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Empowering Success: The Journey of Christina Leahy, a Student Spotlight

Dulcify Journal is a collection of creative conversations that champion Scotland’s food and coffee culture. I, [Christina] met the author in a cafe that she worked at a few years ago and since then she’s always been a big fan of my photography, she wanted to sit down with me and chat about my journey into photography.

A conversation with Christina Leahy: Author of Dulcify Journal

My path first crossed with Christina’s back in 2020, when we both worked the same hospitality job. I was only there for a short time, but I vividly remember her infectious energy and her warmth - making me feel instantly more at ease in an environment where I felt so out of my depth. I came to her rescue when she accidentally forgot her facemask one day, and she came to mine helping me open the bakery shutters, making me coffees when I was on the brink of a kitchen melt-down and providing reassuring smiles from behind the counter (and her facemask).

Christina is Australian but has made her home in Edinburgh, Scotland for the past thirteen years. She is deeply rooted in the hospitality scene here, having worked for some of Edinburgh's best cafés, bakeries, and restaurants. What struck me most from this conversation was how much common ground we share - from our outlooks on life, to our struggle to find our path and our mutual love of people. It's a beautiful reminder that finding your passion in life can take time.

(c) Christina Leahy

Author: Tell me about your life before Edinburgh.

I lived on a farm - my dad's a lamb farmer, he has eighteen-hundred acres of land. In Australia, farming is really tough because of the droughts, so my parents took out a loan when I was growing up and bought a pub and my mum became a chef in the pub.

She used to serve lamb from the farm but also Italian food, alongside my nonna, who would make the pasta It was amazing but also a huge amount of work. My mum still lives and breathes food, she's amazing. She has fruit trees and a huge veggie garden on the farm and every day she's making jam, chutney or preserving something. Before I moved, I was working at my parent's pub and at a café, while also doing a business degree. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I saved up and decided to go overseas.

(c) Christina Leahy

Author: How did you come to settle on Edinburgh?

I went travelling for five months on my own with the idea to move to London for a company called Allpress - which is New Zealand based. I used to work for them in Australia and they offered me a job in Shoreditch. I had some girlfriends that moved to Edinburgh, and they said, 'I think you'd love it, come and stay with us' so I turned down the job in London and moved to Edinburgh.

(c) Christina Leahy

Author: Tell me about establishing a life in Scotland.

After my Australian friends left, I worked at Lovecrumbs in the day and then I worked at Under the Stairs in the evening. In these sort of high-turn-over jobs you meet lots of people, and I really built myself a community and established a life here. I saved up my money from Lovecrumbs and decided to do a course at the New Town Cookery School. I've always loved food, but I didn't know how to channel it. It was a three-month beginner cooking course where they teach you all the basics: French cookery, eggs, bread and different types of pastry. It was just so fun, but it was so expensive and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when it came to the end.

I then got approached by Milk when they were just opening in the Fruitmarket Gallery, so I went there as their manager, and I did shifts in the kitchen and front of house. The kitchen stuff stressed me out, even though I knew what I was doing - I hated not being around people. From there I moved to Twelve Triangles, and then I got a job at Quay Commons - which was part of The Gardener's Cottage. They had a kind of café-bakery, and I moved there as a manager. They also asked me to take photos, and I loved it. I just remember being at The Gardener's Cottage one day taking pictures and, in my head, I thought 'Imagine if I could do this every day.' Quay Commons ended up closing and I got an offer to work at the Edinburgh Food Studio with Ben Reed - he used to work at Noma as a food researcher. I moved there and I loved it so much: I met so many amazing people, including two chefs, Jimmy, and Richie, who now work at Timberyard. It was this tiny place on Dalkeith Road that had a big sharing table - I just loved it. My relationship at that time was unravelling, but I had found my place at work. I did everything there: the photos, the food, the service. I felt satisfied. It's now gone, but everyone has gone on to do great things.

(c) Christina Leahy

Author: When did you start pursuing photography?

When covid hit, I thought What am I going to do? It makes you look at your life. In between lockdowns, I decided to go back to Australia to sit out covid with my parents. I really wanted to come back to Scotland, so I applied to Edinburgh College and got in.

Author: Was there a turning point on your photography journey?

I think my photography really went up a notch when I went to Italy with my family. It was the first time that my mum saw me as a photographer, and she was saying to people in Italian, 'My daughter is a photographer. I just got amongst it, met all these people, and went to all these food markets and just felt so happy and confident. I felt I could do this forever. Even though l am only a quarter Italian, I felt so at home there. We went to visit my mum's second cousins in Abruzzo, and we sat on this long table and had a big feast - none of us could converse, but we had this amazing time connecting over food. I’m one of four, and when we were younger my nonna used to look after us and we were fluent. But because I grew up in the countryside, my mum couldn't find a school that taught Italian, so we all lost it. When I was in Italy, I was surprised by how much I understood; I could follow the conversation, but I couldn't enter it. I would just love to ring my mum and have a full conversation in Italian. I've also realised that I like to be part of what I’m shooting in order to be able to spot moments. It's those glimpses in between. I often think when I'm interviewing that there's a real value in creating a space, letting that person step in and then taking a step back and just listening. It leads to those raw moments when people come out with the most profound things. It's giving them space in the same way that when you're shooting photography, you want them to feel comfortable. We just use different mediums - I use words and you use photography. Absolutely. For me now, my strength in hospitality has been to welcome people, and I know that I can make people feel comfortable and help them have a nice time. I've transferred that to this project l am currently shooting at the pub - I'm using those skills to make people feel comfortable. It's interesting to see how I can use the same skills in both hospitality and photography. I know that's a skill of mine; I'm not super confident but I know how to make people feel comfortable.

(c) Christina Leahy

Author: What is it that you want to communicate through your photography?

I really want to show a feeling - with my Italy pictures it surprised me how it resonated with so many people. I got so much feedback on them; I wasn't necessarily trying hard, I was just looking for these moments and so many people could feel the energy. When I was in these fruit markets, I just felt so happy, there were so many things around me that I wanted to document.

(c) Christina Leahy

Author: How do you feel about your path now?

It's taken me until my early thirties to work out what I want to do, and it's such a nice feeling. I'm the only one of my siblings that didn't know what they wanted to be straight away - one is a doctor; one is an accountant, and the other is a graphic designer - and I just never knew. I tried a business degree and nursing, and I wasn't necessarily bad at them - I remember working as a division two nurse in Australia and I remember getting some really good feedback, but in my heart, I didn't feel content. I think, especially getting divorced, you feel a real sense of failure - but I don't feel like that anymore: I am proud of where I am and I'm really happy. Not knowing my path has caused me so much turmoil, but now I see things in a different way. I think like a photographer now - it's hard to explain, but I just feel this shift in my brain, and it has been so eye-opening. I now feel like I'm on the right path - I just got a bit lost before. You learn so much from failure: I had a failed marriage but l have learnt so much from it, it's shaped who l am now and who I want to be.

(c) Christina Leahy

Christina is currently studying a BA (Hons) Professional Photography degree at Edinburgh College. She specialises in documentary photography.

(c) Christina Leahy


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