Recently I’ve been really reflective about the path that I’ve taken in life, and how I ended up here. It led me to unearthing all my old photography work from when I first started taking photos — it’s so satisfying and strange to see the progression from newbie to professional. It’s been a learning-curve filled journey that’s had some real rough points, but I’ve felt like I’ve needed to re-visit some of those points to get me back on a goal-oriented path. So, please enjoy my self-indulgent tale of how I got to this point and how my work has led me to be the photographer I am today.
I bought my first camera back in 2012 — I was in my first term at University and my boyfriend (at the time) was really into photography. He wanted to join the local photography club (Birmingham Photographic Society), and I just kind of wanted to tag along and do something that wasn’t just being hungover. I’d convinced myself that I always quite liked photography — but looking back I’m not sure if that was actually real or just FOMO.
Here’s one of the artistic masterpieces we shot during my first week. I have many questions about the choices made to create this image but instead of philosophising, I shall simply name it: juice art.
We attended the society for about a year and I got loads of opportunities to try all sorts of different stuff. I built a bit of a portfolio and got the opportunity to shoot all sorts of random things, like the snow society at Uni. My work from that gig was probably the worst editing jobs of my entire photographic life. I call this piece: I’m learning to use photoshop art.
The chair of snow club, Mo, was responsible for ‘Cheeky Rastall Photography’. I was using ‘Georgie Rastall Photography’ for ages and he said to me: “could you think of something different? Everyone uses ‘their name photography’ — something else would be more memorable.” I thought “yeah you’re right actually there mate, thanks” and there you have it.
At Uni, took every opportunity I could to photograph local bands and do shoots with anyone who was up for modelling. I was always looking for opportunities and would email loads of local PR people and small magazines and ask for press passes in exchange for images and reviews. My live music shots were definitely the best in my baby-portfolio at the time. This band in particular are really important to me even now. This image is of my friend Dan — we’ve kept in touch and I’m going to photograph his wedding in September this year.
As well as emailing PRs etc, I entered every submission and competition I could to try and get my name out there and some exposure. I had one photo published in Practical Photography Magazine, and one featured on the BBC’s social media. I ended up being employed by both of these organisations later on — luckily the BBC eventually got my name right.
With this portfolio of a mash of live music, strangely edited skiing shots and juice, I got a job at a summer camp in Maine, USA as the photographer. This meant I spent 3 months a year doing documentary-style photography every single day — and I really mean every day, when you work for a summer camp, you barely get any time off. I was back and forth to the USA for a couple of years and it was the catalyst for me as a photographer — it was my first toe-dip into true professional photography and the pressure of having to deliver results — oh my days it was a learning curve. I was only allowed to deliver photos of the kids either looking happy or concentrating — so the pressure was on to get those expressions timed perfectly (and I definitely see that skill in my swing dance work). I’d have to photograph all sorts, from baseball, dance, waterskiing, tennis, arts and crafts, theatre performances — it made me versatile and able to adapt to all sorts. I can’t really share much of my work there, because all of the images were of children but those couple of years were definitely the most crucial in all my time as a photographer (and human!). I can’t thank Lisa enough for hiring me and giving me the opportunity to develop my work. I’m also so thankful because I met some of my most very best friends, I got to travel loads and see the world. It was probably the biggest influence in making me the person I am today — you don’t live in the woods for 3 months a year and not have some revelations about who you are.
When I wasn’t working at camp, I was at Uni and to be honest, I didn’t do that much photography. I wanted to keep up my writing portfolio, so I wrote for a couple of local magazines so did bits and bobs to go with that, but nothing groundbreaking. The summers were so full on, it kind of burnt me out for the rest of the year.
I moved to Cyprus for my placement year in 2015 and did the occasional shoot there — the skills I’d gained at Kamp Kohut had geared me up to be a pretty decent portrait photographer and I was being offered more and more gigs but I knew Cyprus wasn’t a forever-home for me, so I didn’t accept many. I took more photos for fun and it sparked my love of photography again. It had turned into a real means to an end in the USA, and the only thing I could think of was the pressure of ‘just get the shot’, because that’s what I’d needed to do for camp. I definitely fell back in love over that year in Cyprus.
