FILM / Eighth Grade

anna zagalaComment

The Dad at the steering wheel (Josh Hamilton) wearing that hopeful, slightly pathetic expression – that’s me. My own 13 year old who started his Eighth Grade (and high school since we are living in South Australia) this week shoots me that look – or the look away – most days.

Bo Burnham’s film Eighth Grade about teen Kayla’s (Elsie Fischer) last days of middle school was not really a chance for escapism. But I was grateful for the opportunity to feel less alone, knowing that Dad’s like Josh Hamilton were on the receiving end of similar hormonal and life-stage moodiness.

This is a film filled with small moments and everyday events about negotiating the passage between the private and public self – home and school and digital and real world spaces – and imbues them with big feelings.

Kayla’s smart phone and laptop offer a constant reflected glow of DMs, scrolling images and amateur videos – no set time limits in this North American home – from the moment she wakes to her last moments in bed. In this respect Eighth Grade captures with unique insight what moving through the world of peers, school and family feels like with split attention as Kayla engages in narrating and presenting a version of herself simultaneously in online social platforms.

The film is held together by Elsie Fischer’s totally tone-perfect performance. She embodies social inhibition, self doubt, contempt, and a particular kind of cringey-ness with a intriguing determination, a quality akin to steeliness: to be seen, heard, acknowledged. By focusing so squarely on a single perspective Eighth Grade achieves a pressing, almost claustrophobic, sense of interiority.

In my own home it’s China circa 1980. On the subject of adolescence there is a party line: “Oh, it’s a great time”, I repeat ad nauseum. I don’t think of it as an outright lie, more like fabulation refracted through the prism of my present circumstances (too much responsibility, not enough fun).

But following Eighth Grade even I admitted out loud that being a teenager can suck on occasion.

The film’s great wisdom is to celebrate the horror. It’s supported by a wicked soundtrack, overlaying the images with a soundscape that’s unexpected and bold to mirror Kayla’s high stakes view of each social encounter – from a crush to a friendship snub – while generally amplifying the unparalleled intensity of adolescence. It’s an empathetic film but the gentle surrealism, such as the comic contrast between the sights of ordinary suburbia and fat sounds, has a knowing charm. The word that comes to mind is fresh.


CASE STUDY / Rebrand / Linda Marek Jewelry

anna zagalaComment

Sweetpolka’s niche is working with those in the creative industries to develop words and pictures.

This year we decided to take a new approach with creative clients and offer a different service, moving away from a model based on a flow that could be summed up as quoting, briefing, defining the scope of works, presenting concepts, development and finished art/text, testing, invoicing.

The existing model did not feel like it was really meeting the needs of creative individuals – many self employed or running a small business – who have a lot of ideas, strong views, visual literacy and above average technical skills. We formed the impression that too much was frustratingly happening out of their reach.

Designers like to kvetch about clients that email through puppet master-ish edits. Move 2mm, make it bigger, make it smaller etc etc. Been there. Hated it too. Oftentimes, there has been no opportunity to naturally discuss the merits or otherwise, of a particular creative solution to a problem. It would arrive as a bald, ugly message in the inbox. On this end it would elicit a big SIGH.

So we turned the process on its head. No more scope of works and brief followed by nail biting concept and development in private followed by the big reveal.

We proposed committing to a process that was in the first instance exploratory, then collaborative. Literally side-by-side collaborative.

What does it require? For clients it means committing to a open, interrogative, reflective and creative process.

From our end it requires active and close listening, honesty, analytical insights, ideas, confidence and a preparedness for vulnerability.

The upside? It’s a process that leads to personal and business insights even as it oscillates between lulls and breakthroughs it is generally defined by elastic thinking, tangential rumination and honest to god brings about moments of razor sharp clarity. Freakishly efficient.

Using this collaborative approach Sweetpolka recently finished the rebrand of Linda Marek’s jewelry brand.

What we did:
– Undertook a review of Linda Marek’s existing business (Delilah Devine), explored future directions and supported Linda in the establishment of a new venture.
– Devised the branding, both the logo and tone of language for Linda Marek Jewelry.
– Drilled down to define the values, mission and vision for the business.
– Developed the creative direction of the brand and assisted Linda in elaborating the mood, materials and ideas underpinning its first jewellry collection
– Wrote website copy for Linda Marek Jewelry and its collection Tide Collection.
– Collaboratively designed jewelry packaging and conceptualised the printed collateral to accompany online purchases.


