In my most recent monthly subscriber letter I shared the exciting (for me) news that I have been offered, and have accepted a place on a BA (Hons) Documentary Photography course at the University of South Wales. At rapidly approaching 50 I will finally go to university and become a mature student, or perhaps an ‘extra mature’ student.
Having left school at 16 with a small handful of unexpectedly mediocre O’levels my adult life has been plagued by self doubt and low confidence with regards to academia and careers. While I have undoubtedly had the great benefit of a rich and varied life, the slightly itinerant and intermittently expat life we’ve led as a family over the last 20 years has been pretty much all consuming. I truly do value the role of carer and the importance of supporting and nurturing others, but somehow I feel there’s more for me.
I have a need within me to create or make something that will feel like an achievement to be recognised and valued, to create some sort of legacy beyond my children and home. I’ve loved the process of bringing Oak Tree Barn to fruition (well, perhaps not ‘loved’ all of it for there has been a fair amount of hair pulling and teeth gnashing along the way), and I can certainly imagine more property renovations in the future but they don’t entirely scratch my creative itch somehow.
I have explored many forms of creativity over the years and have numerous wonky pots and drawers full of art supplies to prove it! A resistance to photography until recently should perhaps have told me something; I put my irritation at ‘everyone being a photographer these days’ down to an innate desire to not be one of the herd and perhaps I should have interpreted my frustration differently, but in any case, my interest over the last three years has slowly grown and nothing has quite intrigued me in the way that storytelling through photography has done.
I suspect my early attempts at photography rather put me off. I remembered during the application process that at 16, clutching my very first full week’s pay packet my parents generously told me that I need not make any household contribution that week but that I should go and spend it on something meaningful. My father and I went together to the camera shop at the end of Corn Street in Bristol and I bought a little point and press camera. I’d forgotten all about it and need to go and rummage through the loft to see if I can find some evidence of what I shot at that time.
What I do remember is the frequent disappointment I felt when picking up a packet of prints from the chemist (I sound so ancient!), those images were simply unrepresentative of what I saw or felt in the moment. Consequently I think I believed that I just wasn’t good at photography – much in the same way as I wasn’t considered good enough to pursue art at school, and nor was I allowed to study textiles or home economics as I was thought bright enough to study the sciences rather than being ‘creative’. It was an injustice that I have paid for and the fact that some 35 years later we still struggle with this academic subject hierarchy is both sad and frustrating.
So, battling through all the thoughts of self indulgence and huge imposter syndrome I am beginning again because I am acutely aware of ‘The Gap’ between the images I am currently able to create and those that I admire. It is this gap that I seek to bridge by undertaking a serious study of the subject; I hope that the rigour of an academic course combined with professional support and a diverse cohort will assist me in doing so.
Perhaps I’m a late bloomer, or maybe it’s just perfect timing, but as my children reach adulthood I want to embrace the opportunity to explore the world in greater depth through the medium of photography. I am a reflective learner: information needs time to filter into my brain before I am able to formulate questions and explore topics in greater depth, and I have found that having a visual reminder of a situation or event is very often the stimulus that prompts me to do so. Being able to capture a scene, or create an image, that invites others to be curious in the same way that I am is something I aspire to – to make photographs that will invite people to ask questions of both themselves and of the circumstances pictured.
In truth I don’t have a fixed idea of exactly what I will do following this degree, it is perhaps more of a personal quest, but to be regarded as a credible professional who is able to take pride in her own work feels important. Proving to myself that I have the capacity to study a topic in depth for a sustained period and acquiring the skills involved to reliably create images that invite people to stop, look and think about subjects that move me would be highly rewarding.
So, life will change a little. The Simpson Sisters might just take on a new guise, I have events booked until the end of the year which will all fit in nicely, but then I’ll see how it all feels. I’m playing with ideas and toying with the notion of building a new website. Is it time to be brave and stop hiding amongst my ‘sisters’? Much as I love being married to M, I’m rather fond of ‘Simpson’ so would like to continue using it and think perhaps it’s time to just be Vanessa Simpson. What do you think?