I came back to the UK and my aforementioned boyfriend and I broke up. After that, I think I just needed to do the Uni thing during my final year — get drunk and struggle through my lectures — photography was always on the sidelines but I was nowhere near as driven as when I started out. Following the break up, I realised I needed something new in my life that was just mine, and a way to make new friends who didn’t know my ex and that whole previous part of my life. So, I started swing dancing.
As Uni came to an end, I got a job as a full-time writer for Bauer Media’s Practical Photography Magazine. I had to move to Peterborough before my degree even ended. I felt so smug getting a job before I’d even finished my degree — and my dream job at that! It was a life-long dream of mine to be a writer, and to couple it with photography was the ultimate goal.
I was happy for a while. I did some good work, and I learnt so much. I recreated ‘dogs playing poker’ with real dogs and that was a highlight. I also met some phenomenal photographers and writers and all-round A+ humans. But I was really, really, really, really miserable. I hated Peterborough, I hated the old-school publishing attitude within my magazine, I hated the male-orientated photography industry, and I hated press trips to London most of all. It just wasn’t for me.
I was so sad, the only thing keeping me from a breakdown was dancing. I was completely out of love with photography again because it just connoted sad days in the office or days away in the arse end of nowhere doing a job I should love but actually hated.
In a last-ditch attempt to want to pick up a camera for fun again, I took my camera to Cambridge Lindy Hop’s Tuesday night social. I realised I was solidly OK at taking photos of dancers and noted it down as something I might do again.
After 10 miserable months, I left Peterborough and moved my life to Manchester for a 3 month contract in a content creation role at the BBC. (Side note: I’ll never decide to move house on Christmas Eve ever again — no matter how poetic it feels.) I loved my job at the BBC and that 3 months turned into a couple of years. I worked on BBC Bitesize and CBBC, and got to create some mad stuff and work with some incredibly talented people and I made some life-long friends. I also started doing some freelance writing for photography publications as a freelancer but it’s still not something that lights up my soul.
Enter: Matthew Lane. Matt was just starting SwingOut Manchester so I offered some photos and to do a shoot or two. I didn’t really have a portfolio for dancing, but Matt took up my offer and let me just be creative. I would not be the photographer I am now had Matt not given me a chance.
When I look back on these images now I just want to re-do them all, but everyone starts somewhere. I’ll go into detail about my progression as a dance photographer at some point — it was a really steep learning curve and I’m a little uncomfortable to share it! But from these photos, I started to get booked for things further and further afield and I guess I became a dance photographer?
Bristol Shag Fiesta was my first booking from people I didn’t know. It was terrifying. I’m about to shoot my third one so apparently I did an alright job. I really sad about Hamilton House, as it was the first venue I took photos in as a freelance dance photographer.
Day job-wise. I sold out and took a role in digital marketing for some stability and space from short term contracts. I don’t know how long I’ll last doing something less creative and away from production but, for now, it’s alright.
Last year I worked so many events I’ve lost count and I also got the chance to do some amazing individual shoots with people. I went by in a whirlwind and I think I’ll go into it more when I talk about my dance photography specifically. It’s also the year I got a photography Instagram. I focused mainly on dancers and really worked on that as a skill.
I also got the chance to work with Russell Howard and Tesco (unrelated circumstances).
2019 is now. And I’m still taking photos of dancers. I’m travelling around more than ever and I’m already booked out for the year (it’s April!) — my work is always changing and I’m not sure what the future will bring. I’m doing more with drag queens and bands, as well as dancers, and it’s pushing me to critique and educate myself more than ever before. I can see the result of years of hard work finally coming together but there is still a long way to go.
I’ve taken some of my best work ever this year — but my next goal is to improve my knowledge of colour and composition theory in order to plan much more striking shots when I’m working 1:1 with people. For events, I’m using a new focal length and different techniques to try to step out of the box of my ‘style’. I want to be versatile and able to adapt, and do to that, I need to keep challenging myself.
If you got to this point — wow — that was my life story. I’m writing this and it’s 1am. This was probably rambley, but I felt it’s important for people to know that what you see in my work is the result of years of dang hard work, but also that everyone is a beginner in everything once — it just takes time and practice. I’ve gone from taking photos of juice in a studio in the Custard Factory in Birmingham to writing for the biggest photography magazine in the UK to travelling hundreds of miles a year to photograph dancers. It’s not been easy, and I still don’t see anything as perfect, but I’m excited to see where the future takes my work next.