Stories Within Stories: With Nina Hamilton

Tasmanian wedding photographer Nina Hamilton is one adventurous lady. A seeker of stories, she writes from the heart about personal bravery, the power in being present, and learning how not to be your own worst critic. 

We comprise many stories; we collect them in the everyday with each experience, interaction and conversation. We carry them with us as memories, as scars, as badges of honour. Your wedding day becomes a significant part of your story; it is a celebration of a threshold, or intersection, from one part of your story to the next. And it’s a story that deserves to be told.  

I tell stories with a camera. I consider myself an observer of people and life; a seeker of stories. I seek moments and stories in the ordinary, the everyday and the in-between – the best stories lie in the unexpected snippets of life. Visual storytelling is a skill I’ve refined through a combination of travel, people-watching and street photography. I compliment this by drawing on my background in architecture to inform the way I see and use elements such as light + shadow, pattern, texture, lines, form and colour.

I definitely never intended to photograph people and make visual stories. I was about 7 when got my first camera and started telling half-stories; by half, I mean that most of the people in my photos had no heads and were unidentifiable. At school, I wanted to be a journalist. I had my sights set on being a foreign correspondent, collecting stories of human experience from some crazy corners of the earth. But my involvement in the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996 and watching the way the media worked made me realise that I didn’t have it in me to elicit stories from people who were grieving or under distressing circumstances. Instead, I ended up studying architecture and developed an interest in humanitarian design. This lead me to volunteer and work in India, South Africa and Uganda. It was during my 2 years living in Uganda, and traveling East Africa, that I learnt to photograph people. I undertook a pro-bono documentary project in Myanmar in 2018 which finally brought together my love of architecture and photojournalism; and took me out of my comfort zone.

In the creative fields, it’s easy to become comfortable, even complacent, with your process and output, and become static. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, broadening your knowledge and skills, and learning from others in your industry is essential for professional and personal development. Most of us are visual learners, so workshops are perfect learning tools.

When I signed up for the EXSPD Adventures at Mt Hotham earlier this year, it looked like a pretty straightforward workshop, with the promise of “photography, adventure, hiking, fires, beers and good vibes”. Sure, I hung out with a bunch of incredible photographers and speakers, drank beer (and gin), took photos in the most amazing light (yes, lightgasms are real) and learnt a few tips from the pros. However, the workshop far exceeded everyone’s expectations. And some of us took away personal stories.

 

I had no idea that my time on the mountain would become a very personal, and crucial, turning point. It began with an unexpected conversation, on the first afternoon, with Si Moore (Bayly & Moore). We discussed my architectural and design roots and I mentioned that I was hesitant to share most of my work. I have a lot of work that I don’t share; I’m my own worst critic and I fear it’s not enough. Part of me knows this is absolute bollocks, but my anxiety always screams louder and overrules the rational voice in my head. Even though I’m creating images for others, I still find it a very personal process; and I’m apprehensive about how others will view them. The conversation took a sharp turn:

Si: Show me something interesting plz.
Nina: Here, look.
Si: Holy fuck, just do that forever.
Nina: K, bye.
Si: What just happened. AMAZE. *eats cold pie*

In the days that followed, I did a lot of observing and listening and, as a result, I made some stuff that I had no idea I was capable of making (even though it has been in me all along). I was finding traces of architecture throughout the wild landscape and (finally) drawing upon the plethora of architectural knowledge that was once second nature to me (light/shadow/lines/pattern/texture) when composing photos. I had misplaced that intuition.

Then, on the top of Mt Hotham on the last night of the workshop, when the light was singing the most beautiful arias, I had an ‘ah ha!’ moment. I realised that it was the first time I had felt completely present for almost 6 years. I realised that I had finally been shooting with more purpose and intention than I had since I was in Africa. I realised that I wasn’t second-guessing myself. It was moment of clarity and a bloody magical feeling.

Postnatal depression is a bitch and for a long time, I wasn’t ok. It has become a big part of my own story and has taken me to some pretty dark places – most days it was a struggle to breathe and I felt completely numb to feeling very much at all. I also lost touch with my own identity. When the depression started to lift, anxiety slipped into the cracks. I still carry this anxiety with me. It was through hearing the personal stories of the speakers (and some of the participants) at the workshop that I was able to finally find my voice to share my own story. I don’t talk about it often; but seeing the vulnerability of those people in the industry who we often hold up as ‘invincible’ flicked something within me. 

We are all human, with human stories and human experiences. We are all imperfect, which makes us ‘us’. We are simultaneously strong and vulnerable, and we feel more feelings than we could ever name. I feel a lot of things and some days anxiety still gets the better of me. But we can turn our own stories and experiences into how we collect others’ stories. My experience with PND and anxiety allows me to be the calming voice when someone is on edge or nervous on a wedding day. It has made me more aware of noticing the most fleeting and quiet moments that might otherwise be missed. It is also the main reason why I believe in a people-first approach to wedding photography –  people, human connections and in-between moments first; the material details help tell the story, but they are not the most important part.

 

I want to make people feel in their hearts by seeing visual stories with their eyes. I want to document stories as they unfold in front of me. I want to visually narrate the realness of your day, creating beautifully honest stories of love and human connection. You see, you’ll want to look back on your wedding day – your story – and feel the words spoken, the deep belly laughs, the safe embraces, the gentle kisses, the stolen glances, and hilarious and heart-warming speeches. Because this is the stuff that’s at the very heart and soul of your celebration. 

Every wedding story is different; you’re unique and your relationship is as well. Your photos should be a real representation of who you are, your love and your togetherness. I want to tell your story in a way that feels true to you.

And the moral of this story? Be brave and put forward more work. Starting right now, by sharing my story.