Connecting with people
As the Photography Studies College (PSC) prepares for its open day on August 14, it has no greater ambassador for aspiring photographers than teacher Craig Wetjen.
Having previously run his own commercial photo business and worked in almost every medium there is, the American knows what it takes to make a living out of photography.
However, having successfully spent the best part of the last five years creating his first ever published photo book, he said his advice to any incoming photographers was to find your passion.
“If you’re going to be a commercial photographer, you need to find something that really separates you from the rest of the world and that’s not shooting what everybody else has shot before,” he said.
“Even though it’s been done before you need to shoot it again but shoot it with your own twist. You need to be extra creative.”
While he has made a living out of photography, Craig knows about the highs and lows of the industry.
Having previously run his own wedding portraits business for 15 years, he said that the constant stress of figuring out where his next dollar was coming from had been gradually taking its toll on his health.
“I did a mental health assessment. I was depressed about the whole business side of things. No one was buying anything anymore. I was trying to keep the roof over my family’s head, suffering severe anxiety and panic attacks,” he said. “I had some blood tests and found out I had chronic lymphatic leukemia.”
“By finding that out and as well as dealing with the depression and the anxiety, I was like – hang on a second. I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to flip the entire project on its head.”
After photographing his father-in-law working in his shed in 2010, Craig eventually came up with the idea to create a book photographing men in their sheds.
In a bid to reinvent himself, inside and out, Craig travelled around the country and met 101 men in the making of Men and Their Sheds where he photographed and explored the stories behind them and their sheds.
Featuring a foreword by Beyond Blue chairman Jeff Kennett, a percentage of each book sale is donated to the Australian Men’s Shed Association and Craig has now become an ambassador for Beyond Blue.
He said that the experience of giving back to causes that were close to his heart and connecting with people had not only been rewarding for his career but, importantly, his own health.
“I just ditched the whole business idea and went back to why I loved photography and that is for the enjoyment of creating something for me and that’s where my men and their sheds book project came from,” he said.
“I was getting out to the backyard shed. What was even more poignant was that so many of them were almost their own satellite men’s sheds because their mates would always come over and have a chinwag in their backyard.”
“Just to bring that extra added awareness of the importance of mental and physical health and all those sorts of things and getting involved and giving back that really drove home with a lot of the fellas.”
The experience has now given Craig a number of new project ideas and he said rejuvenating his passion for photography had all manifested from his ability to connect with people.
“By showing genuine interest in someone’s activities in something that they love to do they open up and that’s what I try to convey to the students when I teach them,” he said.
“When you want to photograph people just get into a conversation. Forget the camera. The camera becomes secondary.”
Men and Their Sheds is now available at all good book stores. For more information visit www.mensshedphotography.com.au