sunconscious...  kate hook

Photographer Kate Hook on social anxiety, quitting your job and travelling

“If I quit am I really going to build a substantial career as a photographer?”

28th October, 2019

Kate Hook is a Brighton-based Art Photographer. She specialises in analogue imagery with focus on portraiture, landscape and architecture. She recently quit her day-job, at an undisclosed and very well known company, to travel and improve both her mental health, and photography.

One year ago I was pacing the same floors, climbing the same stairs and repeating the same information, often to the same attendees. This was accompanied by the same self-doubt and darkness that had continued for the majority of my adult life. Despite promises of career progression and health support, both physically and mentally, I found myself in a dead end job. I felt like a burden whenever a depressive episode came on. Businesses like to say the right things, but once you begin to scratch the surface you start to see how rotten people can be - especially when they don’t want to be held accountable for anything that might tarnish their faux perfect exterior.

Before I started my last job I would travel, almost every weekend, to National Trust spots or different cities, just to escape and photograph. When this time began to be eaten up, with holiday leave not as flexible as you’d like, I couldn’t escape as much I used to, if not anymore.

A regular work day consisted of talking to hundreds of people, and would equal thousands every week. What I used to do was draining, especially for someone struggling with social anxiety. It was rare to have two days off, and when I did, all I wanted to do was stay in bed - let alone organise a photoshoot or even go outside with my camera. I was exhausted. I started to dread tomorrows more and more.

Co-workers began to comment on how tired I looked. Managers would side-eye me when I said I needed 5 minutes to get some water. There was no time to even figure out what the best form of self-care was because I was either knackered or needed to study for the following days lesson. My life started to become about my job. Anything that had made me me outside of work felt like it was slowly slipping away, and I was too beaten to do anything about it, or even want to. These feelings of self-doubt had started to get the better of me: “If I quit am I really going to build a substantial career as a photographer? Probably not. I haven’t already, and I doubt I ever will. Better to just stick with this, it’s safe. Soul destroying, but safe.'' That thought ran on repeat for a good six months.

The only real positive in my life I had to focus in on was my brother’s wedding. He lives in Sydney, and that's where the ceremony was being held. I would also be the only family member in attendance as both our parents had passed away some time ago, so it was pretty important that I attend. I managed to get three weeks off, which was just enough time for me to enjoy the wedding and recover from any jet-lag.

“The one thing that I’ve felt so down hearted about for years has benefited me in reaching out to other creative souls, and to even have these creative souls reach out to me”

All was well until one of my senior managers informed me that my time away would be cut short. The wedding was on the 20th April and they “needed” me back for the 22nd. With no room for compromise I handed in my notice a few days later. No celebratory exit, no leaving drinks, only frustrated tears as I walked out of the same building for the last time. Suddenly nothing was the same. I let the exhaustion and depression take over. I just wanted to be still, to be silent. It felt like all my energy had left just disappeared. I felt like nothing, and that I had nothing.

After a couple of months I started to take the necessary steps I needed to move forward with my life. I used my savings to book a one way ticket to Sydney. After that I started researching other parts of Australia, Malaysia, and then finally Japan. It took about a month of planning but I managed to organise a three month trip. This overwhelming feeling of “I need to do this” started to take over and fill the emptiness that I’d been dealing with months prior. There wasn’t much hesitation. When the plane took off over Birmingham I looked down over my home city, pleased to be leaving for a long period and excited to return regenerated and anew.

The first month of my travels were in Australia, with the first few weeks in Sydney to celebrate my brother's wedding, and then Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and finally, Tokyo. I had been looking forward to Japan the most, and once I landed I felt as if I’d entered a dream state.

My first night in Shibuya was dizzyingly spellbinding, as I stumbled upon the world famous Shibuya crossing, visited the Studio Ghibli museum, ate the most amazing ramen, and played Mario Kart late into the night with the other expats I’d met over there.

As expected, there had been some tears and stresses along the way, and I was amazed at how well I’d handled them. From creepy dudes attempting to take my picture in Kuala Lumpur, to carrying bags of laundromat washing in torrential rain and falling over on Tokyo’s slippery marble-like streets, and travelling back to the airport because I’d forgotten my emergency phone were all the kicks up the butt that I had needed to attain the calmness I’d needed during the not-so-fun parts of travelling.

The biggest impact that this trip has had on me is my photography. The one thing that I’ve felt so down hearted about for years has benefited me in reaching out to other creative souls, and to even have these creative souls reach out to me. Being stuck in the same place doing the same shit can really make you feel insignificant. Yet with some of the how-to videos that I made about experimental photography and some of the pictures I’d taken I ended up coming face to face with other photographers I’ve actually influenced. It’s incredibly surreal and humbling.

Along with the photographs I’ve taken, either in collaborating with models or of new unexplored scenery and all the shows and museums I’ve visited, I’ve never felt more inspired to do what I do.

“I know it’s hard to get up and out there, but it can really do you wonders to travel somewhere new and unknown. Even if it is down the road“

Doing this journey solo has been a liberating experience, and one that I’d longed for and needed for many years. There were moments of exhaustion during my travels in where I’d let myself feel exhausted. I associated “me time” with being selfish and lazy, but now it is something that I see as completely necessary for my own mental health and well being.

I’m putting myself out there unapologetically, and becoming more comfortable and confident with myself as a result. These past couple of months I’ve been able to learn so much more about myself and how my mental health functions than I have in the last decade. I’m a lot stronger than I realised and completely worthy of the things I want out of my life. When I return home I’ll be less fearful about settling into somewhere safe and same-y.

I understand everyone reading this isn’t able to drop everything and travel. This was something I knew I had to do, and I had one chance to do it. I’m terrified of not finding work when I’m back in the UK but I’m managing to become more and more confident of tackling that when the time comes.

You don’t need to travel to Australia, Malaysia or Japan to enjoy new scenery and peace of mind. Despite the Brexit bullshit I’m looking forward to coming home and exploring parts of my own country. I know it’s hard to get up and out there, but it can really do you wonders to travel somewhere new and unknown. Even if it is down the road, you can still find out and learn so much more about yourself in these new places.

View, purchase and learn more about Kate Hook below: / @kateh00k

words and images: kate hook

uoh 2020 — @uok.hun