'I find I am much more able to cope with the pressures of academia with photography in my life; it allows part of my brain to rest while I am concentrating on capturing images,’ says Paula Ansley, a scientist living in Morpeth who took up serious photography three years ago. Having always been interested in taking photographs – her parents gave her an SLR camera for her 21st birthday – her husband bought her a DSLR for her 40th birthday, reigniting her passion and inspiring her to take her hobby to another level by setting up Deerwood Photography.
Previously a senior lecturer at University of Portsmouth, and a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and Cape Town University in South Africa, Paula admits that life as a scientist is very different to that of a photographer. However, she does identify certain similarities. ‘Creativity is required in both research and photography, as you’re constantly thinking of new directions to take. You also need to be technically minded to manage laboratory and photographic equipment, as well as have an ability to think quickly on your feet in any situation. I have also used photography in my scientific work, recording study participants’ skin responses to allergens before and after exercise in the laboratory. Few people know that the famous equine artist George Stubbs was a scientist and studied equine anatomy at York. Perhaps there is a link between physiology and photography after all!’
As you can imagine, Paula’s day-to-day routine is pretty jampacked, and balancing two jobs alongside a family can be difficult, albeit do-able. ‘It is tough at times, but I have a very supportive family and we all juggle things around to make sure everyone has both time together and time to spend on their own interests. My daily routine usually consists of: feed the dogs, feed the cats, feed the chickens, feed the children, feed the husband! I then rush to catch the train to Newcastle for a day at the University, before coming home to repeat the feeding operation. Once everyone is in bed for the night, I can start with my photography, often editing photographs or doing administrative tasks such as responding to photographic requests and uploading photos to Facebook. I also write a monthly column on photography for our parish magazine. I keep academia and photography in very separate parts of my day, otherwise neither would be done to the high standards I am always striving for.’
Capturing children and animals – and the relationship between them in the great outdoors – is what Paula loves photographing the most, and spends lots of time with family trialing new techniques. ‘My daughter is a fantastic model but wants to run the shoot, which can be challenging. My husband used to model years ago but isn’t too keen, though he does usually help out with bribes. My son won’t pose at all, so I opt for the more natural shots with him.’
Paula is very grateful for her natural back drop: the North East. ‘I love the North East, it is beautiful and there is some sort of rawness to the landscape. I find the local people generally very friendly and they have been really supportive with my venture. I’m not sure what they make of me being a scientist, photographer and mother. Slightly mad and usually in a rush I think! But on a serious note, I feel the North East provides me with the perfect outdoor studio; rural Northumberland is so inspiring.’
As an academic, Paula is used to learning, and it seems her two chosen careers are constantly taking her on new and interesting journeys. ‘I thought completing my PhD would be enough, but since then I have passed with distinction, and collected an advanced certificate in allergy and clinical immunology, as well as a diploma in marketing. But over the last couple of years, I’ve learnt how little I actually know about the other things in life, so now I try and learn something new everyday. I felt it was essential to thoroughly understand the technical aspects of photography and keep developing my skills. There are plenty of excellent courses run by professional societies on particular aspects of photography, but online forums are also useful. Professional development is a vital part of developing as a photographer and as an academic.’
With a raw talent and an eye for a great picture, Paula clearly has the determination to take Deerwood Photography to the next level. In her opinion, women do have the natural ability to succeed in running their own business. ‘Women are able to read emotions well and connect with others. This really helps with building relationships quickly. Women are also able to multi-task, which is always helpful.’
So what does the future have in store for one of Morpeth’s busiest women? ‘My ambition is to hold an exhibition showcasing my photography one day. I want to share my work with others and encourage people to take up photography. I am often asked if I would abandon my academic career for photography but I definitely would not. Whilst I rest my academic brain during photography pursuits, I rest my photography brain during my academic pursuits. Having time away from the camera brings freshness to my work when I return. I give my all to a photographic shoot, which can be quite exhausting and I couldn’t keep that up if I was doing it 24/7. I am able to remain enthusiastic about my photography and my academic work, and I think I would lose that if I was to do photography full time. That’s why having two careers works so well for me. However, I don’t think anyone, myself included, can be successful in any field without the support of their family.’ www.deerwood.co.uk