Answers to Thriving Interview with Yasmin Mund

Updated: Oct 18, 2019



Multi-award winning travel and documentary photographer and business owner which encompasses photography, food styling and production.



Quick Dive

  • Can’t start the day without: Checking the weather outside.

  • Best read of all time: Harry Potter, because I was 11 years old at the time and I believed I was going to Witch School. Still waiting for that owl!

  • Non-negotiable: To swim in the ocean.

  • Most random job ever: Occasionally I’m a food stylist assistant and arrange fries on trays according to their shape and colour.

  • Top music track of all time: Anything from Fleetwood Mac

  • Mindful habits: Healthy eating, very regular exercise and yoga.

  • I’m most afraid of: Not being able to see.

  • Go-to for fun: A few Aperol Spritz and a boogie.




Steps to thriving:


How did your studies lead you to pursuing a career in Photography?

When I was in High School I took some photography subjects, although at that time, photography wasn’t something I was particularly interested in - it was more of an artistic hobby. After High School, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do, I just knew vaguely that I was a visual person - so I applied for a number of degree courses at various Universities and I ended up being accepted to do a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communications at the University of Western Sydney. During my first two years at University, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a Graphic Designer, but then Photography was emerging as my real strength. It wasn’t until the fourth year of my degree that I really fell in love with photography.



What was it that turned Photography into a deep passion?

For my final year I opted to do the Honours programme, which involved one large research based project. So for that year I engulfed myself in research and it just changed my life. My project was based on a theory of twelve universal dreams shared by all humans and culminated in a series of photographs visualising each of these dreams. It was a real formative experience for me and this was when I really fell in love with Photography as an Art form - as opposed to making client-based images of a more commercial nature.



Did you have any work experience whilst studying?

As part of my degree I had to do some work experience, and I was taken on by a local photo studio folding envelopes and getting coffees. They then took me on and trained me as a part-time re-toucher. It was an amazing position to be in, working within my industry whilst still studying - and my employer was very flexible and really supportive of my studies. For me it was such an asset because, although you’re shown the basics at University, you don’t get to master a craft like you would if you went to a Technical College and my boss at the studio really trained me from the ground up.



After your degree, how did your professional career start?

It was amazing, I finished my degree and was lucky enough to go straight into full-time employment at the studio where I was already working. At the time, it was quite a rare privilege. I moved into the role of Production Manager where I gained experience in the production and digital workflow side of the industry. I was managing all of the larger projects as well as the retouching.


I was with that studio for about three years and even though it was a small business and my boss was offering incentives, and even wanted me eventually to take it over, it just never got me really excited - especially having had the experience of creating Photographic Art during my research project. I didn’t know precisely what I wanted to do from there, although I knew I wanted to travel.



Was there a specific turning point that made you realise you wanted something more?

I found myself in a situation, which I think happens a lot, where I was overworked and underpaid, but I nevertheless felt lucky to be working in my industry. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that even though I was lucky and I felt grateful to my boss for training me so well, that didn’t mean I had to just keep slogging it out.


I found myself in a situation, which I think happens a lot, where I was overworked and underpaid, but I nevertheless felt lucky to be working in my industry.


When you realised this, what steps did you take?

I really wanted to travel but there wasn’t enough time left in my week to get a second job in order to save for travelling or to buy my own gear. This was when I realised that I was in a trap and I decided that in order to do what I wanted to do, I needed to leave my job. So, I quit working at the studio and I picked up an array of jobs to save up the money I needed.



Did you find it hard going from a regular income within your industry to working in any paid position you could find just to save?

It was crazy. I had four jobs and no life but I was actually making a lot more money and I knew I needed to travel, so it didn’t matter what I was doing. I just had this goal of saving up to get overseas, which for me really felt like the right thing to do.


I had four jobs and no life but I was actually making a lot more money and I knew I needed to travel, so it didn’t matter what I was doing.


Did you have any specific career aims whilst travelling or was it more for the experience and adventure?

I took my photography gear, but I didn’t set out thinking I wanted to photograph the world. I really wanted to volunteer in India. I’d been to India before and it really captured my heart. So, I applied to work for a photography programme in India called The Young Leaders Camp. The programme is for Indian children who come from very poor backgrounds that aims to broaden their horizons and career prospects.


It was such an interesting experience. India can be very chaotic, so trying to run something systematically was really challenging, but I just took the bull by the horns and actually ended up rewriting the programme.



How did your time in India help to clarify your career aspirations?

When I joined they were piloting a girls’ camp, whereas before it had just been for boys. It was so inspiring to be a mentor to these young girls – many of whom may not have considered a career possible – and to inspire them to achieve their dreams. The experience of teaching there really sparked a passion for mentoring and sharing knowledge in me. I had the benefit of a mentor during the last year of my degree, but I feel it’s something that is sadly lacking in the photographic industry. I think it’s so important and since coming home I’ve started tutoring at a University.


It was so inspiring to be a mentor to these young girls – many of whom may not have considered a career possible


Would you say you developed as an artist whilst travelling around India?

As a photographer, I’m interested in the raw reality of life – and India is definitely raw and rough and colourful and sweaty, and I think it just brings you back down to earth. There’s a large poverty problem there, but there are also areas of great wealth, so it’s very dynamic. When you meet people in a place like India, you realise that we are all exactly the same, but the circumstances are so different. You really connect and wonder why things are the way they are. I think India gave me a real depth of perspective. After teaching at the Young Leaders Camp, I left to travel around India and it was at that point I realised I just wanted to photograph everything I came across.



Where there any moments when you realised you had the potential to really succeed as a Photographer?

