First Hand — How recent grad Eliza Hatch's part-time project turned into a powerful platform
When photographer Eliza Hatch was still at university, she wasn’t altogether sure of what she wanted to do. Resigning post-university life as an expected failure, it’s fair to say the reality hasn’t been quite as disastrous as she’d initially thought. Just twelve months out of uni, her photojournalism project, Cheer Up Luv has gained critical acclaim for raising awareness of sexual harassment with its powerful pairing of photography and real life accounts. Although initially studying illustration, the project has taken Eliza across the globe – from England, to Europe and even New York, photographing women and spotlighting their personal stories. Eliza is also currently working as a freelance set decorator, she tells us about balancing two jobs, the challenges she encountered in art school and offers her advice to current students.
Since graduating from the University of Brighton’s Illustration course in 2016, I have spent my time working as a set decorator in the art department for film and television. I’m lucky that my parents live in London, so I’m living with them for the time being because, quite simply, it’s too expensive to move out. My set decorating work is freelance, so I go wherever the job takes me. Sometimes I’m in the studio, scouting for props, or even constructing giant snowmen! Every job is different, which I love. It’s not what I expected, because I never even knew this was a job until my last year of studying.
Craving creative control
In my spare time I have been working on a photojournalism project, Cheer Up Luv, which has since gained international press and recognition. Cheer Up Luv is a photo and interview series that I started in January this year, which retells women’s accounts of street harassment. The project combines photography with journalism, activism and social media, and has gained interest from women all over the world. I started Cheer Up Luv because I craved some creative control of my own. I wanted to create a project that I was passionate about, and that I could throw all my extra energy into. The project was also the product of one too many catcalls, and lifelong engrained experiences of sexual harassment.
Encountering and embracing mistakes
Looking back I can’t say that I’d do anything differently. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for the mistakes and learning curves I encountered along the way. Having said that, I think I wasted a lot of time in my first and second year – but I think that’s something you just have to go through and learn from.
“I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out and not being extremely productive.”
A journey of self-discovery
Art school was surprisingly challenging on multiple levels; I went in thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and was then horrified when I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were all doing it a lot better than me. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out and not being extremely productive. I went on a journey of artistic self-discovery and ended up somewhere completely different. All in all, it was a good experience. After art school, I think you expect to fail and never make any money; the money part is true, but it was a nice surprise to get some recognition for my work.
It’s a balancing act
My biggest challenge has been trying to balance everything while doing two different jobs – especially one that’s a non-profit and self-funded! But with the help of my visual communications degree, I learnt the importance of being able to structure a project effectively. My degree also gave me the ability to work independently, and master useful skills like art direction, website design, the Adobe Suite, photography and film.
Go with your gut
Reach out to people, be confident and concise with your practice and self-promotion. And always email twice! Nobody answers the first email, so make sure you follow up. Pursue your creativity and never give up; of all the doors that close in your face, one will open, and it will be worth the wait (wow, that unintentionally sounds like a strange little poem!).