Photo credit to Brass and Glass Photographic Alchemy for Belinda's profile picture
Can you please tell us about yourself, your childhood, where you live and how you first started your career in Photography.
I’m a born and bred Cantabrian. I grew up on a 10 acre hobby farm out on the Canterbury plains. Lots of strong winds, long grass, pine trees, almost desert-like in some ways. We knew all the families at the school and down the road. My friends and I used to pile in my best friend’s Mum’s mini to go to Brownies at West Melton. My primary school, Weedons Primary, had only 26 kids at one point and the Principal was a scary guy! I spent hours at home playing around the farm. We virtually never went on holiday so the farm was it. It was quite isolating so my imagination grew quite huge and warped. I was quite a scared child if I have to be honest. I would imagine the world as quite a scary and huge place that I couldn’t cope with. I found nature comforting at times but also horrific – like the time all our goats spontaneously aborted their babies due to a lack of a mineral in the soil. They were lying in the paddock, bloody and dead in their sacs. Over the years I’ve done everything from play viola to creative writing to rock climbing to painting. Anything that is either art related or nature related. I started photography because I love nature and started taking photos of landscapes about 20 years ago with a terrible camera. About 6 years ago I was given a Fujifilm X-Series camera by my husband and everything changed for me. I had small children and I found the camera satisfied my need to create and I could do it in a very short time frame whilst still looking after children. It was a form of mindfulness, taking photos of flowers in my garden. Music, painting, writing and all the other art forms that take time, fell away from me and photography replaced them.
What type of photography do you do and where do you get the inspiration for your work?
For client work, I started off with outdoor portraits of children in nature, but I felt like clients were undervaluing me, so I switched to studio portraits which can’t be taken with a cellphone. I decided to do dark and moody fine art portraiture with a bit of dressing up involved. It’s not for everyone but some people become huge fans of my work. I get a lot of inspiration from old photos I’ve got in my wardrobe. It’s a collection of portraits from the 1860s onwards. No one smiles and there is a sense of mystery in their faces. Who are these people? What were they like? I guess I like to have the same mystery with my modern day portraits. I once had an art critic comment on a portrait of blonde triplets that it was “creepy and disturbing” like a horror movie. I had never seen that in my work, but I guess some of it is mysterious or slightly quirky. I think that’s what he was trying to say. Another friend says that his daughter’s eyes follow him around the room wherever he goes! I find that people are very complex. I’m a bit of an observer and very intuitive and I can imagine things about people without them even telling me. So I guess I like to show a person a hint and all the other things behind the face. I also like making double exposures that blow your socks off. I find these can be quite beautiful or quite creepy, depending how I make them. Most of the time they just happen, although I know a lot of the principles around them now and can often see what will work before I take it. I also love dance photography, mainly because my girls are dancers.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing what you do?
I find shooting younger children in this fine art style very challenging. I find that from age 7 upwards is better. Younger children, you only have a very short few minutes, or sometimes seconds to get the shot. You need to be set up perfectly, get Mum or Dad to plonk the child down and snap and hope you get it. It’s very hard to pose a 3 year old. They are full of energy. Sometimes I’m actually better to let the child run riot and I get some pretty interesting and quirky photos from that. I’ve never had a failure yet which is why I love studio portraits. I’m in control with the lighting and the photo often just happens while I snap.
What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer to you?
When you get the shot! I think all photographers have that moment when you know you’ve taken something special. I now do more outdoor shoots again and sometimes you turn up and the lake is dark and flat and there is a reflection and your dancer is on fire – you know it’s going to be epic. Sometimes your model in the studio just does the perfect look. Sometimes it’s hard to guide people to do that look – they come to that place after half an hour or so and start to understand what I want. I find showing my models the back of the camera gets them excited and they start posing and doing the eyes for me.
Do you spend a lot of time editing your work?
I do spend a bit of time on editing, especially editing backdrops. It seems to be a constant battle with creases and lines. I’ve started making my own backdrops and have found them slightly less creasy. They are made of hard canvas which I roll up and store in the garage. I don’t love editing really – it’s more the shoot itself. If my photo could transform itself straight from the camera then I would be so happy!
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
With Covid-19 lockdown I decided to start doing more double exposures. I did them in fits and starts as I was struggling with lockdown. I’m quite an adventurous person usually, so lockdown doesn’t suit my personality. I have now decided to make a book using double exposures from before lockdown and well after lockdown – a collection of interesting pieces, their only connection being double exposure – seeing that the ones taken during lockdown are probably not my best or most favourite. I often overlay with trees, leaves and rocks. Being in lockdown was prohibitive and I mainly overlaid with ink drawings I had done.
What sort of research do you do before starting on a project? How do you know when it is complete?
I don’t research. I did science at University and that is very analytical, but with art projects I find I go more by feel rather than research. I don’t research whether other photographers have already done it. I find looking at other photographers inspiring in some ways but also sometimes intimidating and stops you moving forward on your own projects that have come from your own head. I think you just have to do what you feel is right for you and nail the project. I’m a bit of a spontaneous person. I jump out of the plane sometimes and then make the parachute on the way down. Sometimes a project is never really finished, so you have to have a deadline you are working to. I often work harder in that last week to complete something.
Do you have a “bucket list” for 2020?
My bucket list is more business based this year. I want to have a sustainable business. I have found finding clients difficult the past few years. My style is not for everyone. I have started doing weddings and headshots and things that people actually need on a regular basis and this is actually providing me with some income. I also do dance recitals but not sure these will even run in 2020 if Covid-19 is still around. I need to earn at least some money from my photography as I quit an office job over a year ago and need to replace that income. It’s all very boring focusing on the money side – but our family needs that extra money to live.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Belinda, don’t overthink things. Belinda, do a business course. Belinda, have more confidence in yourself. The last one is something I’ve struggled with all my life. I’m not sure my personality will ever change. Sometimes my confidence is there and other times it isn’t. I usually have huge confidence in entering the Iris awards, but often very low confidence trying to market myself. I often take it personally when something bombs. At the end of the day, if the marketing material looks amateur, don’t bin it, put it out there anyway. Actually doing things and taking action, you learn pretty fast what works and what doesn’t. My hardest lesson has been things I’ve spent money on that have dive bombed. I think using free marketing on social media in the early days is the best bet, until you know something is actually going to work or not to get clients in.
Why did you join NZIPP?
I actually joined NZIPP because the guy I bought my photography gear off said he had wanted to go to a meeting but was nervous (person shall remain nameless). I told him I’d go with him. I had set up a website about six months earlier and I wasn’t doing a lot of business at that point. I wanted support with my business. I wanted to become an accredited photographer. In the early days it gave me a lot of confidence which I was lacking hugely. By joining, I realised that my photos were good enough to sell. I realised that I could win awards at the Iris Awards and that I had an artistic flair. My storytelling skills have grown over the years entering the Iris Awards. If it doesn’t tell some sort of story, I won’t enter it.