Find Something That Makes Your Heart Sing - Martin Lea Photography

Find Something That Makes Your Heart Sing

How and Why I became a Photographer.

Mick McCarthy the former Republic of Ireland footballer was once reprimanded by a referee after scything down an opponent long after the ball had gone

“Mick you were terribly late!” the ref said as he reached inside his pocket for a yellow card to book the centre half. As Mick rose to his feet he turned to the ref and responded in his gruff Yorkshire accent

“Aye ….I was that ref …….but I got there as quick as I could.”

And so it was with myself and photography !

I cannot remember ever taking a single picture with a camera until I was in a rehabilitation centre at someone's graduation event (I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a rehab for drugs and alcohol recovery for 6 months) when someone handed me a point and shoot camera and told me to take a pic of the leaving group.  How hard could it be ?

It was not a work of art. …….by the time the lens stopped zooming in and out and the camera actually took the picture I think the sun had gone behind the clouds, 2 people had looked away and the dog had run off. I wasn't that impressed & like any self respecting technophobe I immediately blamed the camera.

The problem, as far as I could surmise with my vast experience in this artistic field, seemed to be the delay in taking the picture after I had pressed the button. Armed with the facts as to what the problem was, I sought out those with just a bit more knowledge in this area as to how I could find a machine with no time delay & thus find the solution. I was politely informed to go and purchase a DSLR (whatever the hell that was) This was mid 2009 & I was sober & substance free for 5 months.

This was my second attempt at sobriety and this time I was prepared to accept all and any help that was offered. My first attempt 18 months earlier had not been a huge success but it had led me into the offices of a gentleman called Chris Finch at Southwark Works. His job was getting people who were not working for whatever reason back into employment.

I used to visit him from time to time and we would chat and I would go through endless psychometrc & aptitude tests, some of which I would answer honestly …….& others out of humour and wishful thinking. He also suggested I do some voluntary work at a place called Shunt Vaults ( A eclectic amalgam of theatre company/night club/general hub of creative anarchy) under the arches in London Bridge.

This was my introduction to the World of the Arts. It was awkardly wonderful.

During the chats with Chris Finch for some unknown reason he seemed to be guiding me towards the creative path whilst I, in my infinite wisdom, felt that I should probably head in the care/support/counselling direction. He would listen patiently to me as I muttered on about how I felt I might be good at this old listening lark & would then say to me in a kind and gentle fashion that I shouldn't rule out something creative . It would appear that CF could see certain things in me that I could not see in myself ……..or maybe my creative answering (& by creative I mean not strictly  accurate) of aptitude tests was leading me there ?

In the centre of the Shunt Subterranean Universe was rather a large bar ……..the kind of bar that serves alcoholic beverages. It wasn't the place I started drinking again nor as far as I can work out the reason why either but I think in some small recess of my mind I wanted to believe I could drink sociably and if I could sort out the usual suspects (flat, job, girlfriend, social life etc) then all would be well.

It didn't quite work out …………...or more accurately my attempts at social drinking turned out to be a total unmitigated disaster!

And so to to detox …..eventually …….& to Rehab in Camden.

Now as fortune would have it my personal keyworker in Rehab was an incredibly loving ( yet also very firm  ) French lady called Suzanne who, from time to time would suggest to the all of the residents that we search for something that made our hearts sing. Well it sounded good ………...but its kind of an abstract concept and well ……….what was she on about ? Towards the end of my stint in rehab whenever I heard this phrase I used to employ my excellent nodding dog skills to feign agreement and cover my inabilty to comprehend this mythical activity/behaviour/purpose for living.

……..now back to the DSLR ……..

So after finding out the solution to my artistic (actually the cameras technical) shortcomings I searched high and low, ok well I was sent to a second hand camera shop in Camden, to purchase the tool which had no time delay: a Canon 350D

Armed with my new weapon of choice I now needed to learn how to operate the damned thing.

On leaving Rehab I lived in North London in a shared house and began to find new ways to fill my time, explore new areas of life (which was pretty much all areas) and see if I could find a way of living life sober and substance free.

As well as attending a 3 month aftercare program back in South London I also signed up to some courses at City Lit. My inner wisdom (still infinite at this point ;) ) guided me to psychology & counselling classes as I was still heading down the care path & I had my first voluntary job at the Angel in Islington where I was helping to rehouse the homeless. I loved it. I was helping others and learned that are many different ways to becoming without a fixed abode..

I was still popping in to see Chris Finch and he was still encouraging me to explore, at least, my inner creativity ( Why oh why was he STILL going on about this ?)

