Camerawoman, Gail Jenkinson, brings her own easy nature and solid work ethic to every job and has blazed a trail for herself in the industry. After being a photographer for 15 years she switched career aged 35 to move to Bristol and pursue working in film and TV. Gail has successfully married her love of capturing moments with her love of animals and travel and now manages to work predominantly in the field of wildlife documentary, both on land and underwater. So far she's worked with meerkats in South Africa, gorillas in Uganda and more recently turtles in Oman. She's been in Bristol for over ten years now and loves the mix of creativity and friendly vibes that make it the place she calls home.
When was the first time you really realised you were a creative person?
I think it's always a worry that you're not as creative as the next person or someone that you aspire to, because you're aspiring. But in terms of when did I first really realise I was creative, was probably at school when other people were passing exams and I wasn't passing exams. But I could draw something and make something and actually there was one very particular time. I was in America and I took a photograph of a mountain scene and I came back home and I painted that mountain scene from that photograph. What was creative about it was that I cared about that scene, I had an emotional attachment to the scene. I'd been there, it was something that was important to me. So every brush stroke on the canvas was important - I was into it. So I'd created something that was different to the photograph, but because of my emotional attachment to the scene and the time it had emotion in it and therefore was creative. And that was different to what I'd done at school or younger, and I realised that was an important part of my being creative - it meaning something to me.
As you've gotten older do you think your attitude or thoughts around your creativity has changed?
No I think I've literally just begun. I'm so young in this journey of feeling creative, feeling like I can actually express it, that I think it'll change constantly. I hope it will. I think it will move on and become a lovely experience of learning and expressing yourself. It's totally changed, it's changed from back then, but I don't really know where it's gunna go. It's really exciting.
Tell us why you settled on this as a career.
I started travelling when I was younger, I loved travelling, I just loved getting on a plane and going and seeing somewhere new. I couldn't really settle into anything because I knew I was just gunna carry on travelling, aimlessly, feeling a bit like a fat tourist. Y'know? It was no good, I needed to get involved in something and an old man called Andy who lived near my parents - he was probably about 80 - said to me 'find a job that you'll love'. And I thought 'right, I love travelling, I love animals and I love being creative. So I did sit down and thought 'ok, what's that job?' I kind of decided that job was either photographing or filming animals in a different location.
When do you feel most creatively satisfied?
I don't think I do, I think that's the problem.
Does Bristol shape or influence your work in any way?
Yeah, having moved from London to Bristol I think Bristol's got a very approachable and giving creative community that you can work within and amongst. There's an awful lot of inspiration with street art or people that you're gunna mix with on a daily basis. I think Bristol's a really creative environment. I didn't want to move from London, y'know, you kind if think there's nowhere else on the planet to live, but I really enjoy living in Bristol and I think it's like a certain part of London, but it's pretty much all over Bristol. To be around creative people is the goal, to see what they're doing and get that vibe off them. It's more attainable to be around creative people more of the time in Bristol, by nature it feels creative.
Would you class yourself as an introvert or an extrovert?
I think I'm probably an extrovert. From the other people that I meet I think I'm probably an extrovert because I can speak to anyone. But that's just cause that's what my dad does, or my brother. When I say 'anyone', I mean anyone that's forthcoming... I can't beat my way into a lawyers white wine drinking party.
Presumably as a freelancer you have to network. Do you find that easier being the way you are or do you still find that quite hard?
When I moved to Bristol it was something that I had to do a lot of and I spent a lot of time doing it and a lot of seeking out networking events. I'd always go on my own so that I didn't stand in the corner and just talk to my friend. So I'd have to speak to a stranger and it'd be painful, you're standing there and you're waiting and they're talking to someone else and you're thinking 'ok have I caught your eye now cause there are other people staring at you who want to speak to you.' But now it's lovely because I might be at the bar and someone will sidle up and want to talk to me and it's absolutely lovely. I do think that networking gets easier, but I think it depends on what type of character you are. I personally think it's really interesting talking to other people. People are just people so you haven't really gotta be scared. No one is thinking 'your hair looks weird', they're just thinking 'I hope my hair doesn't look weird.'
Tell us about a time when you thought you were losing your way or doing a bad job, what are some of the biggest professional challenges you've faced in your career?
I mean I just think that's constant, that you're always losing your way. You always think you can do better but I think that's a good thing because your taste is good, there's always something higher...
So do you ever allow yourself a moment to say 'I did a good job today'?
Yeah I do allow myself those but I get that more from other people saying 'you did well' and I (laughing) print it out and stick it on my wall to remind myself. It's not egotistical at all, it's a reminder for when you're thinking 'oh I fucked that up massively' and then I look at my wall and go 'you thought you'd messed that job up massively and then you get an email from the editor saying 'I'm so pleased with your work'. The good side of it is you aspire to do better and if you look at something and think 'that could have been a little bit more to the left or that could have been a bit brighter' or whatever, you're going in the right direction. All you need to do is keep going, I don't think you'll probably ever get there but that's just you improving all the time.
