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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The Exhibitionist.

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When I first picked up my camera and read the manual until it was dog-eared seven years ago I began to shoot my kids, flowers, the cats. But I quickly turned to self portraiture. In all honesty if I could have painted I probably would have painted self portraits, but being challenged in that department I choose the camera as my weapon of choice. Self portraiture fulfils a gap in me. I have always written and I am painfully honest. Sometimes, the camera allows me to tell a story without finding the words. If I am frustrated, sad, fierce or sensual I can tell that story by composing the image in my head and then when I execute it there is a magic no science can take away. This camera is an extension of myself, the dance we do together is well practised.

We are constantly told about self love. About acceptance of who we are. “Be yourself.” “You can only truly love another when you have learned to love yourself.” “Love the body you are in.” But when that is practiced in the form of self portraiture it is often viewed as a vanity.

Photos showing flesh are particularly frowned upon. Words then get thrown around like, “slut” “whore” “shameless” “disgusting”. The body doesn’t know words. The body simply is. These are words that you feel when looking at the body. These words are not me or my body. They’re your feelings and opinions. If I had describe my body I would say, “capable” – because it works. “delicate” – because I know it is small and fine. “a fighter” – because I birthed like a frigging goddess. “amazing” – because I grew and nourished six incredible human beings from it. “beautiful” – because it is the only vessel I have in this world. “sensual” – because it is how I express physical love. “imperfect” – and I do not mean that as a fault. I would probably also throw the word “fertile” in there for obvious reasons. And “mine” lastly – because it belongs to no one but me.

If my body offends you, I would suggest you don’t look. If flesh offends you then I would suggest you explore your reasons for this. If you choose to attempt to quantify my worth by only focusing on my flesh then you are greatly underestimating my worth. I am far more than the mere sum of my parts. I am a mother, a writer, a lover, a woman and I won’t be held down by words or threats. I am freedom and flight. And I am not ashamed.

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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Grafted.

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I long for the quiet of the country sometimes. I remember when I moved out there feeling this true excitement at the fresh start. The country was beautiful and I had moved at the best possible time of year, September – the beginning of Spring. When the worst of the cold is over and the wildflowers line the sides of the roads. The flocks of galahs greeted me. The drive out was always soothing, acres of fields in a patchwork of green and gold and brown, dotted with gumtrees. The sign into town signified home. The old buildings unassuming and friendly.

I didn’t realise until I fled to the city two years ago how much of my photography lay in that town. I knew every inch of it. The light was different out there, more golden when it isn’t filtered through street after street of suburban houses. The city was the same thing after the same thing. Anonymous. Without character. All the lawns the same, the housing estates were the same handful of houses duplicated one after another like they had been xeroxed. Where was the beauty? I would kill for a dirt road, for a lopsided fence, for a crumbling brick wall, a rusted piece of corrugated iron. Give me a weed, an unintentional dandelion – some wildness – and keep your polite gardens of plants that never changed.

In the country when I felt overwhelmed I would take my camera into my backyard, only a 1/2 an acre on the edge of town and spend some time shooting. The chickens would cluck around me curiously as I shot them scratching beneath the peach trees. The goats would nuzzle at my hair and I would breath in the smell of hay and feed and earth and sunshine and shoot the camomile that grew through the cracks in the bricks, wildly escaping the confines of the garden bed. I would shoot the animals and the plants and the children as they played. I would lose time and come in hours later with grass stains on my jeans and leaves in my hair, my cheeks pink and I would feel alive and refreshed. The photos weren’t brilliant, just parts of my garden, but it was mediation for me.

Now my camera gathers dust because the animals are gone and my backyard is short lawn and there is no afternoon light begging me to play in it. I don’t know how to shoot in this place where everything is planned and the camomile would have been ripped out and tamed and people put on special clothing to take a walk.

I didn’t expect this to happen. I grew up here, I was raised in the city. I dreamed of housing estates and perfect lawns. The country…it was serendipity. I never planned that. So how did it creep into my blood?

I cast my lot here two years ago, amongst these carbon copy houses and traffic that never stops even in the darkest hours. Where you can never really see the stars properly because there are too many lights and I can hear my neighbours conversation like they were sitting in my own living room. Here I am. But it is not where I am meant to be. I am wild, open spaces and lazy fields of yellow flowers. I am closed stores on Sunday and rambling camomile. I am wooden floors and tongue in groove walls. I am the sound of rain on a tin roof. I am quiet gumtrees standing silently in a field. I am the smell of lavender in Spring. The country sings to me. I belong to it.

Some plants cannot survive on their own, they must be grafted on to a different plant to be strong enough to make it. Roses are one. A knobbly graft marking the place where the stock plant was merged with the rose. The stock plant would be chosen for it’s hardy roots, the other may be chosen for its beautiful blooms. Perhaps I was never meant to be here. Perhaps I was always supposed to be attached to another place where I could grow strong and bloom.

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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