all inspired by others; the internet gives us access to such a wealth of information and heck, isn’t there always someone else whose idea is the Best Thing Ever and you wish you’d thought of it? But here’s the thing: as you try to find your feet as a creative person it’s natural that you’ll find artists you’re particularly intrigued by and will set about analysing and imitating, whether you realise you are doing it or not. Same with blogging or writing or making music – we gravitate towards our teachers, the people whose art and/or success we wish to emulate. But the aim must be to take this inspiration in a new direction, not use the same outline and fill it in with different colours – the shape is still the same.
As recently as October 2007 I found myself sitting in Christine Mason Miller’s studio in LA, collaging paper and paint alongside the artist who’d been an inspiration to me. As an illustration of what a diamond friend she is, Christine didn’t point out that my creations looked remarkably like hers; instead, she showed me how to apply the paint. At the time i was struggling with my path and playing with mixed-media was a great way to stretch my creative muscles in another direction; however, I would never have dreamed of trying to sell work like my friend’s. Apart from humbly knowing that she is a much more talented artist when it comes to paper and paint, I so ardently want to give the world my OWN vision…My own pictures… My own words. I’ve been striving to do this from an early age.
The photo above is me in 1995, a fledgling photographer at art college, trying to figure out not only what I had to say, but who I was. Most of my self-portraits from age 20 – 24 were naked; I reasoned that my skin was surely the real me, because when I put my clothes back on, I was trying to look like someone else. There was an older girl I admired at college and I spent a lot of time trying to dress like her, reasoning it was my new look. She fascinated me and I wanted to be like her. If blogs had been around back then I would have hung on her every word; I was working out what it meant to be me by trying on another skin first.
[My new dress ~ very me circa 2009]
Fast forward to London, 1998; I’m doing my journalism degree and had the incredible good fortune to get two weeks’ work experience at the Independent on Sunday newspaper. Journalist Annalisa Barbieri took me under her wing and seeing my eagerness, and recognising my writing ability, gave me several articles to write before offering me a weekly fashion column. You can imagine how ecstatic I was! At the time Annalisa had just had her first book published, and she gave me a copy with the following inscription inside the front cover:
‘Carissima Sue, le parole belle si fanno piano piano. Bacioni, Annalisa. Nov 98’
Roughly translated she told me that ‘beautiful words are made slowly, slowly’ – it takes time to find your voice. Be patient. Let the words develop. At the time i was impatient to have a book published, be a successful journalist and live the life I’d dreamed of. Now I understand the wisdom of letting time pass, of letting your voice mature. Eleven years later, and I think I have finally found my voice.
There’s nothing new about creating an e-course, or a self-awareness course, or, for that matter, a photography course. It’s been done before and it will be done again. But Unravelling is my voice, my heart, on a page. I’m offering my course to the world to share what I know, and what I have learned from four years of grief, therapy, healing, photographing, writing and being patient as the words matured inside me. I share as much as I can on my blog, in my photographs and in my teaching, and I do it to help, to inspire and also, because I am a single person who is proud to look after herself, I do it to pay my rent and bills. So if what I do inspires you that is truly fantastic – but please share your own unique voice with the world, not a differently-coloured version of mine. Deal?
For more wise words, please go read Meg’s excellent post on authenticity, over here.