ABBIE

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Tell me a bit about your background?

I grew up in Australia and England, spending most of my time based rurally. My father studied photo journalism in London and my mother always had a film camera with her, so growing up there was always a lot of film cameras and development happening. I got my first toy camera at 8 and loved it. At 18 years old my parents gave me my first digital. Photography was something I always loved but to begin with wasn’t something I considered as a career path.

Early on I got Instagram which opened up a whole new world to me and that grew pretty quickly. I always posted my camera photos rather than any phone photos so I got quite a following on there. I guess I was known as an ‘instagrammer’ rather than a photographer so at that stage people would hire me for instagram reasons such as promoting their products and giving them content but they wouldn’t hire me to shoot for them. I guess I didn’t realise how that had effected my work until I started thinking more seriously about photography as a job. I was working at the time in aged care and always wanted to do more but didn’t know how to start, so when I went to England to work with Marte Marie Forsberg I got to see so much more of real life freelance photography. When I came home I didn’t have my job anymore so I decided to give it a go and that was two years ago… I have been full time freelance since. 

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What is the most satisfying part of capturing a moment ?

For me I really love sharing stories through my images so capturing something that isn’t just a static photo but that creates a feeling.

I think looking back at my images it is satisfying when I have captured a beautiful environment or a story that otherwise can pass so quickly. Because my parents always took photos, having their photos to look back on allows me to gain insight into their past. This is important because I didn’t know my parents when they were my age so showing that story is special. 

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I heard a photographer on a podcast say that one of her favourite things about photography is to allow people to feel comfortable enough in her presence that they can be authentic and therefore the photos are honest depictions of that moment in time. If it is a value for you to take honest pictures (as I sense it is), how do you help people feel comfortable enough in your presence in order for them to let their guard down?

When I am working with people - especially families, I love to just gently lead into it. If we have time to just follow them around a bit and see where they live and what they do I find that allows them to feel like they are relaxed in the positions i’m asking them to be in. I shot a photoshoot at a farm down West recently and we went up the top of the hill where they usually have their dinners to have a picnic there with a glass of wine. You can work from those kinds of natural moments to then facilitate other moments where you need to orchestrate it a bit more - for example getting them to turn to a different angle or sit in a different spot. But it does take a bit of time to build up that trust between you and the client and I don’t want it to be a transactional process of just showing up and putting them in a bunch of positions to take quick photos. I hope I can create an easy and relaxed environment where they can shine in their true way.

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What do you want your clients to feel when they are looking back on the photos you have taken?

I would love them to feel that it was a genuine experience, and that it wasn’t something they felt unnatural about. I would love it to be a memory where they look back and remember spending time enjoying each other without distraction and maybe it’s something they decide to do again without the camera. 

Do you believe that having a “creative eye” is something that can be taught or is something that just comes more naturally to some people over others?

It is definitely something that can be cultivated and encouraged, but I do believe that there are some people that do have that natural look and talent to see possibilities when capturing a moment. I feel like sometimes when it is taught it can be a little bit stiff, but it definitely can be cultivated. You can learn so much through reading, studying and learning from others about how to frame and compose, but having the natural talent for it definitely helps. 

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When did you realise you had “the eye” for it?

I struggled for years to actually claim the name of a photographer. I felt for a while just like an amateur and still very much learning, I guess because I wasn’t “taught” by anyone as such. But I have realised over the years just how important it is to do what comes naturally to me and that will be my best work. I realised that although I wasn’t taught by anyone I had a natural ability to take photos in a certain way that became my signature style. 

Do you think it is important to develop a signature style or personal aesthetic and why?

Yes definitely. When people recognise your work without even seeing a name attached to it, it signifies that you have something that stands alone from the rest. There is such a world of photographers and a sea of images that if your images have a particular style, this can help you progress in your career but also people then hopefully choose you for that style.

Cultivating that unique style is quite hard - it took me years to realise what I liked in what I did and how I did that, but I think that’s also part of the process. When you see a style starting to form that is your own, hang onto it and try not to compare your work to others. 

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What is the most meaningful photograph you have taken to date?

There has been many meaningful shoots, beautiful places I have worked and wonderful people I have worked with but I feel like sometimes the most meaningful photos are the ones that aren’t shared. They can be just photos of my family and nieces and nephews - images that never get shown but that capture my life and relationships with the people I love. I am always waiting for that next photo to make its mark, but yes I do think that much of the work that has held the most meaning for me has been the unseen, un-shown work.

Do you think collaborating with people on work is important ?

Yes I do. I did a lot of collaboration when I was starting out and that’s where I learnt a lot. Whether it’s a collaboration between a photographer and a florist for example - it gives both parties the freedom to do it their own way, instead of working off a brief or a shoot list. So you can both experiment without the pressure and make up things as you go. It also gives you the chance to work with people you may not normally work with. 

Why do you think exploration is important?

Because I feel like sometimes we stifle ourselves doing only the things we have to do. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves the chance to fail because we have to produce something specific and can’t afford to get it wrong. So to be able to experiment on a shoot without the pressure, you are able to figure out whether what resulted from it is worth exploring more.

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Why is it important we allow ourselves to fail?

I think it’s important to allow ourselves to fail to see how we failed, learn from it and try again in a different way. There is often so much pressure to succeed that failure is perceived as a bad thing, but it’s so healthy for our development. 

We are living in a digital age where anyone can take a reasonable photo even on their phone. How do photographers stand out among the sea of images?

I think it comes back to personal style, but I also believe there is still a difference in quality between a photo taken on a camera (by someone who knows how to use the camera) and a photo taken on a phone. I think it also just comes down to persistence a lot of the time - just maintaining your work and showing your best work. Someone told me once that in every shoot you do, always remember to take one or two shots that speak to you, even if the client never receives or sees them - have one or two images that are your style and that capture your attention. I think it’s important in a world that is over saturated with imagery to have those images for yourself that really speak to you. 

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What does having a purpose mean to you?

I think having a purpose is really anchoring - you can rest in the fact that you have a reason for what you are doing and can pursue it well. For me purpose is sharing stories through my images, so I think that really seeps into the work that I do, and I carry that with me when I do shoots. 

What gives you the most energy from your work?

When I’m not at work, what gives me energy is having space - being in nature, walking in a field without my camera - it restores me. Having energy at work is having time to find the light and see how it is falling and having its way in that situation and then following that light around and shooting accordingly. When I’m on a shoot and things are working and I’m in the zone, I forget about everything else and am fully focused on that moment, and that for me is really energising. 

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Interview & Photography by Hannah Darkins (The Unfold)

Hannah DarkinsComment