It was early 2020 and I was hoping that somehow, the start of a new year would mean the end of a challenging 2019. 2019 had been a tragic and difficult year in many ways and also the continuation of a mounting feeling that life was so busy and full up of things that did not really matter to me or resonate with me and empty of what burns inside. For a long time I had felt like I was living a life that I did not fit. I was conforming to what I felt was expected of me and I gave it my all. I tried to do what everyone here seems to do, like a well-oiled machine, serving a community and doing what seems to bring so many people a sense of unity, purpose, belonging, identity and friendship. If felt a bit like a compulsory duty that I needed not only to take part in, but to shine! Of course this was my interpretation of life here, an unconscious decision I made for myself of how I should be here to fit it in, to be respected and to be accepted and ultimately avoid being the ‘misfit.’ This was the work of my fear and my ego – and it required me to ignore my authentic self and what really matters to me, what feels meaningful to me and what gives me a sense of purpose that is aligned with who I am. The truth is that the stuff that really makes me tick might seem like ‘bat-shit’ crazy stuff to many and not what they’d necessarily want for themselves or ever consider doing. But someone has to do it and I am putting my hand up!
In the last couple years, I have learned that life works in mysterious ways. One day I would like to write about this, about what has happened for me to get to where I am now and where I am going to go. This is just the beginning but it’ s unfolding in spectacular ways and in a way that feels like life is ‘flowing,’ and as if I am being taken on a journey. To go on this journey, the only requirement of me is to stay aligned, to trust the process and to pay attention to what I am being presented with. To be brave, even when I am not feeling it. To write my heart out, to be vulnerable and to be honest with you about what I am experiencing and feeling, regardless of how I may be judged or viewed.
I sat at the desk feeling overwhelmed by the amount of photo editing I had to complete that weekend in time for a Monday deadline. It had been an extraordinarily busy few months and I had fallen behind on my editing. That Monday I needed to present a year’s work of interior design photos for a book that was due to be published for a well-known South African interior designer. She had taken me on as someone with little experience in the way of interior design photography. The deal was that she would teach me interior design and I would need to photograph it! Though I have done a lot of travel and hospitality photography, I specialise in agricultural photography. Interior design photography was something completely foreign to me at the time. Being outdoors and in the dirt is where I am most comfortable but this was something I wanted to explore. If I enjoyed it, it would be an incredible opportunity to learn from the ‘best,’ in the way of interior design and a way ‘in’ to a whole new photography genre and market. On top of that, I got on really well with this person and though I still needed to learn so much, I thoroughly enjoyed working with her.
It was 2am on a Saturday, and I was still editing. I had one more day left and a huge number of photos that I still needed to edit by Monday. The thing about interior design photography is that you are ultimately selling an idea, a style of design, or an item that fits a theme. It involves a lot of straight lines, ‘photoshopping’ out things like plug points and cables, removing a stain from a table cloth or a stray thread from a designer cushion. Every photo has to be picture perfect and that takes time. I had so much editing still to do that I literally excused myself from the world that weekend and edited solidly for 72 hours! I rewarded myself with ‘a break’ after editing an album – a break that involved going to the kitchen sink and washing some dishes! It was that kind of weekend! But while I removed the threads from a cushion, the creases from a crisp white bed sheet, dimmed the lights to a moody atmosphere and intensified the colour of the flames of an indoor winter fire, I listened to a lot of podcasts while doing this. And all the podcasts were of photo journalists and humanitarian photographers talking about everything I care for. That weekend was a paradox for me. While I edited interiors and made everything look picture perfect, the podcasts I was listening to had me nodding, smiling and resonating. They were speaking a language that I understood and importantly, doing something that I would love to do. That weekend, while I sat at the desk editing interiors, I felt alive because of what I was hearing.
I finished editing minutes before I had to leave to drive to my destination and present my final album. It was a huge relief to have finished what felt impossible a couple days before. But I did it and while doing it, I learned what really feels meaningful to me. At that meeting I was offered an incredible opportunity. Since I was the ‘outdoors’ type and rather ‘countrified,’ this designer was offering me the opportunity to photograph and publish an interior design book of ‘country homes’ in South Africa. If I wanted it, it would be the ultimate photography opportunity. It felt like I had unexpectedly learnt something about myself through the paradox of that weekend and on Monday, my ‘realization’ was directly confronted in the way of being offered a potentially great career opportunity. It felt like I was being put to test and I graciously declined the offer.
That weekend I realized what I want to do with my life and my time. What had been a shade of grey was now unmistakably black and white. It was one of many things that happened that pointed me in a new direction. This idea, this way of life, this realization – It felt wild and crazy and impossible but it felt like ‘home!’
The Candid Frame is one of my favourite photography podcasts. Every week Ibarionex Perello interviews a photographer of his choice. This is my source of documentary photographers, a podcast that inspires me and keeps me motivated to stay on this path I am walking. The podcast that inspired me most that weekend is that of Colin Finlay’s. His experience of photography deeply resonated with me and inspired me. I took it one step further and connected with Colin on Instagram. It’s these seemingly small occurrences and connections that all add up to a big shift in direction. What was a particularly stressful weekend of editing, turned out to be a weekend of absolute clarity.
CANDID FRAME PODCAST: COLIN FINLAY