When I first saw Sarah’s work I was instantly captivated by the sheer beauty, artistic creation and depth that Sarah Ferrara’s images capture. They are filled with such grace, the poise and elegance that flow from each one of Sarah’s creations held me in a moment in time, and when I finally exhaled, I knew I had to find out more about who this woman is and her wonderful story. I can tell you I laughed, I cried, I nodded my head in shared understanding, I was inspired and in awe of her fierce courage and the relentless creativity that is such an incredible part of who she is. It’s no wonder that Sarah has achieved the success she has in such a short space of time, her images receiving global recognition as she scoops one prestigious accolade after another.
I feel so fortunate to be sharing her story.
Sarah Ferrara – The Relentless Creative
Tell me about your creativity – who and what inspires you? I see inspiration in everything. The other day my daughter caught me staring intently at my husband’s fishing hooks. I was imagining using them in a shoot somehow and came up with an elaborate scenario. I’ll be eating dinner and find myself daydreaming about the vines above my head and the pattern they cause in their shadow. Whenever I’m in the car I am scouting for locations. Obviously I am inspired by photographers I follow too, although lately I have been trying to avoid looking too much at other people’s work, so my own voice can develop a bit. A few years ago my goal was to create something equal to or similar to my favorite artists… now I am trying to find my own groove, but there are some obvious influences in my work that anyone in the industry will spot immediately. I go through phases, and am still trying on different styles and exploring different looks. I’m torn between trying to carve out a recognizable style for myself and having fun being eclectic. But above all, I love and am inspired by the female face and figure. When I was taking Art A Level at school, all my drawings were of a woman’s face or, if I was really pushed to think outside the box, a nude figure. I would sketch female eyes over and over again. I never learned to draw anything else because my art teacher let me do what I wanted. Even today, when doodling I will draw a female face. Everywhere I go I see women I want to photograph, and I will often just ask strangers to come and sit for me. Luckily my personal work helps me get paying clients, so I tell myself it’s a marketing strategy 😉
What is the life experience that shaped your life the most? After 3 years studying at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School I quit an acting career in London only two years into it to go and live on a kibbutz in Israel with a couple of hundred quid in my pocket. I ended up hitching my way down to the Sinai in Egypt, and stayed for two years, working my way up from waitress in a beach bar working for food and board, to becoming a scuba diving instructor, certifying open water divers and training divemasters. I had no plan, no security, no idea of what would happen or how it would work out. It has made me trust my instincts and not be afraid to change direction if I need or want to.
How has this reflected in your creativity? I am not afraid to take risks, try new things; failing spectacularly is part of the fun. When I found photography in late 2010, I decided then and there I would become a professional photographer, even though I could barely work my entry-level DSLR.
What drives you to keep evolving creatively? I don’t know what it is that drives me but it is relentless. There are brief moments of satisfaction, followed by acute frustration at not being where I want to be and not evolving or developing fast enough. I have an intense desire to achieve, to smash through my own barriers, and my favorite daydreams are of shoots I am planning or edits I am working on. I am hardly ever not thinking about photography, which drives my family mad, quite understandably.
Starting to enter print competition has been a huge factor in putting deadlines on my creativity. I enjoy it so much and it probably saved me from getting bored with doing just paid work. Prior to entering print competition for the first time, I shot exclusively client work for two years and had I continued in that vein I probably would have burned out by now.
What are you really passionate about? I get very heated about politics, which is a recent thing. I was completely apolitical until Brexit happened. I am a very passionate debater and like to argue. I think that might be the influence of living in Italy amongst Italians for over two decades. Don’t get me started on Trump. No seriously – don’t.
What is an absolute no for you? Integrity is important to me, so I’d like to say I’d never compromise my values.
What are you most curious about in life right now? The people my children are growing up to be. I am aware of having made mistakes as a parent, a lot of which is down to my compulsive, impulsive and slightly obsessive character and absorption in my own creative world. My son is 21 and is turning out to be an outstanding human, and my 9 year-old daughter is just delightful (although we’ve got the teenage years to get through yet), and an extremely good artist. I hope they take a step forward in evolution from their parents, and are happy whichever direction they take in life. I am extremely proud of both of them.
What are your biggest life lessons to date? That sometimes things just don’t happen, because they weren’t supposed to. That sometimes awful things happen, but the road you are put on as a result is invariably the right one. And that total certainty and belief combined with massive action is an unstoppable combination.
How did your parents help shape you? In every way. My father was quite well-known as I was growing up, but he left my mother and, consequently, me when I was a year old. I was in a strange position for the first half of my life of being known for being “the daughter of” someone. That was my identity, but that identity was completely fused, in my child’s mind, with what I perceived to be rejection. That took some work and many years to understand and shake off. But from something that could be seen as negative came many more wonderful, positive things: my step-dad who since I was four years old has been the best father I could have wished for, my extended family, step-mum, step- and half-brothers. And my real father had some positive lessons for me too. He instilled in me that mastery comes from thousands of hours of practice and dedication. I remember him telling me about the ten-thousand hour rule decades before Malcolm Gladwell brought it to attention in “The Outliers” – except he called it the ten-year rule.
