Emma Samms: Finding my voice

Emma Samms, artist... as well as actress, photographer and writer

Emma Samms, artist... as well as actress, photographer and writer - Credit: Archant

‘Being a ‘Jack-of-so-many-trades’, I said to the professor, inevitably meant I could master none of them at all

We British are very good at exchanging pleasantries, but they usually amount to little more than a polite enquiry about general well-being and a grumble about the weather. On rare occasions, though, an exchange can be so unusual that it will resonate with you for a long time.

Many years ago, on a train journey that was long enough and delayed enough to prompt a conversation with the man in the seat next to me, I had a chat that I still think about to this day. The man was a professor at Oxford university. And even though he casually dropped his job title into the conversation, I was impressed enough to be a bit embarrassed about mine.

‘Actress’ sounds terribly frivolous next to ‘professor’ and adding the other things that I dabble in such as writing, photography and artwork, to my ears only made me sound more capricious and flighty. I said as much to the professor and bemoaned my lack of expertise. Being a ‘Jack-of-so-many-trades’, I said, inevitably meant I could master none of them at all.

This wonderful man questioned my use of the word “dabble” and insisted on further details. He forced out of me the advertising campaign that I’d photographed for Revlon, the screenplay that I’d sold and that was actually made into a film and the artwork that I’d managed to sell. “But,” I protested, “If I’d specialised, like you, I might have accomplished a lot more.”

““Why do you think you haven’t settled on just one thing?” He asked.

“Because I find so many things interesting.” I replied. Which was the truth.

Most Read

“But you have a speciality. One that no one else has,” he said. “You specialise in the connection between all those things that you do. It’s a unique perspective and you should embrace it.” Food for thought. And, certainly, a surprisingly nourishing morsel from a chat with a stranger on a train.

Since then I’ve paid attention to the way we all interpret the world around us and what informs our opinions. Of course when we see a yellow flower, we know it’s a flower and that it’s yellow because as youngsters we were told about colours and flowers. But, if I remember my anatomy lessons correctly, there are gaps in our retinas, with our eyes receiving limited information, but our brains somehow fill in the missing bits based on prior information, giving us a complete representation of what is in front of us. This means that our views, even biologically, are based upon prior experience.

But these learned perceptions are what we all bring to the party and what make us unique. Let’s face it, creativity and innovation are unlikely to emerge from the safety of a herd mentality.

So I try to use my work as an actress to help my photographic subjects express the right mood, I try to use the observational skills that I need as an artist to inform my writing and so-on. I’d never go as far as to describe myself as a ‘Polymath’, but at the very least I’ll try to avoid using the ‘Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none’ moniker.

We should all sit next to that lovely professor on the train (I really wish I knew his name!) and get his lecture on finding our voices and having the confidence to express them. And, if nothing else, we should chat more about things other than the weather.

Contact @EmmaSamms1