As well as slowly teaching myself how to use this beautiful piece of far eastern engineering and being taught a bit about listening too I was offered a free holiday to Croatia for Christmas in 2009. How could I turn this wonderful ( & most importantly free ) holiday down ? I could not.

In order to get into care work full time I had to attend college to study a Health & Social Care Course and organise myself a work placement. As I headed off on my holiday to Croatia …...which actually turned out to be Bosnia ( but still totally free ) I had my college course planned for Jan and my work placement almost organised, It was in a move on house for other people in recovery which was right on the other side of London but just happened to be run by a rather cute young girl. I can assure you that my motives were definitely honorable & work oriented ……..hhmmmm well …..isshhh.

I had the best Christmas ever in this far off land with strangers who accepted me completely for who I was there and then, although when we landed at Dubrovnik and then transferred to a mini bus called Paddy Travel & people started to say the Hail Mary I thought I had been kidnapped by some kind of cult. I hadn't.

I was supposed to return after this holiday to start my college course ……...that was the plan ….I thought it rather a good one.

However it did snow rather a lot in Bosnia that New Year & also rather a lot back in London too. And the Cabin Crew at BA decided that this was the time to stage a walk out strike too. How dare they ?

So by the time we arrived back in London it was too late confirm the work experience placement and to start the course. At the time I was livid …...all those plans just fell by the wayside as did my intentions for the girl and I was left attempting to figure out what else to do.

It was the best thing that could have happened.

What to do next ? ......After all a man without a purpose is like …….well you know ...a man without a purpose!

So I enrolled at a short course at City Lit in London to learn about these funny functions that a Canon 350D camera & most other DSLRs display & also just started wandering around North London taking pictures of anything and everything that grabbed my eyes. One fine evening down a side street just off Covent Garden I was sitting in a room with a bunch of other camera owners of mixed ability eager to master my strange mechanical best friend. The first thing I learnt …….was that I'd paid over the odds for the camera and so I spent the introduction to the class imagining how I might go back to the shop to be refunded the extra amount I had paid …...and just a little more too …….and just a little more …..and a bit extra too.

Coming out of my Terminator phase, as I now like to refer to it, we were introduced to how a camera functioned & I prepared myself for being shown how I could press the shutter release button and not only would it take the picture instantly but also everything ( & I do mean everything ) would be in focus. As I sat there I learnt instead that it can take a quick picture with some bits in focus (shallow depth of field) or it can take a looooooonnnnng exposure which would allow many things to be in focus. (larger depth of field) This was not what I was hoping and indeed expecting to hear. My wonderful (though now understood to be overcharged & therefore very expensive) new toy could do either one thing ….or ….the other. But not both! It's fair to say I wasn't the happiest bunny in the bunny kingdom when I learnt this bit of information. I did my best to conceal my disappointment …..but a red face and steam exiting from my ears probably gave a bit of the game away. ...What was a guy to do ? .....

Eventually …after some time, more days than minutes, I conceded that I had to operate this thing within the laws of Physics and the Natural world. It was a bitter pill to swallow …...but it seemed unlikely that those laws were going to change any time soon so I just had to adapt or find some other use for the Canon.  And besides ….I had paid over the odds for this thing so I was damned sure I was going to get my moneys worth.

And so my photographic journey slowly developed if you'll excuse the photo pun (it's the only one I've used so go easy on me) on the streets of North & Central London …...oh and on a few trips back to the wonderful world of Shunt too !

I also went on an intro NLP course too where at one point we imagined what our future lives and selves would be. When questioned on what I was going to do all I could say was “something creative” and when asked to select a colour for my Timeline (an imaginary thread into the future along which I was to travel) I chose orange too. Later when it got to developing a brand and a logo I did a shoot at home just photographing smoke to capture the effect and for some unknown reason one of the images came up as orange with LightRoom. Out of that anomaly I created my logo. It was another of the magical moments of synchronicity that continued to happen.

I cannot remember how soon after those courses took place but I was just walking along the street taking pictures with what felt like a new set of eyes that God had given me & it just hit me that this was what I was supposed to do full time, for a living not just a hobby ……...

And so I decided that I, Mart, was going to be a photographer.

It wasn't the way I expected it to happen but I had discovered, in photography, my purpose.

I had found Something that made my Heart Sing !


I cannot sign off without sending out my heartfelt thanks to Ralph, Chris, Catherine, Doris & Paul and especially to Suzanne, the staff at Herbert Street residential rehab (now sadly closed) for their love, faith and support; to the other residents with whom I shared the joy & pain, laughter & tears of coming out of the haze .......oh and to CF & Sara ........and to far too many other people to list here.

But especially to Suzanne.


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