“I had such a great experience working with Anna on the rebranding of my jewellery label. Working collaboratively allowed us to workshop ideas together, and get moving on the project quickly. During our sessions I was amazed at how much we were able to achieve. By working on the project together, I was able to provide instant feedback on the content (whether it be graphic design, copywriting, or creative direction) which Anna could then adapt on the spot. Anna is also very perceptive, and was able to articulate key issues that I hadn't recognised. I found the whole experience to be relaxed, fun and extremely efficient. Working with Anna was an absolute pleasure and I look forward to our next project together.”

OUR PERSPECTIVE / Exhilarating. Rewarding. The most exciting part was exploring ideas, committing to outcomes and then shaping the overall vision alongside the client.

Linda Marek Jewelry logo.

Linda Marek Jewelry logo.

Working collaboratively on words and pictures takes courage.

Working collaboratively on words and pictures takes courage.

Review / Aldo Iacobelli: A Conversation with Jheronimus

Reviewanna zagalaComment
2. Aldo Iacobelli_A Conversation with Jheronimus_SMA_SamNoonan.jpg

In South Australian-based artist Aldo Iacabelli’s exhibition of new works, A Conversation with Jheronimus, the artist engages in an imaginative response to the work of the early Renaissance Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch, and in particular one of the artist’s final works, The Haywain triptych (1512-1515).

Bosch cast aside artistic conventions of the time to develop a highly personal pictorial style that was characterised by formal and iconographic invention. He was recognised in his lifetime for his idiosyncratic and macabre vision and has continued to influence artists from the Surrealists to contemporary artists such as the British Chapman Brothers.

Iacobelli, now in his 60s, has over four decades of artmaking experience. He trained as an artist in the 70s and 80s and his approach to artmaking has been shaped by the methodology and principals of conceptual art. His practice is guided by a set of concerns including, but not limited to, contemporary politics, art history, popular culture and as a Catholic, working-class migrant from Naples, Italy to Australia at the age of sixteen, an ongoing investigation into place, culture and artistic traditions. In South Australia Iacobelli has exhibited for close to thirty years as both a solo artist and in group exhibitions in a myriad of visual art institutions but linked closely the Experimental Art Foundation (1974-2016) and the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (1942-2016), both important organisations to the contemporary art scene in Adelaide.

Iacobelli, a regular visitor and occasional resident of Spain, and where he has exhibited on and off since the mid noughties, has had a long-standing fascination with Bosch, nurtured through repeat visits to the Museo del Prado, where many of Bosch’s paintings are housed. The museum’s major exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death in 2016 brought Iacobelli into fresh contact with The Haywain.

Bosch’s moral preoccupation with human folly and sin: avarice, greed, aggression and lust are detailed in countless inventive ways through symbols and metaphors that combine fantastic and diabolic creatures with observation of daily life – in The Haywain it includes a dentist inspecting a mouth, and a mother washing the bare bottom of a baby. In short, the comings and goings of a medieval Town Square; on which Bosch himself, not un-coincidently, lived.

What does it mean for an artist to engage in a conversation with another across time? English painter Francis Bacon’s study of European painters Velazquez, Titian and Rembrandt and response is characterised by a dismantling of the spatial plane; Cindy Sherman’s photographic history portraits, in which she reimagines herself as the subject, are a means of exploring the nature of representation. What then is the nature of Iacobelli’s exchange with the artist Jheronimus Bosch? What does he bring? What does he take?

From the gallery entrance at the Anne and Gordan Samstag Museum, and even without engaging with individual works, one is struck by the sense of confidence and purposeful curiosity that animates the exhibition.

Dominating the space in centre of the gallery is an imposingly scaled wooden cart measuring over three meters high and six meters long and neatly stacked with hay-bails.

