Local good things with Freedom Garvey-Warr

LOCAL GOOD THINGS with Freedom Garvey- Warr

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A PORTRAIT OF HUMAN CONNECTION with FREEDOM GARVEY-WARR

Freedom Garvey-Warr is a photographer with a difference. A longtime local of the Down South area, she shoots mostly weddings and family sessions. The results of her work truly stand out. That’s because Freedom doesn’t simply take photos. She captures human connection. Her approach isn’t just one of technical skill (although she has that in spades), it’s about letting others find beautiful moments together and then documenting that magic. Those who know Freedom aren’t surprised by this. Everything she does, everything she is, revolves around people. Every time she strays away from that, Freedom is drawn back like a magnet to settle among others – watching, interacting, enlivening. Freedom’s journey as a photographer started long before she took it on as a major at university. It started in highschool.

“A lot of times, because I went to boarding school,” Freedom explains, “I’d come home on holidays and just want photos to take back because I was missing everyone. So I’d spend school holidays going to parties, hanging out with friends, doing stuff with family and always have a camera. I was that person that always had one on me to take happy snaps and I’d just print stacks of photos and have them with me at school in albums. As I got a little bit older and I started spending way more money on film and processing from mum and dad’s pocket, it was time to get a partime job in the holidays because I couldn’t work during the year. That sustained my habit of film, processing and maybe a little bit of booze for the parties. Mum and dad always supported that creativity and documentation. They were amazing.”

Surprisingly, Freedom didn’t make the connection that this was the first time she fell in love with photography until much later in life.

“I didn’t make any correlation at all until a couple of years ago when I was reflecting on things,” Freedom laughs. “For some reason I hadn’t associated those happy snaps and moments with any relationship to what I’m doing now. Then, I realised that, yeah, I was time capsuling those moments and wanted them.”

The reason Freedom probably didn’t make the connection between her early ‘happy snap’ photography to her professional work now, is because when she first went to university she was going to do graphic design. She didn’t even take up photography as a subject in highschool because she was too busy painting and drawing. However, in the first year of any Arts degree at Curtin University, you have to sample all the subjects to get a sense for what you most resonate with. The technical side of photography was just okay, but it was Freedom’s lecturers that stood out and thought she did too.

“One of them was almost a bikie who wore all the leathers and was a big solid kind of guy,” Freedom says. “The other was a band photographer, not your typical uni lecturers. They were cool and edgy. They both had diverse styles. They were super energetic and didn’t give a fuck. It didn’t feel like there were boundaries like there were in other types of degrees. They were just so amazing and inspiring and encouraging. They said to me, ‘we want you in our 3rd
year major’. I was blown away that they saw something. I laugh now, I look back at those portfolios from then and go how did they see something? But it was pivotal. I went, yes, I can do this!”

Freedom excelled at uni, earning the option to do honours if she wanted. She also worked during that time as a junior assistant for a renowned Perth wedding photographer, Denise Teo. Freedom impressed Denise so much that she was offered the main assistant’s role. It was here Freedom hit a crossroads. Did she take up honours? Did she take up a job as a wedding photographer’s assistant and transition directly to the industry? Or did she take a year off to grow as a person?

“I felt like I hadn’t lived yet,” says Freedom. “I thought, how can I write a thesis on an element of photography when I haven’t really shot that much? I hadn’t lived and still felt like I needed to open up my eyes to the world a little bit.”

And the option to be a respected wedding photographer’s assistant?

“I said I didn’t want to be a wedding photographer,” Freedom laughs. “Can you believe it? I thought, no, I’ve enjoyed my time already with her and learned a lot, I’m going to move Down South. I thought I was going to move down and become a commercial style photographer.”

Of course, Freedom was still a realist. She knew she wasn’t just going to swan into a country town and start earning a full-time living as a photographer. So, like most artists, she fell back on her hospitality experience, working in restaurants and a bit of retail. She fell in love with the wine industry too, diving into learning about growing, making, and, obviously, tasting wine. This, oddly, led to a lot of photography work.

“During conversations, things would come up where people learned I did photography,” Freedom explains. “They’d say, ‘oh, can you do some portraits of the winemaker, or shoot this for us?’. I was ticking away at other things too. I was just settling in down here and enjoying getting to know the community. Getting to find my roots, I guess. It was with time, that once you make more friends, eventually someone goes, heyyyy, you’ve got a camera, you do photos, can you take our wedding photos? All of a sudden it started ticking away.”

Freedom realised quickly that she’d missed the people element of wedding photography. That capturing those authentic moments made her much happier than solely focusing on commercial work. Thanks to some great employers, she was soon able to transition into being a professional photographer.

