Charlie Nicholson is only in the second year of her photography business and she has photographed over thirty weddings and twenty families. Over half of sole proprietor businesses that started in 2007/08 failed within four years of establishment. How she has managed to thrive when others have not? She believes it has to do with her ethos in life, saying, “Paying it forwards and being kind to others and treating people well kind of pays itself back to me.” Other photographers have hired Charlie for their own shoots, which goes to show that there is something to that belief after all.

Charlie is refreshingly forthright from the get go: she launches into the story of her lifelong relationship with photography upon settling in at the table. She remembers being nine and helping her mother (who was a photographer) develop film in the dark room in Norfolk, England. After studying art, textiles and photography in her A levels, she started working in hospitality, her camera temporarily forgotten.

She credits her mother for encouraging her to resume her love affair with photography. After emigrating to Australia, she began taking photos of her kids to share with family back in England. Her mother saw Charlie’s potential. This led to Charlie picking up her camera again and eventually finding herself.

In that plain-spoken manner of hers, Charlie shares her past struggles with confidence, employment and fertility. All this candour in a café plastered from ceiling to floor in Marilyn Monroe, who was known for her troubled private life and having to fight for professional respect and equal treatment in her career.

Another artist in Adelaide, Tiffany Dean, has faced similar struggles in her hobby of cosplaying. Tiffany, who has been making her own props and costumes for four years, admits it hasn’t all been fun and games. Some years ago, she came close to quitting because of some rumours about her, saying, “[Cosplay] is a thing that has been my escape. It makes me happy and to have that kind of turn on you…” Although she was very deeply hurt by the incident, she chooses to let bygones be bygones.

Tiffany considers making costumes and props for a living an absolute dream. However, Adelaide isn’t big enough for her to sustain herself solely on commission work, so she is also the accounts payable officer of a construction company. Today, Tiffany still makes her costumes and attends conventions, but she prefers to fly under the radar to avoid any potential conflict.

 

Video: Tiffany Dean introducing her work in progress, Mera from Justice League (Source: Janet Tan)

 

Contrasted against Tiffany’s outlook is game streamer and custom fan art artist, Jimmy Lee, who seems to have bulletproof skin against criticism from strangers. She hopes to be able to support herself one day by live-streaming full time and producing commissioned fan art. By streaming themselves playing video games live, gamers make money from fan sponsorships and paid subscriptions, earning anywhere from minimum wage up to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Apart from her day job, Jimmy also collaborates with Riot and Logitech, working at their booths as an eSports mascot and hosting their various games and giveaways. A position that requires so much interaction with the public attracts confrontation from self-proclaimed elitists questioning the legitimacy of a female gamer. Jimmy is not the least bothered by their interrogation or the deprecating comments people make about her online, declaring with a laugh, “People always have horrible things to say and it’s very funny. […] The only opinions I care about are the opinions of people who I respect and care about.”

 

Picture: Jimmy Lee’s computer setup for live-streaming (Source: Janet Tan)

 

This resilience is an attribute Charlie Nicholson had to work hard for. When she first moved to Adelaide, she knew practically no one. While there is no doubt how important Charlie’s family is to her, she had lost a lot of her own identity being a homemaker for so long and putting her career on the back burner. It wasn’t until her children were sufficiently grown that she felt she was ready to start exploring her identity.

So, she found a photography mentor who later coaxed her to join a photography group. Through this group, her photography skills grew; with time, so did her confidence. Moving into professional photography was plan B, one she was forced to consider after a long stint of unsuccessful job applications despite years of managerial and hospitality experience. Out of necessity, she turned a skillset she had into an income source.

These days, with a growing client base, Charlie’s life is a balancing act: her seasonal workload, school pick-ups and drop-offs, and looking after friends’ children. It takes tremendous organisational skills and stamina, but you get the sense that she gets things done, no fuss no muss.

