No two paths to creative expression are exactly the same. For Peta Lumley, motherhood awakened her inner photographer.
Last month, Lumley had her first solo photo exhibition, Be Home Before The Street Lights Come On, at Onwards Gallery.
The 30 works of homes, properties, fencelines, streetscapes, taken on a 10-month trip from Newcastle to Cairns, captured, in her words, "the ordinary suburban sameness that spans across each place - the place we live now or where we lived then, frame the collective nostalgia that transcends time".
"I'm trying to get an intimacy, just really the beauty in the every day, in the small moments, in just how they are precious really," she says in an interview at Onwards while the exhibition was on.
"And I do value them. And I think also, sometimes, when I had just become a mum, and was taking photos, I was like processing my new lifestyle, and photographing it was like helping me understand this new world I that was in.
"It was cathartic."
The expression of freedom takes many forms. On a personal level, Lumley also loves to dance.
"I am an everyday dancer," she says.
"It's another thing I've always done."
Not only did she enjoy the Tuesday night "Just Dance" sessions at The Hive in Hamilton, she found herself in a few music videos.
"I do love movement, I love the expression of the body," she says.
She always loved shooting photos, too. But she had not realised the deeper reason why it stirred such joy.
"I was playing around with a digital camera my parents bought me as a teenager," she says.
"It was always a bit of a hobby, I was always interested, but never really a shooter. I felt you already had to be good at it to then study it. That's the belief I had. Then I realised..."
Photography was part of the visual arts degree she studied at Hunter TAFE. And it only increased her interest in the artform.
And finally, when she gave birth to her and partner Michael's son, Elio, it became her primary creative outlet.
"Since becoming a mum, photography is the easiest to fit into my life," she says.
It's also seen Lumley turn the camera towards herself. She admits a shyness about taking portraits or shots of strangers, not wanting to interrupt their world for her own benefit, or perhaps for fear of not creating an image that doesn't meet with their expectation.
But she's found a greater calling, a greater understanding of herself and her motives, as a mum and photographer.
"I feel weird about the self-portraits sometimes, because it seems a bit narcissistic," she says. "But the intention of those images really was, like, me trying to make something beautiful out of... some days, those days were hard, and it was like I was bringing this sense of creativity, or art, into this like, hanging washing on the line, or when Elio needed something.
"Sometimes in the morning he was just wanting to be on my hip, so I'd make breakfast with him on my hip. As frustrating as that was, I could sense that was a moment in time and it wouldn't always be like that. And I was just trying to bring the camera in to make something of it."
Lumley's photo of herself with Elio on her hip, titled Mater Musa, saw her named as a finalist in the prestigious Olive Cotton Award in 2021. She was also a semi-finalist in the 2020 Head On Photo Festival awards for her image, Corn and Sundries, of herself, topless, hanging laundry on a clothesline.
"I was really trying to seize that moment," she says of those images. "Here, it's happening. I feel like I work better that way, responding to a situation rather than composing it."
Lumley's style and feel is evolving, and her confidence is growing (the national recognition certainly validated her talent).
"I'm realising the connection between the motherhood stuff and this [the latest work Be Home Before The Street Lights Come On], and it's like, yes, it is this rawness, this everyday stuff that is precious. This is where we are right now," she says.
Lumley has a couple of other projects in the works, like most artists.
She's been shooting images for Nocturnes, which explores what happens in the bush at night, and a series on pieces of clothing, randomly placed in the bush.
And there is definitely a longer term plan for a "motherhood" series.
"There are other images I haven't shared that are part of the story," she says of motherhood. "In the likeliness of having a child, there will be more to say about it."
Lumley credits her membership in WH!P (Women of the Hunter In Photography) Collective for building her confidence. "It's an amazing network," she says. "I'm doing things in WHIP collective that I would not be doing on my own, purely for lack of experience. What we can achieve together, and what's been created, it's beautiful and amazing and supportive."
For now, change is in the wind. Peta and her partner and their son have moved to the Coffs Harbour area for new opportunities and to be closer to family.
"I'm curious to see how it changes my practice," she says. "I'm open to what that may do... Just ticking away, just taking photos, staying on the journey."
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