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About Shell and her life with Photography, Art & Design.
If it wasn't already obvious, I am extremely fond of animals. This is something that has been with me all my life and I have always loved nothing more than the companionship of my horses, dogs, cats, and whatever other critter came my way!
So with the love of animals, came the love of observing them, which led onto photographing and drawing them at any opportunity.
Photographing and drawing animals then moved onto people, and being able to sit back and observe, and then capture moments when folk were at their most natural was something I really enjoyed.
Weddings and Portraits became regular jobs while still a teenager, as well as horse shows and private photo shoots for horse owners, families and studs.
I was invited to photograph a couple of motels/restaurants as the manager/owners were wanting to enter competitions or use the images for their brochures and advertising. One of the restaurants won their competition with the images I had taken for them and they were rather pleased as you could imagine!
I was always very involved with Art and Photography at school, though I drove my teachers, and later, college lecturers, insane because my focus was always on horses. I could not understand why they objected to my photographing, drawing, painting and sculpting horses constantly when other students would do nothing but cars and engines!
After high school, I spent 18 months in Whyalla doing a program called 'YARTS' which was a bit of a bridging time between high school and college - I loved this program and it gave me a wide range of ideas, and as a group we were involved in doing community murals, stobie pole painting with primary school kids, helping and teaching students in their Art classes, and I was involved in mentoring a couple of students who had learning difficulties or social difficulties.
North Adelaide School of Art was where I obtained my Certificate in Applied and Visual Arts, and met some lovely folk, and had my eyes opened to the world of 'art students' - it was not quite what I expected, but was still fun!
After the course, I returned to Whyalla and basically annoyed the Whyalla News Editor at the time until he gave me a couple of rolls of film and gave me some weekend photography jobs to do for him. Obviously he liked what I did for the weekend and I began working most weekends covering sports, parties, dinners, weddings etc - whatever needed photographs taken to print in the paper - I was sent with notepad and camera in hand!
The Weddings and Equine Photography built up, and at the same time I was also working in the darkroom at the Whyalla News developing the weekends photos and the photographs for the local papers on the Eyre Peninsula who would send their rolls to Whyalla to have their papers put together and printed each week. (Turns out the walls aren't sound proof and my singing along to the radio was amusing the guys in the printing room next to the darkroom! Oops!)
I was then offered the job of managing a photographic store in Whyalla - and dove in head first to that one!
My work at the Whyalla News didn't end - it just changed, and the majority of the photographs were then developed in the photo lab (the B/W films still done by hand, but printed through the machinery)
It was during this time that I also held my first solo exhibition of both photographs and drawings - Images Of Equus - held at the Middleback Theatre in Whyalla. I had been involved with group exhibitions previously but the first solo one was nerve wracking to say the least - however it went off really well!
Over the space of a few years I moved to Adelaide, managed photographic stores there and in the hills, and was even asked to join the team of perhaps the most well known photographic company - Kodak - when I had resigned from my lab managers position at a store.
I had resigned though due to health issues - at that stage I lost all confidence in my abilities to do anything, let alone communicate with people, even on a day to day basis. I moved home to Whyalla with my parents, who I am sure wanted to throttle me most days when I was holed up in my room and trying to block out the world around me. I had loaned my horses out or had them agisted out so other than my dog and my cat - I really had nothing to leave my room or my bed for. Not good - and Depression is not at all 'fun' and was certainly not something I could just 'snap out of'
I found an escape eventually again in the horses and in being behind the camera - it was (and still is to a large degree if I am being blatantly honest) a great way to not have to actually 'talk' at times and if I had a camera in hand and was aiming it in various directions I could avoid contact with 'people'.
It was the horses and the photography and a lot of VERY understanding people around me that helped me at least be sociable again, and starting to feel a little useful at times - a very long slow process.
I had been diagnosed with Rapid Cycling BiPolar II Disorder, which initially scared the daylights out of me, and after years of going through hell basically, I am now well managed in that department and know full well that without the medication - its not pretty! - Whenever I get 'down' now - its more situational than the BiPolar kicking in - on an up-note - when I am 'up', I tend to clean, and get lots of work done on the computer and re-arrange the furniture! It has to have its upsides!
