Inside this issue
Why Photography is Important
The catalyst for change
Linda Bembridge is an amateur photographer based in Buckinghamshire. She is passionate about photographing the landscape in all its forms. She strives to capture the emotion of the wide vista’s whilst at the same time discovering and exploring the beauty in the detail of the ‘intimate landscape’ all around us.
I should start by appending the words "to me" to the title of this article. Photography matters to lots of us, as minimum to every reader of this publication but I want to spend a little time talking about how I know how important my photography has been, is, and will continue to be to me. Without it am honestly not sure where I would be now.
I don't trace my photographic heritage to a box brownie that I played with when I was 8. I started much later than that. My parents were very enthusiastic amateur photographers, my father worked exclusively in monochrome and would spend most Sunday mornings at Speakers Corner enjoying all the characters on offer at that time. My mother enjoyed all styles of photography, always working in bright colours on the basis of an implicit 'no compete' clause. They tried their damnedest to get either my sister or I to show some (any!) enthusiasm for taking a photograph but we managed to resist for many, many years. My sister still to this day.
When digital cameras were starting to become affordable, around 15 years ago now,
After a couple of months of trying to work out what on earth I was doing something started to click (literally!) and I began to think that there might be something to this whole photography lark. I continued to play, to try out different settings and scenes to see what worked and (shock horror!) to read the dreaded manual which was admittedly much thinner in those days.
A year or two later I could feel the bug starting to bite quite seriously and I realised that if I was going to make any progress in terms of my own learning and ability to take a half-decent image I needed to start looking for some outside influences that I could use to develop my still very limited skills and hopefully establish some direction.
I joined a local Camera Club and started to get involved in that scene. At the time this was a good decision, it allowed me to learn from those around me, talk to people about photography stuff and, most importantly at the time, to gain some sort of feedback as to where I was in my photographic journey. I also joined an organisation called United Photographic Postfolios (UPP). UPP is a series of Postal or Digital Circles, each with different themes. I was lucky enough to join a print circle which focused on producing small mounted prints; the prints could be no bigger than 12 square inches (any aspect ratio) in mounts measuring 7x5 inches. To this day I still think there is something quite beautiful about very small prints regardless of their subject.
The years rolled by and I continued to develop my style. Landscape was my primary focus with a developing interest in abstracting that landscape in as many ways as I could as my skills developed. This was very much my happy space and somewhere I retreated into when I was left to my own devices.
My home life was changing over that period too. My career which centred around financial software within a highly regulated industry was getting busier and busier but my home life was crumbling at the same time. A marriage which was falling apart coupled with supporting close family through some incredibly challenging illnesses meant that stress levels were sky high most of the time and in every direction. Photography was a refuge for me during these years and I immersed myself in the various challenges presented by the RPS and FIAP. This gave me a much-needed focus while I tried to keep every else together.
As with all things of this nature, time rolls on and some things resolve themselves and some break. My marriage fell apart and I returned to being a single woman the same week that I achieved my Fellowship from the RPS. The family illnesses continue but in a steady and much more manageable state than before.
Work however continued to ramp up and I allowed it to gradually take whatever of me there was left to take. I also needed to recover financially from my divorce so it ticked a few boxes at the time too. In an effort to keep the photography going and with the need to find new challenges and goals I decided that wildlife photography was going to be the next big thing for me. I bought a big lens and started to go out 'shooting' wildlife, highly unsuccessfully I might add. I continued to push this new obsession until I found myself one day on a beach in South Georgia surrounded by penguins in freezing, driving rain with the very real risk that the turn the weather had taken made the necessary zodiac trip back to ship extremely dangerous. I very quietly just sobbed. That was the moment I decided I was done with photography. When I arrived back home the big wildlife lens was sold and the rest of my photographic equipment went into the loft still dirty and still in its camera bag. It stayed there for 4 years while work took over my life.
In the summer of 2018, I was as close to career burnout as it was possible to get without actually tipping over the edge. I was however self-aware enough to know that I couldn’t carry on and needed something to start to provide a counterbalance. I very clearly remember being at a music event in the July of that year. I was walking across a field with a friend checking my emails (my default mode while not actually working) and seeing a newsletter from a mailing list which had as its header an image by Valda Bailey. I stopped in my tracks. I had never seen an image like it! The fact that this sort of work could be produced using a camera as it's starting point was something I just couldn’t take in at the time, it was a complete revelation to me. That moment in time I can still visualise, I can see exactly where I was standing in that field, remember what my friend was saying and how far I was through the cup of tea that I held in my other hand, that tiny little trigger was the start of my very embryonic (second) photographic journey.
When I got home, I dug out my camera bag, which due to my not having cleaned anything I needed to cut open with strong scissors, and started to assess the situation. I very quickly established that my camera was too old to do any of the fancy stuff that I now needed it to do if I was to attempt any of the artistic photography that I now wanted to try (mainly multiple exposures). I also had heavy lenses which were great for landscapes and pin sharp when I needed them to be but I couldn’t face carrying all this kit again so I decided to trade absolutely everything in for one new camera body and one zoom lens (28-300). I remember lugging everything up to a camera shop in London for the trade-in on one of the hottest days of that summer, not one of my best decisions! I took my new camera and lens home and put them, still in their boxes back in the loft. I still hadn't resolved the issue of time.
I was lucky enough to grab a cancellation space onto a 5-day photographic workshop in February 2019 to Morocco with Valda Bailey and Doug Chinnery. This would be the first holiday I had taken from my work in more years than I care to admit and I still had no idea whether I wanted to take a photograph. I did know that I needed something to start to provide some sort of balance in my life otherwise I am not sure where I would've ended up. Whether that something was photography though, well I didn't have a backup plan so I was a bit stuffed.
I took my new toys out of their boxes a few days before the trip and started to familiarise myself with them, then we were off! It was a real struggle being away from work, it was probably killing me slowly but it was also a powerful drug which would prove difficult to wean myself away from. I realised very quickly how much I had forgotten about the craft of taking a photograph before even thinking about trying to learn anything new so I needed to hit the ground running if I was going to make any use of the tuition on the trip. By the end of the 5 days I was excited about photography again, hurrah!! I knew that taking photographs was going to be my route to introducing some sort of balance into my life. Given that I didn't have a Plan B this was a bit of a relief.
As 2019 progressed I concentrated on carving out small periods of time to get my camera out. I also started to see a life-coach who was incredibly good at helping me to work out strategies to put work pressures into perspective. She helped me make time for me and to recognise and stop the feelings of guilt I had when I did put photography ahead of my work. I gradually started to learn my way around a camera again and to take/make some images that gave me some satisfaction. This was the catalyst I needed to start to redress the work-life balance and I switched to part-time work at the start of 2020. It quickly became clear that part-time wasn't going to work at all for anyone involved, I just didn’t have that sort of job, so I decided to stop completely at the end of February, I couldn’t go back to how things used to be. Given how much the world has changed since then I probably would've lost my job anyway so I am pleased that it was my decision and on my terms.
I am not sure what the future holds for me both in terms of whether I will work again or where my photography will take me but I know that my work/life balance was probably going to finish me off if I didn't do something about it. Getting back into photography again has been that catalyst for change that I so badly needed. Seeing that image from Valda was enough to start a process which I think probably saved me from goodness only knows what. I certainly know that I am happier now than I've been for a long time. As they say, it's been a journey!