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Meet Polly Barrowman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Polly Barrowman.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a microbiologist by training, I have a Masters degree in Environmental Microbiology and always thought I was a left-brainer – science came easily while art and music were subjects that I did not particularly excel in. It was when I got my first real lab job, a research job in virology, after graduation that I started to realize how integrated science and art really are.

You can’t be a research scientist without bringing in an element of creativity to your work and you can’t be an artist/photographer without understanding the science behind light and the camera. At that time, I was living in San Diego working at the Scripps Research Institute but commuting on a regular basis to LA. The people that I began to meet around that time were unlike anyone I had ever met before, musicians, filmmakers, photographers and artists, I felt like LA was where I belonged, where I needed to be.

At some point, photography became a hobby, not something I took seriously or even though I was very good at, but I had a semi-decent SLR, took it to India and started to realize it was something I enjoyed doing. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I began to gain confidence and become really passionate. He gave me a Holga for my birthday and told me that it was impossible to take a bad photograph.

We would go to the fair loaded with film cameras have a couple of beers for liquid courage and capture amazing portraits of people that we met there. We made a photo book based on our life in Echo Park… before it got cool. It was full of photos of the lake and the old boat house before it was renovated, other weird stuff around town and our trips to Palm Springs.

We gave copies to our parents, and I remember someone asking why I thought my parents would want to see some of those shots. I think from that moment I realized that I was taking photos for something more than family and social media, that I really wanted to make it my job.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I think perhaps the road would have been smoother had I realized my passion earlier in life. Juggling a science career and starting out on a new path in photography was difficult. There are a lot of amazingly talented young people in the business, and one of the biggest everyday struggles that I face is that of self-promotion. What makes people choose me over someone else? The competition is real, and you can’t rely on talent to get your business.

I’m not great at posting on social media, I keep vowing to put more effort into it, but I have to balance the number of hours I spend on my phone each day posting and commenting with the time that I spend with my three-year-old daughter. I don’t want her to see me as a person who spends all of their time behind a screen but relying on word of mouth to push your business forward is not sustainable, so I’m trying to become more comfortable with pushing forward who I am and what I can do.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
As I’ve grown, I’ve dabbled in a few different areas of photography, sometimes out of interest and sometimes because I’ve been asked and I don’t know how to say no. What I’ve realized over time is that I really enjoy dark, slightly dramatic portrait photography.

I especially love shooting film, I have some beautiful old film cameras that are not very easy to carry around but worth it for the results. I love to play with interesting natural light, but I’m also not afraid to create it in a studio environment. I’m always down for adventures and experiments.

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in the middle of the countryside in Scotland. We lived in places that you only hear about in storybooks, an old converted railway station, a little cottage nestled in the woods with a big waterfall in the front, a house named Gigmagog on the estate of Sir Charles and Lady Ferguson. I had a lot of animals, horses, rabbits, goats. We had a pet sheep named Baby who slept on our front doorstep and came for walks with us. She thought she was a dog.

It was all very magical and beautiful. I would wonder through the woods with the dogs taking pictures of toadstools and would go out for hours on my horse, ride to the top of the mountains and look down below realizing how lucky I was to lead such a life.

Sometimes it was lonely, there weren’t a lot of kids who lived close by so I usually had to wait for school to see my friends, but I wouldn’t change it, and sometimes I regret that I can’t give the same to my daughter.

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