I was literally born with a camera in my hand, illegally photographing things as soon as I could crawl, and I owned my first camera by the age of 8.
As a young girl, I would creep into our family study and carefully open dad’s treasured SLR. I remember learning to be SO quiet whenever I went in there to get up to mischief.
As a child, I had very little idea about film, processing costs, or the actual value of his equipment, but pressing the shutter button and hearing the ‘click’ made my heart skip a beat. It’s one of my earliest memories.
If dad caught me I would always be in a world of trouble, and the blacked-out image prints would always give away my deviousness if he didn’t; I think my record was 18 black prints in one film roll.
I bought my first camera when I was 8 at a garage sale for 50c and soon learned the value of my pocket money.
Film was $8, developing was $15 and I earnt $0.50 a week if I did my jobs around the house and kept my bedroom tidy.
I worked for my big brother on his paper run to earn a few extra dollars. He was a very smart businessman, earning $15 for his round and paying me $0.50 for doing half of it.
Through high school I learnt the art of black and white photography and developing my own film in dark rooms… the old school way.
I would take 24 images at a time for assignments and develop a roll to find it blurry or worse, blank. No one understands the terror of NOTHING turning out and your deadline in two hours
I remember the time and again pulling out blank, clear film from the developing solution, but these all built lifelong lessons about concentration, accuracy, watching the light and creating with it. You really had to know your camera's limits and boundaries and experiment and push them. Sometimes it would pay off and sometimes it would be a total disaster.
Dodging and burning and retouching looked so different back then. There were so many lessons about accuracy, measurements, chemicals, and hope during these years.
At university began my introduction to digital photography and the Adobe creative suite. Digital was new and scary, although our course was at the forefront of evolving digital technologies, with photography, I was still in love with Dad's SLR. Digital felt like cheating, or it was too easy so the method and skill would somehow be lost. I kept my SLR for assignments through the second year and it wasn’t until many years later that I’d make the switch across to digital SLR.
I studied a Bachelor of Industrial Design for four years and I wish at the time, I had been brave enough to jump ship across to graphic design.
Every adventure has its lesson/reason and the parts of the course I loved are now pivotal in everything I do today. I won’t give it away yet, but my course is actually about to evolve full circle, and once again I have an opportunity to be at the forefront of technological advancements in my field. This was where I was first introduced to the Adobe suite via classroom in a book. A self-study with assessments thrown in from a book It was a fantastic adventure and I would get so many assessments wrong for “taking them too far” because what was being asked was far too easy. University certainly taught me many things. It was relentless with workload, homework, and learning. I remember friends partying their way through uni as I had 5-10 assignments due per week. I moved in with my best friend, who was doing the same course as me and we suffered through it all together. They are some of my favourite memories of those four years- sitting together in the lounge sanding models and watching reruns of mash, or on our computers swearing our way through assignments. It taught me to turn jobs around as precisely to perfection as possible and of the highest possible standard.
It taught me what quality workmanship looked like- which is why I’m so picky about my manufacturers and printers
It taught me patience in the madness. Things don’t always go to plan and sometimes walking away is the best outcome for everything.
Creativity strikes at really odd times and driving down the highway at 110km is not helpful when such events happen
I started my business officially in October of 2007, after graduating my degree at the end of 2006. I was a budding wedding photographer and grew a busy and successful business in Canberra and the surrounding regions. As a young couple, Chris and I travelled to many places which slowed down towards April of 2010, with the birth of my daughter.
As a young naive woman, I thought that our baby girl wouldn’t change much
instead learning she changed everything. Hubby was posted away a few months after she was born and solo mum life began.
My work slowly evolved into portraiture so I could be home with her more and my passion for weddings came to a bit of a stale mate. I adored the storytelling side to a wedding and I found that At first, I was missing that in my portrait work.
Looking back now, there were so many puzzle pieces I collected throughout my wedding life and during the first few years of portraiture, I just didn't know How They fit Together. I have since learnt that they come together as my version of Fantasy Portraits.
Because I had felt such a gap between weddings and portraiture storytelling, I began my journey to find out why that was…
With the pieces from my work missing, I got to work. I started researching how to build better connections and emotions into an image. I was very awkward during emotional photo sessions and I wanted to find tools to not only help me but to be able to support and bring that out for my clients more.
In 2007 we bought a new digital SLR and two lenses which were enough for us to have replaced one of our old cars. It was my first step into digital photography but I was adamant that you did it ALL in-camera and was a bit stuck in my ways.
I educated myself, and worked hard on my lighting and posing, researching the top magazines and photographers to see what they were doing and trying to replicate that. For some shoots, I completely missed the mark and for others, I began to see improvements in leaps and bounds. I worked on the biggest puzzle piece of all, the editing and finishing of an image. I FINALLY jumped into the digital age with both feet and worked on finished images in photoshop better than I ever had before.
At this point, I was shooting weddings almost every weekend and sometimes during the week, AND shooting fashion and creative sessions. I still miss the creative studio days with the models and makeup artists... BUT my work still didn't feel finished to me...
