The Artist.

During this lull in my life where I struggle with both direction and simple things like, you know, getting out the door I have been taking on editing work for other photographers. I love this because it’s a way to keep my hand in the business while not having to deal with the outside world. The photos arrive to me and I quietly spend the days colour correcting, straightening, removing blemishes, adjusting contrast. It’s meditative work. It allows my mind to wander while my eyes do their job. I also discovered I feel better at the end of the day because I can flick through the images and see I have completed a task.

And I learned something about myself. I was a good photographer. I was good. I was an artist. But I was never a businesswoman. The business side of things confounded me. I didn’t know how to sell myself because every image I took I poured a little of myself into and I didn’t know how to say to people, “You’re paying me because I am worth this.” It went against my nature.

I never told people this but the day I gave up weddings was because a client came back to me and said she wasn’t happy. I had had a couple of portrait clients do that before and I would always offer a reshoot. We would do it again and piece together a gallery from both sessions. But it was never my fault before, it was always something like the baby was fussy that day and the mum really wanted smiling images. Or I suggested an outdoor shoot and mum wanted studio and then changed her mind after the session. And the beauty of portraits was we COULD redo. Weddings are kind of a one shot deal. This wedding – it was fine. During family formals – in the midday sun on a beach, no less – the bride was getting anxious for them to be over. She was frustrated because her aunt was insisting on different groupings that the bride and groom hadn’t put on the list and she turned to me and said, “Just shoot them, it doesn’t matter. I just want her to shut up. I don’t really care.” I mentioned moving to a different location where the sun was less offensive, I was patient. In the end the shots were taken, occasionally not every person was looking at the camera. A child might be looking at his mother for example. To me – these were not flaws. This was life. I shot some beautiful images of the bridal party. Halfway through reception they asked me to stay an extra two hours and said they would pay me extra. I was exhausted by this point, but agreed and said not to worry about additional payment.

I delivered the gallery and the bride picked her shots and seemed pleased. A couple of weeks later the mother of the bride sent me a message with an attached image of a random wedding shot by her relative and said, “This is how you take real wedding photos.” The image received was standard amateur work. It was not technically correct and it was very average. I spent a long time looking at that image wondering what she was talking about. And then I realised she was meaning it as a stab at me. “See this guy who is my relative – he is so much better than you. You’re a fraud.”

I wrote her a response outlining that I was an accredited photographer with a well respected association in Australia, the closest thing we had to a governing body. That my work had been assessed by them as of a professional standard. That I did a perfectly acceptable professional job on her daughters images. Okay, maybe at the end I may have thrown in, “I wonder if he has been similarly assessed?” Whatever. I was salty.

The bride told me after she received the images she was pretty disappointed that she thought during family formals I would yell out “one, two, three, smile!” So they would know I was taking the picture. Because apparently me standing in front of them with a camera shouting, “Eyes over here!” And clicking furiously wasn’t a good indication.

Oh man. I KNEW I did nothing wrong that day. I knew the photos were good. But it devastated me. I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself to deal with that. I shot about three weddings after that one, the tail end of my booked sessions. (You best believe I shouted ‘one, two, three, smile!’ just in case though). And then I just packed up that part of my work. Nope. No more.

It was the artist in me that threw in the towel. Because this wasn’t just a job. This was myself. When they said, “I don’t like this”, it felt like someone saying, “I don’t like you.” If I had been a better business woman I probably would have rolled with it, picked up, moved on. Kicked ass. But I didn’t because the artist doesn’t know how. The artist creates because they must. It’s a drive, a force, a muse. I don’t create to make money, I never did.

I was a bad businesswoman. But I was a damn good photographer. I know that now.

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Unexpected.

I read a study about sex. The idea was the more sex you had, the more sex you wanted.

I guess shooting is similar. The more I shoot the more I want to. The catch is, it has to be good. A bad shoot can bring me low for days, a good shoot gives me a rush that makes me want to do it again. Maybe it’s more like drugs. I don’t know. It definitely improves my mood when it works. Some shoots never work despite planning it for ages. It just doesn’t translate. Oddly, my best shoots have been virtually spur of the moment with little planning. I don’t like to think about it.

