I had decided I wanted to be a fashion photographer and absolutely had to live in London as soon as I was able to. The move to London meant freedom from the boredom of the countryside as a teenager. Freedom to do what I wanted and be what I wanted. It was initially a huge shock to my system and people from countries I’d never heard of speaking languages I didn’t know existed suddenly surrounded me. I felt like I had been living in a bubble my entire life and somebody had just let me out.

Shooting in New York

Shooting in New York

In Somerset I had felt like a big fish in a small pond, and my ego had increased ten fold by the significant number of people who told me how talented I was. The reality was far from it, but through hearing it repeatedly I developed a serious case of the Dunning-Kruger effect (an unskilled individual’s belief their ability is higher than the reality). There’s an essence of having to fake it until you make it, which is why one of the first modelling agencies I worked with when I was eighteen was Elite Model Management, one of the biggest modelling agencies in the world. They quickly realised I had tried to run before I could walk after an embarrassing shoot with one of their new faces, and after receiving the images didn’t respond to any of my emails asking for more models.

I slowly began building up my own team of creatives, and my relationships with agencies, and by the time I was nineteen I was shooting multiple times a week. I took on the role of photographer, retoucher, creative director and sometimes even stylist in my attempt to build up my portfolio. Between studying and shooting I barely had time for anything else, and every few weeks I would have a mini-breakdown before getting right back into it.

Shooting in Berlin

Shooting in Berlin

Right from the word go I was engrossed in the concept of the fashion world. Constructed false realities initially seemed like a great outlet for my creativity, and it gave me drive and focus. I never had time to be bored, and even when I took trips to Paris, Berlin and New York I had arranged meetings with agencies and creative and photoshoots with teams of people that I had complete creative control over. I enjoyed the power, and I enjoyed the stress.

I was fortunate enough to meet some wonderful stylists, models and makeup artists, most of who I worked with regularly on my shoots, but my inability to work with people I didn’t personally get on with held me back. I refused to network with people I didn’t like and was disgusted with the fallacy of befriending people simply to progress. It was a world full of fakes, and I attempted to remain in the centre of it all, trying to survive by being genuine.

As time went on, and the more I travelled to countries outside of the West, the more frequently I began having epiphanies and questioning my involvement in such a shallow industry. On 21st July 2011, whilst on a sleeper from from Shanghai to Huangshan, China, in my diary I wrote:

My mind is flooded with thoughts. I feel like it’s going to burst out of my chest and a horrible ball has formed in my throat through fear and anxiety. There are tears forming deep at the back of my eyes but my pride won’t let them through.

About thirty minutes ago, after finishing reading a chapter in the book I brought, I was lying in bed. It was difficult to actually sleep.

I led in bed thinking. Just thinking. Like busy minds do before they exhaust themselves and finally stop.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Like a pool of water had just fallen from above me and my body was overcome with this euphoric but terrified feeling.

“I don’t want to be a fashion photographer.”

I wish I had an epiphany that had allowed for an alternative. That didn’t leave me in the situation most sixteen-year-olds find themselves in when choosing their A-level options. Instead my crappy epiphany left me empty and clueless like all my ambition had been sucked out of me and replaced with nothingness.

I want to be part of something more. Something bigger. More important.

I regularly spoke to models about the nature of their jobs, and the challenges they had to face. During the London, New York and Paris fashion weeks many models are paid in clothing as opposed to actual money. They’ll often work consecutive twenty hour days eating barely enough to survive, all the while being told they’re too fat by overweight bookers and casting agents, despite being a UK size six. Foreign models arrive with no connections, are placed into ‘model houses’, charged extortionate rent by the agencies (another profit making venture) and then exploited even more. Young girls are scouted from the age of thirteen, spend a few years being groomed until they’re deemed too old (which is often around the age of twenty) and then they’re discarded. With no qualifications and their only connections being in the fashion world, many models remain in the industry, working as bookers, makeup artists and photographers.

All of this information had come to light after only scratching the surface of the fashion world, and I eventually decided it wasn’t an industry I wanted to be involved in any longer.

My final shoot

In December 2012 I arranged my last photoshoot, a gloriously unspectacular in-studio test with two male models. After I had edited and sent the images to the team, I felt free. I love photography; it’s an accessible form of art with huge potential to change, express and capture moments, but whilst pursuing fashion photography my love for the creativity of the medium had got lost amongst the organising. I was no longer shooting for myself, but for magazines and teams of people I was working with.

After quietly exiting from the fashion world I was left stranded. My glorious epiphany had left me without any other idea what I wanted to “do” with myself, and for the few months following on from December I felt a gaping void where hours of shooting, organising, emailing and editing had previously been. In an attempt to get myself back into the swing of photographing I spent two weeks hitchhiking from Amsterdam to Budapest via Berlin, Prague and Vienna and photographing the desolate spaces between cities. In retrospect it was very much a reflection of the way I was feeling at the time, and I went on to produce a series of prints and a book, titled “On Route” for my graduate exhibition in 2013.

Since then, although there have been small moments of missing the buzz that came with working in such a high-pressure environment, I have not at all regretted my decision. I shot a series of work called “The Art of Living”, which is still ongoing, during my time living in Taiwan: it was the first time I had shot a project since “On Route” and I revelled in the fact that I was shooting for myself, with nobody expecting the images or trying to alter my vision. It’s the first series of work I’ve actually felt pride over, is currently being exhibited across the UK and been shortlisted for an international competition for exhibition in US, Canada and South Korea.

So my advice to anybody with any doubts about the fashion world is: get out before it eats you alive. It’s a tough industry and if you’re not eating, sleeping and breathing fashion, your progression will only get so far.

Image Credit: behind the scenes of my commercial shoot