The time I hired a mentor

I pick up my phone, as I do maybe ten times a day to scroll through the latest uploads on Instagram. Dozens of new images fill my feed, stunning images, compelling moments captured by photographers, friends and creatives from all over the world. I double click with love and appreciation for the time and skill it takes to craft these often gallery worthy 2×1 pictures on the hand held device in front of me. It’s been months now since I removed the Facebook App from my phone. I had been feeling a desperate need to quieten the noise filling my head every moment that I let it, and so Instagram quickly transitioned into my social media fancy of choice.

As photographers we tend to follow fellow photographers, it’s this thing we do. We love to support, and nurture, we love to be inspired and view lives distant in time and place away from ours setting our spirits free in the process. And it works. Well, that is until it doesn’t work. It keeps us buzzing right up until the moment when the hundreds, if not thousands, of images we see every week grab hold of our insecurities and squeezes really blooming tightly. The voice inside us nags ‘but, but look at these captures. Look at the light, the love, the connection, the beautiful locations, those clothes and ahh such attractive, interesting looking people. Seriously, who do you think you are anyway?’ And bit by bit, slowly you stop picking up your camera quite so much. That love and passion you felt when you first started out, shooting every little detail fades and your ability to see the beauty in your everyday diminishes. What are you then left with? An emptiness and an inner artist who shuts up shop until further notice.

It was at this point for me recently that a series of events began to manifest themselves. We had not long been back in the desert, an environment that I’m not afraid to admit leaves me somewhat dare I say, dried up. Regardless of this I’d charged head long back into work, taking on a mixture of projects and clients. My Dubai-head was back on, the hungry commercial beast was awake and ready. As the days and weeks forged on the sensitive inner artist I’d started to nurture during our year in the Indian Ocean was sent cowering to a corner, there was limited room for her in the sun scorched sands of this Middle Eastern metropolis. Or so I thought.

Although I was busy and happy in my work I still felt something was missing. At this very same time there was something else going on for me. I was pregnant and nervous as hell. After three losses, one which had malformed into cancer a year earlier, this was a pregnancy that from the very moment that extra little line appeared on the test became pretty much the pivotal focus of my waking thoughts. I continued to work during the first four months, in-between the tiredness, vomitting and nausea, with more sessions booked in months ahead. It was then we went for our 20 week scan, an appointment I had been eagerly awaiting for weeks knowing that once those developmental boxes had been ticked I could breathe a little easier and the excited planning stages could begin. Sadly this wasn’t to be. As it transpired my now 40 year old body, one which had taken a hammering a year earlier was not holding out. I was strongly advised right there and then to cease working, put my feet up and rest it out preventing pre-term labour and the possible loss of this little person so dearly loved already. Four to five months stretched out in front of me like an enormous gapping hole of time, time in which I not only wanted but needed to keep busy.

As fate would have it, just a few weeks before receiving the diagnosis I’d reached out to a photographer who I greatly admire. Someone who in the tidal wave of talent hitting my IG feed every week always stood out to me. Someone who I know struggles with some of the doubting I do, hell how many of us don’t? And yet through it all produces truly beautiful imagery time and time again, imagery which talks me to, leaves me wondering and is very much against  the grain of many of the current trends and styles. I’d sent her a chance message asking if she did mentoring. I was eager to work with her but hadn’t seen anything on her site about such an opportunity. It wasn’t that I wanted to be the next her, I didn’t want to mimic, or find shortcuts to how she creates her compelling diptychs or story telling images. What I was eager to learn was how, even in days of darkness (or in my case light saturation), she kept on creating and growing. Her name is Cindy Cavanagh, and in my eyes she is an artist in every sense of the word.

I was delighted when Cindy messaged me back and I have to say it was pretty damn near perfect timing. Although she’d not done formalised mentoring before she was ready to work with fellow photographers on just this. We planned it for the month of May and all was set.

Without vulnerability you can not create // Brene Brown

As the start of our time together approached I was in a lot of pain due to my pregnancy and associated complications, I was shooting less and less every week and missing it like mad so having communication with a fellow photographer and a plan of action was like a breath of fresh air.

Cindy is based in Sydney, Australia so any communication would be over email or Facebook, but at no point did I feel a disconnect. Cindy began the month by opening her heart to me, she shared some of the processes she had been through to see, feel and embrace the artist she is today. Her honesty and ability to guide me as I burrowed down on the things that mattered most about shooting was simply wonderful. I felt supported, encouraged and yet never palmed off with shallow niceties. I wouldn’t say our time was about self-discovery, it was more a case of reflection of self whilst being cradled in an environment of safety. As the month passed we ran through a series of exercises to help me view and acknowledge my own unique perspective on the world no matter where I am – South-East Asia, Dubai, Europe, the Seychelles and through our work together the pitch and tone of my voice became clearer to me. I have begun to feel less swayed by trends, less influenced by the masses and although I look forward to having years of learning and growing still ahead of me I feel released and happier than I have in a long time with the way I see and translate the world into images. I now embrace sharing more as I feel I’m being honest with myself and not simply yearning for relatability and the award of that little red heart from those I’ve never met somewhere in the world scrolling through dozens of recently uploaded Instagram posts. Cindy quite simply helped me find the calm in my chaos, and for that I am truly grateful.

Why am I sharing this post here today? It is I guess part of the reflection of self. Since I started my training to become a ‘professional photographer’ seven years ago I’ve morphed from a photojournalist, to a documentary portrait photographer (a self adhered title that no one ever really got!), to more simply a ‘family lifestyle photographer’. I’m still not sure I’ve found the right title for me yet but what I do know is that I’ve found my script to work from, and that’s a great place to start. We’ve moved as many times as I have fingers on my left hand and as I’ve rebuilt my business each time I’ve lost myself a little more along the way. This enforced time out over the past few months has been a gift which I’ve endeavoured to use as wisely as I could and my investment with hiring a mentor has really made a difference. As I venture forward I’m excited to see how things will evolve. Cindy was the right fit for me and I can highly recommend her but with so many photographers offering online and in-person mentoring now it’s about finding the right fit for you BUT be ready as it could change everything for you, in ways you can’t even imagine right now.

Interspersed in this post are images from my archives which I feel truly represent who I am as a photographer today. They shout from the roof tops of my soul and kick me out of bed even at almost nine months pregnant to keep on telling my story.

Be brave, be bold, be you and never stop creating.

Cindy Cavanagh // cindy.cavanagh@gmail.com // Instagram

4 comments
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  • Lauren

    Beautiful self reflection Chloe. So glad Cindy was the right fit for you and helped you through. Good luck with the birth of your little love.ReplyCancel

  • Not only are you a wonderful photographer but a wonderful writer! All the best with the upcoming birth.ReplyCancel

  • Beautiful words Chloe! It sounds like Cindy was definitely perfect for you and it doesn’t surprise me, she is amazing in talent and heart. The images you have shown here are breathtaking. XReplyCancel

  • I just love your photographs and this post really spoke to me. Thank you and wishing you best wishes for your baby girl. x ReplyCancel

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