Hobbyist photographer Chris Latreia understands full well the hardships of juggling a young family, a full-time job in the public sector and his love of photography. In fact, many a lunch break has been sacrificed in pursuit of his interest. Although he would be overjoyed working as a full-time photographer using his creativity, Chris is quite happy with his current arrangement. He self-identifies as an “insane” hobbyist who does cosplay photoshoots as passion projects. The nature of his job has Chris hyper-aware of the need to be respectful and get consent when shooting at conventions like AVCon, where majority of the cosplayers are young females. He critiques the old-hat geek culture norm of overtly sexualised femininity, saying, “I like […] presenting strong female characters when I can. You know, I’ve got a young daughter so I’d definitely like her to see [that].”

 

Picture: Chris Latreia, hobbyist photographer and all-round nice guy (Source: Janet Tan)

 

While Charlie also does cosplay shoots for fun, she laments the ultra photoshopped results of these shoots (“Their skin can look plastic.”). She harbours misgivings about the effects of overly edited images on the confidence and self-image problems already rampant in women. One of the many aspects of her work is corporate headshots and she has noticed many of the career women she photographs being critical of their own looks, despite their intelligence and capabilities. Charlie adores people and wishes that they would focus on their strengths instead.

Another South Australian cosplayer and game streamer, Eliza Allen, also enjoys connecting with people. Although she humbly ascribes her initial break into gaming event collaborations as her being in the right place at the right time, her success in both her work as a concierge supervisor and her various collaborations at gaming events is due to her social skills. She often goes the extra mile at work to create a memorable experience for those who meet her. “I love caring for people and making people feel really welcome, so [my job] just naturally fits in very well with my personality,” says Eliza. With eSports and live-streaming being increasingly lucrative sources of income (in 2015, Riot Games had an estimated revenue of US$1.6 billion), Eliza hopes to be able to support herself someday on a combination of live-streaming her gameplay and cosplay.

Charlie Nicholson understands the importance of getting along with her clients. She has been known to turn down business if her shooting style doesn’t match the client’s vision. Since the start of her photography business two years ago, her work ethic and social skills have led to an influx of work. While Charlie is happy to work part time for the moment, she could take her business full time if she so desired.

On the other hand, Stephen Robb, despite always having been a creative person, is content with his role at work. By day, he is a biomedical engineer who designs cancer-detecting microscopes; at night, he builds game-inspired costumes that boast working robotic arms, voice changers and various mechanics. Stephen enjoys using his creativity in his projects, saying, “I enjoy what I’m doing […] but it’s a bit of a numbers game at the end of the day. It’s not financially viable to be doing it full time.”

Stephen’s interests, ranging from metal casting to baking and leather crafting, are dizzyingly diverse. If he decides to walk the creative path, his eclectic skills will serve him well. In the meantime, he maintains that he would rather have a steady pay check. A stickler for perfection, Stephen chooses to spend more time finishing his costumes to his satisfaction. In the past, he has burned himself out trying to do too much at once and has since learned to pace himself.

This is also Charlie’s game plan – to improve steadily and enjoy the journey along the way. But the nature of photography work is seasonal. With Australia’s climate, that means the holiday and wedding seasons collide, and work availability can be sparse outside of those months. Therefore, she tries to accept as many photoshoots as she can from October to December to make up for the rest of the year. Despite only being in the second year of her business, it has been a challenge not to overtax herself. To date, she has done thirty-three wedding packages, twenty family shoots and a medley of corporate headshots, burlesque, dance and cosplay shoots.

 

Recording: Charlie Nicholson on starting her own photography business (Source: Janet Tan)

 

To those who are just starting out in their crafts, Charlie stresses learning to walk before you can run, that is, taking the time to learn how to use your tools of trade. The oversaturation of the market with wannabes charging unrealistically low prices undermines the work of professionals and the value of their time. She also advises learning how to network effectively as people skills are indispensable if you want to succeed.

No matter what Charlie encounters, it doesn’t take much for her to see the underlying silver lining. As she says, “[Photography] has changed the way I see everything in life. […] We’re all living in a world where there’re a lot of awful things going on, war, crime and just horrible things, but meanwhile […] there’s amazing things going on. [Savour] as much positivity as you can.”

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Émile Bayard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As the title so aptly indicates, this is a poem I wrote with Les Miserables as inspiration. Hope you all like it.