I sell some of my images through Getty, only of myself or the kids – basically images that would just be sitting on my hard drive doing nothing so I figure if they’re just doing nothing they may as well be earning me some money every now and then. The best seller? It’s a photo of me that you can only see my legs on and I’m holding a bunch of balloons. I took it spur of the moment one year on B’s birthday. I was putting together all these helium balloons for her party and decided to quickly set up the camera, snapped a shot and gave it a slap up edit.

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I didn’t even have a backdrop. I’m standing between less than a metre of space between two doors that I edited out. When it sells it gives you the name of the company, sometimes you can find the image through reverse Google search. It has been bought by Samsung, by a French magazine, it’s on a German book cover… One of the quickest spur of the moment images I ever took. It’s funny how that happens.

What I discovered about myself recently though is that while I consider myself a portrait photographer, I don’t really shoot people. I shoot landscapes or props that happen to feature people. It’s why I can’t do headshots. People just aren’t the sole feature of my photographs. It’s weird how it has taken me almost 8 years to figure that out.

After it rained last time I decided to do a series with my girls. Different locations, nature, same white dress….

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I took J out spur of the moment the week after I shot B with S and B to help me. To be honest, this was not really anything like I envisioned.

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The favourite shot of mine was impromptu, I was busy piling dead leaves around J while she lay on the ground and this sprig of green leaves kept getting in the way. It was so ALIVE and vibrant that it sat in complete contrast to the muted browns, the dead and dying all around. I placed one over J’s heart.

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Hope.

The best ones are the ones you don’t know you’re going to take.

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Rain.

The day it rained a little I had things to do. I wanted to wash some clothes, clean the house and do the groceries. But I kept thinking about my camera. I stood in front of the kitchen table I was clearing while a couple of the kids were drawing in front of me. J looks up from her phone on the couch, “Are you okay?” she asks, “You look deep in thought.”
“I have an idea forming,” I answered slowly.
I turn to B in front of me, “Can you do your make up? I’m sorry. You’re going to get wet. And I need the kitchen chair.”
J, B and S all look at me wearing identical expressions of bewilderment.
“Why?” B asked, “It’s cold!”
“It will only be for a second. I need a photo.”

J asks to do B’s make up and S gets excited because in the six months she has been living with us I haven’t shot a thing. She can’t wait to see a shoot.

Twenty minutes later I’m going out the door. I’m wearing jeans and a plaid shirt that’s old and really shouldn’t be seen in public. My hair isn’t done. My phone needs charging. The clothes need washing. The floors were half swept.

I drive with purpose despite the fact I haven’t shot at this location in at least 7 years. I have no idea what I’ll find. It might rain. It’s midday. What am I doing?

I lie on a towel on the banks of the creek and get wet anyway. I pull up my jeans and wade into the water, mud between my toes and the stones slipping. Cars drive past honking their horns and I don’t care because there is only me and the viewfinder and a subject and everything else falls away.

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Every shutter click I know is perfect. I’ll barely need to touch these in post.

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I line up the banks so it’s straight, I expose on instinct.

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Muscle memory.

Finally I’m ready for the last shot. I know it won’t be perfect. I know it won’t be exactly what I have in my head. But I need to shoot it anyway or I will think about it all night. “One, two, three…fall.”

Submerged.

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Fate.

I read an article that was a little bit pretentious in itself but the message still came through. Basically the woman in question was talking about how she had the perfect life because she didn’t have any expectations of what her life would be, therefore in not deliberately seeking it out she allowed it to come to her. It bothered me a little because some of that is sheer luck. And also because many of us cannot take a passive role in our own lives. I struggle constantly between my belief that fate is a true guiding force in our lives and the belief that if we want something we must get up and get it.

What I know is, things usually work out for me. I mean that as in – shit frequently goes tits up – but usually everything works out and often I can look back and think, “Thank god that didn’t work out.” I can point to specific moments in my life that when they happened it felt like they were absolutely MEANT TO HAPPEN and even if I had made a different choice that day, eventually the universe would find a way to right itself.

