Welcome to the September 2019 edition of the Career Inspo Blog!
This is a monthly interview with someone who has followed their passion, dreamed big and now has a successful and exciting career. Whether you are searching for your passion or looking for guidance and insight from those in your chosen industry, the Career Inspo blog will have something for everyone. After the success of the 2018 blog, I am so excited to be continuing the interviews through 2019 and I am sure this year’s line up will provide plenty of motivation and inspiration!
This month I interviewed Karen Yeomans. Karen is a professional photographer, specialising in the human body, and has 22 years of experience. Karen mainly works within the sports, health and wellbeing sectors and is especially well known for her yoga images. Last year Karen photographed the UK Athletes for the Invictus Games and recently Women’s rugby premiership winners, Saracens.
SE: Please can you start by sharing with us what your route into this career was?
My story is that two worlds which collided. I studied photography at degree level following on from an art foundation. During these studies, I was suffering from a condition called Achalasia, which is when you cannot swallow. I was unable to eat solid food and living off a diet of liquid nutrition. It’s a chronic condition which I had 5 lots of surgery to alleviate the symptoms of, and hopefully finally an esophagectomoy. This made me aware of the vulnerability of the body and seek to find ways to stay in optimal health.
When I was 19 I started practicing yoga. I had always been very sporty at school, competing in cross country and long distance track events and latterly boxing and swimming. Following my most recent surgery, I needed to stop high impact sports, so now mainly swim and continue yoga, as well as dog agility. So the two worlds very much came together in terms of my photography and my interest in health and wellbeing and sport from an early age.
When studying for my degree I thought I wanted to be a fashion photographer and my final major project; ‘Beautifully Damaged’ was a comment on the fashion industry and what I felt it communicated to women. My artwork very much featured my frustration with the boundaries that were being placed on women and the emphasis on the way they look rather than what they do.
I didn’t actually follow a career in fashion photography, I guess by accident. I did a lot of assisting for about 10 years, and I worked for a long period with a photographer who captured a lot of fitness and dancers in a beautiful way, a little bit like I do now.
SE: Could you share more about your projects and the inspiration/reasons behind them?
KY: In my personal projects I feature the theme of what women do, the achievements of women and what women are; definitely from a more positive perspective these days. I photograph inspirational women in sport and document their stories; whether that be teams, or individuals. Recently I photographed our no. 1 British fencer who is the only British female fencer that we have competing! She will be going to the Olympics next year and I tell the story of her journey.
When your working on commercial projects, often everything has to look beautiful and perfect. I am obviously following client’s briefs, but started to feel like I was perhaps colluding in something which isn’t so healthy, particularly for women’s self image and mental health. I needed to find an antidote to that. I wanted to find examples of strength and beauty within the talent that women have.
SE: What have been your biggest challenges and learning curves?
KY: I think having your own business is a tough thing to do because you have to live with a certain level of uncertainty. I have a good level of regular clients, but I never really know when I am next going to work on a campaign. I have become used to the uncertainty and trust that things will roll and they generally do, but there are leaner times when things go up and down. That takes some getting used to.
Sometimes people disappoint me especially if it is related to yoga assignments. I have been let down people or they have been acted in a way that I do not think is representative of the practice of yoga, which is the search of truth and union of body and mind. I guess some people and clients in all trades and industries can surprise you with the integrity of their behaviour.
SE: What are the most memorable experiences in your career so far?
KY: Getting a 1st class degree was amazing for me, I didn’t believe I could do it. Last year I was awarded the Women’s Sports Trust Imagery of the Year Award and that was a lovely recognition. And then some of the jobs that I have done, not always for the most high profile of clients, they can be really rewarding in terms of translating people’s ideas. I’m an enthusiastic, creative person who loves to get involved in the process so there have been clients that I have worked with where I have felt that it has been a real collaboration, with me working with them to interpret and bring their ideas to life.
Working with sports women I’ve had some super inspirational and heart-warming moments. Probably one of the most moving was working with Saracens. It triggered something quite powerful in me when I watched the girls training I noticed their lack of reacted to the camera. Most people react in some way, particularly women, often with a kind of self-conscious tone. I’m very much about want to celebrate women so as much as possible I am trying to bring that into my work. I try to contribute something worthwhile, as well as making a living. Whether that’s personal work or working on something really rewarding like the Invictus Games athletes, I want to do something, which helps society and humanity. I know it sounds a little grand but I want to feel like I’m making a useful contribution. Particularly in women’s sport as it’s grows in momentum, I feel I can help women be seen so the next generation can see it and believe it. That’s why I work so passionately on that particular front.