 

Driving along made up lines

Listening to a pain different and distant

Dark lights reflect the quality of your inner self

Tears lighter than hydrogen saturate onyx hair

The book of history is unravelling

Its pages telling stories with the blood of angry men

A new land born from the ashes of the dead

Life can only exist when death survives

Red upon white in a monochrome world

Peeling away the scabs of despair

Scouring the clinging mold of decay

Shaking off the breath of yesterday

It takes an ancient eye to recognise the young

To pinpoint the beginning of beginnings

The sliver of fresh green that still lives within

Grey fossils that no longer walk

No more, no more shall the relics rule

‘Tis a universe for the hopeful and the bright-eyed

The sceptre of oppression will crumble in the light of liberty

To expose shaky young limbs of progress

One of my short stories, The Trouble with Expectations, has been published on Weekend Reads. Weekend Reads brings to readers short stories that provide the perfect weekend escape – or bring a bit of that weekend relaxed feel to a weekday. But more importantly, it allows new authors to publish and promote their short stories as well as make their consumption accessible to readers.

TroubleWithExpectations_cover

The Trouble with Expectations is a fictional short story set in Mount Compass, South Australia. It’s about a young woman named Alexandra who moves out to the country, taking with her a secret and a broken heart where she befriends a young man. The friendship leaves her feeling vulnerable yet hopeful about the future. But will the truth destroy the possibility of new love? Find out here.

Thanks for the support! x

This isn’t common knowledge but I am a fan of horror/thriller movies and novels. As it had been a while since my last horror movie, I’ve been reading quite few submissions on a website called CreepyPasta lately. Some of you may already be familiar with this site. For those who aren’t, CreepyPasta is a site where anyone can submit their own writing in the horror/thriller genre. Any piece of work published on the site is called a pasta and can be deemed “delicious” or otherwise by readers. I’ve tried my hand at a thriller short story before but have not gotten around to finishing it. I’m going to share with you instead, a poem inspired partly by CreepyPasta and partly by the happenings in my life of late. You’ll no doubt detect a distinct thread of sadness throughout this poem, so I don’t mind admitting that I am going through something that is quite disappointing to me. I hope you enjoy the poem. I haven’t thought of a good title for it yet so if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear it.

Husks scattered across the dirt

Membrane-thin and weightless

Thrown every which way by the wind, careless and wanton

Toyed, tired and desiccated

A sudden gust introduces specks of grit to the air

One finds your eye and makes itself comfortable

Refusing to dislodge no matter how you try

From that irritated and sore eye

The gale dissipates

The howling of the wind ceases

It’s as if all sound had been extricated from the world

But not quite all…

Don’t look back at the footsteps whispering behind you

Of little sneakers scuffing the ground

Don’t turn around to face that guileless little voice

That pleads you for assistance

There’s no one left on this land but you

And if your senses tell you any differently

That’s just the ghosts that once were

Trying to claim you as one of their own

Dad’s just left Adelaide to return to Singapore two days ago. I must admit that I miss him already. When I was a little younger, I sometimes felt irritated by his parental advice, not appreciating it for the concern it was. But I’m glad that now I’m a little older, I appreciate and love him exactly the way he is, with his little habits that used to drive me up the wall.

There is a lot of him in me and there’s a lot of my mother in me also. This week has just been somewhat emotional for me, what with my dad’s departure and other turns of events. The less said about the latter, the better, but I will just mention this: it’s remarkable that the ending should feel so similar to the beginning, marked by the same questions, doubts and fascinations. All that aside, it’s good to see some personal growth happening. I know I’m a little more mature for my experiences and that no matter how discouraged I may feel now, I am confident that I will spring back and be the cheerful, positive soul that I aim to be.

I’ll leave you all with a picture of my dad and I, taken at the maritime museum in Port Adelaide! Stay dry and warm, Adelaideans. For the rest of you who don’t live in Australia, stay cool and enjoy your summer!

Image

Snow in Adelaide – who would have thunk it! It has been remarkably chilly of late and I, just like most other people, have been guilty of sleeping in longer than usual and eating heavier foods. My dear ol’ dad is visiting from Singapore. When he arrived yesterday late afternoon, he was taken aback by the temperature, mistakenly thinking that it was supposed to be early spring here. I may have to take him shopping for a winter jacket… It’s been great to see him as I last visited him exactly a year ago, and it’ll be great to show him around the greater Adelaide region. As my dad is a lover of wildlife, I should think a trip to Monarto Zoo is in order.

