31 Dec 2010-2020: The Decade of Change
It seems traditional for people to post looking back on the last decade, and with good reason! It’s a great opportunity to take stock of what you’ve done and where you’re going.
Nowhere is this truer than in the creative professions where in order to keep moving forward we have to understand where we have come from. So with that in mind, here is an illustrated look at the past decade.
This was a really crucial year for me when it comes to my photography. I’d already been shooting for about five years or so at this point and I’d found my way into glamour photography of men.
2010 saw me living with a partner who also lived and breathed photography. Together we photographed so many different things – models, motorsports, and our everyday lives.
It was also the last year that I applied to the London College of Fashion for a place on their Fashion Photography degree. The interview crushed me. The interviewer asked why I was sitting in front of him with a great portfolio when I could just go to London and make money as a photographer.
I’m sure he didn’t mean to be cruel. But ‘just go to London and get paid’ isn’t exactly constructive advice for a young(ish) photographer! At that point, I started thinking about different ways to get a degree and started studying Art History with the Open University.
I met the gorgeous Lou through my job as a theatre receptionist. She was a fierce and empowered woman putting on a burlesque show where I worked – the ballroom of an old corset factory! It was fabulous. I’m still in touch with Lou now, it’s just a shame we’re at other ends of the country.
This year was the year of fabulous male models – particularly Ross who I photographed over and over again. There were so many great models I met who were tolerant of both my moody artistic temperament and my occasionally unhinged ideas.
It was also the year that I went to work in London as a fashion and product photographer. It was a great opportunity that came via a friend, and I quickly became a menswear specialist working as the in house photographer for Austin Reed via my agency.
I met so many great people there who really taught me a lot about photography. I learned skills like to shoot fifty garments in a day, or at the other end of the spectrum how to spend two days shooting a football boot. I got to sit in e-commerce design meetings and come up with style guides for major high street brands.
But it wasn’t plain sailing. Just six months in and I was finding it increasingly tough. I was travelling for up to four hours a day into London, and spending 1/3 of my salary on train fares. On top of that, I was turning up to work in the dark and then spending nine hours in a studio with no windows before going home again in the dark. I would sit out in the cold Camden rain at lunchtime just to feel like I wasn’t spending my life in a blacked-out box.
This was an incredible year of upheaval for me. I quit my dream job as a fashion photographer after just 13 months, ended my relationship, and fell in love with someone who would never love me back.
Do I regret any of it? No, not one moment. Every single experience this year shaped me into the person I am now and I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. (Do I wish the lessons had been a little more gentle? Perhaps…)
On the plus side, I met Simon who has remained probably my most faithful confidant over the last eight years. Uncompromisingly honest, he is never short of a thought on the photographs I take. As a photographer it is helpful to have that one friend who never feels the need to pull their punches when you show them your work.
I also started writing for the magazine of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers. I kept this gig for years, writing interviews and features for their bi-monthly magazine. It was a real period of learning and development for me – not just when it came to my writing, but my photography too!
The year I took up rowing, wrote my beloved car off on the way to said rowing practice one morning, and photographed LARP for the first time…
It was also the year that I decided to apply to study Art History at university rather than continuing with the Open University. I applied to five different universities and my last place option, Oxford Brookes, accepted me onto their undergrad degree.
When I say this was life-changing for me, I think that’s underselling it. I cannot think of anything that I have ever done which has changed my life more for the better.
I discovered that I am smart and able to piece together complicated arguments in essay form – something I had never been able to do at school. I discovered that I had the ability to understand visual information that surpassed many of my peers.
This was also the year when, at Christmas, we lost someone who I assumed would be around forever. It was hard. I learned that grief never really goes away, you just learn to deal with it better over time.
More studying, more architecture, more art, more publications, more sports photography. Just more of everything!
According to my Facebook memories, it was this year that I finally felt triumphant with my journalism. A post from my memories that I saw last week expressed the sentiment that I had gone from being told I would never make it in photography (which was, at least in part I’m sure, down to being a woman) to writing the magazines which taught others how to be photographers.
Of course this year I also met Adam and we’ve been living together ever since. We somehow manage to not murder each other while living and working in the same house (we both work from home) and I couldn’t really ask for anything more!
We went to New York AND we got snowed in! No seriously – Snowmageddon happened and Manhatten Island banned cars from entering. The whole city shut down for the day and we walked down the middle of Fifth Avenue and Broadway without the threat of being run over.
Eight days we spent going to art galleries and museums. It was amazing and really solidified my art history knowledge. I got a working understanding of how America sees itself in the story of art history and that was incredibly insightful.
It was also the year when I had the pleasure of being taken to Paris by the university on a compulsory field trip. That it was the week of my thirtieth birthday just made it even better!
I decided to start really focussing on my portrait photography this year, and I started shooting primarily available light in my studio rather than using studio lights.
The house that Adam and I live in has the most beautiful quality of light that comes in through a huge bay window in my studio space. I would be mad not to take advantage of that.
