I interviewed some really inspiring women last year and Margaret Soraya certainly had an impact on me. Margaret is a self confessed introvert and amazing landscape photographer. Margaret tells us what life is like as a photographer living in an idyllic village by Loch Ness in Scotland. At the age of 44 Margaret is really beginning to explore her passion for landscape photography and rekindling her love of the ocean. We talk about her journey, the beauty in travelling solo and following your passion. You can't fail to read this and come away feeling calmer and inspired by this lady.
Can you set the scene and describe where you live in Scotland?
I live in really small village on the edge of Loch Ness, I don't have the views from my house but I can just walk 2 minutes to the edge of the loch. It's pretty amazing really. I often go down in the Summer for a swim first thing, it's a pretty nice place to live.
I grew up in Manchester, I lived there until I was 19. I just had this vision of going somewhere really remote and I was fascinated by the highlands of Scotland and I love quiet places and landscapes. I got a summer job at first and travelled backwards and forwards whilst at college. Over the years I've moved around quite a lot but I settled in this village about four years ago and we're staying.
Did you study photography at university?
I started off doing a fine art degree in Coventry and then I switched to photography in South Wales but I only finished half of it. I never did really well to be honest, it was a struggle for me, the tutors didn't really like me very much. I don't think they liked my quietness and it's one of the things that's become quite powerful in my life now. It's something I feel quite passionate about, I am a quiet person and I am an introvert but I do have a lot of talent.
A lot of people overlook introverts and their talents just because they don't speak out. I left university a bit down hearted and I didn't do any photography for the next ten years, I just didn't pick up a camera again. I kind of lost my way after that.
Ironically the things that I would do, like in water photography, the waves and the sea, which no one really got, is something that I've just started to do more of now. A lot of the work I was doing back then is starting to be back in my life now so I obviously knew what I was supposed to do, what I loved doing, but other people were telling me it was the wrong thing to do.
After your long gap of not doing any photography what was the thing that sparked your interest again?
Well I got married and I had the children, I think my youngest was about six months old and I had this overwhelming feeling that I couldn't just do this, I know children are lovely but it was so all consuming and it wasn't me, I needed something more. I quickly decided to set up a wedding photography business, to make a little bit of money on the side but then simultaneously my husband lost his job. I had to make the decision to either stop doing it so he could go and do what he needed to do or make it work and I ended up bringing in the income for the household. So it was a bit of an accident really and it grew from there. Ten years on we split up and obviously that business then became really really important to me.
To make these decisions you must have had a lot of self belief. Have you always had that confidence or is a new development?
It's a funny word confidence isn't it. I've been thinking a lot about that recently and I would say all my life I have suffered with a lack of confidence. I think that comes from being put down by people when I was younger because I was quiet and it seems to have stayed with me throughout my life. But what I think I did gain, particularly when my marriage broke down was courage. The courage to say, ok I might not have the confidence to do this but I have the courage to try it, the confidence will then come from that and it has actually. I'm still working on that. As I step away from the wedding photography to pursue what I really want to do I'm having to find a lot of courage and confidence to do these things. I don't like being in the spotlight at all so standing on the stage to do a talk recently in front of 200 people was my idea of hell but I did it because I need to share my work and get out there.
What kind of tools did you use to help you make that first presentation in front of 200 people? What advice could you give?
You do stand there just before you go on and think why am I putting myself through this, why am I doing it? The truth is if it's something you feel really passionate about then don't keep it inside yourself. If you have value and want to share it with people why stand in the wings? You tend to find the people that are naturally confident and outgoing will always take the stage but that doesn't mean they have more talent or more to give than you. If there's something inside you then just go for it and find the courage and it will get easier each time. I started small, speaking at small camera clubs and each time I go the nerves dissipate slowly.
You now have this real passion fro landscape photography, what does a typical day look like for you shooting outdoors?
Well for my own personal landscape work I have a real passion for quiet places, I love really remote places and being by myself. The way that I work I have to be by myself, it doesn't work if I'm surrounded by people. I go off to the outer Hebrides a lot and I've started exploring the other Scottish islands as well. I travel a lot in the Winter and I've now got a converted Sprinter van so that means I can literally go park on the edge of nowhere and stay for days on end if I want to. It's quite an interesting thing to do, you really have to be happy in yourself, I think some people would struggle with that, but I think it's wonderful. Now I feel like it's time for me to do what I want to really do. The new business of retreats and taking people out to be part of it, exploring these remote areas and teaching mindfulness through photography is a new venture and it feels a wee bit scary but again its that courage thing again.
There still seems to be a real stigma in society around women travelling alone which then has a knock of womens confidence about it. How have you found the retreats, do more women come with friends or alone?
Theres a lot of women that come alone actually which is exactly what I was expecting and it's really interesting. I just love these kind of women that want to travel alone because it's quite empowering. I went to India three years ago on my own, I just picked a place, booked a flight and off I went.Thats the probably the most intrepid thing I've done and I'm proud of myself for doing that. I've always had itchy feet and wanted to travel and then when I got married I was kind of trapped for a while so once the marriage had actually broken I was lucky enough to do a bit of travelling with a travel journalist doing the photography for about five years. I've come to the point now where I think Scotland is just so incredible that the travel bug for going around the world has dissipated which is really nice.
This has all clearly enriched your life in a different direction. When you go off in the winter do you sill continue your wild swimming?
Yes, when I say 'swim' lets put that in adverted brackets! Outdoor swimming for me, there's no goal to reach, like oh I've done two miles outdoors today, for me it's about the experience. It's really hard to describe but when you go in to really cold water afterwards when you come out it's the most amazing feeling ever. It's like a massive natural high. When I swim in the winter I just dip but it's an amazing feeling being out and immersed in the water, it's fantastic.
You strike me as someone that has really found peace in your life , how ambitious are you for the future?
I would say I'm very ambitious, I think I've had so many years of being held back. When I first split up with my husband I lost everything, the house, everything went. So I had to start again from nothing, it was quite traumatic but its been a long road uphill for me. I think for the last ten years I've just been getting through and paying the bills so when I bought my house last year it was a massive achievement and turning point for me. I can start to see and move forwards now. My ambition has really come after that, I can see a future now.
Make Your Own Kind Of Music by Cass Elliot. I love the lyrics, it's about doing your own thing, it doesn't matter if others don't like it.
Quiet by Susan Cain. I read this book a couple of years ago and it really changed my life. Anybody that struggles with being introverted should read it.
American writer and lecturer Susan Cain. She had a similar journey to me. She struggled with being an introvert and now stands up and does talks, she's presented Ted talks and to watch her go through that journey is amazing. Other than that it's just women who are out there doing their own thing with passion and drive. I just love seeing women of any age swimming against the tide.
To listen to the full interview
Keep being fabulous