Do what you love, because if you love it, chances are you are good at it and will be driven to work hard. Dream big, work hard but have an understanding of the business reality of your chosen career path, says photographer Hayley Sparks. It was an early internship with photography great Annie Leibovitz that prompted Sparks to pursue a career in the creative medium, and almost thirty years later she hasnt looked back.
Sparks was born in Salzburg, Austria, to Australian parents, and grew up in Portland, Oregon before moving to Manhattan in 1989. Sparks is now based in Sydney and works as an editorial and advertising photographer specialising in children and portraiture. Mother to Dylan, 7, and Madeline, 6, she credits her flexible hours and a handy husband for helping keep the family day in order. Im lucky in that much of my work I can do from home while my kids are at school or after they are in bed. I love my work, and I like that my kids see their mother working, but also that I get to spend a lot of time with them. Now that they are both in school, and I have the option of after school care on shoot days, its much easier. When they were younger and I didn’t have full time childcare or family living nearby, it was very challenging. I am grateful to have a husband who is very involved in our family life, he cooks and does whatever he can to help.
Sparks client list is as diverse as it is impressive and includes magazines such as Lucky, La Petite, MILK, Vogue Taiwan, plus The New York Times and Tutu Du Monde, all clearly drawn to her stunning body of work and ability to capture children so honestly and beautifully. I love how unselfconscious kids are, and fully present in front of the camera. Seeing them through the lens, I am constantly struck by how centred and powerful they are. Generally, I believe people underestimate kids. Their spontaneity, joy, perspective and beauty inspire me, she says.
In this new age of social media, Sparks says the younger generation of aspiring photographers need to work even harder to pave their way. Learn your craft, study the greats, but find your own vision and aesthetic. As much as you can, work for or with people who you admire and inspire you. Do personal work. It’s a different time than when I began as a photographer. With the digital transition and social media, everyone is a photographer. In some ways, it’s devalued the craft, but it has also opened the playing field where everyone has a voice and a platform to show their work.
What has motherhood taught you so far?
The need for balance, as I tend to become single minded when I shoot. They ground me in the present, and help me experience and appreciate the every day moments more fully.
Whats the best advice youve ever been given about motherhood?
Teach by example, children learn what they see not what you tell them. I hope to empower my children and teach them independence. My kids were Montessori educated in pre-school. One of the philosophies I love is Never do for a child what they can do for themselves.
Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be a photographer?
I’ve always loved photography and was given my first camera, a Pentax K 1000, for my 16th birthday. I tooled around and printed in my school darkroom, but originally chose to pursue acting as a career. At 18, I moved to New York to attend New York University and worked as an actress throughout my twenties, in a mix of Broadway, TV, and film. I took photography courses in my free time, but it wasn’t until I did an internship with Annie Leibovitz that I decided to pursue it professionally. I was hooked.
What makes a beautiful picture?
For me, light is everything. Well, not everything, but almost. Composition and subject are both very important too. The images I respond to the most evoke a feeling, a deep sense of place or the subject. I prefer photos that are not overly slick and lit, but have some humanity and magic in them.
What inspires your work?
My own kids, light, nature, beauty, movies, books, artists, and other photographers; Tim Walker, Paolo Roversi, and Sally Mann to name a few.
What are your tips for achieving balance with work/life/family?
The days I get to shoot are exciting and rewarding in so many ways, and balance the time I spend with my kids and domestic life that fulfil me in an entirely different way. I am a freelancer, and it works well with family life. I can do my work one day, and spend my afternoon in the park throwing a ball in the sunshine with my kids the next. I have noticed that Australia makes it easier for Mums to work, offering part time work opportunities and tax rebates for childcare.
What kind of work do you need to do in a day?
When I am prepping a shoot, I’ll brainstorm creative concepts, location scout, and pull together mood boards, cast, plan the shoot day. Depending on the job, shoot days are generally long, full days and I love them completely. Post work is the most time consuming, with editing and retouching.
How do you procrastinate?
I’ll go for a walk, answer emails, do the laundry.
And how do you focus?
It helps if I have a clean house, then I don’t get too distracted by all I need to do at home. I really enjoy my work, and mostly look forward to doing it.
Whats your favourite part of the day?
My walk along the coast in the mornings. This place is so incredibly beautiful. I find the ocean calming. On the weekends, I love going to the beach with my family and just hanging out at home in the evening as a family while we cook, talk and listen to music.