I moved out of my parents house - well - I should say, moved out of my bedroom in my parents house, and moved into the house that they owned next door to them at the time!
They couldn't be lucky enough to have me move further away than that! It's a good thing they love me!
The Internet was getting popular, and I found a horse forum based in the USA thanks to a dear friend. I then met a fellow from there who was an Aussie, living in NSW - being two of the very few Aussies who were regular users of the forum, we of course exchanged emails and phone numbers and became friends, and eventually partners. I moved to NSW where we gained a position managing a Thoroughbred stud in the Upper Hunter Valley and we were married in 2003.
The photography, design and pencil drawings were going quite well but were not what you could call a 'job' as I still was not up to doing much or the stress levels would rise and send me downhill again.
I had spent years coming off horses and am perhaps one of the most accident prone people you could meet, so it was no great surprise that I was in a lot of pain all the time, and had also suffered from migraines for years and years - which of course made me a barrel of fun!
We moved to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and bought my grandparents property at Minnipa when they moved into a retirement home.
For the majority of our almost 10 years together, my husband and I ran our own horse stud, and I would take photographs of horses, people and do various design work for clubs, associations, studs etc when I was up to it.
Over time, my health deteriorated considerably and I was having all sorts of trouble - I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome which as the cardiologist said 'It wont kill you - but it will annoy you for the rest of your life' - grrrrreaaatttttt...... - we dubbed it 'Yellow Wiggles Disease' as it is basically what the 'Yellow Wiggle' had and had to quit his performing from.
At one point, it was thought that I may have Chiari 1 Malformation - which would NOT have been good - so it was a HUGE relief to find out that I did not have that to contend with as well.
So, years of scans, tests, and all of the 'symptoms' later .... I can add Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Fatigue & Migraines to the list along with Pars Defect in my back - which explains a lot of the pain and the locking up of my legs and lower back when I ignore the pain and try to keep going.... Basically, my neck, back, shoulder, left knee (horse injury - apparently knees don't bend backwards and recover easily!) - and every other bit of me is in constant agony and it is REALLY annoying! I would give anything for a pain free day!
I have also since found myself labeled with Hypermobility Type EDS - which - includes POTS, Fibromyalgia and the chronic pain etc under the same sort of banner - its an Autonomic disease - no cure of course - which is typical - but at least we can try to deal with it! It also explains why my jaw pops 'out' and my joints and bones just clunk and bend in ways they should not.
Imagine yourself having just completed a triathlon, and in addition - you have been run over by a herd of charging bulls, sunburnt to the point of feeling like your skin is about to peel off and is just as sensitive to touch as a severe sunburn, then having someone having a party inside your bones by scraping the insides of them with cutlery and at the same time having all your joints being put in a series of vices all tightening and all your muscles are completely exhausted and are on the point of cramping. Yes folks - it's truely that much fun on a daily basis!
So when I say 'I'm having a really bad day today' - what I mean is 'Don't touch me, don't ask me to stand up, 'don't ask me to lift anything, 'don't ask me to be functional or be able to hold a completely coherant conversation and if you have it in your heart to take the lid off the bottle of drink for me or open the jar of vegemite and make me a simple sandwich - that would be completely awesome!' - Alternatively, when I say 'Yes, good thanks!' if you ask me how I am - what I mean is the pain levels don't quite have me in tears every second of today and yes, I can shift that bag of feed, or lift that bale of hay - or walk from one end of the show ring to the other - but I am really going to pay for it later!'
With pain levels becoming completely unmanageable over the last few years - I have done less and less photographic work which is also really quite depressing when it comes down to it. That total feeling of uselessness and hopelessness - feeling like I dont have what it takes to do what I love is just horrid. I have discovered what it truly feels like to be surrounded by people but feel completely and utterly alone at the same time.