On the floor and in proximity to the cart, more than a dozen small trolleys – each individually assembled and in different sizes offer a range of objects for us to scrutinise: a fish head, a cage, a water colour of musicians here, a painting of a flower over there, feet, a frog, a conical hat, a collection of vegetables. These have been realised by Iacobelli in a range of idioms; from found objects to sculpture and works on paper, traversing the symbolic and the representational. Even without strong familiarity with Bosch’s work it’s possible to detect his symbols and metaphors in conversation with Iacobelli’s own perspectives. A watercolour of a musician bent over his double bass, for instance, evokes the experience of the town square.

From a distance Iacobelli’s neatly and smoothly constructed haywain has the fantastic surrealistic quality of an apparition, or an unspoiled toy. It’s the first of several surreal touches, or symbols, that mirror Bosch’s own pictorial strategies. Step closer and The Cart’s sheer volume of hay – tufty, golden straw – fills your field of vision. Something about the insistent materiality of the work and its rich sensory associations with agriculture, rural and peasant life achieves a strangely intoxicating effect.

The artist utilises the immersive effects of scale elsewhere in the exhibition. In Triptych, a series of three large-scale works made by pulping South Australia’s daily newspaper The Advertiser, muted sheets hang in the air off old butcher’s hooks. Certainly, this work can be viewed as a statement about the impermanence of political discourse: all those words, opinions, stories, photos turned into compost. With the hay bales a stone’s throw away, the work also underscores peasant wisdom: an unobscured familiarity with mortality, a turn of the wheel, the cycle of life.

In other works, such as a series of delicately rendered watercolours of human figures, Iacobelli engages in a critique of our government’s response to asylum seekers. Covered from head to ankle by a bucket, a lampshade, a swag or a conical hat, and titled with depersonalising numbers, these figures bring the comedic tragedy of Bosch’s vision to contemporary Australian politics. These paintings – and the presence of feet in the exhibition – carry a refrain from the pedlar from The Haywain’s closed triptych panel Pilgrimage of Life. As Pilar Silva Marato writes in his catalogue essay accompanying the del Prato exhibition “On the pilgrimage of his journey without destination, the direction of which is unknown to him, he has succeeded in avoiding the angers of the road and knows he must press on despite not knowing what may await him when he crosses the bridge”. 1

Iacobelli is a skilled draftsman, adroit at installation, sculpture, painting and works on paper. His fluency in regards to medium has a lightness to it, yet his art practice, and this exhibition in particular, is rooted in weighty, dense working materials: viscous glossy bitumen, bricks, wood, steel, linen and bronze. Of the range of moods that the exhibition traverses, it’s very strong on a state of anticipatory disquiet.

A roll of linen hung high off the ground to the right of the gallery entrance introduces a theatrical element. If it was to be unfurled, what would it reveal? Directly across the room Iacobelli’s painting The Cloud similarly presents a poetic constellation of objects – a boat, a large cloud, rain drops, and almost imperceptible ladders – suspended against an inky black field of colour. They relate to one another with the symbolic logic of a dream.

To the left of The Cloud, sits a bronze sculpture of Iacobelli’s head resting on a mobile plinth. Like the cart and the collection of trolleys at its feet, it too invites viewers to consider that its position may be temporary, as though the elements in the room might be called upon to migrate at a moment’s notice.

What are we to make of the expression on the face of Aldo Iacobelli’s wax sculpture? It carries no vanity. Rather with eyes and lips parted in surprise, shock or perhaps drawing breath, the life-size head conveys a degree of agitation. Far from Bosch’s Flemish town square of the 1500s Iacobelli observes the labours and failings of humankind from the vantage point of Adelaide. In this work, the artist engages most explicitly with Bosch the moralist, concerned with the actions of his fellow humans.

In Aldo Iacobelli: A  Conversation with Jheronimus the emotion is held and contained by the finely realised constellation of objects in the gallery space. Iacobelli’s own rich symbolic allusions simultaneously pay tribute to Bosch’s artistic and moral courage – his resolutely singular subjectivity that is inescapably modern in sensibility – while at the same time offering a paean to a pre-modern peasant way of life. This is the central tension and mysterious force that is contained by the large haywain and its companions on North Terrace until the end of the month.  

1. Pilar Silva Marato in Bosch: the fifth centenary exhibition, ed Pilar Silva Maroto , Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016, p. 283-284.

