People often ask me how I became a professional photographer and visual artist.
The truth is that the journey has been so natural to me that I always find the question hard to answer.
From a young age, you could find me busy playing and experimenting with a Kodak Instamatic. I would do what kids do and look at the world through the viewfinder. In fact, I did it so often that it seemed to be a natural way to see the world to me.
When I got to high school, photography became more central to my life. I just loved the medium and the creative process, which I started to understand now. My older sister had a boyfriend who used to assist for advertising and commercial photographers and, as a teen, I found the idea exciting. He would work on different projects with different crews all the time and the ever-changing nature of this creative process was just fascinating to me. I definitely had romantic notions of film photography, the emerging image and the alchemy of it all. It was magic to me.
The idea that you could tell a story with a lens was just so enticing that I wanted to learn more and get skills.
So I completed a pre-foundation art course and worked to build up a portfolio. I worked hard but it always felt natural. I entered competitions and won a few awards, which gave me the confidence to push further and study a Bachelor of Visual Arts at AIT (now AUT, Auckland University of Technology) with a major in photography and lithography.
My uni course was interesting but I had itchy feet. I felt I could be learning on the ground, working on sets instead of being in a classroom experimenting. So I left the course early, took a leap of faith and jumped into the professional world of photography.
I was eager to learn about the business side of the trade to understand how I could live on doing something I loved without compromising my creative integrity. It may sound ambitious and with hindsight, it had the arrogance and naivety of the youth but I am glad I mustered the courage to go for it when I did. Because I learnt a lot throughout this transition.
I learnt patience and humility as well as confidence and focus are on par with hard work when it comes to succeed. I was constantly cold-calling Auckland’s advertising and commercial photographers, asking if they needed an assistant. I spent months calling people, never giving up, always asking for an opportunity to assist and show my work until someone gave me a break.
This is a part that is very important to me. Keeping the creative process as exciting as it was my early years is key to me. I work hard at constantly renewing this creative enthusiasm and this is why I love collaborating with people who push me out of my comfort zone, who teach me about different ways of seeing the world. Those creative partnerships are fuel to my soul. They allow me to always push myself further but also to know exactly where I stand creatively.
Having a good understanding of your creative purpose is important for an artist. This is why, back in 2004, I started to dedicate more time to my own work. I needed to tell my own story through my medium.
As I started to work on personal projects, I found my voice as an artist but also in my commercial work. My work flow became very natural on set with larger crews. I became aware of who I was as a leader on a shoot - as a photographer, you do direct often, so being clear about what you want to achieve and knowing how to communicate that vision is crucial for a productive outcome. I learnt how I wanted to get the best out of people to create together and why I wanted it to do it this way. This gave me a lot of clarity in my career but also in my personal creative journey. It made me very aware of who and why I was as a visual artist.
So when people who are interested in becoming a photographer ask me for my how-to, I reply: get hands-on, real-life experience.
Absorb as much as you can from assisting professionals, from observing the world, from asking questions. Running a business requires a whole other skill set to being a photographer, so talk to people in the industry, and value yourself, your time and your knowledge.
It may be hard to know who you are as an artist but never sell yourself short. It doesn't mean you have to be a diva about the work you're offered or the people you work with. It means that you know who you are and how you can express the world through your own lens. So be confident about saying it clearly and standing firm when you feel it is right creatively.
Just follow the creative path you know you’re on. It is your voice as a visual artist but also your unique selling point as a professional.
I hope that learning more about my story helps some creative minds to take the leap of faith and understand their own creative purpose.
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I am thrilled to kickstart my Creative Conversations blog series with an insanely talented stylist with whom I love to create visual stories.
Melle Van Sambeek (also known as @sailor_and_scout_home on Instagram), is an Australian- born, Auckland-based multi-talented stylist who I met a few years ago on a photoshoot.
How do creative people collaborate? Where do you find your inspiration? People always ask me these questions so I thought I should share with everyone a few conversations I am having with some of my favourite collaborators on being a creative and creating together in a new blog series called Creative Conversations.
Auckland-based artist Helen Bankers has always been attracted to the natural world. Her work has taken her around the world for a myriad of publications and brands, but when she’s not on assignment Helen loves exploring the creative side of photography.
“Throughout my career I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of leading a balanced life,” says Helen. “I realised that I have an overwhelming desire to produce a more artistic and illustrative side of work.”
Outside of her magazine and commercial projects, Helen can be found in her home studio creating work that celebrates the natural world. She has a sharp eye for detail and particularly likes working with flora and fauna.
“I’m inspired by the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, and Australian florists such as Saskia Havekes at Grandiflora. I enjoy looking at the fine form and intricacy of flowers and plants,” says Helen, who lives with her engineer husband Dan and daughter Isla, in the eastern suburbs.
“From that passion grew a series with a focus on botanical studies.”
The abstract images, which often combine close-up detail, colour and texture, form the basis of Helen’s Limited Edition Fine Art Prints collection.
As well as having a passion for photographing nature, Helen has a talent for interiors and portrait photography. “I have a love for people and interiors,” she says. “I love telling the story of someone’s life journey through their homes and how their homes reflect the lifestyle they lead,” she says.
*From my experience shooting interiors, I’ve been inspired to create a range of botanical images that people can enjoy in and around the home.”
Helen’s Limited Edition Fine Art Prints are available on this site.
For art work leasing, please contact www.artassociates.co.nz
Available for private commissions – please enquire email@example.com
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