It’s mid-winter in Sydney. And as anyone close to me knows, I don’t like the cold. That’s putting it mildly. Each morning I tie my scarf tight, pull my jacket close and cycle (mostly uphill), precariously balancing camera, lenses and laptop against the chilly wind to get to college. Yet when the warm burst of classroom air hits me and I find my seat in the lecture hall, it’s not lost on me for a moment how grateful I am to finally be doing what I love.
If the road that I ride along each morning isn’t tricky enough, then the path to get here was as in-my-face as the blustering morning gusts that push against me. The first rejection conversation with a college went something like this: “you’re older and from a high-risk country.” Wait, let me collect my thoughts before I respond: “Ah yes, I know. And so did you when you met me in person and said my application would be accepted.” But somewhere between copious questioning and tedious sub-clauses, the marketing gloss wore off. Every college in Australia assured me they take international students and mature age applicants, but the combination of both seemed to deflate my chances. Admission officers everywhere said the process would be made a whole lot simpler by going through an education agent in India.
Sounded simple enough but of the 12 agents I spoke to, they also thought my age a barrier. Who were the white-haired baby boomers on the front of the brochures, laughing spontaneously like a scene from the golden girls? If nothing else, I consoled myself with the certainty I could get a job in an Indian call centre with all my experience cold-calling agencies direct marketing my story. I was determined despite the knockbacks not to give up. If anything it gave me momentum to one day splash on my Photography Masterclass bio “was told I was too old to study photography…look at me now.” Eventually, as in the case with so many of life’s pivotal moments, someone gave me a shot and was prepared to back me for a chance.
I’ve often wondered if I’d started my photography journey in my twenties, where could it have taken me. Truth is though that doing it here and now is exactly how it is meant to unfold. Beckoned by passion not ambition and choosing creativity, not status, I’m loving every minute of inspiration that comes with my choice to study at this moment and who I choose to be. The gang of three in my class look like they spend every hour outside of college in an underground urban railway, stealing magnificent photographs in the splintered light of passing trains. They don’t speak to anyone else, they come and go; they’re 16, moody and talented. Two people in my course are attempting it for the second time, including the guy well over 50 who wears shorts every day, despite the plummeting mid-winter temperatures. My photographic class buddy is a pregnant Slovakian woman with a story just waiting to be captured on film. It’s only been a month, but every class is a great human study and exercise in people watching. In my twenties, I wouldn’t have then had my own story to bring.
Our passions somehow have a way of following us, tapping us on the shoulder looking very much like a mistimed opportunity. I could have embraced my photo story much sooner but by virtue of it being deep inside, it started when I gave it the energy and passion it truly deserves. It’s the buoyancy that comes with being authentic about what you do and who’s on the journey with you that allows the pieces to fall together just as they should. There is never a wrong time, or a difficult age or a question about being too late. That our desires keep bubbling to the surface is always for a reason.
I wonder what limits most of us from making the shift into doing what really makes us happy. At every stage of life, there are social obligations that confine us. It seems easier to wait for that precious moment of alchemy when the stars align and we allow ourselves time to follow our dream. But it’s too fleeting an opportunity to bank on. We’re so busy being busy that when we look back at 10 years ago, 5 years ago we often wonder what we spent all our energy and time doing. We wonder what we could have filled our years with that might have carried us closer to our interests, our passion, our truth. I’m 44 and have come back to college to give photography my best shot, not in spite of my age but because of it.