Tell us about yourself
I’m Vicki and I live in County Durham, although originally I am from Norfolk. At the moment, most of my time is taken up with home educating my kids who are 13 and 11. I am more tech support, cheerleader, diary planner and taxi driver than teacher these days though. Alongside that, I have a small documentary photography business. Behind the camera is my happy place; nowhere else in my life am I able to get the same sense of creative flow as I do when I am seeing my world through a viewfinder!
Tell us a little about how you got started in photography and how you found your way to documentary family photography?
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t loved photographs. Even as a child I would happily spend hours sorting through our family snaps and arranging them in albums, and later I did the same for all my grandmother’s photos. There is something fascinating about viewing people forever frozen in a moment in time and I just love seeing glimpses of how life has changed. Creatively though, I was always more interested in drawing and painting. That changed when I had children and I found myself very much drawn to creating a record of their childhoods. So in 2014 I decided to treat myself to a ‘proper’ camera and I took ownership of my first DSLR – what a learning curve that was! It took me ages to get to grips with what all the dials and buttons did. Luckily a friend gifted me a copy of Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Suddenly I saw the process of capturing images in a whole new light, and I was hooked. I initially fell in love with portraits and had a little studio in a spare room at home, but I happened upon one of Kirsten Lewis Bethmann’s Creative Live series and everything just fell into place.
What is the biggest “a-ha” moment you have had in your photography journey so far?
I know it sounds cheesy, but honestly, the six months I spent on the Turning Chaos Into Art mentorship was so packed full of “a-ha” moments. It really did change the way I looked at a scene and helped me tell stories in a different way.
What do you relish most about the challenges that a documentary family photoshoot presents you with?
When I was a student and getting trains backwards and forward to London I always made sure to get to the station an hour or two early just so I could sit and people watch. I am fascinated by people going about their everyday lives. When I am working with a family, I love the challenge of trying to get everyone to relax enough so that they forget I am taking photos. It takes a while but usually after an hour or so you start to see the ‘real’ expressions and mannerisms… that’s when the photoshoot really starts!
Can you tell us about a favourite client shoot, what was it about this shoot that particularly inspired you?
One of my favourite families to photograph is another documentary photographer and her kids. We are on the same page from the start, wanting to preserve the beautiful everyday moments (like when you decide to make rhubarb hats!) and because her kids are so used to cameras being around they are totally unphased by it all.
What would be your top tips for people that are interested in getting started in documentary family photography?
Education, definitely! Join some family documentary Facebook groups and find out who is hanging out there, then identify people who are making photos that you love and see whether they run any workshops or have any courses. If not, find out who they learn from. And watch critiques, I learn so much by listening to work being discussed, it really helps you see exactly what it is that makes an image work, or not.
We know you love a good photobook and have quite a collection, can you tell us about one book that has really impacted your development as a photographer?
Yes, I do love a good book! How can I possibly pick just one?
I think for just working out how a camera makes photos, Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is still up there as one of the best. But two books that I happily return to time and time again are How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz, and Five Decades – ARetrospective by William Albert Allard. In both booksthe photographers share fascinating insights into the thought processes going on behind the camera. And they are both packed full of stunning images too.
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to continue doing occasional documentary family sessions. But recently I have been working with a not-for-profit organisation that runs woodland wellbeing and outdoor education sessions, I have really enjoyed it, so I’d like to do more of that sort of thing. I am currently a digital retoucher for Remember My Baby but I hope that in the next year or so I might be able to join them as a photographer too. Finally, I am (very slowly) working on a personal project about women who have businesses that work to reduce waste going to landfill… it is very much in the early stages, but it is something that I have been drawn to for a few years now. I just need a few more hours in my week!
About Alumni Spotlight
Alumni Spotlight is an interview series showcasing documentary family photographers who have completed a mentoring programme with Made for Documentary. Our students talk about what makes them tick, showcase their favourite images and share advice for those wanting to dive into the world of documentary family photography.
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