On Friday 31st August – which also happens to be my birthday – Birmingham Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Future Faces awards dinner. This year held at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, it was an evening to celebrate success and achievements across different sectors: arts and culture; entrepreneurship; technology and innovation; legal; finance; industry; sales, marketing and communications; and third sector.
I’m proud to say I was shortlisted for the Arts and Culture award along with Alicia Daniels from Aston Performing Arts Academy; Daniel Alcorn from Badego/Birmingham Design Festival/Substrakt; Anisa Haghdadi from Free Radical (Beatfreeks Arts); and Laura Tellwright from Town Hall Symphony Hall.
In all honesty, I was certain I wasn’t going to win. The other shortlisted entrants were so strong and I’d always felt like an outsider to these kinds of events. My husband, Andrew Ward, is a thought leader on the tech scene and being the entrepreneur he his, runs several tech companies including his web app agency, Scorchsoft. As a result, he is a regular at these kinds of corporate awards nights, himself being a finalist for Birmingham Young Professional of the Year 2017, winning the Silicon Canal award for Most Influential Male in Tech in 2016 and also taking home his own Future Face award, this one for Entrepreneurship, back in 2016.
I had always bemoaned that fact that the arts never seemed represented in all of these various awards nights so I was delighted to see that the category for Arts and Culture was last year added to the Chamber of Commerce Future Faces Awards.
Working as a unit stills photographer means it can be really difficult to celebrate your work the way most established photographers do. We do not own the copyright to the images we create, and so it can be almost impossible to get permission to display work in exhibitions, books or submit them into prestigious industry competitions. I saw Future Faces as a rare opportunity to be able to share my successes and I am excited to say I won the award!
When you are just focused on doing the best work you can and forever strive to improve, it can be easy to forget how far you’ve come. I wasn’t sure if I had as much to shout about as some of the other shortlisted candidates, but when I sat down and thought about where I had started out and where I found myself now, I can honestly say it made me feel proud.
I grew up in one of the most economically deprived areas of the country, Blackpool, where the arts just weren’t seen as a viable career option. When you’re from a low-income background, you don’t have the financial safety net that enables you to take risks associated with a career in the arts, or even self-employment and many people in this situation feel a heavy pressure to put aside their passions in favour of a seemingly more reliable career path. Even after I achieved the highest GSCE results my high school had ever had, my friends and family would often suggest I have a “back-up plan.”
Being the stubborn person I am, I ignored their advice and committed myself to a 3-year photography degree, moving out and accumulating thousands of pounds in personal debt knowing that my parents would never be able to support me financially if I didn’t make it work. I knew entrepreneurship would be important, so I supplemented my degree studies with my own reading and research into entrepreneurship and self-employment. As soon as I graduated I moved to Birmingham with my boyfriend (now husband) and immediately enrolled onto Birmingham’s BSEEN entrepreneurship program where I learned valuable skills on how to network, pitch, sell and market.
Now 28, 10 years after picking up my first camera, not only have I established a career as a professional photographer, but I’ve done it within one of the most difficult industries to permeate: big- budget film and TV. One rife with sexism and nepotism, though thankfully the former has definitely been on the out.
In a job that is typically held by men over the age of 40, I am now one of the youngest and exceptionally few female (I have only ever come across 3 others) unit photographers to have made it into this role full-time in the UK. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with actors including Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie and Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne, photograph Stephen Hawking, and had my work printed on huge billboards across London.
Thanks to amazing photographers such as Jay Maidment and David Appleby who mentored me in my first months and gave me my first door opening opportunities, and to whom I will be forever gratefully, I have wanted to give back. To this end I have, and continue to try and give other young photographers the opportunity to shadow me on set, or give me time to answering questions about the job and offer advice. I’ve also spoken publicly at BSEEN entrepreneurship events about my experiences as a creative professional and entrepreneur, helping those at the start of their journey to make the right decisions, as well as provide free workshops to students at The Royal Conservatoire, Birmingham on actor headshots.
Though I feel I have achieved a lot since starting on my path as a unit stills photographer in 2011, I still have a long way to go in my career and I’m constantly learning and developing my skills. My biggest aspirations include being the main unit photographer on a big action or superhero movie, shooting a poster that makes in into my local cinema, and the honour of being accepted into the Society for Motion Picture Stills Photographers alongside the incredible photographers who constantly inspire me with their work such as Jasin Boland, Giles Keyte, Kimberly French and Jaap Buitendijk.
I want to give a huge congratulations for all the finalists and award winners of Future Faces 2018, as well as a massive thank you to all of the photographers who have inspired me, the programmes that have developed me and my husband who has been not only my best friend, but also my mentor and role model for the last 10 years, in helping me get to where I am today, and I hope that the arts will continue to get support and funding to enable others from less well-off backgrounds to follow their dreams.
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