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A photographer's take on finding your inspiration - I found mine, it was in Manchester

“Our visual voice is like our personality, it’s informed from all our past experiences and loves and interests. So what we should be doing is crystallising all those thoughts and ideas into how we want to view the world.” In one of my favourite episodes of Shoot Edit Chat Repeat (seriously I’ve listened to it 4 times!) photographer Ange Ward-Brown urges wedding photographers to step away from constantly viewing their industry colleagues’ work and instead look towards other visual inspiration like film and landscape photography.

And it’s true for any artist, whilst following other people in your field will certainly help you hone your technical skills and keep your finger on the pace of your market, it’s never going to find your personal expression. Ange’s words have stayed with me and rang true on a recent trip to Manchester.

I put my camera down for a weekend and headed off on holiday with my partner. (Ok I put my 'proper' camera down - these are a few of my phone snaps!) What happened was three days that gave me more inspiration for my photography than any trolling through instagram ever will.

Day one - The City - Manchester is vibrant, it’s colourful. The city is not afraid of it’s young artists and their expression, in fact the Northern Quarter is full of layers of quirky street art and messages of positivity. The people are diverse and welcoming, everywhere you look there’s a sense of inclusivity. It radiates LGBTQ+ pride. The architecture is a wonderful mix of maintaining history without being afraid of the new, tradition and modernity sit side by side.

Annie Swinnerton's 1930's portrait of Dame Millicent Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies
Annie Swinnerton's 1930's portrait of Dame Millicent Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies

Day two - Annie Swinnerton - The exhibition, Light and Hope at the Manchester Art Gallery brought together the first collection of Swinnerton’s work in nearly a century. Swinnerton was a passionate women’s rights advocate through the Suffrage movement and the first women to be elected to the Royal Academy. Her feminism and embodiment of female expression sings through in her work. The women she depicts are of all ages and backgrounds, and most of all, they are real. They have wrinkles and definition in their faces, wisps of hair and her nudes have visible veins under the skin. What struck me most was Swinnerton’s rejection of the altering of women’s bodies in art which has only become more prevalent in the age of photoshop.

Day three - Janelle Monae - I was lucky enough to go and see Janelle Monae perform on her Dirty Computer tour, the reason we’d gone to Manchester in the first place. She’s gutsy, unashamed and the show is a celebration of all things LGBTQ+, black pride, women’s rights and sexual liberation. Simply sublime, I cannot put into words how amazing this women is, you’ll just have to check her out yourself.

Well this is all a nice story about your holiday Charlie but what does it mean for your work as a photographer…?

I saw so many parallels between this trip and my photographic work, the result was an energy and an excitement for continuing to find my visual language. Amethyst’s work is full of colour and vibrancy, it’s about real people, inclusivity and body positivity. It’s about telling the story of who you are as a unique individual, not matter who you are or what your love looks like.

Thank you for the inspiration Manchester...I'll definitely be back!

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