Dressed in jeans and a black top with a leather jacket, Norma Jean Finnegan entered the Pear Tree cafe bar on the corner of Wellfield Road with a beaming smile.
Sitting down she started to talk about her three month old photography business which is housed in the Globe Centre, Roath. She said: “I really love still life but I’ve got into portraiture a lot. One reason is I’m finding people more interesting as I’m getting older.”
She realises portraits are more saleable, but says her passion for still life will never leave her and she will continue to take pictures in this medium.
Norma Jean currently has an exhibition of flower pictures in the Vanilla Rooms hair salon on City Road. They are done in a vintage style, which she says is currently very popular, particularly for wedding photographs.
Of her last exhibition she said: “I had an exhibition a few weeks ago in the Coffi House across the road. The owners are leaving and selling up. I thought it would be nice to do a photo essay of the place.
"Interesting people come in there and there’s interesting subjects, like an old Bush radio. I took portraits of regulars and still life to tell the story of the Coffi House.”
Norma Jean has a new side project and is on the lookout for potential subjects. The project is of little businesses and their owners in and around Roath and Cathays, particularly old, overlooked businesses. She has photographed a lady called Betty who has a badge shop on Crwys Road and Julie who has a clothes shop also on Crwys Road.
“There are loads of lovely businesses but not everybody likes to be photographed. I’m always looking for new businesses to photograph and people in their situ. The picture always tells a story.”
She always tries to get something in the eyes and admits she does not like to use Photoshop and prefers to get the realness out of everything she does. She would rather her photographs were realistic.
Norma Jean who originally hails from County Louth, Ireland originally moved to Wales to study. After doing a one year arts and crafts and design course in Ireland she decided to do a degree in photography.
She said: “I was always artistic, people said I had a good eye for things and I remember all the teachers at school said I was good at art. I wasn’t very good academically but I loved sports and arts and things like that.”
She added: “I didn’t really know what to do to be honest. I didn’t really know, as I said I wasn’t very academic which didn’t give me a lot of confidence.
"Someone once said to me, you should do photography and I was like, could I have a job that I like going into everyday, is that possible?”
She decided to cross the Irish Sea and attend the West Wales School of the Arts in Carmarthen because the college had good reviews and she wanted a change.
She graduated with a BA Honors Degree in Photography in May 2010 and assisted and photographed for Photodrome Studios on Bessemer Close for two years.
She admitted: “I don’t think university taught me much it was when I worked in the photography studio that I learnt a lot.
“I don’t think college can prepare you for the real world.”
Norma Jean has been inspired by several photographers. She loves the work of Rankin and still life photographers such as Richard Maxsted. She was particularly inspired by Swansea born photographer Alun Crockford.
She said: “When I was in college I was emailing him and he answered all of my questions and he said come down to my studio in London and I went and it was fantastic. He just takes something which is nothing, like a comb or brush and makes it look stunning.”
After growing significantly in confidence, she said she was lucky to get the job working as a photography assistant for David Manton at Photodrome.
“David Manton knew my lecturers and he was looking for someone and my lecturers recommended me. I was so lucky because the amount of people leaving the photography course is huge and the amount of jobs in photography are very slim.”
She was full of praise for her mentor who she sometimes still works for. “He’s lovely, he’s brilliant, he just knows so much and he’s so eager for you to learn and to want to learn.”
On making the decision to start her own business, she said she wanted to be her own boss and because she’d grown in confidence, she wanted to achieve in something. She admits it has been difficult and said: “A lot of it’s to do with word of mouth, so it’s slowly building up and I’m meeting clients. I think if you’re enthusiastic and driven it helps.”
When asked why she didn’t return to Ireland, Norma Jean said: “Wales has been good to me. I love the people. Everybody is so nice and it worked, it fit. There was no reason to leave.
“I believe there is a lovely buzz about Roath, a lovely feel. I come from a small town, so I like the familiarity in Roath and I like walking by and noticing people I’ve seen before.”
She tries to be hardworking and easy going and the best information she has received from photographers is you can walk around with your portfolio anywhere but you need to get on with people. She hopes her business continues to grow and she will create fabulous pictures and make people happy with them.