After doing a semester in Groningen studying Fine Art (click here for that review), I decided that as much as I loved what I was doing and how much a learnt and developed, it was time to put all of that to the test. For the second half of this past year I have been travelling and undertaking community based documentary projects, as this is what I plan to do long term in my future.
Of course, I was apprehensive about all of this. Chucking in the security of being in a school and a constant environment for travelling and working solo. This was a huge leap, and there was a lot more work to be done and in fact more stress. Working with new communities and around the world is hard, and solo travel for the first time is a bit daunting. However, it turned out to be the best time of my life and taught me valuable skills and developed myself and my practice in ways I could not have in any university or school environment.
I am very much interested in identity, and this is something that flows through all of my work be it community identity or personal identity. I am also interested in exploring, documenting and sharing different cultures so that has been the aim of my current projects. This has taken me all over the Europe so far, Sweden, France, and my biggest project to date ended last week in the Outer Hebrides. Next stop is Bali to make a comparative project to my previous one in the Outer Hebrides, exploring what unites communities all over the world, and what makes them unique. Bringing all these aspects together has been fascinating, taking me to places and experiences I never thought I would do, and meeting amazing people from all different backgrounds who are now contacts in different places for future projects. I met people travelling from all over, who are interested in my work and who want to work with me again, or people who have connected me with people in Bali that can help with my next project. I am extremely honoured to be welcomed back to Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, a community historical centre on the Isle of Lewis where I done a lot of interviews and research for my Galson project, and I would love to go back and make a follow up in the future. Experiences I have had, range for sailing a boat to going weeks without phone service and wifi (which is surprisingly and disappointingly harder than I thought) to generally immersing myself into different cultures. For more on this make sure to check out my other blog posts that go into more detail on this.
As I previously mentioned, I have learnt a whole range of skills and lessons that I would not have if I was in education during this time. Working full time self employed on these projects has been a learning curve, as instead of working to deadlines and schedules set by others, all I had was myself. I had to set all my own deadlines, and aims and expectations of my project and work my hardest to meet them. Anyone who knows me knows I like to take on a lot of work and have a strong perfectionist streak so this was both a simple and hard task. Simple being I know I can work alone, difficult being that I had to know when to shut off and create boundaries for myself. My confidence has considerably grown, both in my work and when interacting with others. I am now more comfortable sharing my work with strangers, being assertive in what I want out of them for my work, and pushing outside of my comfort zone to achieve this. My confidence with talking to others has increased to, and my communication skills. Working with different people I can now read people better and tailor communication to the person, and subject. General confidence has increased a lot more, I can go up to people and say “hi, this is my project, can I interview you and take a photo of you for it please?” without worry. This confidence has grown as far as hitchhiking, something I never thought I would have the guts to do.
Deciding to undertake these international documentary projects has been the best decision I have made for myself, my work, and my career. I have developed in myself and made connections with people all over the world. My work has dramatically improved, I have found my specific area of interest and worked out the approach for it which is best for me and what I want to show. For example, with the Galson project I have experimented with a range of presentation methods from video work to online publishing and books. This chance to give my career a kick start and see if it really is what I want has been great, it has solidified that yes, I want to be documentary photographer exploring communities. It has showed me how to approach this, and given me a vast range of contacts for projects after I graduate.
If you have the chance to do both studying abroad and undertaking your own work experience, I one hundred percent recommend it, as despite the struggles and difficult times I learnt a lot more and gained more experiences to carry with me to my final year at uni and beyond graduation than if I had stayed studying for the whole year. I am not saying one experience was better or more valuable than the other, but both of them together changed and developed my work beyond my expectations. Getting the chance to study in a new environment and looking at Art as a whole, then put into practice what I learnt in a international and work environment.
My time working and travelling isn’t up yet, with a trip to Bali in May and my Galson project currently being finalised. Make sure to follow the blog to keep up to date on my adventures and progress. I cannot wait to share with you all the final result of my time in the Outer Hebrides, a portrait of the community.