Tuesday 10 March 2015


“Here is me at my desk - the only space in the house 
that is only mine - taken by my daughter Agnes.”

Many of the threads of Emma Donnelly’s past weave their way through the photographs that she shares on her Instagram feed Take A Picture Lady. She studied textiles and fashion at Brighton University but half way through her course was offered a job on the buying team for Austin Reed, a traditional British company. “I stayed until I realised that I wanted a family and didn’t want the stress of commuting to London,” Emma says. She is based in Essex, an English county that’s north-east of London. It’s a place where she was born and raised. “Some parts are wonderful, mostly not,” Emma says. “It’s nice and close to London. I live by the water, and we have woodland nearby so it’s good, but I’m always dreaming of pastures new.” However, her husband has been running a cafe-bar in the area for 20 years. Emma swapped her buying job for working with him in his family business. “It is a fantastic part of the community - being the first to have a proper coffee machine 20 years ago we are now surrounded by coffee shops and bars but we have brought things up to date and it’s still as busy,” she says. Photography is her focus now though and one of her most recent projects is working with European children’s wear brand Bobo Choses. And another Mothering Sunday Collective book is in the planning stages with Flannery O’ Kafka, Barbara Berrada and Tatjana Schloer. Other commercial projects are on her website.

1 As a child I used to wear… Laura Ashley - on a good day, anyway: sailor collars, frills and prints. I also vividly remember a matching dress that my sister and I had. We were dressed for a day out in the countryside, pretty dress and straw hats, but I still remember the sensation of the very uncomfortable zip digging in my back. It just goes to show that comfort is important, as well as style.

2 My bedroom was… wallpapered with matching curtains. Pinkish. I read constantly. So was always found in my room with my nose in a book, books from the library everywhere. I definitely didn’t have as many new books as my children have. Saturday morning library trips were my indulgence. Later on, the walls had Gloria Estefan and The Bangles stuck up. And a small cassette tape player with a small stack of cassettes. Soul II Soul, Neneh Cherry and Aretha Franklin. I don’t remember having many toys. 

3 When I was a teenager I used to… be really naughty. My parents unfortunately divorced when I was in my early teens and I found a distraction in boys and going out. I left home when I was 17. I was very independent but a good girl at heart though and managed to get good grades at school. I do remember occasionally skipping school to get the train to London to wander round the V&A and the Tate. I was already distracted by inspiration, I soaked it up. “Distracted by inspiration” is a very good description of me.

5 A seminal moment was… I would like to say that it was something nice that has shaped me but I think my parents divorcing has really made me the person I am today. My sister and I had a lovely childhood, playing in the garden, picnics in the countryside, a safe and loving home. Then everything changed. From that point on I think I began to feel and think for myself. My father was so hurt with emotions from the divorce he didn’t talk to us for months and it was devastating. It forged a huge vacuum of emotions from both my parents. I have had to be very independent, no one to pat me on the back, tell me off… so off I am, still on this little path, and with my own family. It has taught me so much: fears, hopes, expectations and mostly about love and all it’s complications.

6 I never thought I would… be a photographer! I wanted to be a paediatrician, as a child.  But I guess it all makes sense now.  

7 I’ve learnt to… cook!! Food is a language in my house. My husband and I fell in love over cooking together and now every day we sit down around the table as a family and eat a healthy, cooked-from-scratch meal; it’s the most important time of day. We eat organic/free range as much as we can and the children often help to prepare the dinner. I think cooking and sourcing our food is one of the biggest life skills we can teach our children, it is intrinsic to daily life, no matter what culture we live in. 

8 I know… I’m disorganised! Enough said. 

9 I share because… because it’s engaging. The past 12 months on Instagram have been amazing - I have met some friends for life, and have really been inspired to create and push forward with my work. Life can be beautiful in so many simple ways, daily pleasures: light falling across the room, a dash of mischief or day dreaming in a child’s eye. Taking photos is a way of life for me, it's a part of me to notice the details and to want to capture them and be inspired by others. I have also had the opportunity to work with some incredible companies and it’s great fun to create and share the images with others.

10 If I had an unexpected morning to myself I would… head to East London. It is a short drive from home. Have some breakfast at Allpress in Redchurch Street and then have a wonder round the shops, there are some excellent independent shops in East London, and great British brands such as YMC and Grenson shoes; they are my wardrobe staples. I would also buy some excellent sourdough bread at Leila’s Shop, pop into Luna & Curious, quick lunch at Rochelle Canteen and then dash home only just in time for school pick up.

image courtesy of emma donnelly

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