For my 15th birthday I received a 1 megapixel digital camera.
“Great!”, I thought, “now I can take pictures easier for my Myspace profile.”
Actually I’m making that up, but that probably did cross my mind.
Music was my main escape for a lot of my teenage years and I took the camera with me to gigs. At some point I decided that after high school I would go to college and study photography full-time instead of doing the usual 3/4 subject route that most of my friends were doing. I’m still not really sure how I strayed from English and History, but I did…
At college I was getting quite into fashion photography and my (terrible) final project involved people modelling dresses that I made from bin bags, electrical tape and cloths. My portfolio for a BA in Photographic Art was a mix of fashion pictures, photos of my younger sister and flowers/insects in the garden that I would take when I felt a need to photograph something.
I chose the course as it sounded like you could tailor a project theme to whatever you wanted. The first project was identity and I must have been inspired by the work that my teacher showed us, which included Gillian Wearing and Trish Morrissey. Initially my project was me pretending to be pregnant due to the number of teen pregnancies in my town, but I soon changed it to food metaphors for pregnancy as I felt awkward and embarrassed by the work.
On the first day of university I met Sarah, a girl who was in the same housing block as me. I knew that I wanted to photograph her and we ended up shooting together a lot over the next three years. I made inquiries into moving over to the fashion photography course but I didn’t want to have to be a first-year again and my teacher made good points about why I shouldn’t move.
I’d started to photograph myself more as I often felt inspired quite late or when no one else was free and I hated bothering others. I generally didn’t show them to anyone apart from the odd few that were just my profile photos for different things. Some projects had been personal to me but I had made them seem less so by covering them over with some other meanings, but by the time it came to make my final project I decided that I really should just make the work that I wanted to.
I’d had a difficult time in my second year and so I decided to make a project about it as my friends hadn’t really understood what was going through my mind.
In December 2008 I wrote: ‘To me this ‘life’ is a somewhat vicious cycle of you’re born, you’re educated, you work, you perhaps get married (not necessary these days) and maybe have children, maybe retire and then you die… Everything else in between is killing time.’
Reality of Youth Going Backwards in Vain was a project to put the seven stages I mentioned into photographs.
I decided that I wanted other people in the shots, with the number decreasing as the series progressed. They were there to represent the people in my past, present and future, with the idea that you are born surrounded by people until you eventually die alone. Charming stuff I know. Their backs were turned and luckily I had friends who were willing to stand in for me, but again I hated to bother people. If it wasn’t for the fact that I would have had to reshoot the whole project if I didn’t get people to be in the photos I might not have completed it. I felt very nervous showing the test shots in class, as I felt very exposed (I think that I cried in every assessment during the first two years of university). Then getting them printed and having them displayed in our show was a whole other worry; standing next to them made me feel very awkward. If you’d told me at the start of my course that I would be showing self-portraits by the end of it I would have laughed at you. But it was somewhat therapeutic. Therapeutic because I hated looking at myself in the mirror and therapeutic because I had found my voice in a different way.