Being a photographer in a busy visual media team is about so much more than snapping pictures. You also need to be a long-distance driver, builder, computer expert, artist, technician, weightlifter, and unafraid of spiders.
The Being Group’s photographer James Neethling tells the story of his life in the visual media team, working with a hearing impairment, and why he’s the reason The Being Group exists.
The reason for BEING
I was born in South Africa. When my parents learned I had a hearing impairment, they realised I’d have to go to a school for the deaf. There weren’t any integrated schools there at the time, and they wanted me to be in the best environment possible. So they decided to move to a country with better options and chose Australia, where they eventually launched The Being Group.
It’s a little obvious I work in the “family business”. I have the same last name as our CEO Siebert, and Principal, Kerry. They often say The Being Group wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me, which is true in a way. It’s a weird and wonderful thing to know. I wouldn’t have all these amazing friends and experiences if things were different.
Being a team player
I love my job because every day is different. I take photos and support the team with packing and moving all our equipment when we go out on shoots. I make sure all the cameras and battery packs are charged up and I do a lot of the driving.
I try to help our Visual Media Director and the team as much as possible by thinking ahead about what we’ll need, and just doing it. I spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, editing and grading shots.
I also help the marketing team out with deliveries. I like working with my hands, so I end up being the person who builds stuff and puts together the things we need around the office. Sometimes, when the team is challenged by a technical problem, I’ll make a suggestion about how to approach it, and it’s very satisfying when they say: “Oh yeah, that’s a good way to do it!”
Shoot to thrill
My favourite part of the job is the people we meet and the places we go on shoots. I love learning new things and being part of a great team of great friends.
And I love the photography. After I graduated high school, I did a Diploma and Certificate IV in Photography at TAFE. But a major influence in my interest in photography was my mother, Kerry. She’s a keen photographer who ran a successful studio of her own. Apart from the technical things, I learned a lot about interacting with clients and delivering a product that makes them happy from her.
The thing I love about photography is capturing a moment. A good example is when friends or family are out having fun together. I like to shoot from different angles, to show one moment in time people will all remember, from a different perspective to their own.
I shoot cloud formations, or anything in nature if I see something beautiful, but I really like taking pictures that show people. Great photography can create and capture emotion from just one frame and I think that’s what I like most about it.
One of my favourite shoots was for the Forestry Corporation of NSW about the importance of koala conservation. We had to walk deep into the bush with all our gear to shoot the koalas in their natural habitat and the staff talking about them. It was great to know we were helping an endangered Australian species that means a lot to so many people, with our work.
I also loved a shoot we did at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. It was hard because it was such a busy site, but it was amazing meeting all these famous Australian country music stars. Travelling to interesting places and meeting new people is definitely the best part of the job.
Going the distance
There are always great stories from our shoots. A couple of times we’ve been pushing through the bush and one of the team members has spotted a huge spider walking on me. They all freaked out the first time it happened, but then it happened again! I don’t like spiders, but they really seem to like me.
Another time we needed to get an important delivery to the Gold Coast for a client. It had to arrive on time. So, I volunteered to drive it up from Sydney. I drove 800km, slept overnight in Byron Bay – which wasn’t too bad, I like Byron – then drove all the way back again. I see it as part of my job to do things like that, to keep everything moving. I like solitude and driving, so it worked for me.
Doing my best
The Being Group is a fun and noisy place, so I’ll often miss things if everyone’s talking at once. The team obviously knows me well, so they’re really great at making sure I’ve heard and understood everything I need. One-on-one conversations are better for me, so I can listen and ask questions in a quiet place.
But when we’re working with clients who don’t know me, it can be difficult. The conversation can get awkward if they think I understand what they’re saying, but I don’t. I have to say: “Sorry, I have a hearing impairment. Can you say that again?” If someone’s speaking softly, or quickly, or wearing a mask, it can be hard to understand. COVID hasn’t been easy! I’ll often work out what someone is saying from a combination of context, a few key words and lip-reading, if I need to.
Being hearing impaired can be really hard, but I just do the best I can every day. If I had any advice to other people living and working with a hearing disability, I’d say all you can do is your best, and that’s enough. If you can, it’s great to have people around you who know you and can help if you need it. And you need to be able to ask people to say something again if you haven’t heard them, which isn’t easy.
My favourite time of the day is when I take my hearing aids off when I get home. Everything’s calm and quiet and, at last, I can relax.
James would love to buy an old VW Combi, drive 800 km north, and launch The Being Group’s Byron Bay office.