Aldo Iacobelli: A  Conversation with Jheronimus until Friday 31 August.

Anne & GordonSamstag Museum of Art
Hawke Building, City West campus, University of South Australia, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide
(cnr Fenn Place and North Terrace)

Image: Aldo Iacobelli: A  Conversation with Jheronimus installation view. Photo: Sam Noonan

Exhibition / Mandala

anna zagalaComment

An exhibition of large scale photographic artworks by emerging artist Diana Yong opens at Tacit Galleries in August.

Yong’s digital artworks feature an intricate layering of images of flora, birds and butterflies – based on photographs taken by Yong in her neighbourhood of Preston and surrounds – arranged by mirroring and duplication into complex compositions that produce a mesmerising, fantastic and almost hallucinogenic effect.

Yong, originally from Singapore and based in Melbourne since 2004, was inspired by Buddhist mandala paintings that were a part of her childhood. She stumbled across one recently in a Tibetan restaurant and was drawn by its expressive, spiritual and formal characteristics.

The urge to make art arose as a deeply personal response to radically altered personal circumstances that left her facing a future with substantial caring obligations.

Yong explains: “Struggling with feelings of hopelessness and depression at the time,  I was very drawn to the sense of inquiry that mandala’s represented, a search for meaning and self-knowledge.”

Yong, a self-taught artist, has also drawn on the work of Seraphine Louis de Senlis (1864-1942), a French ‘Outsider’ artist who created a distinctive body of paintings depicting imaginative arrangements of repeated floral motifs.

In Yong’s works ordinary encounters with her surrounding natural environment have been transformed into the fantastic, inviting viewers to consider concepts of perception and mortality. Seven C-type photographic compositions mounted on foamcore – each 106 cm squared – will be on display in the exhibition titled Mandala.

Mandala, 1-26 August 2018, Wednesday – Sunday, 11am–5pm
Tacit Galleries, 123a Gipps St, Collingwood T 0423 323 188

Image: Mandala #2, digital artwork, 106 x 106 cm.  



Unsubscribe / How automated email campaigns ruined email for me

anna zagalaComment
Beth Kirby's email arrived this morning.

Beth Kirby's email arrived this morning.

There was a time, to be honest not that long ago, that I looked forward to opening up my email account(s). Sure, I subscribe to a fair few newsletters and alerts that ping my inbox and provide a sense of distraction, whether I am looking for it or not, from work related missives. But before 2018 no one hassled me. 

This year I'm being hassled.

Blame it on the energetic (read: manic) entrepreneur. They are the hungry lone wolf with an idea, a sense of mission and a sales target. Given my field, this entrepreneur – on the blogging/instagram/workshops/coffee table lifestyle brand book circuit – is always a female creative.

Usually, I am lured in with a freebie, a well worn and successful technique to get hold of my email address. Click for: SIMPLE WAYS TO RULE INSTAGRAM. Download the freebie guide to Strategy/Filters/Hashtags/Blah blah etc etc. 

Next thing I know I'm deep in someone's Sales Funnel. Now that I've got the guide, the one that told me I need to proper camera to take photos for my social media feed, I can purchase some Lightroom presets for only $270. Bargain. Do you know how hard they worked on perfecting those? Years! Do they work? 780,000 followers on Instagram say YES!

Don't I want to be successful? C'mon. There's room at the top. 

As a communications peep I'm particularly interested in decorum, and the shifting goal posts of culture. I live by the credo: try not to be a pest. This tribe though, schooled in Resilience training, are persistent. Persistence, I can only guess, must pay off. 

The Campaign Monitor/Mailchimp missives arrive several times a week. In the early days I'd email back,  messages like "You're coming on a bit strong. Could you you send me fewer emails?" Fewer emails is never an option. You are either all in or out. I unsubscribed.

Getting to know these frenemies has been instructive. I've become increasingly fascinated by the tone, techniques and language of the genre, the necessity of autobiography. Self declared experts are not wall flowers. There is always a before and after. Before either involves working for the Man – regular paid employment stymies creativity – and/or is a variation on the Lost Years. Unfocussed, gin-soaked, depressed or just aimless. Somehow I thought that's what the twenties were for; I was mistaken. After is awesome. Being Your Own Boss, Living Your Best Life. 

