Gabriella Morton is a freelance photographer based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She believes the most powerful form of communication is bridging the gap between art and science. By intertwining the two, Ella builds a strong narrative, ultimately leading towards a more sustainable future. Her involvement with Kiwi organisation Project Blue has taken her around both New Zealand and Malaysia to tackle plastic pollution. The film will be released in June 2021 and you can read more about the project here.
Who are you and what are you passionate about?
I’m a multidisciplinary creative aiming to bridge the gap between art and important messages like science/psychology/environment… Ultimately, this is to create a stronger narrative around sustainability. Facts need storytellers to breathe life into them and somebody needs to give them some soul. I enjoy sourcing hard to digest concepts and reformatting them creatively through photo and video so that visual learners can understand.
Guilt, negativity and shame seem to have suffocated the sustainability space so I aim to shift that by first acting from a place of love and not fear. I use my fascination with our natural world to capture thought-provoking imagery because when people surrender to this powerful form of insignificance it helps them see the planet as a whole. Although I don’t strive to encourage consumerism, I am a strong believer that we need to use our dollar as a vote towards what kind of world we want to live in. When possible I use that privilege to carefully choose clients that align with this model.
How long have you been self-employed and how did you start?
Growing up with family in the film industry cameras have always been a massive part of my life. I was never a fan of being in front of the camera so I quickly discovered asking technical questions was the ideal excuse to get behind it. Over my teenage years I tried a lot of experimental photography using friends as models, and with the rise of social platforms like Tumblr and then Instagram sharing was more accessible than ever.
Fresh out of Media Design School at age 18, I landed an inhouse digital marketing job creating content for consumer electronics. It kind of sounds exciting, and yeah there was the odd action camera thrown in there, but mainly we’re talking car radio harnesses and facia kits. Not at all what I’m wired for, pun intended. I remember the commute alone could be up to 2-3 hours of traffic jam per day, I would always return home exhausted and uninspired to create anything of my own. Most of my ideas at work would be diluted to frame a different audience.
I found a few side-hustles to keep my brain ticking, like offering event photography, setting up a print store and at one point I even started a jewellery business. But it wasn’t until 2014 that I really got hooked on my visual craft. As an escape from my dull 9-5 I started going camping every weekend, exploring a new part of the coastline each trip. It was here I fell in love with adventure and astrophotography. After a year abroad I figured I could work with tourism companies to create outdoor marketing material rather than returning to the cubicle.
What is it like being self-employed?
Full-time freelance photography clients didn’t come overnight. I had a safety net of savings to help me ease into it as well as offering freelance Web Design services to fill in the gaps. Although there were months in the beginning with little financial return, the power I had over my hours was a satisfactory reward. A lifestyle coated in the freedom that I would struggle to give up now that I’ve had a taste. They say it takes 3 years to build a business and I can honestly say that was accurate in my case as I enter my 4th year finally feeling a sense of comfort.
Are there any unique experiences you’ve been through in or out of being self-employed you’d like to share? Project Blue?
Being the boss of my own schedule has improved my quality of life immensely. Being able to say ‘Yes’ to passion projects I otherwise couldn’t justify the time for has got to be my favourite perk. The power of social networking and collaboration with fellow creatives has made me life long friends which also often eventuate into work opportunities.
For example, because of my timetable flexibility, I had the opportunity to join the Project Blue crew. We came together because living passively in a world that desperately needs active future-thinkers, just didn’t seem right to us. In a world full of so many critical issues it all becomes a bit overwhelming. We started with protecting what we collectively have in common - the ocean. We’re now an organisation made up of 25 young Kiwi environmentalists (divers, marine biologists, surfers, lawyers and filmmakers) documenting where New Zealand’s plastic waste and recycling ends up.
Through the art of filmmaking, we have spent the last 2 years compiling a feature-length documentary (across Aotearoa, Hawaii and Malaysia) on how to turn off single-use plastic at the source. While working alongside companies to improve where they can remove and reduce unnecessary single-use items we aim to inspire the youth through grassroots to tackle a mission of their own.
What have been some outstanding challenges?
A challenge I never thought I would face is separating my work/life balance. For years I tried to bring work into my personal space to make a living off what I enjoyed. That seemed logical until my obsession with productivity had me turning every holiday into a work trip and resulting in burnout. I learnt to set myself business hours (which can of course still be tailored to suit and shift) as well as using offline48 as a way to look forward to weekends and return to my emails excited for the projects to come.
Having an office and bedroom combined has also proved to be unideal. Hours spent editing in the same place you go to unwind creates a blurred line and disassociation with the ability to switch off. My goal for 2021 is to set up a refreshing and inviting shared studio space that brings the excitement back to the drawing board.
What’s the hardest thing about being self-employed?
Something that is consistently hard about being self-employed is the short term contracts. Although the variety of clients keeps you on your toes it can be exhausting to be constantly pitching jobs before you’ve finished another. This realization helped me leap away from fast-paced content and dream big. Earning and learning the value of my skill set encourages me to say no to brands who don’t align which simultaneously creates space for my niche. Only having yourself to bounce ideas off, and ultimately report back to, can induce a mad case of imposter syndrome. So working with people that compliment my ethos, on projects that fascinate me, end up producing the biggest reward. Reputation and word of mouth are huge, as your chances of them transitioning into a retaining client and spreading referrals flourishes - which ultimately means less time scouting.
How has Hnry helped you being self-employed?
I never learnt taxes in school so Hnry has completely eliminated my fear around self-employment. It enables me to work from anywhere and never think about tax again. When I discovered the app I could stop putting pressure on myself and allow the automated accounting software to calculate, deduct and file all my financial admin for me. The seamless quote and invoicing feature allows my clients to pay deposits as well as accepting credit card payments. Hnry keep tabs, shows me real insights and even chases up overdue invoices so I don’t personally have to nag.
My favourite feature is uploading pictures of receipts from business expenses (instead of keeping them for eternity in the classic shoebox) and the software does the rest to ensure automatic tax relief. After 3 years as a loyal customer, I owe the freedom of my career to the lovely team at Hnry. Working remotely without the traditional stacks of paperwork really puts the glam back into self-employment!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Initially, passion is such a puzzle. Most people know it when they see it but have a hard time creating it for themselves. It is however infectious, so surround yourself with the like-minded, network and collaborate with creatives who can help break down and tell your story. Attend events in your community to meet new people, publicly support your friend’s businesses to help them grow too, join Facebook groups and job directories, save inspiration and categorize them into mood boards you can reference at a later date, jot down ideas as notes on your phone and make lists with quantifiable tasks that you can physically tick off! Everything is relative - so keep going and keep growing!