On another writing-related note, author and editor Sylvia Kerslake was kind enough to conduct an interview with me several weeks ago. The questions I was asked include the challenges I faced when I was writing my book, the changes I’ve gone through since, and whether my upbringing has influenced my “sappy, funny and yet refreshing” writing. It was the longest interview I’ve had and I’d like to share it with all of you, my lovely followers. Here is the link to the interview.

Let me leave you with a photo of some meerkats from the Adelaide Zoo. The one standing taller was born a regular sandy colour but has gradually turned white over time. It’s a bit of a mystery…

 Albino and regular meerkat

I’m beginning to believe that good things happen in threes. In the space of one day, I’ve learned that my poetry collection ranks #3 on Amazon in the Australian/Oceanic poetry category, my Book Goodies interview has been released and the SO (significant other) is now officially an SO. That is, if he still remembers that tomorrow….

Read about my writing process, my mad scientist tendencies and my childhood summarised in 200 words here.

Well, I’ve received word from my editor recently with feedback on the first draft of my novel Tongue Tied. Good news is it has a solid plot line. Next comes the hard part, the changing and revision of the parts that don’t work. It’ll be quite a process, no doubt about it.

Having returned from a Ben Ottewell (singer from the band Gomez) gig, I’ve had a great time and discovered that I really enjoyed the opening act as well, a performer by the name of Carla Lippis. With her CD in hand, I shall charge into the morning bravely now. Her voice is quite haunting…

 

Dreams don’t realise themselves because you’ve rubbed a lamp and made a wish. Paving the way to a better future often requires a lot of hard work and even more guts. This week, I’ve accomplished several micro-goals that will (hopefully) take me down a life path that I’ve envisioned for myself. One of these micro-goals was to improve the distance I can run non-stop. I was able to run 5km on Monday morning with some burly lads in approximately 5 degree weather and was able to keep up with them for most of the run. And then yesterday, I handed my resume in to one of the local publishing companies and met the boss, who was such a nice man. Even though there weren’t any jobs available presently, he told me that he would hold on to my resume as they need someone with a business degree. It was a very exciting afternoon for me! Working with them and for them would be an ideal situation. It’s not living-in-a-beach-house-and-being-a-nomad-writer deal but it ranks up there near the top 5 on my list.

On another slightly not-as-exciting note, exams are coming up next week. I simply cannot suppress the excitement I have for these regurgitation activities. Hooray. No, really.

I’ve set my goal on improving my cardiovascular strength. My beloved trainer has advised a daily run, working up to a non-stop 10km dash. I started at the foot of that daunting mountain today, with a short, roughly 3km jog around half the city of Adelaide. I used to jog quite regularly with my father when I was still living in Malaysia and also in the summers here by myself, until last year. It made a difference having a jogging partner this morning and I was able to motivate myself with a little mental toughness technique bequeathed upon me by my other trainer. Many thanks to my jogging partner, A! Now to triple that 3km run to 9km and a little extra….

On one of my rare nights out last night, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Neko Case fan. How few and far between those are. He was the partner of a lovely lady I’d just met and through the course of our conversation, we encountered a couple of inebriated souls who could have benefited from having their drink confiscated. It led us to bond over our comparatively more level-headed behaviour. Once again, I’m struck by the voices of the quiet ones if you just care to listen.

Oak was written for my best friend, J. He’s always been the sort of person who would willingly give a stranger the shirt off his back if he thought someone needed it. This is more significant than you would think. He’s always been self-conscious about his own physical appearance and had never taken his shirt off in front of anyone. But despite the insecurity about his looks, he is ridiculously selfless and kind and sweet to everyone around him, even though he pretends to be uncaring. A little on the goofy side, he’s a little accident-prone, just like several of my other close friends, not to name any names (E and S!). He is protective and has a knack for leadership, whereas I am content to be led. Over the years, I’ve witnessed him take many wounded birds under his wing (so to speak) and try to nurse them back to health. But lame ducks are that for good reason, or at least they are not likely to change for their own good. And so these injured fowl accumulate… You have to let them waddle out into the open world eventually.

   

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