Celia Mannings runs a successful photography business in the beautiful city of Bath (Celia took my latest web photo so I know how good she can make people look!) but her earlier career was in medicine. I was intrigued to find out more about why and how she changed careers.
Jane: Celia, please do tell us more about that change of career! On the face of it they don’t seem natural partners! Why and when the switch?
Celia: I never actually decided to switch- it was more a series of events that just happened. As an assistant GP, not a partner (my ex husband was in the army so I wasn’t able to commit) there was no job security. For me the important thing was continuity of care and building relationships with my patients, so the second time a practice I’d been working for decided they no longer needed assistants as they were advertising for partners, I decided that my burgeoning, lifelong hobby of photography could grow yet further! Then I hit on a year’s course that taught me to build a photography business properly; the most motivational lessons I’ve ever learnt (apart from you, Jane of course!) and I quickly realised it was going to be full time.
What were your aspirations when at school?
My best subject was biology. I worked hard at school, I was a bit of a swot! Early signs of my perfectionism were showing already. I was a straight A student. I had to know everything perfectly!I was also a Girl Guide and loved it. I got my photographer badge but I never got the launderess badge and I’m still bad at ironing! I’m still good at all the things I got badges for!
What made you choose medicine?
I really enjoyed sciences and biology. I was quite shy really so at that stage it was the workings of the human body that interested me. I also wanted to be a vet when very young. I even considered joining the Army and they told me being a doctor was better!
Did you ever join the army? I did and actually got a cadetship when at University and made some great and lasting friends. I was sponsored through University by the Army and had thought I would be working in Army hospitals through my training. But I had a house job in a civilian hospital and realised that I liked working with all manner of people and valued the emotional support I could give. I began to realise medicine was much more about people rather than an academic subject.
I went on and married in 1996 in the Officer Training Corp. That marriage gave me my two wonderful boys but sadly the relationship didn’t last. When I was 40 my husband and I separated and I set up my own business, having done a course the year before. My life really did begin at 40!
It’s a big leap from doctor to photographer, although I guess you see people feeling quite vulnerable in both cases! Have you used any of your medical training in your photographic role?
It really wasn’t such a big leap- again, for me, it’s always been about the relationships I build with people, and sharing important life events, even happy ones!- has led to lasting friendships. I sometimes know a couple before they marry for two years, and I photograph babies now instead of delivering them! Yes, definitely, I’m used to being with people who are feeling all sorts of different emotions, so it helps tremendously. (Although I’m often in tears too!) And I think it helps people to trust me- they know I’ll look after their friends and relatives on the day. I really make connections; I don’t think it’s possible to achieve intimate images without taking the time to develop a good relationship.
What makes photography so rewarding? What is best thing about it for you?
I have a sense of achievement when I’ve moved someone emotionally with my work. It’s a very unique way of giving happiness- I try to make a work of art out of people’s feelings, which is then something tangible they can keep and look back on, when, for example, their child has grown up and they no longer see that favourite expression that moved them so much. The best part is seeing how people feel when they see their images, and knowing I’ve had a part in creating that.
Which gender is easiest to please re photos?
Good question! The best pictures happen when the person has complete trust in me, because then they relax, so I don’t think it’s really a gender thing. Quite often I’ll meet ladies first, either at wedding fayres or through networking, and am then introduced to the guys later, but I do absolutely want it to be an equal experience for both, so no getting all girly and leaving the guys out! Ummm…on balance I’d say women have more issues about what they do or don’t like about themselves- but then it’s up to me to achieve a stunning picture and dispel any insecurities!
What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?
The worst part is the hours on the computer after taking the photographs, coupled with the fact that most people don’t realise the extent of the work involved. I think it’s the same for any business though- until you really find out about what someone does, you can’t fully appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ effort. I’m also a bit of a technophobe who once vowed never to switch on a computer (or use a digital camera for that matter!) so it’s been a steep learning curve.
What has been best bit of advice you have ever been given?
To always keep learning, and to learn from the best. Not to be phased by rejection- failure is apparently a necessary step on the road to success! To always be looking for new ideas, creativity and inspiration.
How do you relax? Are you good at unwinding and leaving work behind?
Relax? What’s that?! No, I’m the first to admit I find it very hard to leave everything behind. But I love my boys, now 12 and 13, and try to find dedicated time to do things together. Currently they’re loving cooking experiments especially Nigella Lawson’s naughtier offerings which isn’t doing anything for my waistline! I also have an elderly and poorly boxer dog (who thinks he’s still a puppy), and I’ve recently rejoined the gym….fitting!
How does being a professional photographer fit in with family life?
It doesn’t is the short answer! It can be tough with early starts. Weddings are almost always at week ends. My sons board and are home at week ends so I always try to make sure I am home at least one day of the week end. I don’t use a studio as I prefer the creativity of natural light. I have to work hard at it. And my ex husband lives very close by so we share parenting! We actually get on very well now so that works well for the children!
What has been the most satisfying event in your life so far?
No one single event, just seeing my boys grow and develop. Matt, 13, suffered badly with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when small; life was traumatic to say the least and we didn’t know if he’d go to a mainstream school. I have learned a lot about ADHD! One of the most important things I discovered was that children with ADHD get told off a lot, with lots of focus on their negative behaviour, so I made a conscious decision to praise my son as much as possible. I actually give quite a few talks on life with ADHD as I found the advice given to me was not always helpful. Both boys are excelling now, and happy; I’m so proud of them I can’t tell you!
And I bet they are also very proud of their Mum! Thank you, Celia
If you’d like to see some of Celia’s work (and she has some fabulous pictures on her site) you can do so by simply following this link to Celia Mannings Photography
Posted on December 14th, 2010 by Jane