My words of 2012: Value, voice, & vocation.

Here we are at the close of another grand year. 2012 has been materially fruitful, shooting in London, Paris, LA, New York – and even Dubai on a holiday. I’ve had a second book published with Ilex/Pixiq, Creative Portrait Photography, and created lots of new work – with the apocalyptic symbolism of the year of 2012 having its uncanny resonance on my personal work. And so now I look back over 2012 with my beady third eye… to reflect in a way that I hope will help others in their journeys too.

At the end of 2011, my review began with saying it was a year of “making things happen in the face of not being able to get quite what I want”. Those words are just as appropriate a year later, in fact, I have the impression those words will be carried to the end of my days. Especially in this economic climate, where people are largely waking up to what is a faulted system rather than just a blip within it, you are forced to come to terms with your real purpose as an artist and as a human. Only those who are undubiously passionate about image-making could possibly want to persist in a saturated and often disheartening photography world. This applies to the purpose of life as well as just a ‘career’ – how you spend your working days is a declaration of what you believe to be life’s purpose. This year has been even better, only because I feel I’m growing in spiritual wealth all the time. I continue to learn that success follows happiness, not the other way round.

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The Fashion Shoot Experience

At the end of 2011, Matthew and I celebrated our first 6 Fashion Shoot Experiences in London. This year, we celebrate making it internationally, having done 2 big events in NY and LA, as well as more in London. Our client base has grown considerably, we have tons more experience in putting together large productions, dealing with obstacles and plenty more  – a really good dose of life experience – and so we head into 2013 with great confidence for the next adventures. Already underway are plans for shoots in new London locations, new countries and even filmic fame glimmering on the horizon for the spring…

Above: from our LA event in Oct!

Our event means the world to me. It brings us a form of consistency in the erratic creative world. But it’s also a way for us (my partner Matthew and I) to be truly authentic about our attitude to photography and avoid robotic repetition – through the diversity of new locations, models and styling. Each and every event is a new visual adventure, which keeps us passionate. The photographers who come want the space to think for themselves; experiencing the pleasure of a professionally structured social event, whilst having creative autonomy. Interesting characters from all different professions have become our friends. Of course, having the space to shoot for myself too allows me to build my own images. Yet I would never want the entire location and crew to myself even if I could. It reminds me repeatedly that my viewpoint is merely one, and that whilst I love to create my works independently, the greatest pleasure in life is sharing resources; clubbing together to make the amazing possible.

Above: montage from this year of Surreal Fashion. Migration Season (bottom left of the grid above) was this year published in Vogue Italia and exhibited at 101 Photographers in Milan. (See my making of video, From Pixels to Vogue.)

Above: Girl of prey, from a fantastic workshop we co-hosted with Trey Ratcliff in November in Paris. (View all on flickr.) This was a wonderful situation to show others my process whilst truly being engaged in the process artistically. The whole workshop was filmed and will soon be available to see. This was a highlight of the year for being such a memorable social occasion as well as stunning location opportunity.

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1: VALUE. Being your own brand

The key word from this year, that I will carry into 2013, is ‘value’. Value, as in quality. That notion is key to our Experience event, but everything we learn about being photographers we can apply to life too. Matthew and I practice value in our personal lives which follows through to the professional life. One of the best decisions I’ve made (going back a few years) was that we will eat like kings every day, with fresh healthy (organic) food, regardless of budget or perceived fears about it. There is no price to put on wellbeing, and food is so essential to everything we are mentally as well as physically. (Anyone who follows me on twitter will see these kind of topics seeping into my posts!) The same follows through to other aspects of life, and into photography: once we decided we would be our own ‘kings’ and make our own opportunities, the opportunities have come. ‘Value’ is the word: valuing ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our work – which are all interconnected. Don’t wait for money, don’t wait for permission, don’t wait for luck – just do it.

