The camera-toting creator talks to us about mental health challenges, succeeding in the outdoor industry in spite of them, and learning to trust her creative instinct…
True to her reputation for keeping it real, outdoor photographer and digital creator Amelia Le Brun is painting us an extremely fragrant picture of life on the road with her girlfriend Nicola, her cat Annie (or Fat Cat), and her beloved rescue dog Pip.
“She’s sort of waterproof,” chuckles Amelia, as she details one of the pitfalls of cramming everything into her dreamy looking T2 for an extended period, “but in heavy rain the inside felt will get saturated. And with a dog and a cat coming and going it gets prettymuddy and damp. It doesn’t match the picture perfect vision we’re fed by social media but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Although she loves assignment-hopping around Europe in a 1976 Bay complete with – *swoon* – original paint job and original plaid carpet and seat covers, Amelia is keen to point out – during our chat, and on her Instagram – that she’s no full-time van lifer. And not because of pongy wet animals and muddy duvet covers. The lifestyle just doesn’t always gel with the depression and anxiety she’s learned to manage over the past decade. She’s perfectly happy instead with month—and-a-bit-long trips, like the one she’s on her way home to the UK from when we catch up on Zoom via the intermittent magic of hotspot.
Camped out near Toulouse, in southern France, Amelia fits the description one of the ACM team supplied after working with her on a recent campaign for H&M Move. “She’s just so authentic, imaginative and heckin’ lovely,” was Charlotte’s Outsider Insider sealing verdict.
After a whirlwind tour of her van that takes in storage for pet treats, a fridge full of CBD drinks saved from a shoot, and the bench seat Pip has made his own, we get to the business at hand. Chatting everything from navigating mental health challenges within the outdoor industry, the importance of being yourself (especiallyon social media) and learning to trust your creative instinct, to the priceless commodity that is kindness, and working with brands who want to do better – and who pay for photos with way more than a free t-shirt.
It took me a long time to work out who I am. Personally and professionally. What I wanted and what my style is. I spent a lot of time imitating other photographers and trying to fit in with what I thought I should be. It took a long time but I found it and I’m now just unashamedly… me. Which is important, but also really difficult.
It ties in with a lack of self-confidence. Which stemmed from severe depression and anxiety and a feeling of worthlessness, which seeps into every element of your life. It took me years to work out I was worth something, and that projecting something you’re not is never going to work long term.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Social media encourages people to compare themselves and think their life just isn’t cool or exciting enough. It’s so damaging to mental health because you spend your days thinking you’re not doing enough.
It’s why I use my Instagram as a place to be real. I was sitting in the sun yesterday, in southern France, and it was 35 degrees. I was sweating just sitting there. The cat was panting. Pip was panting. And I was panicking about how they were going to overheat and die. It wasn’t this ideal lying-about-in-southern-France situation. It was like: it’s so hot I might cry, my girlfriend hates my driving, and Pip hates it even more!
I get a lot of DMs about mental health. I always take time to answer them honestly and press the fact that nobody’s life looks like their highlight reel.
The link between mental health and the outdoors has been really fashionable. It’s petering out though as people move on to other issues, but they all need constant work and it’s difficult to maintain. A lot of things fall victim to time, energy and funding; not because people stop caring, but because there are just so many issues.
Mental health is far less taboo. It was a real moment of shame to be treated and diagnosed and medicated. I remember doing a job seven or eight years ago and I had fresh self-harm scars. I was so worried about the company thinking I wouldn’t be up to it because of my mental health that I wore a long-sleeved shirt in 30-degree heat and sweated my way through it. And I was miserable. It’s incredible how far we’ve come.
I’ve never felt prejudice in the outdoors for being part of the LGBTQ+ family. It’s a safe space for me. I feel much more vulnerable being a lone female.
I try to work with brands I’m wearing anyway. Brands who are striving to do better and be more eco friendly or eco conscious. And brands I respect and whose visions align with mine.
I love working with Passenger. I’m just about to book my third shoot with them, and I like the creative freedom they give me. They encourage me to shoot on film solely, which is always amazing. I like working with Berghaus, too. It’s nice when a brand books you and says, you do you.
When you’re new it’s easy to accept a few quid and a t-shirt for a photo. Like, I’m getting paid for my work and I get free stuff, awesome! And then a few years later you’re like, I can’t fill up my van with a t-shirt. It’s knowing when you’re underselling yourself.
Photographers are more open with each other now. We’ll talk about people who piss us off, but we talk more about wins. I share contacts and I share rates with friends and fellow photographers. That comes with being confident in your work, knowing your niche, not being jealous, and working with and not against each other.
I’m not a salesperson. I don’t merit myself by numbers. And brands are stopping that too, which is refreshing. Even though I’ve hidden likes on Instagram, my posts are performing better and people are more engaged with my work, so when it comes to brand collabs they’re hiring me for the work I create, not the numbers. They’re realising stories are more important.
I’m a bit of a gorpcore fangirl. I take notice of what people are wearing and there’s definitely a gap to be explored where people are being priced out of the outdoors because they think they have to have the best thing. Equally, there’s a worry brands will start mass producing cheap gear which doesn’t do the environment any good. I just think, go out in what you’ve got. You don’t need to get new stuff, just see how it goes.
I hate gear shaming. Like you need a certain brand, or you’re gear shamed because your jacket isn’t as waterproof as it should be because you can’t afford a top one. Cost is a major part of gatekeeping.
I’m not much of a gear head when it comes to cameras. I’ve only had two digital cameras in my photography career. That’s another thing people get hung up on, and I used to get hung up on it as well.
Be yourself, be kind, and do your best. That’ll get you far. Being approachable, being open. People will always relate to someone who is kind and generous with their time and information.
Amelia Le Brun: A Résumé
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