How Your Life Experiences Inspires Your Creativity

Carla Coulson by Loc Boyle

Image by Loc Boyle

“But I tell you, for me, each photographer brings his own light from when he was a kid —
in this fraction of a second when you freeze reality,
you also freeze all this background. You materialize who you are.”

~Sebastiao Salgado


At the age of 35, I rocked up in Florence as an expert of nothing, or so I thought.


I stood there that day as I made the decision to sign up for photography school with what I believed to be a clean slate upon which a new story would be written.


I had no great expectations. At that moment, I had sold my business and I had enough money to attend photography school for a year to re-educate myself and to pay for my rent and food if I watched what I spent.


I felt like a girl who had just received the ‘get out of jail’ card in a real game of Monopoly. I had worked my whole life and here for the first time I stood in a piazza with not much to do.


My backstory was WORK starting at the age of 15 working part-time at Woolworths and from then until that moment standing in the piazza, I felt like I had never stopped.
CC by LB in Posi_3107 HORIZONTALBW
After I moved to Sydney, I went straight to work in a bank. That lasted a year then I went back to school and studied my HSC at tech college and dreamed of being a nurse. I did better than I expected in the HSC, so I decided to be a physiotherapist simply because I had more marks. That entailed studying science at the University of NSW and for about 6 months I tried. Though, I felt lost from day one. It was me and a bunch of blokes -I had never felt so much in the wrong world.


Towards the end of the year, I quit and found a job at the Sydney Swans where I started working full time. I had a lot of fun in this job, eventually working in the promotions and marketing department when a flamboyant doctor bought the team. It was here where I met my business partner and we went on to start our own promotional clothing business in Sydney.


Back in Florence, walking into a darkroom I was excited, but I didn’t have great expectations. I had tried photography twice in my life and ‘failed’ or at least hadn’t connected with it. Here I was again almost 20 years later and having another try. At 19, I had worked in a photography studio in Sydney for a couple of days assisting some poor guy whose life was photographing beer bottles. For me it was the dullest job on the planet as we moved these bottles by increments based on where the light was coming from. I decided photography wasn’t for me. In my 30’s still in Sydney, I signed up for a TAFE course and was the only girl who managed to take an entire roll of film without anything on it. Yet again, feeling so ashamed I never went back to that course.


carla coulson, creative coach, creative entrepreneur


But during this third go at trying to learn photography something magical happened. When I saw an image appear in the developer under a dim red light it felt like a miracle had happened. I had exposed some light on a piece of paper from an enlarger, placed it carefully in a container filled with developer, gently moved it from side to side and for a couple of seconds all I saw was white paper with a red glow. Slowly, slowly she came to life. The face of a little girl so very faint in the beginning and as I kept rocking the tray, the blacks started to fill in as did the grey tones till after a minute or so, there she was staring back at me.


In a dark, humid space with just a red light I had witnessed true alchemy. It was wondrous- all I could say was WOW. I wanted to do it again and again.


What I have since realised is that none of us are clean slates. There are no clean slates. We might be learning new skills but what we have inside of us is a mountain of information, experiences, opinions, colours, language, sense of humour, loss, happiness, sadness, stories and ways of looking at the world.


When I walked out on the streets of Florence, I carried all of this with me. I took my new found ‘tool’ the camera alongside me and pointed it at things that resonated with me, that something inside of me was attracted to. I didn’t know at the time that many of the things I pointed my camera at were things I was longing for or felt were missing in my life.


I granted myself permission to photograph whatever I liked. I had no previous schooling and I didn’t know any of the great photographers other than the ones I was slowly learning about in school. I didn’t yet understand all the important moments in photographic history or art for that matter. I just kept taking photos. This beautiful freedom that came with no judgement was exhilarating! Often I would take the same kind of subjects over and over again, such as people hugging or kissing, or the Madonna in every form on every street corner.




Within 2 years, I’d published my first article of words and photos for Marie Claire. Within 4 years I had a book contract where I wrote the story and took the photos. Many of the photos were those first photos I ever took whilst still at photography school.


What I have come to realise is that my creativity was always there inside of me, like it is right there inside of you. Once I learned a skilled I added ‘my opinion’ or point of view. It has only been in looking back I started to see how my style developed.


Italian Joy became a visual mantra of what I wanted to bring into my life.


I adore the quote attributed to Michelangelo, “Every block of stone has a sculpture inside of it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” That’s what allowing myself to be creative feels like to me. We are setting free something that we already have. Maybe we need to put on new glasses to see it, but it is always there and we are setting free these things into the world. We are giving birth to our ideas and materializing them with our hands, instruments and tools.


“Sculpture, like editing, is about chiseling away at the unnecessary, at the external, in pursuit of the truth and beauty within or by building something up,”  Nils Parker says in his piece, The Angel in the Marble. Whether you do it by chipping away or some other form, all of it is creating. Whether it is a digital download from the cosmos or the divine work that was already in your heart, the act of creating is everyone’


So my lovelies no matter what age you are you already have powerful inspiration inside, it just needs to be set free..


Love and light,




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Stephanie Bryen
Stephanie Bryen
2 years ago

Hi Carla,
What a great post. Thought provoking, as its meant to be. The ‘clean slate’ explanation is certainly thought provoking. One day, I too hope to be back in closer contact with my camera as I have absolutely wonderful memories of joining you in Puglia and the few events in Sydney. It keeps me going while I’m in this phase,

Pamela zaremba
2 years ago

Hi Carla, what an incredible journey you have had. With my own photography I have struggled at times. Now with your help I am confident I have the tools to reach my goals and desires. I am grateful to have such an incredible angel at my side. Love, pam

2 years ago

I think if I was to add a darkroom back into my life, I would be able to slow down my pace a bit more. It’s a place for patients, stillness, and silence. The world stops. The feeling of watching images appear (or not appear) is like nothing else in the photography world. Days would go so fast and often it was a day spent perfecting only one image! Ahhhh, the memories. Thanks for sharing your story again Carla. I always learn a new insight every time you share it. Teagan xoxo

Karen Cougan
Karen Cougan
2 years ago

I love your posts Carla, thank you