Straight and easy is not the only path to success.
I often get asked a seemingly simple question – How long do you do photography? When did you start? Before I spill out the answer I get awkward like a lover with a complicated history of friendship interwoven with sex before love happened. I want to be able to give a simple answer, because the one who’s asking, is probably asking out of politeness but the answer to that question is not simple.
How do you define a starting point? Does owning a camera already make you an amateur photographer? Or is it actually the point you start caring? What if you don’t even own a camera and you care a lot? What if you have one and don’t actually care about quality photos?
Well, as much as I would like my story to be more straightforward, photography wasn’t a love from the first sight for me. When I was younger this profession in my head always belonged to the realm of dreams impossible to achieve such as becoming a president or an astronaut. For a very long time even taking breathtakingly beautiful photos seemed to be in that territory as I could not afford a DSLR until I turned 21. I believed that you can take nice photos with a basic compact, but as you can imagine, my aspirations weren’t very high. Just as much as having nice profile picture or holiday snapshots. Keep in mind that was way before Instagram era and mainstream smartphone, when everyone who owned one was automatically given a simple tool good enough for an amateur photographer.
I got my camera with the first the money I saved from my first job as a waitress in Italian restaurant in Glasgow in the only in the autumn of 2012. So when I finally started taking photos with a nice camera, shit started happening and the satisfaction of creating good imagery motivated me to learn more and more. Finally, in autumn 2014 I knew enough about photography and had enough confidence in my craft that I dared to believe that one day I could become a professional photographer.
Don’t get me wrong, I would be the last person to claim that you can only take good photos with a proper gear. I believe my on an off interest in photography for years before I touched a camera with interchangeable lens has precisely been the reason why I found it easy to control a DSLR. Having only used crappy contacts before forced me to practice composition, as this was the only way I could control the image. Also never underestimate how much photography education happens behind the scenes, when you’re not holding your camera or editing photos.
But let’s come back to the beginning. Wherever it was. Maybe you can find me help the day when I started being interested in photography.
I am 8 years old and I am going for my first school trip in Solina holiday resort by the lake. My parents give me the family camera with abundance of as many as whole 32 exposures of film. I take photos of trees, flowers, buildings, friends and get scolded by a teacher for getting to close to the edge of dam elevation trying to get a shot o gigantic artificial waterfall. Other offences include climbing a roof of a hostel and scaring other children with stories about ghosts and a snake. After I’m back from the trip and the film gets developed and my parents share their disappointment about the lack of photos of me in front of monuments. I think some of the photos are good but I don’t understand why in my artistic shot of a bottle the backgrond isn’t blurry and the bottles aren’t sharp. But I don’t get the chance to touch camera often enough to actually care. This pattern repeats every school trip or summer camp once or twice a year until 2007, when my parents finally give up on film and get bored with their digital compact they got in 2004 and let me play with it.
A wonderful summer of my life. I am 15, listen to unhealthy amounts of punk rock, I dream about becoming a rock star and dress like a seventh child of a janitor that escaped from circus (my father’s words). I get invited to spend summer in Toronto to stay with my uncle and his family to practice English. Luckily my uncle is cool, he shares my love for good guitar distortion, takes me to my first music festival, buys me an acoustic guitar and lets me use his hybrid digital camera. This is the first time I discover that actually I am taking some really cool photos, contrary to my parents opinion, and that actually photography could be a nice hobby for me. Nevertheless, I spend way more time “jamming” on my new guitar, having a crush on the boy next door who was teaching me first chords and writing songs. After all I am destined to become a rock star.
2007 – 2008
I finally get to use family digital compact and I use it a lot. As per usual I get blamed for its death in summer 2007. But then the camera gets replaced by a newer model and I continue to share it with my sister. My photos are mainly experimental but no one cares because hello, they are digital. I use photography to enhance my coolness factor on sprouting social media by posting heavily edited photos. By the way this is about the time I discover photoshop, my editing style can be sumarised as a mixture of bw, heavy contrast and saturation occasionally spiced up with selective coloring. I still believe in my future as a rock star.
