As I wrote about in a previous post, I have had my share of adversity in life. When I listen to motivational speakers talking about negative experiences they often call them a “blessing” because they changed their life in a positive way, and I sit there thinking to myself that they probably haven’t experienced real adversity. I spent 10 of the best years of my adult life in bed, critically ill, in total isolation, skint and unable to even clean my teeth and there is no part of that which is a blessing.
However, having been lucky enough to have come out the other side I now have two choices in how to live the rest of my life: I am either angry about all that I have lost as a result of my ongoing health issues or thankful for all that I still have. I can either see the time as a waste or I can choose to focus on what the experience has taught, and continues to teach, me.
I wrote in this post about the bullying I was subjected to at my previous camera club and while at the time it was a really awful and upsetting experience, I now look back and thank the bullies. Due to the situation I left the Club and that turned out to be a positive move for me. No-one wants to be in an organisation where they are resented and not encouraged to reach their highest potential and I am now at a Club which very much values my contribution.
I had two choices in how to react to being bullied. I could hide in a corner feeling defeated and alone, or I could use the experience as motivation. There is nothing bullies hate more than seeing their victim succeed and almost in defiance I chose to put myself ‘out there’ in ways I hadn’t previously felt the need to do. As a consequence, I won the biggest photography competition of my life to date, achieved global recognition, have won 9 international gold medals, began speaking at Clubs about my experience and last week received feedback saying my Overcoming Obstacles talk was “the best I’ve ever attended”. I made a conscious choice to use the experience as a personal motivational tool.
Similarly, the pandemic has had zero positive components and although it was a worrying, stressful and very anxious time for everyone I chose to use those emotions in a creative way. It was during lockdown that I produced The Enemy Outside, my global FIAP winning image which brought me to the attention of the largest photography organisation in the world and is now being exhibited in Beijing.
Impactful photographs evoke emotion in the viewer. Whether that’s a “awwww”, a “eughhhh”, a “wow” or a “how the hell did she do that?” you want your audience to feel something when they look at your pictures. And it’s impossible to evoke emotions in other people unless you feel emotion yourself while you are making the image.
It’s often difficult to be productive when you are in the midst of strong emotions, particularly if they negative, but as you start to come to terms with a situation it can be cathartic to express your thoughts and feelings on paper. And you can guarantee that at least one person who views your picture will have experienced similar emotions and will feel a connection through those to your work.
While we often can’t control the situations in which we find ourselves, like a genetic disease or a global pandemic, we can control the way we react and, for me, the creative outlet of my photography helps me make sense of an often senseless world and enables me to focus on the positives and let go of the negatives.