The downside is that I have to get people in to shoot them before lunchtime because after that the sun moves around, but most people are pretty accommodating if they genuinely love my work!
Everything changed. I finished my undergraduate degree and I achieved the heady heights of a 1st class honours! Not only that, but I won a prize for being one of the top students in the department.
I’m still photographing LARP and loving showing what brilliant worlds we can inhabit on our weekends. 2016 saw quite a bit of airsoft in my free time too, something which I haven’t done enough of recently.
But mostly 2016 was defined by the writing of my undergraduate dissertation. Ten thousand words on the state of sexist representation of women in mainstream videogames.
I always thought I’d focus on photography during my art history degree. That was certainly the plan from the beginning. But a lot of the things I wanted to say about photography had already been said. It was this that led me to thinking about contemporary art and new digital mediums, dropping me on to a path of researching videogames as art.
The year of the Masters by Research. That was a real tough one. I started writing in January and I didn’t stop for over a year.
In order to focus on researching and writing I gave up almost all LARP photography, and the games that I did photograph I did in a way that felt authentic to the direction I wanted to move in.
I’ve been making a conscious effort over the last year years to begin aligning myself with art rather than commercial photography.
There have been lots of things that haven’t worked. Plenty of photos that were just plain weird rather than anything that could be considered good art. But if there’s something I’ve learned studying the history of art it’s that all artists must undertake a period of self-reflection and discovery during which making bad art is not only acceptable but an integral part of the process.
Success! (Eventually.) I achieved my Masters by Research. It wasn’t an easy process and it took three rounds of revisions after my viva exam, but I got there in the end.
I began to notice that women my age weren’t really represented in the media. Or if they were they always looked really young and perfect – which wasn’t the reality I knew amongst my friends!
A decade ago I had been interested in self-portraiture. Mostly at the time I used it as a way to try out ideas I had before models came. Now I started to revisit it, instead using it as a way to explore the way I looked and how others perceived me as a woman in my thirties.
After the end of my Masters, I made a bold choice when it came to work. I knew that I wanted to start a PhD as soon as possible and that building up my journalism and photography business in a short time only to basically quit to go back to university (or even worse – to not want to quit) was something I didn’t want to spend my emotional energy on.
Instead, I took a job at the local leisure centre. It was barely more than minimum wage but what I missed out on financially compared to what I could have had, I gained in both management experience and friendship.
The young people I worked with energised me. It has been a joy to work with every single one of them. There have been ups and downs, of course, but overall it has been one of the best experiences of my working life.
I finished off the year by qualifying as a trainer and assessor for lifeguards. I worked as a lifeguard from the age of 16 and I feel incredibly strongly that swimming should be a life skill taught to every child. Water safety is so important, and I’m proud that I’m both helping to keep people safe in our swimming pools, and also teaching the teenagers I work with new skills that will hopefully ease their transition into adulthood. It’s also a wonderful chance for me to work on my teaching skills, which will be important in the future when I start applying for academic teaching jobs.
Seeing people that I have now known for several years grow into the most remarkable young adults has been a reward that has no financial comparison. I love each and every one of them.
Here it is. The first nine months of 2019 were much the same as the end of the previous year. The highlight was duty managing the local outdoor swimming lido. It is a beautiful 1940s pool that is gloriously romantic. I’m now formulating ideas about photographing all the lidos in the UK because they are beautiful.
I started working regularly for a new client – Digital Photography School. They are a glorious client in that they let me basically write about whatever they want. I am looking forward to the coming years and pushing this relationship forward, and using this platform to teach more people about photography.
I rounded out a year of self-portraits with the news that this shot of me with sunflowers has made it through to the final shortlist for an exhibition. In the middle of January, I’ll drop the framed version off at the gallery and pray hard that it is included in the final exhibition. It will be the best way to kick-start my art photography career if it appears in the exhibition in January.
The major event of this year was being accepted onto a PhD programme at Oxford Brookes and starting in September. It has been game-changing for me. My confidence has grown, and I feel like I can speak with authority and confidence on subjects related to my field. I have been to conferences in adjacent subject areas where I not only understood the papers given, but I felt I could bring my own viewpoint to the research and create something new!
However, it isn’t all plain sailing. In just three months I have been feeling increasingly isolated from my friends. I was warned by friends with PhDs that this often happens, but I was shocked at how fast it happens. I find myself frustrated and angry when I feel like people don’t understand me, and I get irritated when those around me don’t seem to understand how much time and attention my PhD requires.
I don’t know how or when this gets better. Academia is an increasingly tough career choice. The expectation is that you will move across the country, or even the world, in order to take a job. Academics are expected to devote their lives to their research, leaving little time for anything else.
It’s unhealthy. But it is what it is. The realisation that I not only have to produce my PhD, but also present at conferences, write journal articles, and have a book written and on the shelves within the next ten years was a killer.
The next decade is going to be tough. But I hope it will be worth it.
And I hope that there will be many more photographs in my future, as well as some academic research in the field and the chance to inspire young photography students!