My Life in Cameras
I've mentally written 100 second blog-posts since that first one...14 months ago and even physically written a few more, but none of them stuck. Well, I've finally done it! I've had a crazy year and wound up being pretty clueless about what I was doing with my life. This post talks about where I'm at now and how the answer was always in front of me. I would love for you to spare 5 minute to have a read.
I think photography has always been such a part of my life that only very recently have I been able to recognise the fact. Like how we don’t dwell too much on breathing most of the time, it’s just there, just something we do, a given. But if you stop to think about it (don’t stop breathing please), it’s pretty important to say the least.
I don’t recall ever not having access to a camera. Which I guess for kids 10 years younger than me might sound totally normal but I think I fall into that last generation where a childhood excisted from of camera phones and smart phones, tablets and iPads.
I can’t remember what the first family camera was that I was allowed to get my paws on but I remember the tiny blue power button and the big grey shutter button and the 3 different aspect ratio options. Those were probably all the settings that little, automatic film camera had. I was definitely taking pictures when I was 5 if not younger. I’m not sure why my parents ever trusted me with that camera but I’m glad they did. We had a camcorder too, I don’t remember ever seeing it working or any videos* (it took video tapes) but I remember being fascinated by it and wanting to press all the buttons… probably why it never worked.
*I fear there may be a video of 6 year old me in blue shorts and a green top, regrettable short hair-cut slicked back with half a tub of dads hair gel, dancing around manically on a foot-stool to a vinyl of Agadoo. Mum must have been out, that chaos would only ensue under dad’s supervision.
I have fond memories of very young me trawling through the big, heavy, red and black photo albums we had, mostly filled with pictures of dad’s rally cars, my sisters ponies, my brothers trials bike and me, sitting in things. (It was a common theme, I don’t know.) They still live in the same cupboard they have my whole life.
Google says the first digital camera was invented in 1975 but I definitely remember the whisperings of them beginning to grow in popularity and becoming accessible in the circles of people around me in the late 90’s/ early naughties. – Because I knew so much of technological world affairs as a 7/8 year old.
Whenever I was going on a holiday or school trip someone or other would provide me with an instant camera so I could document.
When I was 9, my dad moved away. He gifted my sister and I a shared silver, Olympus digital camera so that we could keep him updated on our lives. I remember this thing seeming big, clunky and pretty ugly but that didn’t matter, we now had a digital camera and I’d graduated from a 20% share to a 50% share. Coolest 9y/o going. There were lots of pictures of ponies taken on my part and exploration into the world of digital editing via lots of terrible borders and word-art overlays. I think we got through a couple of those chunky creatures, one stopped working pretty quickly, one I lost in France – still not really over it or the pictures I’ll never get back. Eventually my sister upgraded to one of her own to take with her travelling. Then I was onto sharing a little silver, Fujifilm Finepix z5 with my mum. It was really cool, you slid the whole front of it to the side to switch it on. – A feature which was the death of it fairly quickly. And then I had my first camera all of my very own! The prettiest little baby blue Sony Cybershot. It’s probably still my favourite camera, probably because it’s been the only blue one. I still have it and fully expect it still works if given a chance. I was a young teenager by this point so a lot of selfies were taken of my various questionable emo haircuts. (I say that like I’ve grown out of that phase.) I took some great pictures of bees and it came with me faithfully on holidays to the Lake District with dad.
In 5th year of high school, we got to choose a couple of ‘enrichment’ classes a week and to my delight, photography was an option. I got to experience DSLR’s for the first time. We were allowed to loan them out for weekends and my love of gig photography began. Montrose had a great music scene so there was always something on to go and take pictures of. I took pictures of local shows, various school events, so much. I was forever lugging one of those cameras around. I probably didn’t imagine then just how obsessed I’d be 10 years later.