When I was in a place called Varanasi, I took a photograph of people sleeping on their rooftops. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but sometime later when I was in France a friend of mine suggested I enter it in a National Geographic competition. The photograph went viral and won a lot of competitions - second place in the People category for National Geographics’s Travel Photographer of the year in 2016 and third prize in Australia’s Head On Photo Festival in the Landscape category. At the time, I was so immersed in India and it’s swing I had no idea what I had captured. This image’s success opened my eyes to my potential as a destination and travel photographer.


Similarly, with my dream series project, I submitted them into the International Conference of Dreaming and they won an award in the US.



How do you manage to make a living / business while still focusing on Photo Artistry?

As a Photo Artist, my work is very different compared to my commercial work and they both can provide different types of income. But the immediate income comes from the commercial work, not from the artistic work.


What you put in to both sides and what you get back is very different too, it’s a very different type of model and I had to learn that. It’s like two different worlds, and I like to be active in each one. My photographic art helps me to be happy in life and within the commercial work I am able to hone my craft and keep pushing myself technically and continually learning, because there is so much to learn. That’s how I’ve learned to think about what I do and to make my business work in that way.


My photographic art helps me to be happy in life and within the commercial work I am able to hone my craft and keep pushing myself technically and continually learning, because there is so much to learn.

What practical steps did you take towards developing your career when you returned to Australia?

I didn’t really want to come home but I came back and made up my mind to put everything into my work and try to start my own freelance business. I went back to working at a photo lab a couple of days a week to earn some money. I didn’t really know what I could do business wise, I had no idea, but then I met my partner shortly after moving back and he really helped me to settle and become self-employed. He runs a number of businesses himself, so I found that really inspiring.


He encouraged me to apply for the NEIS programme, which is a government initiative to support the start-up of small businesses. That was really useful because you get a business mentor, you take a certificate in small business management and you get an allowance to help you set up your business.


When the NEIS course finished I formally launched my business but continued working at the photo lab. I was assuming I could carry on working a couple of days a week in order to float my business but one Friday I was told I would no longer be needed! They had decided to employ someone full-time and they thought I knew, but it was a miscommunication and I actually had no idea, so it was a massive shock. I felt incredibly panicked and scared about how I was going to manage financially.


With my partner’s support and encouragement I overcame those fears and started to look for work as a photographer. For the first two weeks, I had no work and no money, but then slowly the work started to come in. Within a month I was busy. I think there’s a lot to be said for creating space in your life to focus on whatever your goal is – and there is never a “right time”.


I think there’s a lot to be said for creating space in your life to focus on whatever your goal is – and there is never a “right time”.


Were there any big revelations for you when you started your business?

Since launching my business and having that moment when I had no work, I’ve really learned to just say yes to everything that I think I might be able to do. If you need the work, just say yes and figure it out later. - It’s terrifying, but within this first year, I have grown so much from saying yes to opportunities. It has been so challenging, but I’ve realised that you can really broaden your skill set and gain so much knowledge that way.


It’s terrifying, but within this first year, I have grown so much from saying yes to opportunities.


It’s an ever-evolving process and I’m coming to terms with the fact that having a freelance life and starting your own business is up and down. There are times when you are working sixteen hour days just to meet deadlines and to keep promises for people, which is important for client relationships. But then there are days when you don’t have such immediate deadlines - like this morning where I had a swim, and it’s really rewarding being able to do that. It took me some time to adjust from the workaholic culture where you feel like you have to be working 9 to 5 (which ultimately, I don’t think is healthy for people).


Being fully in control of my life is probably the biggest plus for me. If I want to take a week off for something I can - obviously I bear the consequences for that, but I’m still reaping the rewards and having a free life, not being answerable to anyone.


It can feel like a real rollercoaster with good days when you have loads of work and then bad days when you have no work. But I have definitely crossed the threshold of no return, because even on the bad days I know I could never quit, because I still want to take photographs.




Advice to thrive:


Is there a skill you would still like to master and why?

Yes! I still want to master my craft. That is so important for me, to be the best and to keep learning and deepening my photographic craft. I’d also really like to learn French! I want to be fluent in a foreign language – for me that’s a life goal.



What three personality traits do you think have contributed to you establishing your business?

Definitely independence, because you have to believe you can do it on your own. Also, perseverance in what you are doing. I believe that the people who come out on top are the people who just don’t give up. It has got nothing to do with your talent or your ideas – it’s just to keep doing it. And finally, I’d say curiosity – this is what drives me to want to learn more and know more about my industry and my work. I’m also curious to see what I can do. I like to test boundaries and see how far I can go.


I believe that the people who come out on top are the people who just don’t give up.


How do you feel in general now, on a day to day basis, compared to when you were working for someone else?

Knowing that you are only answerable to yourself is so much fun. You have to learn to negotiate with yourself, which takes a level of discipline. But equally, if you don’t want to do something, ultimately you don’t have to do it! So that brings an element of spontaneity into your day. For example, if you want to have a coffee with a friend, you can do that. There’s a real sense of freedom and it’s a lot more fun.



If there was one piece of career advice you could have given yourself when you were first starting out, what would it have been?

To think less and do more. Because I think we learn so much more from actioning things than we do from thinking about whether or not we should do them. So be more active and do more!



What advice would you say to women reading this that have an idea on what they would love to do but haven’t quite worked up the courage to go for it yet?

Before you give up everything for your dream, test the waters to see if it’s something that you really want to do. I think that the reason not everyone is successful is because they give up. So it comes down to a question, will you regret not ever giving it a shot? And if the answer is yes, then you don’t actually have a choice and you should just go for it. But if you’re not sure then do something to test that out, start a project on the side and see if it inspires you more than your everyday job and if it’s making you more happy then maybe that’s your answer.


So it comes down to a question, will you regret not ever giving it a shot? And if the answer is yes, then you don’t actually have a choice and you should just go for it.



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