This is a space where failure is celebrated only in so far as it serves to strengthen the contrast with the success that follows. 

The thing is, with the traditional structures of moral and 'lifestyle' guidance – church and newspapers long in decline – there is undeniably a counsel vacuum. I'm as vulnerable as the next person to well meaning advice. I mean, how should I live my life?   

This morning after Beth Kirby shared some chestnuts with me, she's had some epiphanies (You CAN'T escape pain) and I read her plea to fill out a short survey so she can SERVE me better I started on her Guide to a Slow Morning Routine. It occurred to me, it's true, like a bunny in the headlights: I can't escape. The pain I feel when I look into my inbox, it's real.  










Work culture: self employment and doubt

anna zagalaComment

I’ve always been interested in organisational culture. In larger organisations where I’ve occupied Operational roles, I’ve gravitated to the HR component and the way explicit policies in fact underpin and enforce values. Is texting colleagues outside of work hours okay? Can you use some work time to exercise? Where does the organisation stand on morning tea breaks or shared lunches? That kind of thing. Healthy, safe, functional workplaces are a reflection of a thousand and one things put in place with humans who can successfully self-regulate their emotions, feel confident that situations can be repaired when they go the rails, and take responsibility and pride in what they do.

The great satisfaction, of course, is in working together to make something.

Working between organisations and self employment I’ve often reflected on the pleasures and drawbacks of both. This week I was painfully reminded of the drawbacks of being a Boss Lady when I faced a powerful and persistent sense of self doubt.

Horrid, miserable self doubt.

Which is weird, since I should have been on cloud nine. On four separate occasions clients said these very nice things about my work:

“Thank you, I love your work.”

“This is excellent stuff. The words go to  the very essence of CommunityOSH.”

“Love your work.”


While I’ve accepted the praise with grace I had trouble really taking the words to heart. It’s like I couldn’t hear them. 

Usually at the end of a project – when it’s gone well – it's cause for celebration: champagne, lunch out, cake for breakfast.

I just figure, if I can’t celebrate my small successes, who will? But instead of high five-ing myself recently I’ve literally just flipped a page in my notebook and got onto the next thing.

Joyless, sad sack me.

So I took a long hard look at my organisational culture:

~ Exercise encouraged
~ Morning tea a must
~ Communication boundaries in place

Tick. Tick. Tick. And then I realised, what I’m missing is the Boss Lady’s version of colleagues.

The stabilising force in this triangle – outside of myself and my clients – are my regular collaborators and creative colleagues. And right now they are roughly 800 kms to the east.  

It’s been hard to value my work because there’s been no one to share it with. The sense of “working together to make something” has been too fleeting.

In short, I’m facing the hardship of relocation, upheaval and transition. Transition – just here to share something that is probably not news to anyone – is just a bitch.*

Yeah, yeah, I know it takes time. In the meantime I'm doing the Boss Lady version of getting a boss.

I'm engaging a mentor. Stay tuned.


*Note, a bit of colourful language is okay, just not too much.

Image: Noel McKenna (more image details not avail) from the exhibition Landscape – Mapped, 1
8 November 2017 – 2 April 2018, Queensland Art Gallery


anna zagalaComment

On the phone recently my former studio parter, the highly creative and visionary craft practitioner Pauline Tran, had a question for me and this blog. 

"Have you written about flow?"

She meant creative flow, that term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a key proponent of the positive psychology movement (if that doesn't mean anything to to you he is one of the USA based academic fraternity studying the pursuit of happiness, or pursuing happiness, or both). 

It isn't a subject I've tackled, though it's something I think about often and describe tangentially when I'm reflecting on creative projects and collaborations. Of course, we were both thinking about how fricken' hard it is to achieve this state while you are in that highly tactile stage of mothering small children – or children with disabilities – enmeshmed  in their emotional and physical needs.

What does it take, to find the space to create the conditions for creativity? I know that a sense of safety and solitude are important, or at the very least uninterrupted time – enough of it – to allow for energies to quieten and thoughts to sharpen. There has to be time for false starts and true procrastination.

Time, on its own, however, is not enough though.

