As the clock ticked midnight on 2016, I closed my eyes and did what everyone does: I made a resolute wish for the year. But rather than resolve to start working out more (still need to do that) or eating better (do burritos count??) or switching off my phone more often (a near impossible job if you're self-employed and trying to get the ball rolling)...no my resolution was not going the way of the fad diets and luddite dreams, I was going to GROW.
Let's be clear, we're talking mental, personal, and business growth. I was going to expand my Squid & Pearl empire and include an Etsy shop of digital art incorporating both my photography and my love of literature. I was going to set strict working hours for every day and not let anything distract me, certainly not my too-adorable toddler who WILL start napping consistently so that mummy can get some work done dammnit! I was going to budget for workshops with my idols and rebrand just six months into this whole venture and raise my prices or maybe lower them. And I was going to switch off at the end of the day, focus on my reading goal of 50 books in 52 weeks, be present with my family more and consequently live the mutha-f*ing dream.
Yeah ok. So clearly I didn't have a direction. As usual (and maybe it was the champagne talking), I set the bar too high for myself and within 72 hours had already begun the internal compromising: the Etsy shop isn't my sole fucus, I better look into marketing materials instead; Hadley's naps can be at any time and I only get the 1 hour to read or mess around online...
I've always worked the best when I've been given set objectives, a clear path and a list of what needs doing. This harkens back to my days as a theatre student when my genius University mentor, Thomas A. Power, would cast me in a show and proceed to remind me that I knew nothing about acting or finding a character until I learned the OBJECTIVE. What does this person want?? What lengths would she go to to achieve this? How does this objective motivate or justify her actions?
Now obviously I left the world of acting and theatre in general but I do not consider my degree (and the $30,000 in student loans it cost to get it!) a waste. Quite the opposite really: I learned that in order to work at the best of my abilities, I need to establish what my objective is and there I will find my motivation. When I break each job down to its finite parts, I give myself little goals to complete and can reasonably work to achieve something. Plus it doesn't hurt to have an amazing director guiding the way. This education has proved invaluable and has seen me through in some tough work environments and now provides clarity as my own boss.
But a mentor, that's what I've been missing I think. A kick up the butt, someone to gently point the direction out to me, to ask me where I want to go and what my ultimate objective is.
I have found an unbelievably supportive network in the community of photographers on Facebook. Through the various groups I belong to, I have met and worked with some incredible artists and names in the industry. I have been able to rant and vent my frustrations to other like-minded individuals and talk shop for hours without seeing the glaze of boredom wash over them. I've felt encouraged and motivated and inspired by these people, many of whom I've never met in person. And for awhile, these groups have given me the satisfying push I've needed to work harder and learn more so I can attempt to be (one day) in the same league as them. These people understand that it's a long process and that it doesn't need to be competitive because there's more than enough work to go around.
So back to the start of the year. And I'm scrolling through my Facebook groups, reading about new equipment, idly considering a change to mirrorless systems when this pops up:
I know the name, of course I do because JD is one of the biggest in the industry around here. The man has grown his business in a way that many of us only hope to, has a strong, oft-emulated, style and, by all accounts, is the nicest dude to be around.
So I entered. I fired off 300 words, full of what I hoped were passion and confidence and not too much fawning and crossed my fingers that I'd maybe make it to the top 15. I'm not sure how many people entered and I told myself that I would be proud just to make it into that group of 15.
And I did. But the next round was trickier. And though I had told myself that I would have been happy to make it into the top 15, now I thought that the top 6 could maybe be in my sights.
So I wrote to the man again, this time sending an email packed full of links to this blog, to my wedding galleries, to anything that I thought would show him that I REALLY wanted this and needed it and would WORK SO HARD. This was my chance to FINALLY fullfill those resolutions, to choose my own adventure and hopefully work with someone who can help me establish those objectives and give me a clear focal point in this business. I was feeling fairly confident but trying not to set myself up too much for disappointment.
Thankfully that wasn't the case because the email came a few weeks later and I had done it. I was a finalist! The six of us were going to meet and work and hopefully impress Jonny Draper (I can't seem to separate the two names, sorry) and one of us would be chosen to work with him for the next 6 months.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the designated location in Castlefield but I approached another young woman with a camera bag who looked as nervous as I felt and sat down with her. Eventually another woman with a bag of gear joined and as we looked around, we noticed that the only other people wandering around with bags of equipment were women. In a male-dominated industry, we were gobsmacked.
Long story short, it turned out by sheer coincidence that the final six were all women. Women from all over the North of England (and Wales!), women who run their own businesses or are trying to and are of all ages and experiences. And as so often happens with groups of women thrust into odd situations, we bonded. We laughed and talked over each other, and exchanged numbers and ideas and somehow a magical thing happened: the pressure began to dissipate. These women were AMAZING. They were mums and bosses and artists and I felt like I had found my TRIBE.
We all approached the task at hand (one model, ten minutes) from our unique perspectives and I have been absolutely blown away at the images I have seen from the day. Despite having the same model and the same location, each approach is miles different from the next. And when we went inside to warm our hands and prepare for the interview portion of the day, I almost forgot why I was there because I was just so enraptured by these 5 extraordinary finalists. It wasn't a competition anymore, it was a community that found each other. And rather than try to elbow the others out, I found myself clapping for each of them as they completed their shoots and realising that regardless of the outcome, I am so so very lucky to be in such company.
We find out tonight who has won the mentorship. And I still want it, oh god I really really want this. And if I don't actually get it there will be disappointment but I will know that whoever is chosen is the absolute best person for it. I'm honoured to be included in such a powerhouse group and I know that I will stay in contact with these women as we navigate our respective careers.
So thanks Jonny Draper if you read this, thanks for the opportunity, thanks for pushing me outside my comfort zone and into a tribe of such talent. I'm so grateful for the experience, hopefully it will give me the confidence to find that overall objective.
Below are my submitted images from the day of our Amazonian model Stacey. I hope you like them!