My name is Ziggy Lewis and I am a creative entrepreneur, currently in the midst of opening my new studio here in morwell, I am primarily a portrait and wedding photographer and run a photobooth hire business servicing Ballarat to Bairnsdale.
I have previously dabbled in web development, graphic design, makeup and sfx artistry, fashion design and have coordinated catwalk and high fashion events under my own label, I am also a person with a disability called Narcolepsy.
I’ve also had careers at Crown, Asic, YMCA and Sensis, all which my disability made incredibly difficult to accommodate and I felt being my own boss, setting my own hours, workload and doing something that motivates me to keep going was the only way, there are so many positives in my job but in all honesty starting your own creative business requires a lot of patience, heartbreak and hard work, I didn’t come from a wealthy background and have never had anyone financially support me, until just last year I’ve had work to part time on and off since the age of 15 to keep afloat as industries like mine have busy and quiet seasons and bookings aren’t always consistent.
I’ve chosen the valley to settle in and start this new endeavor which i have nothing but positive views about but i didn’t grow up here, or conventionally nor did I ever see myself in the valley when I was in school and thinking about where I wanted to be, I always knew I belonged in a creative industry and felt lucky that I had a few clear career goals, even when there were hurdles I found ways around them because the passion I had was so strong.
I was born in and spent the majority of my childhood I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, my earliest memories as photographer were always having a film or polaroid camera and I loved to capture everything and scrapbook about it, through high school my family traveled a lot, all around Australia, I was lucky to see and learn about many different places in Australia and experience some absolutely gorgeous landscapes, this also meant a lot of moving, a lot of different schools and always leaving friends so I spent a lot of time alone, creating, drawing, learning how to use different programs on the computer and creating digital art.
It wasn’t until year 11 we settled in a very small town in south Gippsland, I started VCE at a high school with a fantastic arts program, I think this really cemented where I wanted to take my future, I spent every lunch time in the dark room learning the art of film and experimenting with photography in its first and purest form, after school was teaching myself photoshop and learning about aperture and shutter speeds on the camera I’d borrow from school.
Living in such a small and isolated area as a teenager who had grown up in the city or traveling with many different places to go took a toll on my mental health, my release was my art which had become very dark and moody and I became a bit of a recluse, I started to believe that there was nothing I could create with in this town, no likeminded people and I couldn’t wait to get out.
I couldn’t yet but I still pushed to create the kind of art I had in my head, I built my folio on trade for print or TFP as it’s known in the industry where inexperienced creatives agree to contribute their talents free for mutual benefit and to build their folios and hone their techniques, I would connect with other creatives online and travel over 2 hours to meet with models and artists in the city for collaborations, this often had to happen after hours for them and due to the limited transport to my small town I would spend the night wandering the city streets and taking photos all night until the first vline back in the morning.
After high school I escaped and protested that I hated country life, it wasn’t for me and I’d never go back, I attended Deakin Uni did a double BA in visual and performing arts, majoring in photography before moving to Brisbane where I started my first real studio in my garage, I truly felt my art was going the direction I wanted, I had a large network of creatives I’d met through online channels, I also launched my own label of handmade rockabilly and alternative themed accessories, shoes and bags, things were going great until I got sick, nobody really knew what was wrong with me but there were days, sometimes weeks I just couldn’t even get out of bed, not being able to work and money was becoming too tight to continue so I decided to move back to Melbourne in with a family member.
After resettling I opened my 2nd studio, In a dedicated art space in Kensington, a smaller and grungier space yet affordable and in a more creative environment,
With a new studio, a new camera and working on new techniques I felt I was really starting to develop my own unique style of conceptual portraiture which eventually became my signature, I began incorporating more of my own styling which lead to expanding my accessories label to clothing and costume pieces, these were launched in 2013 via a highly choreographed catwalk show which I put together solo. my health however couldn’t handle the very long hours I was putting into my work and not long after the show I began experiencing chronic pain and exhaustion, after many tests with no answers I was blanket diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, this made working in my current hospitality role too physically demanding and limited other job prospects.
During this time I also met someone while visiting family in South Gippsland and after not too long he had asked me to move in, I thought I’d never move back to the country but love makes us do crazy things!
As my health deteriorated further and travel became too hard I ended up moving out of my studio in 2015 but still advertised as a mobile portrait studio focus on wedding photography, as living up here is in the center of several highly attractive locations for weddings, it is also one of the most competitive and saturated markets for a photographer making it even harder, I realized I needed to make my packages more attractive, but I didn’t have a very large folio of weddings, it wasn’t until another event I was shooting which had a photobooth, I thought about how popular and accessible they’re becoming, every wedding, engagement, birthday party and more have or want them these days.
After much research into other booths on the market, I decided they weren’t right for my business and I wanted to build my own, with my computer and photography knowledge and strive for perfection front of mind and the help of a company in Sydney after only a few short weeks my customized booth was built and already boosting event and photography packages and remains the biggest part of my business and majority of my income to date.
By 2016 I had moved to the valley, on my own and by choice, I was beginning to see things a lot differently than I had as a teenager, there were and are creative minds in the area, hidden galleries and sources of inspiration I hope to become more available and know about by young creatives in the future, the time I spent thinking I could only get the education I wanted from a city university I believe I gained just as much from my high school arts program, 2016 I had finally received referrals to a sleep disorder clinic which found my narcolepsy and began the treatment that has allowed me to follow my passion again.
Since moving here I don’t believe any of the stigma or negative rumors about the area, it’s extremely affordable to start a small business in and populated enough to have a constant influx of local clients and at the foot of some of Australia’s most sought after wedding destinations, in this digital and more open minded age I believe anyone can be their own creative entrepreneur from anywhere in Australia but nowdays I can’t see myself living in a city again and am proud to call the valley my home.
(Excert from Ziggys' speach at My Valley My Home festival in March 2019)