How My Photographic ‘Mantras’ Helped Bring Me My Life Today

carla coulson, chasing a dream, heart in the sky

All Photos Copyright Carla Coulson 

Dear Friends,

It feels like so much has happened this year, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I have had a chance to reflect back on the past sixteen years and what has actually happened, why somethings worked and somethings didn’t and what photography has given me.

I give photography much credit for everything I have today!!

When I left Sydney in 2000 I lived along, ate take-away food each night alone, dreamed of finding someone to love and share my life with, to live in a community and belong and spend the 2nd part of my life doing something I loved (not much to ask for right??)

When I arrived fresh of the plane in Italy in 2000 and started at photography school, I was a clean slate. I had just pushed aside the first 35 years of my life and was about to start on a path that I knew nothing about.

carla coulson, love, italian joy, paris tango,

Learning photography and watching images appear in the darkroom filled me with excitement, wonder and curiosity.

Each day I went out into the streets of Florence and took photographs. I had no agenda other than learning, seeing, feeling what came naturally and trying out my ‘training wheels’ photography skills on daily life.

Days, weeks, months, years passed and I was still out on those streets taking photos of things I loved – that brought me pleasure, made me laugh and filled me with happiness.

When I decided to try and publish a book in 2003, I looked at all the pictures I had taken and there seemed to be some recurring themes. Like a lot!

carla coulson, black and white photography, portrait photography

There were images of love, kissing on church steps, couples locked in a passionate goodbye at the train station and sitting on a bridge in the sun. There were images of friends, family and community, of people eating, share and enjoying food together, of Italian beaches and summer, faith and travel and of course Joy. These images were what I was attracted to without any ulterior motive.

So off I toddled to a publisher one day with my big bunch of photos and hope in my heart. These photos and my story became my first book Italian Joy and I will be forever grateful to the wonderful publisher Julie Gibbs and Penguin for her vision in saying yes to my dreams.

This summer (11 years) since Italian Joy, I picked it up and started flicking through it again. I started for the first time to see it in a different light, with new eyes and new thoughts and what has happened in the intervening years.

carla coulson, black and white photography, laughter, mantras

Well, I am sure you have all heard about affirmations and mantras? The power of repeating something you want, over and over again till the big boys and girls upstairs hear it and grant you your wish.

I realised that my photos were my mantras – I took so many photos of people in love that it eventually came to me. I took so many photos of family, friends and community – I found my tribe. I took so many photos of summer and Italian beaches it became part of what I do and I took so many travel photos that I became a travel photographer for the first 12 years of my life and got lucky enough to publish 7 books. I took so many photos of joy it became part of my everyday and all those poor people I stalked in love helped me find my very own sweetheart.  And I started to believe in something greater than just what we see.

carla coulson, italian joy, paris tango

Did focusing subconsciously on things that were missing bring them to my life??? Were the big boys and girls upstairs hanging over my shoulder in the darkroom looking at what was appearing in the developer? Did someone not only hear my message they saw it? Or was it the fact that hundreds of thousands of moments of everything I wanted were recorded not only on film but in my heart and mind?

carla coulson, italian joy, jump, amalfi coast

All Photos Copyright Carla Coulson 

Am I the only one this has happened to? I would love to hear if anything similar has happened to you like this..

Maybe taking photos of what you want might be the next new ‘post it note on your fridge with your daily affirmation?’

Much love


“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Greg Anderson

Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets here.

An Untold Chapter In Finding My Way To Photography

carla coulson by Loc Boyle

Moi by Loc Boye

It is easy as an adult to stop exploring. To arrive at a point in your life where your work and daily life routine takes over and the child and dreams within are forgotten.

It took some digging around, having time and experimenting for me to find the thing that got my heart galloping,  photography.

I wasn’t one of those lucky ones that knew from the minute they were born what they wanted to do in life, in fact I thought I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. My parents weren’t artists and we didn’t have a connection with the creative world so I was never exposed to the idea of being a photographer.

But when I knew I no longer wanted to live the life I was living I made that list of possible things to try. I dug into the recesses of my brain looking for things I loved or thought I might love.

George V Hotel Paris Carla Coulson

Copyright Carla Coulson for Simply You

I knew at the time my career wasn’t what I wanted but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about what I did want to do. I made a list (as I do). It looked like this.