“James and Sanda Pennington, my bosses in the wine industry, were so nurturing and supportive of what I wanted to do,” says Freedom. “I was able to work for them and slowly over the years reduce my hours and do more photography until I was ready to let go of that safety net. Then, I just took a leap of faith and went, ‘if I put more time into this I can make it happen’.”

And make it happen she did. Business took off. It got to the point where Freedom’s wedding photography business didn’t just support her, but another special person in her life too – Damien ‘Taco’ Warr.

“Tac always had a great eye,” Freedom says about her husband and now full-time photographer’s assistant. “We’d go traveling and go on holidays and take photos. Fill up folders and folders of slides. He had a really great eye with that. As my business was building slowly he started to help out. It can be quite a lonely job sometimes as a photographer, sitting in the office editing and looking at hundreds of photos and you’re seeing the same photos over and over again. I’d call Tac in to have a fresh set of eyes on things. He was a harsh critic but it was always, always valid. Then I started getting so busy I either had to outsource the work or bring Tac in. So we eased in and started with basic deleting, culling, and a little bit of colour correction with editing. Then I started handing him a spare camera as he came to weddings with no expectation to capture anything. I’d just say to the couple, ‘he’s here to help with bags, I’m your sole shooter but if he gets a bit of extra content I’ll add it to the mix of your story’. Then, he started shooting and I was including so many of his photos in the final delivery. They were so good. Over time, he’s taken up more responsibility and I’ve come to rely on him. His angles are so good and what he sees and gets is awesome. Now I can’t imagine Tac not being there. It’s great. We can share the business. We can co-parent. It’s awesome. We love it.”

Freedom has made a pretty amazing life for herself down here. She’s in demand. She gets to work with her partner in life at what they both love. They have a beautiful daughter to share it with. But, even when things are going great you still have to keep your inspiration going. Top up the cup and make sure you’re staying creative. Thankfully, Freedom has made that happen too.

“The last few years I’ve gotten all of my personal inspiration with the mentoring I do with the Kalumburu Photography Collective, working with remote indigenous young women building enterprise through photography,” she says. “I’m just so grateful for the opportunity that I get through Enterprise Partnerships WA to work alongside these women. The very first trip I went up, I clearly remember we showed up, picked up all the cameras and showed the women how to turn them on, really basic, lens cap off and on, automatic settings, and we jumped in the Troopy and went out bush. I thought that maybe I might start demoing or showing some ideas of composition and things to shoot, but the girls just grabbed their cameras, got out of the car and peeled off in all different directions, already knowing what they wanted to do. Some were shooting details on macro settings on the trees. Some had cameras with the back screens down to shoot on ground level. Others were shooting up high. Some were photographing each other. That night, downloading all the memory cards, I just cried with joy. The work was so strong. The compositions were incredible. The consistency blew me away. Most of these girls had never picked up a camera before. It was amazing. I always come back from up there just grounded. It’s a reminder that not every image is a masterpiece. They’re more about feelings. They don’t need to be perfect compositions. It’s more about the subject. There’s so much significance to it. The girl’s work teaches me that. At weddings you take hundreds of photos. There could be a photo of someone that might not be the most incredible shot ever, but that could be a photo that’s really important to the couple. It’s always keeping an eye out for that connection.”

And after taking millions of photos over decades of work, Freedom’s favourite image she’s captured reflects that approach.

“I absolutely adore a portrait I took of one of the Kalumburu girls with her husband. Tarisha and Marcus. Just giving them a quiet moment, to let their hearts be worn on their sleeves for me. That was really significant. That space that they gave me to be photographed in that moment was really special. It’s just up against a plain wall and it’s just the two of them holding hands and laughing but there’s so much goodness in that photo. It was so beautiful to get that moment. It reminded me of the power of connection with people. It really made me feel like indigenous communities need to be shown more in that light. Because there are couples in love. There are beautiful families. There are all these things that don’t get shown. We see all the negatives from the remote indigenous communities. None of that love. That encompassed for me why I photograph.”

So really, for Freedom it always comes back to people. It was the love of her friends that made her first pick up a camera to have keepsakes of them. It was her parents who encouraged her creativity, helped buy her cameras and sustain her film expenses. It was two lecturers who told her she had something special. It was bosses who helped enable her to transition into professional photography. It was couples and families who saw her artistic eye and wanted that to capture their lives, which gave her a career. It was her lover Taco who helped challenge herself to always get better. Today, it’s indigenous women up north who keep Freedom’s spark of inspiration alive and ground it in what matters. People. Freedom Garvey-Warr is definitely one of our favourite people Down South.

A good local doing good things.

Watch Freedom’s story about the local good things she loves in our backyard.

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