Something this year helped me learn this lesson:

‘Day of gardening, and meeting with one of the biggest ad agencies in the world! I preferred the gardening’

That was a tweet I wrote back in the spring. In channelling my professional direction into advertising, I got a meeting with a high-end agency. On the day that had been booked for months, the people in the meeting turned out to be embarrassingly unprofessional. We encountered at least three different types of ego within the space of half an hour. They admired my work but could not (or dared not) translate it commercially, and instead slapped someone else’s portfolio in my lap to look at. They then proceeded to spent the rest of the time making comments about my physical portfolio presentation. I left feeling unshaken confidence in my actual work, but disappointed in what I believed was a mistaken perceived incongruity. I wandered around Tesco afterwards deep in thought, reluctant at the time to make too many judgements from just one meeting, but months later I feel it played a poignant role in sparking my intuition, that I don’t wish to grovel to ‘higher-ups’ in this way. Life is just too short for voluntarily enduring tests of time to ‘get in’ with an agency that plays it safe when it comes to artistry, calling you in like a technician rather than a real creative. I realised the illusion of the situation –  that meeting was never the way into getting work with them anyway – at least with dignity and without spirit-sapping struggle. The way to get work is to go away and paddle your own canoe, and have them chase after you. So I decided, whether they chase me or not, I’ll paddle my own canoe!

(Above: Skywatcher)

It was a moment when I simply had to look at my work and see the answer there; I shouldn’t tell it what direction to take. Art and business can, and do meet, but I don’t want to devote my life to mediocre work, or difficult/heavily compromised situations, just to ‘get by.’ A quote that stays in mind: “Adventure might hurt you, but monotony will kill you”. Another one that’s stuck with me: ‘Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter”. If you live a life of boring and unsatisfying work, the truth is, how much of a life are you really living? If we can’t take anything with us at the end of this life, surely what is left is only our contribution. I’ll harangue you with a third quote that comes up repeatedly in my head whilst I drive, sleep, write, eat: “Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive… then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

It was a little while later that I started working on a big commission for a Mayfair restaurant, the most adventurous piece of work I’ve ever embarked on. It is a large-scale, surreal face, which is going to be printed and hung at least 2 metres tall. I have not yet shared the image online but will ‘unveil’ it in the New Year. It was an exciting challenge to create something to a brief and purpose, and yet to be respectfully trusted to deliver my own artistry. Those are the kind of opportunities my figurative teeth were made to bite into!

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2: VOICE. “The free-range artist”

Another year of sharing images online has confirmed my love for this liberating medium of sharing. I wrote an article called The free range artist which if you haven’t seen, please do. It is important to me to carry on sharing work online, as much as making and taking more physical opportunities (and I mean using the internet to release ‘new’ work, not just having an online presence), because I always want to be in number one control of who I am. It’s taken me a while to reach this realisation, because the allure of progression beyond the internet and handing yourself over to ‘bigger fish’ seems to promise more status or profit, but actually, the status I desire is just to be myself without a mask. It’s obvious we all want to be in the driving seat when it comes to creativity, but it’s also about wanting to navigate the plane too; not be directed by someone sitting beside you. I love the freedom of choosing to share images on my own terms, not always for direct material gains, but also for spiritual gains.

Above: Monochrome montage from this year.

At the end of 2011 I said I was anticipating creating radical and probing images in 2012. I made a start, but they’re merely the peering tip of a desired iceberg. In some of them I’ve felt a certain ‘shift’ in when posting, so I was a little nervous of how they’d be received. Their World (below) was accompanied on flickr with a particularly long text discussing GMOs. I also referred to geoengineering. That’s a topic that is still surrounded by controversy but is gaining awareness and discussion.

