To mix things up a bit, I have planned a series of interviews with people I admire—individuals who by changing career path or country, have their own winding narrative.
Today, I feature Susan Bradfield, who has transitioned from physiotherapist to photographer and has lived in Melbourne, London, Shanghai and Zurich. Her approach to finding and pursuing her passion in photography is inspirational. I hope you enjoy our discussion and her photos as much as I did.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer. I had a vivid imagination, and wrote countless poems and short stories about fairies and witches. I read Enid Blyton over and over and I loved the imaginary worlds she created. I like to think my stories were a similar genre!
Later, I wanted to be a nurse. I have a caring side to my nature that I thought would be fulfilled by my romanticised view of nursing.
What did you do after you left high school?
I studied physiotherapy. I didn’t enjoy those years. It was a tough course and early on, I got the feeling that physio was not the right fit for me.
What was the highlight of your physiotherapy career?
Working in Central Middlesex Hospital in London as a respiratory physio. At the time (it has since closed), it operated the largest intensive care unit in London. It was a dynamic, progressive department, and my colleagues were astute, smart, social, and fun. I felt stimulated physio-wise in an extremely nurturing, relaxed environment. Plus, I was living and working in central London, which I love.
ICU was a great place to learn but mostly, I enjoyed spending time with and caring for patients. Of course, I disliked the extreme suffering. I will never, ever forget some people and their experience.
What did you do next, and why?
I quit physio after I had my second child. I didn’t need to be around the suffering any more. I never went back.
Shortly after, my husband took a transfer to Shanghai, where I focussed on settling the kids and making a new life for our family. After a while, I needed to do something for myself, and with a friend, I set up a business called Expatriart. We sourced beautiful, affordable art worldwide and sold to fellow expats. It was a lot of fun and very successful.
Five years on, we moved to Zurich. I have always felt attracted to photography and had the innate need to learn and grow as a photographer. I took courses, brought my camera everywhere on my travels and started portrait photography. Prints of my work were selling and people asked me to take family pictures. I never envisioned myself as a professional photographer—that seemed like a wild dream—but it took off by itself.
When I returned to Australia, I registered my business, and became an accredited photographer with the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers. I have been working ever since.
How much of your time is spend on the creative side versus running the company and business development?
I would say 50:50. I don’t love the business side, but I have had to learn and grow in this area.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
Photography is an exciting journey that never ends. I am constantly striving to improve and there is always more to learn and experience. Mostly, it allows me to express myself creatively and I am rediscovering my imagination—something I was never able to do with physio.
What advice do you have for people facing career choices of passion versus financial security?
Follow your heart. You only have one life and it is short, so spend it doing what you love. If that means you have to work full or part time while you make the transition, then do it. If you want it enough, go for it.
You can find Susan at:
Susan Bradfield Photography
Facebook: Susan Bradfield Photography
Next time: Career and the Expat Spouse
Next interview: Karen Quist: From Beauty Therapist to Copywriter/Photographer