I started going to music festivals around this time and desperately wanted to be photographing there but you can’t take in a ‘pro’ camera. I decided it was time to move on from my beloved Cyber-shot. I still remember going into Jessops and testing out cameras. I wanted the best compact camera I could get so that it would pass festival security and get me some decent shots. I settled on a funny-looking black canon that was probably a great camera but I never really loved it. In my final year of high school I was able to take photography as a Higher. We had to choose a subject that we’d be shooting for the whole year. It was a no-brainer that I did gig/ music. I was discouraged, apparently it was a popular choice but hard to do well to pass the course. Well I showed them! At 17, not only was I shooting all my friends’ bands every second I could, I was contacting major bands, record labels, professional music photographers, trying to get passes for any gigs I could. It was pretty friggin’ exciting at that age to be telling my mates I was hopping on a train after school to go and photograph Freak Kitchen at the Catty in Glasgow. (I hadn’t heard of them either.) I nailed that project and apparently it was spoken about quite a bit between educators as a great example of what could be achieved on the course. Choosing gigs as my subject meant I really had no choice but to learn how to work with manual settings from the start which really was a great thing for my education and my cameras haven’t left Manual mode since.
The problem with finishing high-school was, no more DSLR access and by now I wanted to be working with more than just my little digital compact. My brother bought a Canon 550D and said we could share if I bought a lens for it. So for the next year I was camera-sharing again but we had an awesome little nifty-fifty which at the time seemed like the greatest thing ever. I was still shooting local gigs and horses at the local animal sanctuary I was volunteering at weekly. We couldn’t really share once I moved away to art school but not long after starting, a photographer friend was selling her Canon 7D and I snapped it up. For Christmas my brother gave me a Sigma 50mm 1.4. It was the best bit of equipment I’d ever had my hands on, I was completely in love. By this point I also had a growing film photography collection after being given an Olympus OM10 that had been passed about by a few people who never did much with it. At uni we got a couple of film camera classes and dark room classes. I never had much luck down the film route with a lot more stories of failures than successes.
In my second year of uni we got to do a module on stop-motion animation, made with DSLR’s and in my second, second year of uni (don’t ask) the same module had the option of film. I’d had my fancy DSLR over 2 years and never touched the video settings. It had never crossed my mind to be interested in video. I think we had one lesson on how to set up our cameras and that was all it took; I was completely hooked. We were meant to be doing a group project but I was having so much fun I went out and shot everything by myself because I just didn’t want to stop. Around this time I discovered the uni camera equipment loan store and the awesome technicians who were and still are a font of knowledge, support and enthusiasm. Lots of my uni projects became video and photography oriented after this and I got roped into several extra-curricular video projects too.
But I’d never considered myself a photographer. Had never considered that I would be a photographer or could be a photographer. I was going to be a graphic designer and digital illustrator because I just loved working with and learning all about the software involved with those disciplines and didn’t feel worthy or ‘good enough’ to be a photographer. This is the sentiment I was expressing at the start. Reading this, it would seem obvious to anyone that photography was the path I was heading down but I just didn’t see it, it was too close, right there in front of me.
Not long after that first ever video project at uni, I was making a music video for a local band. I’d never worked with lighting before, I’d never directed, I’d never pretty much everything involved. But in 2 days, contending with 3 cameras rolling simultaneously, including my new Canon 6D that I’d just bought because I was adamant I was moving up to full-frame, a bunch of lighting, 4 band-members and a bunch of props, we made a video! It was a great experience and really a not bad video.
After that I started being offered and seeking out shadowing/ work experience opportunities and was just having the best time. Shooting gigs fell by the way-side. I didn’t feel like I’d get passes for ‘big gigs’ now that I wasn’t the brave girl from high school so I just didn’t try.
After uni I went straight into running Rotten Core. I used my cameras almost every day for something or other work related but they were always to benefit the design and illustration side of my business. I’d take my camera when I went out for pretty walks and it was out every day on holidays to the Lake District and I’d assist on one or two small shoots a year but I think my enthusiasm was waning. Maybe that’s just part of being a business owner, so many balls to juggle, it takes a lot of effort and foresight to manage to stay passionate about other things on top of getting through the day-to-day which becomes so all-consuming.
Anyway, fast-forward to March this year. I’d been wanting to upgrade my kit for some time, finding the Canon set-up just too heavy and bulky for things like trekking up mountains. (Ok, I probably did that once…) I took the plunge and switched to a Sony A7iii and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m so excited about photography and videography again. I LOVE my new best friend. I’ve been falling out of love with design for a long time and photography has stepped up. At the end of summer I spent just short of 6 weeks in The Philippines filming and photographing a holiday resort and all the awesome things in the area there is to see and do. It didn’t feel like work once. Every day I was going out and doing incredible things and on top of that, I was getting to capture it all.