Who was the one person that influenced you the most and how did they helped shape who you are today? Two people: my mum and step-dad. They drummed it into my head that I can do and be anything I want if I work hard enough at it. They also encouraged me to follow my dreams, when many parents would have told me to get a job with security and be more responsible. They just said “go for it, and we’re here whenever you need us. Just call and we’ll get you a flight home”. They gave me the strength and security to try out my wings and fly, and it was such a gift. I hope to do the same for my children one day.
What one thing are you currently working on trying to improve? I am trying to learn to control my big mouth, and I occasionally let my daughter confiscate and hide my mobile phone as I am so addicted to it.
What has been your biggest obstacle in life and what did you learn from it? Like anything worth having, you need to work hard on your health – nothing comes easy and sacrifices have to be made, but it can and does pass, with help, and life can and should be better.
How have you used challenging emotional experiences to expand your creativity? I love coming up with concepts that deal with difficult past emotional experiences. They don’t have to work to be valuable or part of creative growth. Failures are just steps in the journey of creating something. I am always coming up with dark and difficult ideas that are challenging both logistically and personally. My professional work is all about beauty, whereas my personal work can sometimes be dark. I am also enjoying injecting some political statements into my creative work. Instead of ranting on Facebook, I’ll try and come up with a creative way to express myself.
What was your life defining moment that shaped you into the person/creative you are today? There are too many. But among my best moments in life were having my children, and swimming with a wild dolphin in the Red Sea when I was 22. She had been tamed by a local Bedouin boy, and he fed her so she stayed close to shore. For a “fee” of 5 Egyptian pounds (1 GBP at the time) to the boy to go towards the shrimp he would feed her daily, he would show you where to find her as long as you obeyed his rules (no grabbing on to her fin, no scuba tanks). Unusually for her, she took a liking to me. She would swim to the sandy bottom, pretend to lie sleeping, wait for me to swim down to her, then she’d swim away, almost like she was laughing. She’d do it again and again. I’d go up for air, and she’d come up underneath me and push me gently up out of the water. We played like that for hours. It was magical.
What is the one creation your heart is calling you to create? I have a big long list of them. And they are a secret until I create them and publish them 🙂
What is your vision for your future? Your hopes, goals and dreams? I am already doing exactly what I want to do. I’d just like some more of it and a little more freedom to take a holiday now and then, and finance outrageous creative shoots. A goal I have been developing and working towards since the early 2000s is some kind of online platform, and after many false starts in different industries over the years, I am finally getting started with my live online retouching sessions for portrait photographers. It’s very low-key at the moment, I don’t advertise and just have a handful of photographers, so it’s just like a group of mates geeking out over photoshop once a week.
What do you want to be remembered for? That essentially I was a good person who tried her best. And was a bit of a badass when necessary.
How has accessing your authentic creativity impacted your life? Life is never dull. I am always coming up with new ideas, and before photography it was ideas for new businesses. I’ve been self-employed my whole adult life, and several successful (and unsuccessful, of course) ventures were started with me sitting bolt upright in bed at 6am saying “I’ve had an idea”. And everyone around me ducks for cover.
What were you most afraid of when you started following your passion and how did you overcome those fears? The only thing I fear is not having tried hard enough, of not giving it my very best shot. But if I don’t try hard enough it means I didn’t want it enough. I learned that from acting. I didn’t want it enough, so I changed course. Every wedding, every portrait session, every fun shoot I do I feel enormous pressure (from myself) to create something outstanding. Sometimes I think I fear success more than failure.
Do those fears still show up today? How do you keep pushing through them? At nearly every wedding and often even after just a studio shoot, I worry that I did terribly, the photos are awful, I’m awful, and I want to crawl under my duvet and not come out. That happens at unpaid, collaborative shoots as well, there is no rhyme nor reason to it. But I’ve grown to learn that that usually means I’m just tired and hungry, and it will pass. So basically – eat a sandwich and have a nap, everything will be fine.
When was the last time you attended any kind of learning/development workshop/programme and what was it? I am currently doing four or five online courses and take several in person workshops a year. I am always studying and learning; in the car, while editing, while falling asleep.
What impact has that had? I think I have developed as a photographer relatively quickly. I started learning photography at age 38/39 (I’m 46 now) and that wouldn’t have been possible without doing all the courses and workshops I did. I have also done many one-on-one mentoring sessions over the years, including this year, and I plan on doing the same next year. Whenever I find someone whose work I really admire, I make it a priority to learn personally from them if I can.
How important has personal development been to your life, creativity and business goals? I have been interested in self-development since I was a teenager and it was considered very woowoo and a bit weird back then. Last year I listened to nearly 60 audiobooks, all non-fiction and self-help in some way, whether it be business, personal or creative. I am very aware that I need improving.
What are you celebrating right now? Health, happiness, and a wonderful family I am very grateful for. Corny, right? But without these, nothing else matters.
If you could speak to the heart and soul of all creatives what would be the words you would want them to know? 1) There is nothing to fear, 2) enjoy the journey, 3) when things feel terrible, eat a sandwich and have a nap