 Learn Italian

Work in the outback

Work for another company doing something I love

Take some time out to think about life

Go to Bali and check out options

Try a photography course

Find Love (thought I might as well write it down and let the universe know I was serious)

I decided to try as many things possible during a year to see if I could find what I was looking for.

Carla Coulson Rawlinna

Taken at Rawlinna and inspired by my time in the outback in WA copyright Carla Coulson

Working on a farm in Outback Western Australia was included on the list because I thought maybe it was city life that needed changing. I added working with a sports marketing team because I thought I needed to work with a different group of people than I had previously worked with, learning Italian was also jotted down because it was something I had always wanted to do. Photography had always been a passion so the list went on and on.

At the top I wrote Italy and of course included something else I was missing in my life, LOVE.

Through a friend I met ‘Doogs’ and I went to work on his farm in the outback in the heart of the Western Australian wheat belt. We were swapping skills, I taught him to use the internet and I fed his chickens who had been saved from a battery farm (never eaten a non-free range egg since). I thought maybe I might like to move to the country and city life was the problem so this was a test.

I arrived straight from the city with my jangling nerves and phone addiction and it took me a week to slow down and sit in wonder at the big open Western Australian skies. I loved walking around the property, jumping in the jeep to go fix a fence or drive a 100km to a friends for dinner. Going to town to get the post wasn’t to be missed and Kellerberin could have been Paris for all I cared. I loved wandering the shops, going to the Post Office (there were people there) or to Dalgety’s (more people there) to get some more farm supplies.

After a month I was another girl, full of Western Australian sunshine and big skies. I had one whole month to wind down, smell the ‘wheat’ and think about what I wanted in life. This experience was priceless and ‘Doogs’ was a kind generous soul but the isolation wasn’t for me.

Diver Positano Carla Coulson

Off the rocks Positano Italian Joy Copyright Carla Coulson

I packed my bags and headed back to Sydney to start another short term job. What I realised when I walked in on my first day was that I no longer wanted to work in an office anymore, the neon lights, the cubicles, the lack of privacy and no big skies – it felt like jail after feeding the chickens!  I stuck out 3 months and then headed to Italy.

The first night I arrived in Florence I walked the streets, stopping in Piazza Signoria. I was on my own and everything felt like it was in slow motion. I hugged myself with happiness. I felt like I belonged.

After the month of Italian school was up I was meant to move on to the next experience on the list but I didn’t want to. I felt like I had barely learnt any Italian and what a shame to go now when I could cancel the rest of my plans and stay here.

It was my second daring decision – to go with my heart and not with my head, first was leaving!!

I had never felt so free.

I stayed on, I continued with my Italian lessons in the morning and in the afternoon I let go of a lifetime of living a certain way. The spontaneity that had been beaten out of me in Sydney by a lifetime of routine and responsibility came back. I said ‘yes’ to every invitation and let barriers that I had built up over years come crashing down.

Italian Joy Cover

Italian Joy Copyright Carla Coulson

In my heart I knew I couldn’t go back to my old life. I had seen another way of living. I still hadn’t found Mr. Right but it seemed inconsequential. I had found Italy. Six months in Italy had changed me, my old life looked even smaller and sadder than before.

Before I left to sort out my affairs, I found a photography school and enrolled. It was my pact with myself. It was a connection to Italy that would force me back. I gave myself three months  in Sydney to sort things out and come back. I was convinced. And as they say “the rest is history”..when I walked into a darkroom almost 8 months later it was love at first photo..

Underwater friends Carla Coulson

Underwater friends Italian Joy Copyright Carla Coulson

Some of you will already know what you want to do in life. Lucky you.

Be happy also if you know what you ‘don’t want to do’ for the rest of your life. Rejoice in the fact that you are aware that there is another life made for you, even if you have to go and find it. This is a wonderful place to be because you have already taken the first steps towards your new life. You know what you don’t want to do.

Make a list and start exploring different creative fields. Remember not to panic if you are doing a job you don’t like today because you already making the moves to change your life just by the knowledge you aren’t happy.

Start exploring and you too  like me may uncover a burning passion you never knew existed.

Write your list of all possible options that you think you might like to explore and start ticking them off.

I hoped you enjoyed this little insight into my journey to photography and I am wishing you loads of luckdust on yours.

 “The law of work seems unfair, but nothing can change it; the more enjoyment you get out of your work, the more money you will make.???Mark Twain


PS; Please share with others on a new path..