These images were all a bit different in tone, but they did something new and potentially risky: touching in various degrees upon the environmental, humanitarian and even political. I told myself that negative reactions didn’t matter anyway, because I had to do what I felt so strongly about. For that reason I was pleased that they became my most shared images on Facebook. I also made more subtle geoengineering references in nudes shot in California: Stratasurf, Sun block, and Skyfall. I’m not one to force an image to fit a message in my head – the visuals always have to lead, like the man in a dance – and I have to always be completely honest about what the image outcome ’says to me’ conceptually.

Above: Passing of an Eclipse. Together with Nature’s Guests (further below) they are two surrealist non-portraits – a new thing for me this year.

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3: VOCATION. Thinking about life purpose?

I posted recently on my Facebook page asking people what springs to mind when asked about their purpose or even ‘mission’ of their life. It’s nice to take a rain check to evaluate why we do what we do, especially with such a large and engaging community of photographers online. The more time we spend looking at other people’s stuff, sometimes we lose sight of what the point of our own stuff really is. I was fortunate to meet Kirsty Mitchell a couple of times this year (also a contributor in my book) and what particularly inspires me about her is the impression that her work is literally the air she breathes. To me, the obstacles she faces are all but speed bumps on a road to gargantuan success because I can see her heart is so transfixed in what she is creating, not what others are creating. Rather than self-absorption though, it’s more like tight focus and body-shattering dedication. The time and money she puts into her creations is clear evidence of the high value she places on it. That is what makes a successful artist to me – whatever you aim to do with your end results – whether that’s to sell in a gallery for lots of money, or purely distribute over the net.

We are all but nature’s guests.

And the more I create images, particularly of the Ecology set, the more I realise what my ultimate goals are. I feel that material successes are not the end goal in itself, they are only pleasant side dishes to the deeper picture you subscribe your life to. For most people the purpose of simply emboldening the artist’s name and ego is the unquestioned goal, but surely there is more to it than that? I am feeling increasingly that part of my real, core, ‘dying’ purpose is to help open other people’s minds; not to tell them what to think, but to inspire them to think. I realise that my life in general has been lacking in these kind of role models. Through the people whose minds I touch, and the minds they go on to touch, I want to help shape a world where people are not scared to stand alone to question things and to speak out about truths. For that is the road to real salvation and liberation – our world is suffering on levels deeper and more corrupt than than most of us know. But I want to achieve all this by simply being a normal human being, with a life full of the things you have too – not some kind of hippie/anarchist stereotype. I want to use a new yet common language, to make mistakes, to enjoy humour, to be human – because my purpose will always be simply to engage with others.

‘Don’t try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human’. (Tony Robbins)

People say that it’s rare for artists to discuss politics or environmental/social issues. But instead of accepting it’s odd, I wonder whether I can challenge it. Aim to be an artist who plays with both beautiful fantasies and cruel realities; both whimsical images and political ponderings? Just because something is seldom done, does not make it impossible, only something new to try! On the whole, as artists, we all need to fear criticism less. Because, surely, any friction is surely a sign that change is being made? Nothing moves without it.

Below, Parasite: where I invited the comments of my audience to use their thoughts on humanity, to chart the anatomy of ‘the human parasite’.

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Plans for 2013…?

The Fashion Shoot Experience will become better, slicker, and more developed as a business with a VIP members’ list to come, collaborations and other opportunities. I’ll keep adding to Surreal Fashion with a dedicated book to emerge at the right time, other book projects are also in the pipeline. I’ll also be getting married at some point ;-)

With regards to my more ‘personal’ (or rather, environmental) work, I have instincts rather than goals. Instincts to create more thought-provoking images that might take some time to emerge (as I don’t usually pre-plan compositions specifically). My bones are aching daily to do something meaningful for our world through a particular angle or ‘cause’ for no other profit than that of the immeasurable raising of consciousness in the people who see it. I have an idea in the pipeline which will merge these urges with participation from others, in what could be a masterplan concept. I am in the process of doing some research and will be sharing this in the New Year!

I’m sure there will be other surprises that emerge in 2013 as I grow another year older, and feel more and more alive all the time.