Finding a way of transitioning from the one thousand and one demands of the here and into the realm of imagination, art making or laying words down requires passing over an uncomfortable threshold.

Changing roles without resorting to crazy-making compartmentalising (the kind that causes internal schisms) requires self awareness and discipline. But creativity makes additional demands. It asks its subjects to be vulnerable, receptive, and curious. 

I'm often gripped by agitation anticipating getting down to work. 

Every person engaged in creative work has their own way of smoothing the passage but utilising a "third space" to shift gear and decompress is critical. 

Driving – moving from home to studio setting – can be enough, so long as it takes time. Mindlessly gazing into the fridge and foraging around the pantry can be a good tactic. But my go-to is walking. Walking is the ticket. 

Of course once you're in, absorbed in the work, joys abound. I love the feeling of discovery, things coming together, exercising capability and skill. Facing and overcoming technical and other issues, no drama. It's in this state that I often have a rush of self recognition: as in I am communing with some essential part of myself and I'm least self conscious.

The capacity to find and inhabit this space is always a huge relief. Though I am able to find my way there, when I visualise creativity it is always in my mind's eye a beautiful, wild stallion: majestic, untamed and afraid. I'm aware that I have to approach it with utmost care and be very, very still in order to gain its trust. When I think about this metaphor – which is always vivid – I know that it's telling me in simple terms that that the horse might bolt but it also reminds me that creativity is unpredictable and in some regards a dangerous undertaking.  





The Florida Project

anna zagalaComment

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017), an indie feature film set on the fringes of Disney World in Florida, documents the life of the working poor and unemployed – single mums, carers, the self-medicating and misfits –who get by, pay check-to-pay check, living in a constellation of down at heel hotels on the scrappy outskirts of the town.

Six-year-old Moonee (the incredible Brooklynn Prince) and her mum Haley (Bria Vinate) rent a hotel room crammed with their possessions, a blanket over the window and large a TV screen at the foot of the bed. The hotel is managed by the industrious Bobby (the wonderful Willem Dafoe) doing his best to enforce rules, undertake repairs and extract payments from his errant tenants.

While the film occasionally shifts perspective to Bobby or Haley Florida Project centres on vibrant and inventive Moonee as she roams the pastel hued hotel grounds, the adjacent swamplands and nearby highways in search of adventure with her gang of friends. These unsupervised excursions frame the small children against absurdly oversized shop fronts: gross theatrical backdrops, vernacular icons of mid twentieth century pop and consumer culture and exploits them to great effect. Occasionally they cross paths with civilians: horrified tourists landing at the hotel on the back of badly made online accommodation bookings, pedophiles looking to take advantage of the unsupervised children, hospitality workers.

I’ve not seen Baker’s other films so I can’t compare its tone its predecessors. He is a director influenced by vérité film traditions and improvisation; whether you like the film will depend on how you lean. 

Moonee happily accompanies her mum as they schlep a bag of perfumes around to the more salubrious hotels, dodging staff, and cajoling tourists into making a purchase with practiced flirtatious wit. She is largely oblivious to the downward direction of their lives. But Haley’s increasingly desperate measures to provide a roof over their head and the ramifications of her actions – ranging from social ostracization to the attention of the authorities – means the film unfolds with a grim inevitability.

What are we to make of Haley? With social skills that could easily garner her an appearance on the Hard Prisons reality TV series, she is difficult to like or empathise with. Neither neglectful nor caring she approaches parenting with the part-time commitment of a foul mouthed primary school buddy. And while she includes Moonee in her escapades, she has no capacity for modelling emotional regulation or an inclination to protect her daughter from the antisocial behaviour that surrounds them. 

The Florida Project draws a line between the stresses on Haley’s life and her behaviour – erratic, unbalanced, vengeful, inarticulate –  and asks that audiences view it in the context of her socioeconomic circumstances. It offers no back story. This is a young woman with no partner, no family, little in the way of friendship, no hopes and, shockingly for an American film, no dreams, either for herself or Moonee. There is just the present with its infinite setbacks and urgent problems.

Some of this is obscured by Brooklynn Prince’s winsome Moonee; her irrepressible vitality is a shield. If there is any saving grace is the film is careful not to exploit her vulnerability and innocence. With so few reprieves, I can’t tell you how grateful and relieved I was for this crucial artistic decision. This is a difficult film but it's also hard to watch.


