2007 Hurghada 

I still love these photos.

I was 16 at the time and I had bought a few big sleeves of cigs. L&M and Malboroughs from the supermarket in Hurghada. It was quite a chunk out of my holiday spending money at the time but still really cheap compared to any prices in the UK. I had picked up the habit of smoking, to look cool, and was buying sleeves to take home for friends.

Our holidays in Egypt were not really the reality of the country. Yes I saw Egypt and met Egyptians of all walks of life but the scenery was the airbrushed version. It was clean and lush green and the different areas of the man-made town are connected by man-made lagoons. But just outside of the purpose built holiday town, was the real deal. 

Hurghada was a bustling city that was not choreographed for tourists. It was raw, it was dirty and it was exciting. I had a chance to go with a friend who was around 4 years my senior and had lived alone in Egypt. She spoke the language so my mum was happy to let me go and run some errands in the city with her. This was my chance to capture images that were far removed from the world that I knew. 

So I wandered some back streets, I didn’t go far. I just hung back from my friend and stopped and asked people that were just naturally sitting in eye-catching scenes for photos. I remember asking each one of them. I offered them a pack of cigs for payment and went on my merry way. In each scene I took one singular photo as It was film and I had less than half a roll left in my camera. 

These photos are still some of my favorite photos. I think it was my age, it was before I had really thought about the ethics behind documentary photography or even heard of ethical tourism. I smoked too, so I didn’t see myself as giving out horrible health packs to people. It was a genuine transaction. 

The men were happy, and amused!

The donkey didnt notice me, although I did feel bad about that one.

I’m not sure I will ever be able to document a place and take portraits as innocently again.

I brought the film back to Farnborough College and developed it in the darkroom. 

I was about to go into my final year and assumed I’d be sticking around locally for an Art Foundation. Although, I had already fallen in love with the city of Manchester while visiting with my Aunt. I had made up my mind that I wanted to live there. 

There was something about it, it was perfect, it reminded me of lovely London but in the North, where the people are nicer! And a four hour drive away from my hometown, to give me the independence I craved. Back then I didn’t have much patience so I wanted to go immediately. However the university system at the time was a foundation year first to study multiple mediums before you can apply to any art degree. And rightly so, it’s actually a brilliant idea. However the foundation year did not qualify for a student loan so it would mean I’d have to go local and live at home. I was complaining to my photography teacher about having to stay back.

Then she gave me a great idea. She said, “You could always just try to apply anyway.”

I was amazed that we could bend the rules like that and also secretly chuffed that she thought I could even take photography to a higher level. Writing this I realise just how much confidence I lacked.

I applied without the qualifications you needed to apply. My teacher wrote an awesome cover letter and somehow I got an interview.

That was a big lesson learnt. A good recommendation and guts to go for it, can and will get you where you want to go. 

So I went to Manchester for the interview. I refused to let my parents come into the university building with me…such a weird kid. I left them at a coffee shop down the road and went off with my portfolio and USB drive to make my presentation. 

When I got to the room where all the candidates were, almost everyone had a parent or family member with them. I started to second guess my decision to come alone, and doubt started to creep in.

I guess my name was called and I went into the room. And without any of the credentials I showed a slideshow of these images and told the story (probably left out the cigs bit). 

When I left I assumed it went horribly (man, my self esteem was so bad).

But then a few months later I got an unconditional offer. I only needed two grades instead of the three and I already had those in the bag! 

So they let me, a 17 year old onto a course full of 19 year olds and up. Looking back I really was too immature to be there, but I loved everything about that journey.

If you are interested to see my work outside the genre of branding and business check out my instagram https://www.instagram.com/charrlottegraham/

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