Sometimes though you can sit and stagnate on things for the longest time and you have to go out and find destiny or fate or whatever it is. Let’s say you want a dog. And all you can think of is how much you need that dog and how much more awesome your life would be with the dog…sitting on the couch watching Netflix while Pintresting photos of dogs isn’t going to get you a dog. You need to go to some shelters, browse rescue pages, find a registered breeder. You might be fated to have a dog but you gotta give fate a hand sometimes.

I don’t know. I’m rambling.

The point is…maybe I’m not exactly where I am meant to be. Maybe I know that. Maybe I wake up every morning and look around and realise I’m in transit. I understand that I’m fated to be elsewhere, do something different. Hell, I can even give you a checklist of exactly what needs to be done to get from point A (here) to point B (that place I’m meant to be). And it’s a lot of work and that can be disconcerting because I know it will be years. It almost causes me visceral panic where I want to bend over with my head between my knees and breathe so I don’t hyperventilate. The hardest thing for me right now is to sit back and watch the scenery because I want to DO something. I don’t often give myself enough credit that this fallow period in my journey is actually important. You cannot recover if you’re running every day. So I rail against it. I resent the journey. All I can do is sit there and feel impatient that this isn’t where I am meant to be. I spend all my time looking backwards at where I was or forwards to where I want to be and can’t see the beauty in where I am RIGHT NOW.

And there HAS to be beauty here. There has to. I will find it. I will trust that fate is working behind the scenes and wherever I am right now – it’s important to where I will end up. There is no rule that says you can’t keep pushing towards something and still enjoy where you are. They’re not mutually exclusive.

With this in mind I unclasped my camera bag and pulled out my camera which fit into my hand like it was a part of me. I got my keys and I left the house. I didn’t know where I was going and the time of day was wrong for good photos but I just drove, hoping something would catch my eye. Just one thing, I told myself. Just take one photo that you don’t hate. It doesn’t matter if it’s shit. Or that the light is bad or that you don’t have a plan. Just find something you think is beautiful here and shoot it.

Breathe in the now. Trust that the universe is unfolding how it should. How many days will you waste looking ahead instead of what is right beside you?

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Drought.

“What do you really want to do?” She asked me.

I stared at my fingers, fiddling with the rings on them because when I would look up into her face she was watching me with such expectation that I felt like I’d just been called on to answer a question that I was supposed to know automatically and I was embarrassed to admit I had no idea.

“I don’t really know, I suppose.”

“Well, what do you love to do?”

“Read. Write. I use to take photographs but I don’t do that anymore. The last time I felt a passion it was photography but it’s gone now.”

“Why do you think that is?” Her pen poised over a notepad, occasionally scribbling down something I would say or making a note.

“It went away, I guess. The light….I can’t find it here. I was shooting families and I was…it was like a cookie cutter. I would say the same thing. And they would laugh because it was the first time they would hear it but it was all the same. Even if the people or location was different. It was the same.”

I tried to explain my favourite shoots. The ones where you would wake in the middle of the night and the image would already form in your head. Where you knew that everything else that day would disappear, the clothes would go unwashed, the dishes wouldn’t be done, we would eat something you could just throw together because until that shot was taken and out of me, I was obsessed with it. I showed her some images to explain.

“Maybe you should just start shooting again, see if you can’t find that passion again.”

And she tells me I was good. And I have no response to that because I can see all the flaws in each image, I can count dozens of people I know that are better off the top of my head. And even if how good you were didn’t matter, and it doesn’t if you are just shooting for yourself, it was art. It was art and I was never the creator of it really. I was the vessel. And I can’t explain to her that I could shoot all day and maybe never hit the mark. That each image came into being because I NEEDED to make it. That it was already created before I ever took the camera from its bag. My muse, whatever it was, is silent. I don’t know how to force it, it always just came.

“Why don’t you try? See how you go.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

But I already know, I won’t. If it comes back to me at all, it will be because it returned on it’s own. Not because I went looking. It’s not the ocean. It’s the rain.

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