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SPOTLIGHT ON Vanessa Verchiani

PHOTOGRAPHER

Photographer Vanessa always knew the arts were for her but before she pursued her creative passion, a job with Mission Australia changed her path and her perspective. Despite being in high demand for photography work, her commitment to working in support of homeless and mental health services hasn’t stopped.

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 Tell me about when you were at PLC Sydney and what your plan was for after school?

I loved my friend group, and I spent most of my time in the art rooms. I loved art at school, and that was my avenue; my main goal at school was to complete my HSC, and I had my mindset on becoming a makeup artist after the HSC.

I studied a makeup course for six months, but I didn’t like it at all. I worked in retail for a bit of a bit but decided I wanted to pursue art. I had always loved the darkroom experience in my photography classes at school - there was so much romance attached to it for me. So I studied Fine Arts and Photography at TAFE NSW. I gained more experience, did lots of life drawing and just loved challenging myself in that way.

I finished the course, but I was so young and didn’t know where or to start pursuing a photography career. All I knew was that I needed to get a proper job. Funnily enough, my first job ended up being the Personal Assistant to the EA of the Sydney Opera House. I had a beautiful waterfront office. I worked there for two years, working with high-profile actors and actresses, and I even had my 21st on the Opera House balcony drinking Bollinger! It was surreal! Following that, I became PA to the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs for two years. I decided that I loved marketing and that I wanted to pursue a new role in that area.

There was a job at Mission Australia, a not-for-profit organisation specifically concerned with homeless services and mental health issues - two areas that are a personal interest of mine. I worked there for ten years, and I loved it.

During that time, I moved into a national marketing role which took me all over Australia. I travelled with a photographer, and we did some photojournalism about the stories of Mission Australia. I would interview clients who had been through our services successfully and come out the other end. I explored human experiences and connections with people who I wouldn’t even have come face to face within my day-to-day experience. I was invited up to Arnhem land and sat with the native women as we watched the men spearfish on this beautiful, peaceful and untouched earth. We also went out to Imanpa, which is a community out of Alice Springs, during the Intervention. That was an impactful experience for me. Coming back to Sydney afterwards - especially coming from a very privileged background - I realised how sheltered everyone was to those experiences. It was very beautiful for me to open my heart and life to lots of people and hear their stories.

When I had my daughter, I decided I was going to go back and study photography. I went to Torrens University, where I studied part-time for two years. People started to say things to me like, “I saw that photo of your daughter. Would you be able to take photos of my daughter - I’ll pay you”. One thing led to another from there! I was very blessed because I went through college with some people who couldn’t even start to pursue that - I just happened to be in the right circles. A lot of my clients were PLC parents!

I’ve remained with homeless services in a part-time role, two days a week with a Taldumande Youth Services company based in North Shore, which helps homeless people aged 12-21. Working there really grounds me and reminds me what’s happening elsewhere because you can turn your eye to it. It's been an interesting journey for me, and it just shows that you can experience both worlds, which brings a critical perspective to my life.

What does a typical workday look like for you generally?

My weekdays are full! I drop my daughter at school and head straight to an office, whether it's my home office or someone else’s, to do some consulting or social media work.

If I have a product shoot, I’ll be on the road all day, although that doesn’t happen too often at the moment. Then I pick my daughter up, do all the ‘mum stuff’, and that’s when I start work again.

I work alone, so it is full-on, and I’m currently working seven days a week. Before COVID, I was working two jobs and was approached for a third job as an event manager; however, when COVID hit, my photography work disappeared, so I thought the third job would be a good move, and I would have plenty of time to manage them.

However, a couple of months went by, and photography requests have absolutely slammed me! I didn’t want to give up anything, so I’m working on all three of them right now. I’ve never worked in hospitality, and I wanted to gain experience in this area. But I can’t give the charity work up. I don’t want to give any of it up because even though I work a lot, I still manage to spend a lot of time with my daughter as well. I make it work.

What skills would you say you need to work on to manage a business?

You have to be able to multitask because your goalposts are moving all the time. I also think that you have to be calm. If you don’t have a calm persona, everything will become too much to handle. You have to be able to step back and think, “It's OK, this is what you always wanted to happen - to have lots of work!”

Could you share a mistake you’ve made, what you’ve learnt from it or how it helped in the long run?

I don’t like to think of anything as a mistake - especially when it comes to art.

I suppose a mistake that I probably made early on was that I didn’t have enough business strategies in place. I’ve also been in positions where I’ve felt anxious about a shoot.

Say, for instance, I walk in, and a stylist has asked me to take photos of something, and everything is mirrored [laughs]. I’ve had to push myself. My mistake in those situations has been where I’ve let myself get so stressed imagining that this client thinks that I can deliver more than I actually can. In the end, it all comes out perfectly, and I’ve never had a client that hasn’t been happy. Especially when you take photos of people’s children - parents just love it. If anything, they’re shocked that I can wrangle their child into this fantastic photo.

My time at school has helped me in my work. I think PLC Sydney has this ability to produce confident women. I don’t think I’ve ever met a PLC girl who has said: “I can’t”. There’s nothing too hard for a PLC girl, and I love that. I think PLC fosters that with their young people to be strong, independent and have that “can do” attitude.

What’s the best or most significant piece of advice you’ve received, and what advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?

Fake it till you make it [laughs]. It ultimately comes down to being confident and permitting yourself to be confident, especially in unleashing your creativity.

I don’t believe schools focus enough on fostering the creative types. In school, creativity is limited in terms of what purpose it will serve in the future.

I would say don’t turn your back on creativity. If the school system doesn’t allow for the type of creativity you want to explore, make time for it at home instead. Allow children to explore their creativity. Keep being creative and permit yourself to be confident in everything you do, and I think life will serve you well if you do that.

What else do you use to find balance, inspiration? What tools do you use to help you with your work?

I used to collage and create mood boards, but now obviously, I have Pinterest [laughs]. I have so many Pinterest boards!

I was listening to a TedTalk about unleashing your creativity, and there’s one artist with boxes and boxes of stuff. She puts a subject on each of them, and everything gets sorted in there. For example, she’ll find an excellent book or DVD and put that in a box. In the TedTalk, they say that the biggest fear of creative people is forgetting their ideas. It happens to creative people so much - where you’ll forget an idea and then years later someone has created the very same idea that you forgot. So getting onto an idea and just making it happen is so important. I love that box idea, and Pinterest for me works as my boxes. For instance, I’m feeling a bit uninspired about a shoot I’ve got coming up, and it's very specific - for example, a maternity shoot at a beach. I will try and find out a bit more about the person I’m doing the shoot for, and then I will often make boards specifically for my clients depending on what they are like and what they like doing.

If you think about your time at PLC Sydney, what impact has it had on your life since school? What are your fondest memories of your school days?

I’m a proud PLC Sydney girl. I pride myself on that. I think that the girl that comes out of PLC is confident. In my eyes, she’s not judgemental. She’s a high achiever but not necessarily in the box - she just strives to be better. I’ve always been in awe of the community and network of friends that come from PLC Sydney. I have a very close group of friends that I’ve taken away from school. But I also feel like I could sit down with almost anyone from PLC and be able to connect with them for the rest of the time because we’ve all been through that journey together. But it's also more than the journey itself; it’s the camaraderie that we formed during it.

Learn more about Vanessa and take a look at her gorgeous photos @foto_vanessa

Vanessa Verchiani 
Class of 1998

House: Pickard