A Shot In The Arm

I had my first shot of the vaccine today, which feels momentous. Are we allowed to acknowledge that light at the end of the tunnel yet? Are we allowed to feel a tiny moment of relief?  I bought myself a very sugary treat of a donut to mark the occasion. I breathed out for what felt like the first time in a long, long time. We need a new storyline.

For the last year, I have grounded myself with daily rituals to keep me on an even keel – yoga (badly) walking (slowly), and journaling (daily, mainly about how badly I am sleeping) – the usual. The term self-care makes me want to punch someone, mainly because it’s used to sell you something or make you feel guilty for not doing it enough, so I won’t use it – but lockdown forced me into it.

I found a community of people online hosting women’s circles, offering photography courses, sharing creative journeys. I carved out time to pick up The Artist’s Way again, once on my own and the second time hosting a creative cluster, and the coming together online, WhatsApp, social media has been life affirming.

Storytelling has been my touchstone throughout

I have been a story teller my whole life, writing short stories as an eight year old, making up vast imaginary epics, with a propensity for being the Bad Witch. You could have so much more fun when no longer constrained by Being Good. I knew this at eight

By my teen years, I had switched up the story telling into Very Bad Poetry, vastly misunderstood, furious at everyone and trying to figure out what story captured me best. Around this time, as girls’ bodies’ stop being their own, our stories started being told for us.  To teachers, older brothers of friends, random men on the street I was; lazy, troublemaker, slut, mall rat, druggy, stoner, cock-tease, smart mouth – all before I was 16.  While the Bad Girl story line felt so much more freeing than the alternative, it started to take on a more sinister side, which I know now, had nothing to do with me at all.

In my twenties, I had a slightly better sense of who I was, but warped by some catastrophic relationships, my self-confidence was smashed to bits as I attempted adulthood. I had moved countries, thinking I could really start my own story now, with a blank canvas to play with. Predictably, I slipped into many of the old tropes and by the time I was 26 found myself with a new story line to add to the mix –hitting rock bottom and getting sober – and, not having a clue which story made sense anymore, I threw them all in the bin.

By thirty-six, I had woven myself a new clean and tidy narrative. A thread that included ten years of hard won sobriety, a husband, a small son, a mortgage and a cherished career in my dream field. A thread that had very little room for messiness. Or misbehaviour. But I had done it. This is where all the fairy tales end right? The stories you hear about turning your life around. From the Gutter to the Stars. Rounds of applause, closing credits… and then?

Sitting in amongst the detritus of a family home punished by an Actual Plague, the battered backdrop of The Perfect Ending, I am trying to answer that question. What next? It’s very much not the end. I am not even forty.

If the last year has shown us anything it’s that life is precious. And short. We are all going to die. Plague, or climate change or old age (if we are lucky). I can’t keep straining to keep with one worn out story. While I could do without the soul-destroying co-dependency and the brain itch of addiction, I miss my Bad Witch, my Trickster, my Bold Adventurer, my will-try-anything-twice-fuck-it-why-not mantra.

I want to reclaim that something lost, our stories matter, and we get define who we are in them. And this couldn’t be more important than now, staring into a very possible future where our rights begin to be stripped away.

I have been exploring this in self-portraits, which is hard. To be confronted with my unfiltered face and the reality of my body, has undone me – which is kind of what I wanted – but also totally terrifying. A call to challenge myself, what I have accepted as ‘normal’ and to be confronted with the things I usually try to hide. I figure I am onto something

As we all come out of this cluster-fuck of a year, I am experimenting with that storytelling, through portraits. I want to mark this transitional moment as we slowly, tentatively come out of lockdown. What story are we telling ourselves? What are we emerging as? How have we changed? What have we lost? What have we gained? What has kept us tethered? What are we leaving behind, and what are we hoping for?

I’ve had a few brave volunteers to join me on this trip, if you want your portrait taken, and are happy to explore these questions, let me know – I’d love to have you along for the ride

Getting Snap Happy


About 18 months ago I was given a very fancy pants camera for my birthday. I had been going on about wanting to take up photography more seriously for about 100 years, but could never bring myself to part with the serious money required to up my game and get some decent kit. So Rory called my bluff and delivered the real thing all wrapped up with a ribbon saying ‘you better bloody well get on with it now’.

The Beast really is a thing of beauty. A zoomy lens, a swish case, things that clip on and off, and a whole host of buttons and functions that made me feel really rather stupid. I poured over the manual, trying to take in all the instructions, and deduced that it may as well be in Japanese. There was a video or three that followed a very beautiful woman taking pictures of her family, showcasing the various functions, and her perfect hair. Life was too short to trawl YouTube, so I flicked the function to AUTO and took it out for a spin and took pretty great pictures. Plus, with a bit of TLC in the form of cropping and filters, pretty awesome pictures. Job done.

And that was 18 months ago, But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was somehow…. cheating? Or perhaps not cheating, exactly, but I certainly had no idea what was going on in my camera. I was relying on continuous shooing and dumb luck. The truth is, I was intimated by the tech and by the people who seemed to understand the tech. Chat of ISOs and Aperture and Shutter Speed made my head spin.  I messed around with white balance once and almost had to take my camera back to the shop because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I call that my ‘Blue’ period. Stella pulls it off rather well.

Having a snazzy camera comes with a certain presumption that you know what you’re doing, so I just kept schtum and hoped no one noticed my scarlet letter ‘A’ for Auto when peering over my shoulder.

For 18 months, ‘A’ was was OK, I was mainly using my camera on holiday and at events. I had got to grips with composition a bit and figured out a little more about interesting angles. I stopped cutting people’s feet off in the frame, and started messing about with more abstract ideas rather than straight up ‘Pics of my Holiday’ shots. And this is where I started getting frustrated. ‘A’ wasn’t getting me the effects I wanted. I saw vivid contrast, and got bland uniformity, I wanted to evoke speed, I got perfect stillness. It was time to bite the bullet and learn how to use The Beast  (aka Canon EOS 600D). But where to start? There are literally 100’s of courses out there.

Lucky for me I happen to spend my weeks running around London with a bunch of very creative people, and there I had met Matilda, who mentioned she was running Beginner’s Photography workshops and I should check them out.

So I did. It was awesome.

We met on the South Bank on a very cold Saturday morning, and spent the next 4 hours learning about our cameras, deciphering all the tech and lingo, and then getting to grips shooting live models (the gorgeous Tilly herself, as well as a few bemused cyclists)

I got to ask all my stupid questions, muck about with all the settings and started to understand why some shots worked and others didn’t. We’re incredibly lucky living in London as there are so many amazing opportunities to get creative, and Tilly gave us a few genius pointers to start thinking about photography differently.

Here are a few of my practise shots.

Attempting panning and mucking about with shutter speed

Much happier with this one, the cab in particular

Vertical lines galore. Shadows, fences, arches

Understanding depth of field. Slowly

Most importantly I walked away confident enough to leave my days of auto function behind me, and curious enough to try another workshop (or 5) with the big kids.

Any other snap happy bloggers out there with a few pointers to share?