I was introduced to an incredible mentor, Jesh De Rox who taught me so much about connection and emotion in my work. I took a number of his courses and loved learning about creating moments for me to capture and learning when to click the shutter to capture them right at THAT moment. His ideas were at the forefront of photography, his courses were filled with so much knowledge and carried so much peaceful kindness to them, something that I haven't found in any course since. His work continues to inspire me even today.
I continued my love of learning professional level retouching, framing, textures, overlays and always endeavored to make every portrait better than the previous one so that I constantly learned something new in each image.
In 2009 I took a major step and bought my first professional-level Canon camera body. The 1Dmkiii was a dream and it was my love for over 11 years.
In early 2010 I created a dream-like landscape and personally loved it. It incorporated images from Belgium and Canberra that I had photographed, along with some textures and lighting flourishes. It was so easy to drift off to day dream land in looking at it that I named it my 'dreamscape". It captivated my clients a little bit, but that’s as far as it went at the time and I didn't explore it further.
None of my Portrait work had ever felt complete to me.
Whilst people loved their images, I had never achieved the “omg I LOVE that image of my child” moment consistently and I had been on a continual hunt for that since moving into portraiture in 2010.
My education journey continued and I found numerous skills through photographers all around the world. It was 2018 and the internet had kicked up many gears since I moved across to digital imaging. Online tutorials were becoming the new way to learn directly from creators you loved. Previously, a website called Creative Live had been a great source of education for me, but their courses weren’t quite hitting the mark I was chasing. For the record, I had NO idea what that was but in my gut it just wasn’t there yet.
During a photo manipulation course I found via a Facebook Ad (thanks mr algorithm!), I felt like I had FINALLY found a huge puzzle piece in my world. The way the artist created their worlds, AND had a person in them, clicked something inside my brain. Above my study desk was my original dreamscape and I had a massive “a ha!” moment followed by much eye rolling and wondering why I hadn’t thought of that earlier. I’ve always wondered why I can achieve something and leave it dormant for So many years, only to eventually come back to it and realise I should have been doing that all along 😂
I’d been told all my life that people should ignore me because I was ‘just creative’, that I’d paint houses with toothbrushes, that I lived in la la land, I was a weirdo, and so much more.
My creativity had always been seen as a bad thing. On this course the teacher was expressing how their journey had been much the same and how once she stepped into their creativity, those nasty comments had slowly ceased. I tried out a few ideas with my own children and found the bug for creating was exploding inside me. I secretly showed two of my closest people and received such a different reaction to normal. I made a couple more and their fascination grew.
I realised in this moment that I was going to move towards this style of creativity until I found my own style.
I was put in touch with a local textile artist through a great friend. Caroline Sharkey Textile Art was looking for a local photographer and Lucy Sattler knew I was in the area so connected us.
When I arrived at Carolines for our first meeting her studio sent my imagination into overdrive. Although we talked about what she needed capturing, we ventured off on many creative tangents and before long hours had passed and our friendship had been well and truly forged.
It was that good of a meeting that I can’t remember if I photographed that day or went back or a bit of both! I do remember putting a creative idea to her… I asked if I could borrow her quilts for an idea I had upon seeing it. We had a chat and I told her about the photomanipulation course and what I thought we could do with her textile art. She said yes, she even asked if we could borrow her grandson as the child for the image. Yes! I was amazed that someone other than me was excited about an idea I had 🙈
We photographed little E and Caroline’s quilts and I got to work editing when I got home. The result? I got my “OMG” moment and the work slowly began to evolve.
Without Carolines confidence in me and her guidance over the years I am sure that Fantasy Portraits would never have kept evolving how it has. For those who have followed me know, she’s not only a mentor and friend, she’s my family.
Some highlights over the years have been fundraising for the Sydney Children’s Hospital, Bear Cottage Superhero week in 2021 and creating a calendar to raise money for the Canberra Hospital NICU ward in 2011. Other highlights have included seeing my 6 year old son’s fantasy world, being exhibited locally and being the only artwork to be sold during the exhibit. There have been a number of awards and international recognition, but none compare to my club kids enthusiasm each month and watching their creativity thrive. Seeing them bringing drawings and stories to me to create with them is both fun and fascinating. Watching the impact of creativity blossom in my own children and the follow on effect of that in their schooling and everyday life has been priceless. We have learnt so much about each other through our creativity and how we express ourselves.
Working in my studio is great fun as the kids are like little flowers. They come in as a bud and you have to gently warm them to watch them blossom. Once they have created with me once, I often see them return, brimming with new ideas and imaginative concepts. I work closely with parents and support people to ensure that their time with me is as comfortable and sensory friendly as possible.
Fantasy Portraits have been created for 100’s of children worldwide. I work in a digital world which means it is possible to work with any family, from anywhere in the world. 98% of the clientele I work with come from a background with special needs, which I love. I find their creativity, personalities and hearts fit Fantasy Portraits so well and their ideas always blow me away.
With continuing improvements in technology and digital platforms, I am now seeing a new shift towards mirrorless cameras with incredible image resolution alongside being able to create 3D worlds in modeling programs and merging the photographic and 3D renderings together. My time studying Industrial Design is coming full circle as my degree and my passion will now combine to create a whole new adventure in my digital art.