Alumni in Focus

Bethany M Galley

Upcoming TEDx Speaker & Keen Photographer

Bethany M Galley

Bethany Galley graduated in 2019 with a BA (Hons) in Communication Design. Her final year photography project - ‘Through the Lens’, won her the prestigious BP Design Award 2019.

For Bethany, the pandemic has both taken away opportunities and provided her with new ones. She’s recently been accepted to give a talk about her 'Through the Lens' project at Aberdeen’s first TEDx event at the end of July.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey since graduating from RGU?

My career journey has been a bit different to most. I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Communication Design in 2019. I felt a bit lost and unsure of my next move. Although I loved my degree and my time at RGU, I slowly fell out of love with design and questioned whether it was the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My parents have always told me to find a job that I love - if you’re only applying for a job for the money or the perks, don’t. You’ll regret it later in life.

Due to this, I decided to take some time out to think about where I wanted my life to go after university. I got a job as a restaurant supervisor, following a few months travelling after I graduated, and then was lucky enough to secure a job with British Airways. My training was due to start in May 2020 but due to the pandemic this didn’t come off. I will be forever grateful for the time spent on furlough during the pandemic as this time gave me an opportunity to think about my next move and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be heading in the direction that I am today without it.  I am currently undertaking a short course at Glasgow University in Climate Change and Carbon Literacy and I am due to commence a postgraduate course there in September in Global Security.

This time out has also allowed me to fall back in love with photography and the true essence of it. It has reminded me why I chose to study Communication Design in the first place and allowed me to share the power of photography with others.

What inspired you to take up photography?

Photography fascinates me. It carries a power which holds up under the vicious swirl of today’s saturated media world. It mimics the way that our mind freezes a significant moment in our lives. This flashbulb memory, in which a moment or event is stored on one occasion and retained for a lifetime, allows us to tap into the power of photography. As this is exactly what a photograph does. It makes a connection. It creates a visual narrative of a specific scene. It tells a story. Photography can connect people and that’s what I love about it. This is ultimately what inspired my love of photography as I feel there is a lot that can be discovered through  a camera lens.

How did your degree equip you for putting your passion into practice? 

Communication Design was an excellent degree, with an amazing group of tutors. Professional Design Practice made up a big part of the course and we were always pushed towards making contacts in the industry – which I feel is a great skill to have. Through our class trip to London in second year, I was lucky enough to secure a placement at a creative PR and comms agency which was amazing. I am still in regular contact with a lot of the people at the agency and it’s amazing to see how many people I was able to meet in that four-week timeframe.

I do believe that in this day and age, contacts are the most valuable part of your career. My time at RGU equipped me to always be on the lookout for new people to connect with. Even if you think, “they’re never going to get back to me”, message them anyway as you never know where it will lead you to.

Your academic work has been described as having a strong social and political dimension, with a keen interest in social justice, ethics, and equal opportunity. What do you think drives you to commentate on these issues?

I would agree that my work has a strong social and political dimension. We see stories in the media and we just automatically believe them. However, the media seldom goes looking for that story with a bit of edge. A story shown from a different perspective. So instead of waiting for something to be done about it, I decided to show this different side of the story myself.

Your photography project focusing on life in Brazilian favelas from the children’s perspective sounds fascinating. Can you tell us about your experience of living in a favela?

Favelas are the information communities of Brazil, often known as their ‘urban shantytowns’. They are the cities within. A sensory overload to all who venture into them – including me.

As they do, the media was telling me, along with others, that favelas were these awful places. Places which supposedly had no future. Places which were ruled by drug lords and notorious for violence. Places which should be avoided at all costs.

But this didn’t sit quite right with me. Throughout my time staying in the favelas of Brazil, I saw the goodness that there was in these places, and so much more that the media somehow fail to see. I was determined to show my perspective of the favelas, proving that in the darkest of places, there can be light. All over the world, there are wonderful people doing great things, you just need to go looking for them. So that’s exactly what I did.

How did you interact with and gain the trust of the children involved in the project?

I completed my project – ‘Through the Lens’, which explores the reality of being a kid in one of Rio’s many favelas, with the help of an NGO at the cultural centre of Casa Amarela. Casa Amarela was established by a French photographer – JR – so the children involved in the project already had prior experience of photography projects. However, none of them had any knowledge of using disposable cameras.

Disposable cameras aren’t commonly found in Brazil, so it was a learning curve for everyone when I showed up with them. These cameras had the ability to take 27 photos, no more, no less. The children came to understand that they had to think before taking a photo. Although I still had visions in my head that they would all go click, click, click and ‘Through the Lens’ would be over in a matter of minutes. They each had 27 photos to show their life and this really gave them the lead, which made them trust me. It was all about showing things from their perspective and allowing them to be the driving force of the project.

How did TedX happen? Can you tell us about your talk?

TED talks were a big part of my university education. I looked to them for inspiration when curating projects due to the variety of them that are on offer.

When I saw there was going to be an TEDx event in Aberdeen – x standing for an independently run TED event – I just knew that I had to apply. I made the point earlier about the importance of connecting with people and it stands for this too. Due to this being the first TEDx Aberdeen event, I knew that the organisers were going to be inundated with applications, but I applied anyway and look where I am now.

Even if you don’t think you’ll get something, whether you think you’re not good enough or won’t fit in, apply for it anyway. You never know where it is going to lead.

In my talk, I will speak about my project – ‘Through the Lens’ – and about how photography has the power to tackle social injustice and change perceptions amid today’s saturated media world. It will allow for the audience to see my perspective of the favela, with the hope of making them question how they establish their own views of a place or a person. Do they follow what the media say? Or do they go out there and question it themselves?

You obviously love to travel and combine it with your work. How has the pandemic affected your plans?

The pandemic has affected my plans enormously – especially on the photography front. Unfortunately, since I have not been able to travel, I have not been able to continue my work in the favelas of Brazil but that’s okay. Although I have not been able to continue the project further and been able to explore different favelas, it has allowed me to develop the work that I have already done - which has clearly had some pretty great outcomes.

What’s next once you complete your MSc in Global Security?

My hope once I have completed my MSc in Global Security is to join the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the Diplomatic field. This would allow me to continue to develop my keen interest in social justice, ethics and equal opportunity whilst hopefully allowing me to carry on with my photography as a side hustle.

Being a diplomat, you also get the opportunity every four years to move geographical area so that you are always getting an insight into the different political issues affecting countries. This is of real interest to me.

What advice would you give to our Alumni who may be thinking about a career in photography?

Don’t compare your work to others. I think as a society we get too caught up in the idea that ‘their work is better that mine, I don’t like mine’, etc. But don’t think of it that way. In photography, you have to be your own biggest fan. If you don’t believe that your work is good and will lead somewhere, who will? So that’s point one.

My second piece of advice would be to get out there and see the world. There is still so much unknown in the world – countries, cultures, people - and through the power of photography, we can show this. Not every person will get to travel to the places that I have travelled to but through my photography, I hope they get transported there – even just for a brief second. It’s better than none at all.

Find out more and connect with Bethany

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