There were times during my 3 years of photography study I really just wanted to walk away. Or scream at (some of) my lecturers.
I was so sick of watching incredibly boring studio images we’d had to shoot of irons and wine bottles painstakingly critiqued one by one in front of the class. So sick of being told off for not wearing enclosed shoes because they weren’t in accordance with occupational health and safety when I was literally only going to be sitting in front of a computer all day (it’s Australia guys, really?!) So sick of endlessly pointless assignments about things I really did not give a shit about. So sick of feeling like my motivations for studying photography - as a creative outlet and tool for self expression - were not accepted or understood in this learning environment.
But I didn’t. Instead, I hung in there for the whole 3 years, and in December 2014, completed my final year of photography studies at CIT. 2014 was incredibly hard - I lost my father to cancer, skipped a lot of classes because I just couldn’t face them, and it felt like it might’ve been the worst year of my life. But I can say now that 2014 was the final year of what were probably the best 3 years of my life.
For our final major assessment, we had the opportunity to shoot a series on whatever we wanted, however we wanted. We were to exhibit some of the finished body of work at the end of the year, as well as a produce a book of it.
I spent weeks brainstorming what I wanted to shoot my series on. I really want to produce a body of work that had a purpose beyond just being pretty. It had to be something deeply meaningful and personal to me, but being passionate about so many topics, I had trouble figuring it out.
I was a bit torn between two themes - 1) my experiences with mental illness 2) my love and connection with nature – and I wanted to somehow combine them. It was a chance to explore a topic that was challenging, personal, and confronting, but I didn’t know how to do that without losing my style along the way. I needed to create something conceptual, something that would make the viewer think, but still beautiful, still ‘me’.
It seemed like I went around in endless circles before it suddenly became obvious. These two things - my connection with nature, and my experiences with mental illness - were actually completely intertwined. Nature was (and still is) a safe place for me. When I was very ill and in and out of hospital, being in nature and with animals got me through some of my darkest times. My obsession with everything nature-related has only grown as I’ve become more aware of environmental issues, and saddened by the way we as a species abuse the earth so much.
So I worked it out, refined my ideas, and planned beautiful, emotive shoots surrounded by nature. And Sanctuary was born.
After the loss of my father in May, everything got interrupted and I struggled to hold onto my commitment and interest in the project. But I got it done, and I’m proud of the finished result. It’s a true representation of what I set out to express. And while there are only a few ‘literal’ self portraits in the series, they are all self portraits at heart. Vulnerable, real and raw.
As desperate as I had been for it to end, I was incredibly sad when my course finished. I didn’t really want to say goodbye. There was a huge sense of loss when it was finally over. I love the beautiful friends I made whilst studying, I’m so grateful for the helpfulness, passion and knowledge of some of the wonderful lecturers. I learnt so much from all those (stupid) assignments and almost despite myself, became a much better photographer.
At the end of the year at our graduation night, I received an award for ”Best Series” as voted on by my classmates. I was humbled, touched and honoured, it was a wonderful way to end those three years.
You can see the entire series in the book I made here. It is also available for purchase as a beautiful hard copy :)
“I think that my love for photography was first kindled during long stints in hospital, photographing flowers that my mother had brought me. Throughout my adolescence I struggled with my mental and physical health, and nature was a sanctuary and escape for me. I lament the disconnection between our everyday lives and the natural world. The vulnerability, hope and suffering that I experienced, combined with the beauty and majesty of nature, inspired this body of work.”
A huge thank you to my beautiful models & helpers: Jessica Truscott, Genevieve Brown, Lauren Menagé, Paris Hawken, Kylie Board and Caitlin Walker. Without your willingness to lie in the rain, sink in freezing pools, wade into ice cold, muddy rivers and repeatedly curl up in strange places, this would not have been possible, all of you support means so much to me. A special thank you also to my brilliant and very kind lecturer Jules, who was a huge help in figuring out how to produce this series, helped me clarify my ideas and motivations, and helped me get through Tafe after losing Dad. Jules, you’re the best.