"I never thought I would be a photographer. I came to PSC thinking I wanted to understand photographers. I wanted to see what language they speak and what training they go through- what drives them."
Judging by your accent you have done some travelling. What brought you to Australia?
I’m from Chicago originally and have a Masters in Business Systems and Engineering. I spent time doing the back-pack thing in Europe, was in the Peace Corps and did research in Central America and the Caribbean, so yes, it is fair to say I have a bit of a travel bug. In 2005 my husband and I decided to leave the states and come check out Australia for a year… that was in 2005! Initially, I got a job working for an environmental company. I was their sales manager for NSW and NT which was a great opportunity, as I can say I have been to parts of Australia that most Australians haven’t been to. During this time, I moonlighted as a travel writer for ‘Australiablog’, which (at the time) was one of the premier blogs about all things Australia (I wrote a ripper article focused on Aussie Slang!). I had a little digital camera and would take a shot in whatever town my environmental work sent me to and write about something in the town- a great restaurant or maybe something cool to see. I was always one to multitask.
Clearly that job sparked your creative side. How did photography fit into the puzzle as something more than a side project?
During my Environmental research and Peace Corps years I produced botanical photos of the species we were working with. This was in the days of film and manual focus! (gasp!) I had a Minolta 707… I still have it. Other than that, I was always just the family paparazzi. As my 20 years in corporate life wore on- I started looking for......something that would give back, that would recognise and value those who are often invisible, but essential to the smooth running of our society. As we all know- corporate life is not always rosy for the ‘human resources’ that work there, so I decided to start a business to be the change I wanted to see- serving the ‘humans.’
Tell us about your business idea ?
One of the things I have from America are all these lovely professional images of our family. I want to bring that opportunity to the average person in Australia. My business is designed to create professional, affordable images for the everyday person. What makes it really special though is in the business structure and the professional development. I have been benchmarking with companies in the States based on positive business culture, to build the infrastructure. Harvard is studying these businesses- to figure out- ‘how can you treat people well and still make money!!!’ Believe it or not- it is possible! The idea is to create jobs for photographers, taking pictures, learning customer service, learning software, etc instead of working in a restaurant while they develop their skills. It will be high volume with low profit margins. Is it everyone’s dream job? No, but it IS in the photography industry.
That business idea sounds like a huge undertaking. You have a sound business understanding so what led you to study photography, rather than just start the business?
I never thought I would be a photographer. I came to PSC thinking I want to understand photographers. I want to see what language they speak and what training they go through- what drives them. I had no intention of going beyond the first semester at PSC. In fact, when I started I was terrible. I didn’t even know what auto focus was and that was only a year ago. The weekend workshop with Scott McNaughton changed my life. Scott was really inspirational and very generous with his knowledge. It sparked something in me and I thought “there’s something in this”- more than what I was going for. I still have my business idea, but I have put that to the side for the moment. I have given myself permission to acknowledge that there is this creative, artistic person inside of me that I have kept bottled up for 20 years in the corporate world. This last year I have been slowly unleashing this part of myself and am enjoying seeing where it might lead- (you can tell where I am at in the embracing-my-inner-artist journey by the emergence of new bizarre colours in my hair…. I started out with just a little colour on the ends- now I look like a sunrise! I was always a little too colourful for corporate anyway).
You mentioned to me earlier that you contribute for Getty. Tell us about that.
I don’t do things by halves- so when I decided to take the plunge into photography- I am all in- this is my only job and I have 2 kids that seem to want to eat every day! I still have the business hustle, so I decided if I am going to do photography, I must make an income. I set about thinking- ‘ok- I know how to write a CV in my old life… but what needs to go on a photographer’s CV?’ To gain as much knowledge as possible, I attend everything and am a sponge for knowledge. I went to a Getty presentation I saw advertised in the student lounge and then decided to submit my work. I was really afraid but did it anyway. I submitted two different applications, and both were accepted within 24 hours. I was stunned. Somehow this is like a stamp to potential clients that you are a worthwhile photographer and that someone would pay for your work…not just a crackpot mum running around with a camera! (laughs) Granted, I am a crazy crackpot mum- but such is life.
Do you think you could have come this far without doing a photography course? How has the course created a different path for you?
Absolutely not. This course has been essential for a strong technical and design foundation. With cameras everywhere in our society these days, as a typical student- I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.
As a knowledge sponge, I have taken other non-PSC courses as well to address areas of personal weakness in my image design, for example food styling, personal styling, “TEDucation” sessions, Canon Collective sessions etc and what I have found- which is a massive Kudos to PSC and their amazing Tutors- is that I have everything I need to know for those sessions, I have already learnt here. It is clear that PSC is teaching the really good stuff and it’s all consolidated in the one place.
By really engaging with the philosophical folio sessions which complement the studio sessions- I realised- Hey I absolutely LOVE photography, not just as a study- but for my own soul. People talk about finding your ‘flow’/your purpose. Through PSC, I have found mine. I could never have achieved this in online courses or through all the little independent seminars out there. To me, PSC is more than a technical institute- it is breeding ground for dreams- a safe place to learn, experiment and flourish. So, do I need a course to be where I am now? Absolutely, technically and spiritually.
What projects do you have on at the moment and where do you see yourself in the future?
I have a personal project that I started last semester which is putting a spotlight onto the people in our society that are unseen, but we couldn’t do without. Some of the corporate work I did was with aged care, some of the conversations I overheard sparked righteous indignation in me. The source of all wisdom- Neil (PSC VET Course Director)- said “find the thing that makes you mad/passionate- and tell that tale”. So, I did a series featuring aged care workers last term. What may seem counter-intuitive is that the making of the image was actually only a secondary priority. Firstly, I wanted the aged care worker to feel valued and important enough that someone has come to take their picture. I care about them as humans. I think this comes through in the images. They all have such a strong sense of presence and genuine joy in their gaze.
This term, I just joined the Amnesty International Internship program, and I am producing a body of work focusing on women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. Again, something I am passionate about, supporting and recognising amazing people in our society who face a bit of an uphill battle for recognition. Firstly, I found a project driven by passion. Secondly, I have then tried to find ways to make it work in return for me- socially, academically and commercially.
Regarding my long term goals, we talked about my business model earlier- but I think I will always keep two brands- my personal creative/social justice brand which complements my large scale studio brand. The foundational pillars for both brands: Amazing Experience for the Customer; An Awesome Place to Work; A Bit of Good in the World.
Fingers crossed- it is a wild ride!
You can follow Heather Felix on Instagram@heatherfelixphotography or at Heather Felix Photography
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