Things declined in late 2017, and in February 2018 I found myself having a heart attack, brought on it seems (after the cardiologist told me my arteries were pristine and beautiful (see - I have been officially told I am beautiful deep deep inside my heart) by stress - and then a few days later a blockage between my heart and lungs was found and it was kind of panic stations with that turning out to be a pulmonary embolism. Just over 2 weeks in hospital was not on my idea of fun things to do - but it happened and now I am having to try to de-stress, any remaining horses must go as I had a brain scan and was asked if I'd had any major head injuries - and am pretty much one good head injury away from wearning a helmet when im not asleep. (the below brain can is an older one... not the recent one)....
Major changes in my life in 2011 - which included leaving my marriage, selling up my properties (I had kept the one that was my grandparents, and the one next door, he kept the other two), and packing up my entire life and moving just South of Adelaide, and less than 12 months later, to a place just North of Adelaide, followed shortly by a move to Victoria, I am now settled happily at Wallacedale, which is in Victoria, but just 40km from Hamilton, near the Southern Grampians.
Managing to keep a small herd of horses and have continued with my breeding program - www.reigatestud.com is my site for the horses. I am also trying to expand the photography and design side of things at present!
I have in the past done pencil portraits, however, right now, am having a break from drawing and cannot say when I might get back into it.
I guess my story is fairly lengthy - however if it inspires one person to keep on going despite their illnesses and pain - then it is worth typing out and having here for all to see. It would be so easy to just give up and curl up into a ball and hide away from the pain involved in day to day life, but that would be letting the dysfunctional body win. I am not prepared to do that at this point! I have had some wonderful emails from folk both in Australia and in Europe, thanking me for sharing my story - and that it has made them realise that even though they may be feeling like they are at the end of their tether, they need to keep going and find something to smile about. THIS is what has kept ME going. I do not see myself as someone who has acheived a great deal thus far to be honest - but if it helps just one person..... who knows what can be achieved!
I find that when I head off to photograph a horse show - I just make sure I have plenty of liquid with me, my milk crate (with cushion), and generally take along a helper for the day. As long as I can position myself somewhere and do everything from a sitting position for the most part, I can manage it - even if only just! I will be totally wrecked for the week to come - but it's worth it for the sanity! I really do need to try to get the funds up to purchase a decent electric wheelchair or a mobility scooter to get around better - this would also make it possible for me to do someple things like the shopping or actually browse in a shop (most likely bunnings - I am NOT a girly girl who likes clothes or shoe shopping!!) or wander up and down the street looking at the various specialty shops. Sadly - a chair or scooter are out of reach at the moment.
My social confidence has improved somewhat - but I am still most comfortable with my camera in hand at the same time!
I also find that the design work, websites etc are something I can do relatively comfortably at home on my computer - and can have a sleep when I need to - which when having a bad day is often! - and work at my own pace!
When having a 'bad' day - I cannot function - I struggle to even just sit up - and have been known to pass out while laying back in bed propped up on pillows when I have coughed or sneezed. On a bad day I cannot take the lid off a bottle, or make myself a sandwich, and even getting up and going to the bathroom has its risks if I fall over on the way to or from. My cat or dog brushing against me or god forbid, putting a paw on me, has me in tears from pain at times... so please forgive me if I meet you and don't shake your hand - a lot of the time a simple handshake is agony!
Having a sense of humor about the situation with my limitations is essential - If i cannot laugh at myself - then I may as well give up!
I hope this hasn't bored you to tears - and hope that it gives you an insight into my background and work. So when you see me at a show or an event and I am sitting down on my milk crate, or if I get in my car to drive from one end of the grounds to the other - I am not being 'a fat lazy slob' - there are medical reasons I cannot be as active as I would LOVE to be! Likewise if you see me sweating like I've run a marathon and short of breath - its likely that its due to pain, and not due to being unfit! I have dizzy spells often and have been prone to passing out at times.
I find myself at horse shows and events in particular with my calf, butt and thigh muscles putting a 'leg on to stop the horse running out' or 'closing the fingers on the reins' and 'riding' the horse I am watching in my mind. Not as good a workout as you may be having onboard - but none the less - I go home exhausted and feeling like I've been riding all day!
I figure if I cant actually do it myself these days - I may as well provide you with images so that you can remember your day for years to come!