18 years ago, I lost my job as a web developer. Last in first out. So, I decided to become a freelance photographer instead. After numerous events to give me the confidence to believe in myself, I still feel like I’m a kid into computers and cameras, not a professional photographer. I’ve made more money as a photographer than I did in those 4 years after university working in the World Wide Web. I’ve been published in several ways, including in a book with some of the biggest names in editorial photography in the UK. In a charity auction, one of my prints sold for more money than I made in a month as a programmer. I am a professional photographer with a bit of success. Get with it brain!
I picked up a camera before I had a computer. There’s a lovely 8 mm video of me as a kid playing with a Zorki camera, a Russian Leica clone. Due to film costs, I never took up photography. I just played with the cameras. Maybe I still am that kid?
My first computer was a Commodore 64 which I got for Christmas when I was 6. That machine taught me how to code. I played and hacked around with computers for 15 years. I went to university and studied Software Engineering based on a D in ‘A’ Level English Literature. The school I went to was not brilliant, but one teacher told me not to give up writing. No-one ever told me to keep playing with computers. They were my special interest, and they made sense, so I went to uni.
During my placement year, I did an interview with one of the top local companies for web design. They wanted to hire me on the spot, but I still had a year of uni left. Perhaps I should have quit uni and joined up? This was right on the edge of the .com bubble bursting, so it may have been a terrible idea.
After uni, I tried another company. I didn’t get the job because, for lack of a better description, I presented as a stereotypical autistic person. A bit shy with bad social skills, bad posture and a huge interest in computers, previously trains. A complete cliché. People kept telling me I was simply shy, so I never thought anything of it. It would be another 10 years before I started noticing the word “autistic” and 5 more after that before I realised that was me. I was seen as shy and the company felt I wasn’t a good social fit for them, even if I could have done the job.
It took a while, but I eventually found a local company to work with and relaxed into a 9-5 web design job. Unfortunately, as I didn’t know I was autistic, I never relaxed. I found working in an office to be an absolute nightmare. I couldn’t take it. It caused the worst anxiety and depression I had ever felt, at that time. I even tried counselling, but that didn’t help because we didn’t know the issues were things like sensory overload.
What if I had full support and a diagnosis from an early age? Would I have found a good place to work? Would I have had a nice career in IT? Would I have even got this close to the person I am today? Not a week goes past that I don’t find myself wondering. My favourite podcast is a technology focused one. I read more about technology than photography. Am I just that kid playing with computers and cameras?
By being a photographer, I’ve discovered so much about myself. I found a way to talk to people, somehow make them feel at ease, and produce portraits of them. I found a way to communicate with the world through non-verbal communication. At events, I can use my camera to make the world smaller and less chaotic, giving me something to focus on and as a fringe benefit, I get some enjoyable photos. Being a photographer has helped me in ways computing never did.
My camera helped me to get out into the world, which was something I needed to do. It’s not for everyone, but for me, it helped and through that I met my wife. I met people, and I started noticing the ways I was different. It took years to see myself as different and not broken. I got there with support from my wife. I wonder, would I have discovered my non-binary identity in the binary world of computing? Who knows?
It’s interesting to look back at my path through life. I still struggle with identity, both from a gender perspective and a “just who the hell am I?!” perspective. Being autistic means I overanalyse everything instead of getting on with things. Having ADHD means I don’t get on with things, unless they’re just the right level of shiny. So, here I am, writing about whether I am a photographer or computer geek.