Carly Webber is a fine art portrait photographer based in Brisbane, Australia. Shooting with both film and digital.
Where were you born and where do you live now? And when did you first knew you wanted to be a photographer?
I was born in and grew up in Wairarapa, New Zealand. I went to High School in the 90's (the pre-digital age), and when I was 16 I did a 3 day film photography workshop through our art class. That's where it hit me; when I decided that was all I wanted to be doing - creating and taking photos.
Armed with my grandfathers old 35mm camera, I put photography at the top of my subject electives for my final year, and spent as much time as I could in that pungent darkroom. I was convinced I was going to be a photo journalist, but at the end of school I let myself be talked down by the naysayers at the time, who insisted a photographer to be a foolish and 'non-safe' carer choice. So I settled on something I presumed 'safer', to appease others.
But, nothing else I did felt right or was at all where I wanted to be. 10 years, 3 unfinished qualifications, and employment resume that resembled commitment issues later, I packed up everything and moved to Australia. Now I'm living in Brisbane with my husband and young family, and finally I've come full circle, getting back into my first love - photography.
I've 'quit' photography more times than I can count.
Five years ago our eldest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder; and three months after that, his little sister was diagnosed the same. It's been the most incredibly gruelling and challenging experience for our family, especially in the earliest days and it lead to my own battles with depression and anxiety. But it also changed my perspective and life in ways I never expected or imagined.
I've dipped my toe in just about every genre of portrait photography; always portraits; something about that connection that I loved. And probably needed.
Each shift or change in my work and genre was typically forced by what I could or could not manage in our ever changing family life. So many times I felt any chance of being able to learn or pursue portrait photography was completely squeezed out; I had neither the time, the money, nor the flexibility.
Months later shelving my camera for the fifth or sixth time, a notice came up on Facebook - a local photographer I was following was hiring out his studio space on weekends. I'd never touched studio lighting before, but I booked a couple of hours, literally emailed every dance studio and sports team in the city looking for subject volunteers (found three - two dancers and an MMA fighter), and set about reading anything and everything I could about lighting, and photographing dancers and athletes. It was brilliant, and I knew within 10 minutes of stepping in that studio, this was definitely my jam! That was back when I was shooting with a Nikon DSLR kit.
I actually ended up selling everything about a year later, to help pay for some of my children's therapy. I was devastated at the time, but knew it was the right thing to do. I guess the wonderful thing is, set backs and challenges can allow you to grow if you let them, and when you literally start over with nothing, it can be a really REALLY valuable lesson in resourcefulness and commitment. I was desperate to get a camera again and began from scratch with a $70 Minolta 35mm film SLR. Later I was able to buy a $400 Mamiya C330 (and even that I couldn't afford at the time, but I'm so grateful to the person I bought it off, who let me split payments over a month). My time challenges hadn't changed, so I also knew I had to find a way to shoot this new old gear with strobes.
My first time out, shooting film and lights was in our old garage with a $60 speedlight and shoot through umbrella. It was a disaster, but the sync cable I had DIY'ed worked - so I was sort of back in business.
Adding the Fujifilm X-T1 was such a milestone for me. It wasn't my first camera choice, or even my second if I'm honest; but again circumstance (and budget) ruled. Isn't it funny though, how these things all pan out exactly the way they are meant to? Now I love that camera, the mirrorless system is brilliant, and compact, the files are amazing, and I couldn't imagine having anything else for what I'm doing. I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be.
My journey into and through photography has been an interesting one, and how I got to be doing what I am. It has a lot to do with some unexpected challenges having two children with Autism, but what I first thought was the greatest misfortune, has in fact (with a huge adjustment in perspective) lead me to right where I needed to be.
Can you tell us a bit more about the images in this interview?
I typically shoot medium format film on and old 1970's vintage camera. I also shoot in hired studios, so my lighting is often different each time, and my whole set up is a little 'MacGyver'.
I hadn't owned a digital camera in the longest time, but last year I bought a Fujifilm. With the compact size and luxury of auto focus, it was perfect for chasing around and photographing my own kids. I ended up buying the X-T1 and after owning it for a few months, decided to bring it to the studio to capture some behind the scenes shots. On this particular day I had 4 shoots back to back and was pushed for time. My first shoot had just finished and while rushing to reload the film, my hand caught the sync cable, sending my loosely attached speedlight crashing to the concrete floor. It separated the solder in my homemade lead, my jaw hit the ground also, and I kick myself for only having made one sync cable.
I had no idea now how I was going to trigger those lights. My husband, who was assisting grabbed the X-T1 and said "just use the digital". I pulled some ugly face and replied that digital was gross ;) and wasn't an option for me.... 10 minutes later, realising the X-T1 was my ONLY option, I reluctantly took up the Fujifilm and went back to work. Now I've used the same camera (by choice) for four other portrait sessions, and have taken some of my favourite photos with it.
I can't believe how much I've fallen in love with this little camera and am enjoying incorporating it in my studio work. Digital, as it turns out, ain't so bad :)
Which other photographers do you love?
Annie Leibovtz. Without a doubt. Everything about her work is magnificent.
Do you have a new project in mind?
So many projects! My work is becoming largely based on storytelling and connection - not just in images, but the words, captions and interviews that accompany each image. I'm very interested in people who overcome adversity. Actually not just overcome it - but totally smash it out of the park. Having children now that don't fit in the 'normal' or 'typical' box motivates me to explore human judgments, shallow assumptions, and superficial stereotypes. I have a few ideas for a series on this, but I'm yet to decide which path to take.
I'd actually really like to explore also, now that I have a digital camera in the X-T1, some more fine art work with digital manipulation. Or a 365 portrait project... again #moreideasthantime
If nothing else I hope my story encourages just one person; to not give up, to push on adapt, and be resourceful. Look for and believe there is opportunity in everything.