Suzie Jay is a London based event photographer. After becoming disillusioned with life as a secondary school teacher, Suzie decided to jump ship and do something completely different. Fuelled by frustration and a passion for photography, Suzie began working as a photographer’s assistant and subsequently set up her own photography business. Suzie now shoots for various event production companies to create images for PR & marketing purposes. Some of her recent events have been for brands such as Jimmy Choo, Paul Smith, Hackett, Sophia Webster, Glamour magazine & Gap.
How did you end up doing the job you do?
Well I started my career as a secondary school teacher of Spanish. I did a PGCE, worked as a classroom teacher, became Head of Department, the whole shebang. The kids were lovely and the staff were brilliant, but I always felt as though something was missing. In 2008, my friends and colleagues thought I was crazy when I told them my plans to move to London.
The phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” springs to mind. I’m not ashamed to admit I found teaching in London incredibly tough. By October (4 weeks in), I knew I wanted out. Life suddenly felt way too short to being doing something that made me so unhappy.
To take my mind off things, I decided to indulge my curiosity for photography. I had always enjoyed using a point and shoot and decided that now was as good a time as any to invest in my first DSLR and learn how to use it.
I very quickly became completely obsessed with photography. It was my escape. I signed up for courses and consumed the Internet. I was amazed at how much you could learn for free, all it took was time, which I had. I listened to photography podcasts on the way to work and evenings were dedicated to devouring photography forums and blog posts. Weekends were for shooting and tentatively posting up some of my own work for critique and comment. It took a friend to point out what was staring me in the face: I should become self-employed and start my own photography business. I decided to go for it.
In the lead up to the end of the school year, I was teaching full-time during the week and working for free as a photographer’s assistant evenings and weekends. Although it was exhausting, it all felt worthwhile.
My first solo ventures involved shooting weddings of friends. Referrals then followed at a steady, reassuring pace – I was doing it! Wedding photography proved to be the perfect place to hone my skills and find my identity as a photographer. Three years in, I got my break shooting fashion events. A friend worked as an event producer and decided to give me a shot. My first job was a shooting Nicholas Oakwell Couture at Claridges. My heart was pounding the entire time but I loved it.
Since that first fashion show I’ve built my portfolio, developed my network and sharpened my business skills. Although I no longer shoot weddings, I’m really glad to have had this chapter in my career, it brings a documentary style to my event photography that sets me apart from others. I love to look for the narrative at an event and tell a story with my photos.
What are you working on right now?
I’m mostly shooting fashion and editorial events. This involves lots of fashion shows both backstage and front of house, private dinners and press days. I’m always looking for new ways to build my network and make new contacts too. I’ve recently made a more concerted effort to develop my Instagram feed (@suziejayphoto) and grow my following by posting a wide range of images from all the events I shoot.
What would was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?
As I started my career in education I always have that nipping at my heels. I know that if my photography career didn’t work out, teaching would be my alternative.
As a freelancer I’ve become pretty resourceful, so maybe I could find a way to teach in a way that wasn’t quite the norm- probably via a blog or something. I’m hooked on the idea of being my own boss so I’m not sure I could simply return to straightforward employment.
Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration to date?
My partner Paul. When I met him, my enthusiasm and drive was wild and untamed. As an artist and designer, Paul has helped me hone my craft to get it to a place where I’m more consistently happy with the work I produce. He’s a great sounding board and we’re big fans of each others work. He definitely encourages me to strive for more than I believe I’m capable of.
Who would you most like to work with?
Bureau Betak. Their event productions are spectacular with photography to match.
What did you want to be when you were little?
Journalist, actress, forensic scientist… I was such a daydreamer as a child I had a different plan for myself every week.
What advice would you give your children (or nieces/nephews/young people)?
If you find something you love doing, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Its a cliche but it’s true. I’d also encourage them to believe that school really isn’t the defining moment of their life. All you really need to succeed is passion, drive and a spark of an idea. We live in an age where, if you’re willing to really commit to something, you can learn, network and be whoever or whatever you want. It really is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.
What are you most proud of?
The fact that I work for myself. Being your own boss really does feel great. I love the fact that I had an idea to set up a photography business and six years later I’m still going! I still enjoy what I do and I’m clearer than ever about what I hope to achieve.
What has been your career highlight to date?
Well it’s really hard to pick a career highlight because there are so many events that I’m thrilled to be a part of. Each one is so unique. The set design, lighting and choreography is so carefully considered, it’s always a feast for the eyes! I count Jimmy Choo, Mr Hare & Paul Smith amongst some of my favourite shows. I also recently had the privilege to photograph Prince Charles at the Invest in Futures Dinner 2016 which was a pretty special moment.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?
Keeping the faith. Whilst the freelance life can feel incredibly liberating, it can also be a challenge to hold your nerve and believe that the work will keep coming. The fear of failure never really goes away, you just get better at living with it!
Who is your favourite fictional female character?
Carmela Soprano. The ultimate matriarch. She’s flawed in many ways but so strong and stoic – what’s not to love?
Right Now I’m…
Watching: Repeats of Ab Fab on Netflix
Reading: Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography ‘Play On’
Listening to: Bobby Womack’s Soul Sessions has been played a lot lately and I’m addicted to the glorious vocal arrangements of folk rock groups. One of my favourite tunes at the moment is Creeque Alley by The Mamas & The Papas. I’m mostly enjoying songs that translate well to my learning the acoustic guitar.
Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?
Nadia Anne Ricketts: @Beatwoven Instagram & Twitter
Heather Davies: @AlpineEthos Instagram & Twitter
Sam Pearson: @Sam_sue_Pearson – Instagram
You can find Suzie at: www.suziejay.com & @suziejayphoto on Instagram & Twitter.