I read an reportage about street photography in a Saturday cultural issue of national newspaper (“Duży Format” if anyone is interested, but I don’t remember the title of the article anyway). The interview with the photographer inspired me to try to document strangers on the streets. I am very scared that people would shout at me, when they notice I am pointing a camera at them. Elderly strangers in small times aren’t very friendly to teenager. Stealthily I capture some good shots. I start to frequently carry around the family compact in my bag and take photos of whatever interests me.I start a photoblog under a nickname dazedandconfused, where I publish the more successful of my photos along with my poetry and thoughts. I get old Zenit as a gift for my 18th birthday but the shutter is broken so I only use it on one film and never again. Around about this time I get interested in street fashion. I throw away my converse covered with ink and dirt and I hit second hands in search of quirky and unique outfits. Around about that time I discover lookbook.nu, which back then was full of alternative and second hand wardrobe and an invitation only community for people to share their style across the globe. I also use the blog to sneak in my outfits and receive the invitation to that secret community which would soon blow out into a international fashion phenomenon and hub for professional fashion bloggers. My unshakeable faith in becoming a rock star finally starts to crumble as years of practice on guitar don’t show any signs of talent. But not all is lost yet. At the age of 18 I start opening up to music that does not use divine guitars. I start exploring electronic music and discover that maybe there is more to music than guitars. Inspired by newly discovered truths and a solid argument of straight As in hard sciences to win a battle with my parents and apply to all the Audio Technology related degrees at University.
2010 – 2011
I get accepted to study Audio & Video Engineering at University of Glasgow. My degree is a lie and it turns out to be Electronics with a fancy name. I want to quit uni but my parents convince me to stay at least one more year and eventually I stay till the end. Thankfully, I discover Subcity Radio. I become part of technical team and start my own radio show about trip-hop. I try DJing a bit but nothing I create seems cool, so I never share it with anyone. I meet a lot of talented musicians and DJs during my time in a radio station but not many close friends. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes. During that time, I completely stop taking photos.
University workload becomes so heavy I temporarily stop my involvement with Subcity Radio. Temporarily eventually becomes forever. My interest in photography is limited to collecting pretty pictures on Pinterest and running a bohemian tumblr.
Third year starts and finally I get that one course that I thought entire degree was supposed to be about – Audio & Video team project. I get to direct one short documentary and become a director of photography of a short fiction film. I get involved with side projects and assisting one of my professors, Bernd Porr, who apart from being a researcher is also an independent filmmaker. He’s a living proof that when creativity meets science great things happen. He becomes my role model till the end of my degree and inspires to learn more about cameras. I finally start believing that maybe all the things that I’m good at will eventually come together with things that I love. I finally get that damn first job waiting tables and save some extra money. I buy Canon 550D with intention of shooting my own films but the degree is so intense in the third year that I barely get to use it. I only take photos at occasional parties. I start playing with photoshop again, nothing better for hangover than photoediting. I am adding zits on faces of people who annoy me.
I buy an m42 adapter and mount the old Helios lens from the broken Zenit. The magic begins. All the photos start looking the way imagine. I get more and more hyped and I start taking my camera everywhere. My friends get annoyed but eventually they get used to it. After all no one makes them such cool profile pictures on Facebook.
Me and my camera become inseparable. I start identifying as a photographer and become an active member of Flickr community. In the summer I travel and extensively document my journey with photographs.
I start a graduate job as a software engineer working on Video Encoder Team. I move to Watford alone to start an adult life and earn some money. I don’t know what to do with my life so it makes sense to accept an offer after my summer placement in 2013. I leave my boyfriend and all my friends behind in Glasgow, needless to say, the transition from freedom of University to a full-time job in a company full of geeks in a small town is rather painful. Photography and frequent visits to London keep me sane. I need hope that things will get better because frankly I can’t see myself living like this until retirement. I am clueless about what to do with my life, so I choose photography, as this is one thing that I love and I am really good at. On a dark rainy night November 2014 I decide to pursue photography as a profession.
A very active year. I build my first portfolio, launch a website and social media platforms. I start blogging and collaborating with other creatives. I am still not entirely sure what direction in photography to choose. I contemplate on wedding and reportage photography but as I crave more and more creative control over my work, I start drifting towards portrait and fashion photography. I move to London but I am still working at my day job.
“When routine bites hard and ambitions are low and resentment rides high but emotions won’t grow.” My unrealistic expectations about how fast I can build a career as a photographer finally get confronted with reality. I get frustrated with the quality of my work and lack of progress and I feel clueless about my actions and their results. I experience a major creative crisis and a breakdown in general. I take 2 month break from photography and nourish my tortured soul with chocolate, wine and therapy.
May 2016 – now
I am back in a game, but this time I am going slow and steady. It does not matter how long will it take me or whether I will ever get there as long as I get to create some beautiful photography on the way. However, to my surprise, my effort finally start bringing results, first freelance jobs, first publications and more interest with collaborators.
So how long are you into photography?