What's sometimes challenging is when you're short of time and that has to be acceptable. Better done than perfect. That's just what it's like working with budgets and time pressures.
It's not fucking Fellini.
So what have been the moments in your career when you've really felt proud of yourself?
That's really hard because I don't do many air punches. To have a time when you're working and you're up a volcano looking over the edge and you're thinking 'amazing, I couldn't pay to be up here, I'm getting paid'. There you are making a TV programme looking into volcano's thinking 'how did I manage this?' Same with mountain gorillas, I was just thinking 'this is incredible'.
I've just done a job in Oman and completely fell in love with turtles. The privilege of being there and seeing an animal in it's own environment not being bothered about you. I think a lot of my work, the places I go and the things I see, it's a privilege. It's a total pleasure.
...there's a scene in Reservoir Dogs when he looks in the mirror by the door right before he leaves and says "nobody knows a thing.. you're super cool". There is an element of fake it till you make it.
If there's a typical day for you, what would it look like?
They're not typical, they're very varied, and that is why I like this job. One of the typical days for me could be waking up late thinking 'I don't know what to do with my day' potentially looking on the computer thinking I'll go meet a friend for a drink, drinking too much then going to bed. Another typical day could be waking up at 5am, packing the car with a load of kit, driving to a location or getting a boat out to sea, working all day filming a presenter maybe, or an animal, getting back at the end of the day, washing all your kit off, hanging things up to dry, loading back into the car again, drinking half an inch of wine and falling asleep. It's quite physical, it's a lot of focus and concentration.
What's your take on being a female in quite a male dominated industry? Do you even look at it like that or has it not factored in your thought process?
I do work in a male dominated environment, it's always been that way, I knew it was that way when I got into it so I was prepared for it. I like boys, I like working with boys... I kind of thought it would be ok. It generally has been ok, generally they're quite fun to work with and generally they like to have a laugh.
How important is social media and self-promotion in your line of work?
I think social media is really important. I think we English don't do it particularly well, I think we could do it better. Say, Americans, you could be at a party and they've got their business card in your hand before you know it. And sometimes I'm at a party here and I ask if they have a business card and they say 'no' and I think 'why don't you have a card?'. I find it quite amazing that you've come to a networking event and you don't have any business cards.
What's the biggest career risk you've taken so far?
I think it was starting because I started my career at 35, because I changed career at 35, from being a photographer - which I think is a really good grounding for film-making. I don't think it's much of a risk changing something at 35 now but it kind of was then.. to change a career and start afresh, into a different area of the business. Then there was risk again in changing from camera assistant to camera woman. I could have carried on being a camera assistant but it wasn't the work I wanted to be in in the end, so I guess you have to take a risk and become a camera operator in your own right. When I was finding my confidence with it I used to channel Tim Roth as my mantra, there's a scene in Reservoir Dogs when he looks in the mirror by the door right before he leaves and says "nobody knows a thing... you're super cool". There is an element of fake it till you make it.
My piece of advice to a young person is to keep your eyes off your phone and look around you.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
Yeah, more recently instead of the early days. I've got a mentor from my Women in Film and TV group. I've got a female mentor that helps me in business and... just keeping going. I think you pick up mentors along the way when you look up to someone and aspire to be like them... there haven't been many of them. When someone asked me 'is there a woman you aspire to', I really didn't have anyone in my head. I'd just say Ansel Adams or Georgia O'Keeffe. I don't think they have to be film makers, I think they can be from all areas.
My piece of advice to a young person is to keep your eyes off your phone and look around you. Listen, watch, see what people are doing, learn. I learned from watching, being on set and watching other people. Learn from their mistakes, learn from their good stuff, see how people behave. In the beginning of your career you can just watch other people, and there's loads of jobs available for that. From the bottom up, say you're a runner and you're like 'this is crap money and I'm gunna have to run my arse off and make a load of coffee'. Ok fine, you are gunna have to do that but equally you're gunna be able to watch a director direct, a DOP (Director of Photography) set lights up... you can learn so much just by being a voyeur, and it's free in a way.
So, last question. We're at your wake and you're floating above us, what's the one thing you'd like to overhear someone say about you?
I probably would like it if I'd inspired someone younger. That I might have inspired a younger woman to have entered into something that she thought she might not be capable of doing or that she might not have thought she fit into... to leave that legacy of 'oh look, well she did it...' I think that's enough. When all you need to see is that someone else has done it you go 'ok fine'.
I think it's really nice to inspire, it makes you feel like your down times, effort and seeking... it actually makes it a little bit better.
It makes it a little bit more worth-while, because if that has then affected another person, either that you know or don't know, then it's all worth it.
You can see Gails work here