From the bustling inner city streets of Birmingham, England to the quiet country roads of Molong, New South Wales, photographer, Helen Whittle, is no stranger to contrast. You need only cast your eye over her award winning black and white photography to see this in practice. And yet, like her powerful portraits, there is so much more than meets the eye to this humble mother of three.
Upon completion of veterinary medicine in London, Helen travelled to Australia, a due reward after an intensive period of study. However, little did she expect to fall in love, met her husband, Jock and go on to call Australia home. Now an adopted Aussie for the past fourteen years, Helen lives on a 600 acre sheep and beef cattle property with her husband and their three children – Fergus (10), Minnie (8) and Austin (5) – and their dog and two cats. Her children are the ultimate inspiration, featuring regularly in her portfolio of work, and we can thank the birth of Fergus for encouraging Helen to pursue photography more intently.
Initially, Helen’s interest was sparked by a research project trip to the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador in 2004. Not surprisingly, the exotic environment provided the ultimate canvas and Helen was desperate to capture the birds she was studying in their natural environment. However, ever the realist, Helen quickly realised that there was more to photography than simply carrying a camera with her everywhere, and invested in learning the craft. She purchased her first DSLR and completed an evening course, determined to create lasting mementos and capture Fergus’ childhood beautifully. Passionate about learning, Helen later studied a Diploma in Photography Online and in 2014, ten years after framing Amazonian birds in her lens, Helen charged her first clients. She’s since gone on to capture countless moments and has become revered for her raw and evocative portraits that reveal human emotion with piercing intensity.
As a mum, part time veterinary surgeon, part time photographer and regular helper with her girlfriend’s online accessories business, there is no doubt Helen has her hands full. When she’s not lugging a camera around, Helen likes her me time to come in the form of running, reading or playing tennis. We’re so very appreciate that she found the time to sit down and chat. Here’s Helen Whittle’s journey in focus:
I recently read, “I don’t shoot what it looks like, I shoot what it feels like!” This seemed particularly applicable to your photography given that your portraits are so evocative. What would you say you aim to achieve through photography?
I didn’t ever set out on this journey with an aim. I just really wanted to capture my children. My first born had a brain haemorrhage during delivery and spent a month in intensive care. To document this story and to keep my family informed of his health, I started a private blog which meant posting photos every day and carrying my camera everywhere. When I realised my photos were terrible, that’s when I started to learn all about photography.
I guess my aim now is to document my family and other people’s families in a raw and honest way. I love people to feel something when they look at my images, because, for me, photography is very emotional. Recently, I gave my girlfriend a photo book of images I had taken at her 40th and she cried her eyes out because it was such a precious gift. That is the power of photography!
In just three words how would you describe Helen Whittle Photography’s aesthetic?
Raw, emotive, real!
What is the allure of black and white imagery?
Black and white allows the emotion to take centre stage.
What prompted you to turn your addiction to photography into a business?
I didn’t intend to turn my passion into a business, it’s just sort of happened and evolved. Everything I have done has been because people have asked me, and there’s only so much you can do for free! I now run online workshops with a photography friend I have met online, April Milani who is incredible.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I’ve ever been given is to go with your gut feeling when creating an image. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your images; it’s what you believe in, it’s your art.
What has business taught you about yourself?
Business has taught me that I am hopeless at charging people! And, that it involves a lot of discipline and hard work.
If you could photograph any event past, present or future, what would it be?
I’d like to complete a project photographing famous people with their pets. But I’d also just love to get to grips with studio photography and take a series of fine art child portraits... that’s my goal!
Name three inspirational women you admire and why.
Well my mum is the most inspiring person I know. She was a single mum, and she has worked her entire life as a nurse with children dying of cancer; she is amazing. I am inspired by all mothers; it’s a tough job but draw particular inspiration from those that have sick children and those who give tirelessly to others.
Your children are often the subject of your photography. What’s your favourite photo you’ve ever taken and why?
I don’t have a favourite photo that I’ve taken. There are so many that I love and they are all such precious memories.
How do you juggle being a working mum?
It’s a real juggle working and being a mum. You are constantly torn between both jobs and I always feel like I’m not giving enough. I guess that’s the same with all mothers? It’s busy, but I like being busy and I like that my children see that women and men in families can both go out and earn a living.
What’s been the biggest pinch me moment in your career?
I’ve been extremely lucky to have had a few pinch me moments. Firstly, winning Australian Photographer of the Year in 2016 in Australian Photography Magazine. Then I presented at a conference hosted by Australian Photography Magazine which was absolutely one of the most amazing moments I’ve ever had. And last year, Click magazine asked me to be on their front cover… I literally am so grateful to everyone who shows an interest in my images, it’s something I never expected at all.
Where to next?
Good question?! The wonderful April Milani and I will continue teaching our online photography child portraiture workshops and we now have a mentoring program so I’d love to continue my photography journey teaching others the craft and continuing to share my passion. But most importantly I’d just like to continue making beautiful images for others to enjoy!