Lens of Freedom

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Gill Copeland's Camera
What would you save? My camera. I've been a photographer since I was 16 and I’m 60 now, so a long time! My very first camera was given to me by my parents when I was 11 and it was a Polaroid Instamatic. I’ve still got it and the box it came in. I just loved recording what was around me. I think it was a little bit of voyeurism. I was dyslexic, so I found the academic side of school hard and was often anxious. But I found that when I took photographs it made me feel calmer.
 
I didn't know any photographers, but I decided that I was going to try and be one when I was about 15.  I was sitting with some friends and we were looking through the Cosmopolitan magazine and I noticed this Tampax ad. The woman in it was a photographer and it was all about freedom. We were going around saying what we wanted to be, and I just looked at that ad and thought I want to be a photographer. It was the first time I’d seen a woman behind a camera.
 
This was the 70s though, so when I tried to pursue being a photographer, I was told that was something women couldn't be by my careers advisor. Despite this, I just carried on taking photographs, eventually went and studied the craft and then became a professional.
Why is this item important to you? I've always got my camera in my bag. And I find that if I have a bad day, I just pick it up and go out and take photographs and it calms me down. It’s like a security blanket. If I'm really nervous about doing something, taking photographs just settles me.
 
And then there is what photography has done for me. It’s enabled me to see life and the world. I started professionally as a freelance Travel photographer, working for holiday companies and airlines such as British Airways. It’s given me a great lifestyle.  Although it’s not always been easy – photography has been like a roller coaster ride. At times I’ve had great success and then at other times I’ve struggled.
When you hold this item what do you feel? It defines me. It's very much who I am. It makes me feel secure. And it makes me feel that the world's full of opportunities. There's always something to see, there's always something you can go and photograph.
 
And it's not the camera itself. If this particular camera broke, I would just get another one – I don’t get connected to a particular piece of kit but if I could no longer have a camera at all, then I would feel lost. Taking photographs has defined me in so many ways. I know that I will always take photographs and that I will take them until I die.
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