Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Olivia Bee & School & Work


A little while ago a young photographer, Olivia Bee, gave a TEDx talk in Amsterdam. I met her the following week as she did the rounds of agencies showing her portfolio. Super nice, intelligent, well spoken. But what makes her really different from most of the photographers we meet is her age, a mere 19 years old. She knew what she wanted to do with her life from the age of 13, and then went about following her dream, which includes choosing not to go to University. It's an interesting talk about life, dreams, passion, and going against the grain. These are some of her photographs though the post.
So this got me thinking about my work, career, and school. Did you know what you wanted to do at age 13? When I was at high school for grades 9 and 10 (aged 14 and 15), you can choose some of your own classes. I remember wanting to continue with sewing, but at the time my parents didn't see any career value in this, and pushed me into taking geography. I was the only girl in the geography class, and the guys were amongst the shittiest loosers you could imagine, I loathed going to class, and more importantly I was just completely disengaged and bored out of my brain. I think a class of sewing which would have at least engaged and made me happy, no matter it's value in the real world, would have been time better spent. Now with the craft revolution, who knows where it may have lead me, but of course, hindsight is 20-20, and no-one could have predicted that, that's not really the point. Just doing things that make you happy can be all the value you need out of something.
The things I liked best were design, art and crafts, and I think that was pretty clear form a young age. But where's the career in crafts, right? My two internships during those years were for graphic design. Yet in college (aged 16 and 17), I chose to do maths, physics, chemistry, creative writing, and graphic design. Thing is, there were never any other subjects at college I would have enjoyed, the more practical or artsy subjects were not academical geared or stimulating enough for me. So the choice offered was pretty limited. I struggled a lot with the sciences, and just scraped by through the exams by the skin of my teeth. Graphic design was my one constant 'fun subject' and even though I'd done internships there I never really accepted it as a career path, and right up until I was about to fill out the paperwork for my University course I was planning of doing something 'sciencey'. Why? I think partly because, as Oliva says, that's what you think you have to do if you do well academically, and to make a living. And, secondly, it would mean not doing what all of my other friends were as my Art School was on a different campus from the main Uni, and I'd be leaving the friends at school I'd known since I was 10, or younger. But at the eleventh hour, my gut instinct spoke up, and I opted for Art School and was accepted. I think my parents were genuinely really happy with this decision. I think my Dad actually would have loved to have gone to Art School, he's great with his hands, as is my Mum. I feel like we were all equally both at a loss and pressured by the education system, what choices were out there, and what would be best.
Thing is, I didn't really enjoy my time at Art School that much. I made horrible art. I didn't like that kind of self expression. I liked the problem-solving challenge of design. So as a designer surrounded by a sea of hippies and ferals, turning up when they felt like it, and off protesting the Tarkine Wilderness development the rest of the time, I wasn't in my element. Add to that the fact that I was working 6 or 7 days a week to pay for school supplies, while they got their income via an Aus Study grant, this grated on my nerves. There was also internal struggles between the more strictly art subjects and the department of design, the art subjects not wanting design to be part of the school, and it's students in their class. But in the end, I'm glad it was, and I think the work we did was more varied and less cookie-cutter than the graduating work I saw from a lot of mainland Uni's which was all highly polished, but all pretty much the same. As much as I didn't really enjoy Uni per se, I did learn a lot. I also have to say having spent the majority of my career working overseas in the USA, and Europe, I couldn't have gotten a VISA without that degree. One thing that Olivia doesn't have to worry about, being able to travel for shoots for short periods in other countries, and able to stay based in the USA, and not in Hobart, Tasmania...the southern most capital city of Australia. Look it up, it's pretty far away from everything.
Olivia is unique, but also really lucky to have had a big break. I'm not sure where she'd be now if she hadn't had the call from Converse that propelled her forward in so many ways. Though I do agree that the school system is pretty outdated for the way we work and live these days. My brother and sister have also had to work hard to find the career that best suits them. I think it takes a while for most of us to figure life out. I'm still figuring out how best to get to where I want to go. A little side project is the start of hopefully great things. So, we'll see.

1 comment:

Susie said...

I discovered Olivia Bee's work a couple of years ago when working on the Getty Images/Flickr collection and hadn't seen her work since - thanks for sharing this Ted Talk, a really interesting watch.

I'm from Brisbane and went to Art School then moved to London, currently in Sydney but Amsterdam-bound in three weeks. I'm 30 and still trying to work out exactly where my passions lie in a career sense. I haven't worked on a side project in a long time - perhaps the time is right now :)