SE: What key strengths do you have that make you great at what you do?
KY: I’m slightly obsessive! My perfectionism can hurt me sometimes because I won’t let stuff go, and in terms of my time, it is often to my own detriment. However, I love what I do and that is something I’m very grateful for because not many people can say they love what they do, and really care passionately. I love photographic problems, I love new ideas being brought to me and working out how that can happen; whether that’s through the lighting, the canvas, the location, the details that need to happen to really bring a production to life and make it a really powerful picture or series.
SE: Do you have a role model/mentor? If so, what have you learnt from them that has helped you in your career?
KY: I see a photographic agent/producer once or twice a year, and I spend half a day with her. We’ll look at what I’ve been working on in terms of my personal work, and if I’m heading in the right direction in terms of my long term goals. Her name is Danielle Bouchard, she’s incredible and offers an informed perspective As a photographer I’m constantly entering competitions, trying to bring together edits of work and having that objective point of view on your work is invaluable. You’re so close to your work so it’s really hard to edit it.
I think my parents have individually helped a lot. My Dad is a Management Consultant and has a very good business sense so if I have anything I’m deliberating over – e.g how to move my business forward, where to put my finances, I’ll often chat those things over with him. My mum is my biggest cheerleader. Both individually bring a lot to my business.
I keep a folder of sports photography that I love and admire; the kind of stylised iconic sport, ‘Hero’ shots. Interestingly, I realised that all my folders of collected photographers were all men! It dawned on me that there aren’t many female sports photographers, and I kind of made the connection that through my photographing of the female athletes, and telling their story, I am in actual fact telling my own story, because there are not very many of me. The sports women that we see in the media are mainly taken from a male point of view and I think this is a really important persepecrtive which needs to be redressed. In a shoot there are different energies between men and women and, without wanting to generalise, there will always be a male/female energy between a male photographer and a female model. It creates a really interesting, subtle point of view which needs balancing. We need to see more women’s point of view on the world and that’s my mission; to show sportswomen from a female point of perspective.
SE: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KY: The number of female photographers, especially in the higher, more aspirational forms of photography e.g. advertising, the high ticket photography is small. We are really outnumbered. There are lots of female family and wedding photographers, but the number of female photographers shooting the big campaigns is statistically low. Its’ quite frustrating as there’s a ceiling still there, which I’m trying to push past, so I always make sure that I hire female photographers to work with me. In the most positive way possible I can, I try to share with them that unless you’re very lucky, that you have to be prepared for it to be a long road. It’s a vocation, it’s a passion. I do my commercial work to pay for my passion work. And there’s not a huge amount of disposable income because a lot of my money does go back into my business, whether that’s investing in equipment, presentation, or just funding a project like the travel, retouching, the time…basically all my money goes back into my work. That doesn’t bother me but it’s not as glamorous as perhaps the photographers in the 80’s made it seem.
Also, keep shooting. If I have a quiet period, I’m shooting my projects or I’m thinking about what I can do to produce work that will get me work. Know your own worth and be quite firm on your pricing. I think one of the saddest things about photography, as exciting as the digital age has been, it does also mean that it is devaluing the overall status of photographers who have a really specific skill set.
I’ve been working in this industry for 22 years now, and I still don’t feel like I’m where I want to be in the long term. But I am very grateful that I have carved out the life that I wanted to live. My work is the most important thing to me aside from my family and my dog!
You have to really want it more than any of the other shiny things in life.
SE: What are the top things to consider when choosing and pursuing a meaningful and exciting career?
KY: Identify your Purpose – It has been really important for me to feel that I am contributing to something bigger than me. I guess you have to make the decision for yourself on what is most important to you. As torturous as it can be at times, I would be so sad if I wasn’t doing what I was doing.
Do what is going to challenge you – As I said before, I love working through photographic problems. I think that’s the key difference between someone that accidentally takes an amazing picture and someone that has been doing this for a long time. I worked as an assistant for 10 years, learning to plan and problem solve, working out what needs to be place to achieve a certain, look, feel and atmosphere.
If you would like to learn more about Karen’s work and contact her to make a booking, you can visit her website https://www.karenyeomans.com/, or connect with her on social media: Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.
You can also view more of the stunning imagery featured in his article, Karen’s long term personal project ‘Standing in the Light’ and athlete’s details, here: https://www.lensculture.com/projects/855662-standing-in-the-light