It’s funny how things sneak up on you. A realisation that you once struggled hard to acknowledge, sometimes to the point of actually fighting it, can sneak up so quietly & gradually, that you don’t even notice that it has become a part of you. When I first started out, I struggled, & I mean really really struggled, to call myself a photographer. Whenever someone asked what I did, the word would get stuck in my throat. I felt awkward. I felt like a fraud. I would tell them about my part time job & then add in a mumbled sort of way, ‘andimaphotographer’, so quickly & quietly that they wouldn’t really understand what I had said.
I didn’t have any formal qualifications. Yes, I took photography classes in school. I took workshops. I took photos of my family & then eventually, other people’s families. But that didn’t mean that I was a photographer, did it? I was scared that if I gave myself this title, someone would turn around & think, ‘pfft, no you are not, what a fraud!’ Almost two years ago, I attended a workshop & the teacher kept referring to me as an artist. I was dying inside every time she said it. When I told her this she said to me, ‘but you are, why fight it? In time, you will come to be able to call yourself a photographer & an artist’. I walked away wondering if that day would ever come.
Then a funny thing happened. The more photos that I took, the more that I shared my work, the more that I started to feel it. I started testing the waters. The first time I told someone that I was a photographer, I waited for their reaction. I watched their face, waiting for that flicker in their eyes that said, ‘what a load of crap!’ But all they said was, ‘Oh, that’s great!’ The more that I acknowledged it, the more I felt comfortable with it. I felt that by giving myself permission to give myself that title, I was able to let go of the fear a little bit. I put myself out there more. I started feeling more like me; it was as if I had peeled off a layer. But I still couldn’t bring myself to ever think of myself as an artist. That was just too much for me. After all, all I did was take photos of my families – mine included.
Now, I can call myself an artist. I find that I can’t say it out loud just yet, that word feels awkward in my mouth, like it’s the wrong shape. It’s still too new. But I can feel it, inside. How did I get here? Is it that I woke up one day thinking, ‘right then, today is the day that I declare myself an artist!’? Nope, not at all. It was a seed that grew a little bit each day until I felt it & believed it. It was hearing Sam Abell say that ‘photographing a family in their day to day life was one of the most noble things you can do.’ It was when clients would tell me they were moved to a series of emotions when they saw their photographs & how much they meant to them. It was with finding community with strangers saying, ‘yes I feel that too’ when sharing my photographs & words. That next layer had peeled off without me really noticing. I think that Amanda Palmer said it best in her book, The Art of Asking: ‘There’s no ‘correct path’ to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, by getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep & unexpected.’