Above: Corkscrew and below, The Fourth Soil, equally my two favourite self-portraits this year.

As this blog has been a sparse sales patch most of this year, please be sure to check out articles I’ve written this year on other blogs: Camera Obscura, Pixiq and Phlearn, and I also had an interesting long interview with Aline Smithson on Lenscratch.

If you’ve got down here – well done! Thanks for reading, and your comments on any aspects of it are very welcome below. You can also comment on Facebook.

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Posted in Essays, musings on December 27th, 2012 | 12 Comments |

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Comments for “My words of 2012: Value, voice, & vocation.”

    1. mark boucher
      7:32 pm on December 27th, 2012

      Very interesting blog. I like a lot the fact that you take risks with your photos, you don’t always do the same thing.

    2. Jamie
      8:01 pm on December 27th, 2012

      Dear MISS ANIELA,

      Wow! I would like to offer my services to help in any way, I am great at carrying bags and putting up light stands, if you need Paris location scouts or help at all please let me know!
      JAC

    3. Alicai Savage
      8:03 pm on December 27th, 2012

      Thank you for writing and posting this! So many great thoughts from this that I will remind myself of as I venture into 2013.

    4. Carl Hensley
      2:24 am on December 28th, 2012

      Refreshing to know your purpose is always to engage others. You add strength to my motivation to make the world a better place for having been here. Challenge the status quo and focus on the wounds and causes of the world’s wounds. You are esteemed :)

    5. André Rivest
      3:45 am on December 28th, 2012

      Wonderful, thoughtful and very inspiring post. All the best for 2013!

    6. Ben Brian Bat
      8:41 am on December 28th, 2012

      Wonderful words for wonderful year my dear x

    7. Michael
      2:24 pm on December 28th, 2012

      WOW…what a great blog post. I’ve been a long time admirer of your art but never realized what an artist with words you are as well. I look forward to what amazing creations you will gift the world in the coming year!

    8. Will
      7:05 pm on December 28th, 2012

      Hello Natalie

      A delightful read and account of your year.

      When I first met you, or rather on the way to one of your experience shoots (Deptford) I was reading your book. The guy next to me took a real interest and asked if I was shooting with you that day. I thought it was a passing interest but it was because he knew your work, your images. I remember telling Matt this on the day and how surprised he was and how proud he was. The surprise I’m guessing is because the impact and exposure was already wider than he was aware of.

      It’s truly magical to see how this is growing. So many more will be treated to more amazing experiences too.

      I’ve no doubt you will continue to move people creatively, emotionally and intellectually for many more moons to come, but selfishly, I am just so grateful for how you ’switched’ that on in me.

      Congratulations to you both for this amazing year and sincere best wishes for 2013 and eternal matrimony.

      Kindest regards

      Will

    9. Bernie
      1:58 pm on December 29th, 2012

      I’m so glad you posted this before the end of the year. I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to redesign my website and make a declaration post in the near future so it was very interesting to see how you did something similar.

    10. Orangefilter
      4:18 pm on January 7th, 2013

      It makes me somehow very proud to have watched you grow over the last few years,…both as a photographer and in finding your path. I am forever a fan of your skills in both photography and in your intelligent and unabashed form of writing….I think there is so much more to pour from your soul over the coming years….Good luck and best wishes to both you and the “Wolf Man”…

    11. Kristen Coley
      8:01 pm on February 18th, 2013

      I just received both of your books as a giveaway winner from Ilex/Pixiq and you have inspired me in ways I never thought possible. I’m still new to photography and your two books opened up a whole new world to me. Congrats on all your success, I’m so glad to have found you and excited to be a new follower.

    12. Ryan
      6:40 pm on August 21st, 2013

      Skywatcher Jumped right out to me. Excellent production. The pose and the way the arms are seems very primal to me!.. Great Work… I will be following you from here out : )..

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