When it came to leaving school, my parents weren’t able to afford to send me to university and as it happens that was no bad thing. Still determined to make it in the world of photography, several people in the industry told me that it would be far more useful to work in a studio and get the experience. So, this was what I set out to achieve!
At last, I could get out into the world and immerse my self in my favourite subject and hopefully get paid for it! At this time I was rarely seen without a camera and one of my favourite things was to “patrol” the streets like my hero Cartier-Bresson. I took hundreds of pictures, mainly in black and white and, most of the time, develop and print them myself.
My hunt for the dream job wasn’t going so well. Interview after interview would produce the same results: ‘you’re a girl, this isn’t the job for you’! Once again, people wanted to make me feel like I was making the wrong choices, yet I was determined not to be beaten. I continued applying and got another interview at a big studio in London by Royal appointment covering fine art. I was impressed they were using serious equipment, large format cameras used to photograph the Queen’s pictures at the auction house. This was great; I would get to see some amazing art at the same time! So I decided to go in there with the mindset I wasn’t taking no for an answer!
After the usual debate about this opportunity is not really the right job for me, and it would be very heavy equipment to carry around and other people couldn’t help me, I just said “well if you don’t give me a job how could you possibly know if I can do it or not. I have never asked anyone to help me before and I am not about to start now so I’ll be fine in doing and lifting whatever it takes!”
The boss looked somewhat surprised and hesitated and said: “well OK we could give you a trial for 3 months.”
That three-month trial turned into five years at that studio working with a team of 25 men! I gained a lot of experience and visited some great places photographing many beautiful works of art.
However, having a passion for something and taking minimal pay whilst desperately trying to make ends meet, can make or break you. I admit I lost my way a bit during that time, although I took part in many fantastic exhibitions including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Barbican and a number of other well-known galleries around the country. My enthusiasm waned, especially as my mother passed away very suddenly soon after I took the job when I was only 19. In a way, the job kept me going in a subject that had partly died within me as my creativity took a nosedive for some while. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when the boss’s son joined the company. I was working on autopilot at this point as I knew the role inside out and could do it competently. A smack in the face was when the golden boy was given a higher role than me, even though he had very little knowledge and experience. I seemed to get asked more and more to do menial tasks when one day was ordered to go type something, to which I replied ‘I can’t type’! This seemed to shock him somewhat and he responded in this archaic manner:
“but you are a girl, of course, you can type!”
Just a few weeks later I woke up one morning and said to myself “that is it, its over!”