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Last Friday, I published a post about how I got started with photography. If you've missed that post, you can read it here. This is a continuation of that story.
When I moved to Cornwall, and had finished my foundation degree, I knew already that I wanted to be a fashion photographer. Fashion had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I'd loved magazines from a very young age, but what I loved about them was the photography inside. Images have captivated my life forever, so it was only natural to me that I would want to pursue a career in photography.
I'd say that the first two years of my fashion photography degree were brilliant. I made incredible friends. We were a small and extremely close cohort, and being the first ever students on a Fashion Photography degree in Falmouth University, we were definitely used as guinea pigs a bit. We didn't mind, and got on with our work. We helped each other out, gave each other advice, and it felt like a really creative place to be.
As I approached the end of my second year, my health had been taking a turn for the worse, I was extremely unhappy in my relationship at the time, suffering from panic attacks on a weekly basis, and finding it very hard to muster the courage to organise shoots. Despite all of that, I did carry on. I shot because I felt like I had to. I had a reputation to maintain, and for so long I had been saying how much "I loved photography and I was going to be a fashion photographer." I won't lie about this: the last thing I wanted to do was take photos. Somewhere along the line, my creativity left me. It was obviously a mixture of the depression, anxiety and health issues that I was facing, but it was terrifying. The one thing I had loved the most, the one thing I thought I would pursue for the rest of my life, the one thing that gave me happiness, was gone. I felt ashamed of myself. I felt extremely frustrated. The worst part was: I still had to shoot. I had another year of my degree left! So I continued to force it out. Needless to say, some of my favourite images stem from that difficult year.
As the end of my third year drew closer and closer, I was steadily becoming happier and happier. My anxiety was gone, I was no longer depressed, and I was in a new, and very happy relationship. Atlas was also doing better than ever, so I was happy. Was I feeling particularly creative yet? Nope. Not in the slightest.
I couldn't explain it. I just didn't have any desire to shoot. I put it down to not actually liking the practice of photography. Maybe I had never actually like taking photos? Maybe it had all just been in my head? So what did I do? As soon as my degree was finished, I basically stopped taking photos. Ok, that's a bit of a lie. I took the odd portrait, did the odd thing here and there, but ultimately, I had stopped. For a couple of months, I told myself I was crazy and tried to force it. I even did a couple of shoots, but they were all terrible. So eventually, I just gave in and said to myself that I would no longer force it; I was no longer a photographer.
It was the best thing that I could have ever done.
By taking the pressure off of myself, I gave myself the freedom to let creativity come to me. And it did. After almost two years of practically no desire, no interest, and no creativity in photography, my creativity came back. Call it a two years writers block. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe two years was how long it actually took me to properly overcome my mental health issues. I don't really care. All I know is that I let myself be. I didn't tell myself anymore that I "had" to do anything. One day, I was doing some work on Atlas and I found myself browsing the website of a photographer that I love, Emily Soto. I've been a follower and a fan of her work since she started, and seeing what she produces now is what makes me dream. It makes my heart flutter... It makes me want to shoot.
I don't think I'll ever forget that evening. I sat there for hours, just clicking, feeling excited, loving it all. Ideas were coming to mind. Things began to form in my head. A desire to pick up a camera and photograph someone was there. So I went with it. I didn't rush anything, and I've certainly not had the time to shoot as much as I used to, but in a way I don't think that's a bad thing. I used to feel so rushed, like if I wasn't ALWAYS producing work that I'd get left behind. I don't feel like that anymore. I've understood now that it's ok to have creative blocks. It's ok for that passion to subside, because it's not really gone... it's just sleeping inside you.
It occurred to me recently that I'd never really gone into much detail as to how I got started with photography. Photography came into my life quite by accident. I was 15 years old, studying for my IGCSE (international GCSE's for all you Brits!) in Art and Design, and doing some research when I stumbled on a website: Flickr.com. Before I knew it, I'd spent hours looking through all these images. A lot of what I was discovering had been taken by people within a similar age to me, and they were incredible! I couldn't believe that someone as young as me could be so talented.
Photography was something I'd always enjoyed without really realising. I was given my first 35mm film camera when I was 8 years old, and I would run around taking photos of our dogs in the garden. There was no artistic intention there, but the desire to "freeze time," as I like to call it, has been in me for a very long time.
After I discovered Flickr, and realised that photography was an actual "thing," I was hooked. I'd always been creative, but never felt like I really enjoyed painting or drawing, or that I was particularly good at it. I did those things at school, because I loved the environment of the art department, and because something in me really, really wanted to create. Once I discovered photography, for the first time in my life, I was able to be creative, enjoy it, and feel like I was actually good at it.
I made myself a Flickr account, essentially stole my parent's DSLR (A Nikon D80 with a standard kit lens) and began shooting. I would spend hours reading articles about how to use a camera, watching videos on YouTube about manual modes. I played in the garden, shooting anything and everything in an attempt to properly understand how a camera worked. Slowly but surely, I began to understand the process and before I knew it, images I actually loved were starting to form.
I have such fond memories of that summer. I had discovered a new passion, something that for the first time in my life, I felt like I could pursue forever and ever. The one thing that I couldn't do? Tell anyone else about it. I'm sure my parent's realised that their camera had disappeared and that I was taking a lot of photos, but I didn't really show them to anyone that I actually knew; I shared them all online with the incredible community that was Flickr. I was so shy and worried about what people would say about my new "hobby" that I didn't dare share it with anyone; especially because most of the imagery I was doing was self portraits. I'd always been drawn to images of people the absolute most, and if anyone was around Flickr between 2007 and 2010, you'll know that the vast majority of the content on there was self portraiture. I loved it. I felt creative. I felt empowered. But I was terrified of what people would say.
With hindsight (and an older brain of 24), I wish I had ignored those fears and just shared my work, ignoring what people would have said. But the confidence in me grew eventually, and after a year or two (I can't quite remember) I did begin to share what I was doing in secret. I created a Facebook page (the same one I have now) and admittedly, I was teased about it at school, but something in me said to ignore it. I'm glad I did, because I finished school, and in my summer before heading off to university, spent the entire summer photographing other people for the first time.
University came, and I completed a foundation degree and went on to study my Fashion Photography bachelors... and that's where things changed a bit.
On Monday, I'll be telling you about those changes, so make sure you come back then! In the mean time, if you're really sneaky and want to see the imagery that I was taking in the early days of my photography career, then head to my Flickr Profile.
These images were all taken on an old Pentax with Portra 400 at Chapel Porth beach, Cornwall.