There have been a lot of changes in my life this year and when I got back to the UK, I had no plan, nothing in front of me. A million ideas but nothing solid and nothing really screaming out to me as the right answer. It was time to really reflect on what I want to be doing with my life currently and I was finally able to see what a constant photography has been in my life, through these many cameras that I have been so lucky to have access to, for a short time or a long time, they have been my favourite companions. There’s some crazy mist and low winter sun going on as I write this and I’m itching to get out there and capture it. In October I’d booked myself a little trip away, 4 gigs, 4 nights in a row across 3 cities. I’d swithered about trying to get photo passes for them but that trip involved a lot of other firsts so I decided against it. But each night that I spotted a photographer, I spent those first 3 songs watching them snapping away more than the band and my hands have never felt more empty.
I booked a 5th gig for a few days later and afterwards I hung around a lot longer than usual, watching the crew pile in and break down, chatting away to the merch guy, the singer, seeing the bar staff clear up. It hit me hard that that’s a world I so want to be a part of, something I’ve known for a really long time but just lost track of along the way.
I’ve barely stopped since, every second I’m not at work I’m hopping on trains or in the car, crashing in hostels, suddenly I don’t feel like I need or want to be ‘home’. Having no base feels great. I’ve been ‘back’ from the latest adventure less than 24 hours and I already want to go again. (And I am, in 2 days!)
I’ve just come back from 3 nights photographing and filming Tankus the Henge gigs. I first saw them in January this year at a music festival and their energy, performance and sound blew me away. They featured plenty in my summer sound-track and were an exciting addition to my October trip. Of course that was a fantastic show too and as soon as it was over I was on my phone seeing where they were playing next. Upon discovering they were playing shows 3 nights in a row all not too far from me I decided to be brave and get in touch and see if I could take pictures at their gigs.
I was pretty nervous the first night, especially when another photographer with a bigger lens showed up – it’s all about the inches obvs ;) – but I was brave and I chatted away and he was super lovely and supportive and we shared stories and it was great. I even asked things of the band that typically I wouldn’t and they were totally cool with it. And so it went on. 3 nights of awesome, getting back into something I have always loved but stopped pursuing because I assumed the answer would be ‘no’, even though I never asked. Every venue was full of ridiculously lovely, passionate people working hard to support live music and arts. I met another awesome, lovely photographer and pushed myself to chat rather than hiding away. In the past I’ve experienced plenty of people in creative industries who are all about competition and being the best no matter what so I often shy away from communication but it was so refreshing to discover all these lovely people, all there for the same reason. And of course, on top of being super nice people, the band were great for letting this random being who appeared out of no-where tag along and get in the way at all 3 shows. Everyone I encountered along the way made this such a positive experience and it gives me hope that there are some really positive pockets of people within the music industry doing great things. Maybe it’s where I’ll find my tribe, maybe not, it doesn’t really matter, I’ve rediscovered something I love and I’m going to keep pursuing it for as long as it’s fun and bands will let me. I’ve got images and footage that I love, some of my favourite ever and I have screw-ups that I’m already learning from and looking forward to improving on next time.
Partly I’ve been really lucky to have the amazing machines provided for me and partly I’ve saved my ass off, avoiding other expensive vices to fund this one. Of course it’s not about having the best camera or all the lenses, the point of this piece for me is just a reflection that in so many different forms, there’s always been a camera as a significant part of my life and I’ve been grateful for and learned from every single one. So photography, I’m sorry that I haven’t appreciated you enough in my life. Listing out all those cameras I’ve had (got another one the other day, don’t tell my mum) it seems pretty ridiculous how blind I’d been to this addiction. Or did I just hit the nail right on the head?
It’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve let the words start to creep into my thoughts: ‘maybe I could be a photographer after all.’
Maybe I always have been.
With this new-found realisation, I’m finally giving my website the photography page it has always deserved and never had. This will be no small task; working on horrendous caravan wifi but I’m gonna try! Tankus the Henge galleries will be filled first and then I’ll work back through the historical stuff and fingers crossed be adding lots of new things too. You can check out my gallery