Looking back on 2021 it’s safe to say it has been one of my most challenging to date – even more so than last year.
When I wrote my final blog post of 2020 it came at the end of a very uncertain time for everyone. The photography industry as a whole had taken a big hit by the impact of Covid restrictions in our lives and, to be frank, business was tough.
Like so many photographers, I adjusted how I worked, worked as much as possible within the limitations and things picked up. Towards the end of last year the picture was looking more positive.
But unfortunately the optimism I had about 2021 was dealt an unexpected blow.
It’s the things you don’t plan for
At the end of December 2020 I was hit by a car whilst out running. I spent five nights in the superb care of St. George’s Hospital during which I underwent a six hour operation on my leg to fix a seriously broken femur.
I’ll spare all the details but suffice to say it doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate the severity of such an accident – not just for my photography but day-to-day living.
What followed was many months of physiotherapy whilst I trained myself to walk again. Starting off with two crutches. Then one crutch. Then going solo. And just when you’ve exhausted all your energy reserves getting to that point, the really hard work kicks in.
The operation was successful and the bone continues to heal nicely. But what doesn’t heal as easily is muscle. From March I was hitting the gym three times a week to regain all the lost muscle mass in my quads and glutes. That was coupled with trying to eat better, cutting out alcohol (nearly entirely) and being a lot more conscious about being sedentary.
For six months I didn’t really thing about my photography. It was very much a secondary priority behind getting back to doing the most basic of things: standing, balancing, walking, running.
And the physical recovery is only one part of the process; the mental recovery is the other. They call it a trauma for a reason – because it is traumatic. I am fortunate in that I am back doing nearly all the things I could do before. But learning to have confidence in my leg and my own abilities is not something you can teach – it comes through practice and doing.
Being dealt a second blow
As anyone who has gone through rehab will know, it is a long journey where the milestones and achievements get increasingly far between the more you progress.
It’s been an unplanned journey and one that has felt especially challenging off the back of a 2020 which also saw me break my finger and an unexpected bout of chicken pox. Not to mention the struggles of Covid.
But by far the greatest challenge of 2021 has been coping with the loss of my father in January.
Grieving for someone who is so close to you is awful at any time. But trying to handle it only weeks into my recovery from being hit by a car, during a pandemic and a locked-down nation put a Hollywood twist on the whole thing.
Dad was, without question, my biggest fan. He was my photography champion. He would endlessly encourage me. Educate me about business and give me ideas for new projects or locations. Whenever I returned from time outside with the camera he would ask to see my results immediately. When I qualified as a Licentiate of the British Institute of Professional Photography he was so proud. I miss that enthusiasm more than I can express in words.
We all need that someone in our life who believes in us more than we do ourselves and Dad was that person. I hope he knows how much of what I have achieved I owe to his support.
Finding the positives
If you’ve stuck with me this far you’d be forgiven for wondering how on earth I am going to manufacture some positives out of 2021!
The truth is it is easier than you might think. They’re not the positives I thought I’d be reflecting on but they are positives nonetheless.
Firstly, I am grateful for the simple fact I am alive and in good health. I will be forever grateful for the outstanding care I have received this year – the surgeons, consultants, nurses, doctors, physios and everyone else – which has enabled me to get, quite literally, back on my feet.
I held my first branding shoot again in July. Nine months after my accident I was running. In September I climbed to the summit of Ben Macdui. That, in particular, was such an achievement for me: to be back in the outdoors and doing the things that I love. From a physical and mental point of view, that one hike was crucial to me feeling ‘normal’ again.
I am not 100% yet but everything is moving in a positive direction.
Secondly, I am very grateful for my clients. I have had to be open and honest with them about the situation, especially at the start of the year when all work stopped, which makes you feel very vulnerable. It meant postponing some shoots and missing out on others. But everyone has shown such understanding.
Thirdly, whilst I have not taken as many photos or held as many sessions as I would have wanted, those that I have held since the summer have been some of my favourites! On a personal level I think my recent branding sessions represent some of my best work. I had been out of practice for a long time and l am extremely pleased with what I have produced for my clients this year.
And finally, and it might sound like a strange thing to be positive about, but I am very proud of the fact that this blog post marks the completion of two successive years of regular fortnightly posting. I set that as a goal for myself at the end of 2019 and the fact I have achieved it again – with everything that has gone on – is a minor achievement but one that speaks to the discipline I have had to show through the year.
Focusing on the present
In a nutshell, 2021 has been a hell of a tough year.
I’ve spent a lot of it without a camera in my hand but increasingly more so in the past few months. Having that time away from photography was clearly unplanned but it has been necessary for my recovery. Life is full of those sacrifices and compromises.
I’m not thinking too much about 2022 nor am I making any grand plans. 2021 has taught me, with a couple of quite horrible lessons, that it is important to plan but it is equally important to focus on the present too.
Looking ahead I have a more simple goal of focusing on improving my physical health whilst continuing to increase the amount of photography sessions I hold. I am looking forward to a working with old and new clients in 2021 with renewed vigour.
And so I’ll end my final post of the year with a sincere thank you to all my friends and family, subscribers and clients. You have all been wonderful and I am eternally grateful for all your support, understanding and kind words – this year more than any other.
Have a wonderful Christmas and wishing you all a happy and healthy new year!