How I learned to stop worrying and learned to enjoy having my photo taken

anna zagalaComment
sweetpolka shoot  #1. Me, a bit terrified but surprised to be having fun. The auspicious outfit. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

sweetpolka shoot  #1. Me, a bit terrified but surprised to be having fun. The auspicious outfit. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

Demonstrating  connectedness  for   banking not-for-profit Community 21. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

Demonstrating connectedness for banking not-for-profit Community 21. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

Hand model for Tea & Sympathy. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

Hand model for Tea & Sympathy. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

sweetpolka shoot #2.  Looking serious but actually feeling more relaxed this time round. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

sweetpolka shoot #2.  Looking serious but actually feeling more relaxed this time round. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

When I’m working with clients who are business owners I counsel them that if they can tolerate it, they should be prepared to be the face of their “brand” to some degree (working within the parameters of their temperament, sure). Given that most are passionate about their work and motivated by a deep sense of conviction talking about their business is a tap easier to turn on than off. Enthusiasm peaks just before I mention having photos taken. At that point it doesn’t so much as taper off as plunge.

Which I totally get. There was a time that just thinking about having my photo taken would bring me to sweat. Someone would hold up a camera to my face and the level of threat that I’d register was somewhere in the vicinity of a hand gun.

But a few years ago taking my freelance business to the next level I had to document my folio, a task that I approached with palpable dread. Designers are often their own worse clients. Just dragging my work out caused me actual physical pain. (I can’t break that down in 50 words or less but I think it has partly to do with my relationship with process and also a fear of judgement).

And while photographer Emma Byrnes and I had a long friendship to draw on, this was the first time we’d worked together. We didn’t really have a language for collaboration, no points on the board, though I sensed she was the right person for the job: intuitive, sensitive, and with a camera in her hand part psychologist, part animal trainer.

I thought we were going to lay the work flat and Emma would take a photo. Shoot. Repeat. But that’s not how it panned out. Firstly, Emma took a shine to my outfit. She thought I should appear in shot with my work, a surprising suggestion; the portfolio genre is disembodied, not counting the occasional hand holding book pages flat. But the idea will give you an insight into Emma’s approach, feeling her way through a given situation with openness and curiosity.

I had not bothered with my hair or worried with the makeup bag that morning. The lack of preparedness crossed my mind. But I placed trust in my photographer. I became a willing participant. Emma’s attitude was contagious. Before long I experienced a sensation I only reliably associate with writing and sometimes designing – when it’s going well, that is – a satisfying absorption and state of unselfconscious flow.

I know, “What the heck?”, right?

Since this shoot I’ve found myself moonlighting as a middle-aged model – no one is more surprised that myself by this turn of events – moving from behind the camera art directing shoots for clients and in front of it.

I have become a moving human prop for my photographer collaborator: the blurred person adding scale and texture to the photo for a small, seaside makers market, a hand model for a tea brand, a figure moving around oversized puzzle pieces for a community banking not-for-profit.

It turns out I really enjoy making images. I like it a lot. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Taking photos takes time
Sure, it will be over more quickly if you rush it but capturing a good image takes time.

Be prepared
Think about the shots you want to get ahead of time. Be guided by how you intend to use them.

Go for tone over expression. Humans are too inconsistent to give good face. The tone of a series of photos is more memorable.

The “decisive” moment
In regards to portraiture, the idea that a photographer can capture some essential aspect of her subject – authentic, unguarded – might be true but is it helpful to the subject? I don’t think so. The thought is more terrifying than appealing.

Approach it like a performer
Like most stressful situations, it’s useful to assume a persona.

Show a willingness to try different things. Often an on-the-spot solution to a particular problem will emerge.

Attention to detail
Give your props and setting plenty of thought beforehand but be flexible on the day.

As in, have reasonable expectations. More than likely you will still look like yourself. I never expect more than six good shots out of a four hour shoot all going well. Some set ups will bear no fruit. It’s no big deal.

Even my celebrity friends are getting older. It’s okay. We’re all growing old.

Of course, this whole about face has prompted to ask: what else am I hating that I could be loving?