As a child, Caroline Julia Moore lived with an inner monologue — an ever-changing narrative of the world around her. Today, as a digital artist, she gives vision to that world. She spoke to Fergus Byrne about her journey to a new life.
Some of Caroline Julia Moore’s earliest memories are times spent swimming around in her own imagination. Outside of the occasional friendship in school, she remembers her world as being like an ‘in skull TV’. A digital artist, now living in Beaminster, Caroline recalls different channels in her head ‘where my inner monologue would discuss the types of ways I would throw a tennis ball on the wall down the side of our house, the books I was reading, why space and infinity was mind-blowing, what colour actually was.’ She would imagine plays and run through scenarios of what to do when approached and bullied. ‘I was bullied a lot’ she says ‘always the odd-ball; arms too long, teeth too full of braces, brain too brainy, a mix-wired tangle of awkwardness!’
Today, that vibrant imagination, bursting with colour, sound and boundless creativity is responsible for extraordinary digital artistry. She initially began to paint as a method of absorbing negativity after mental health issues. Fascinated by colour she began experimenting with thick acrylic paints using palette knives on canvas. ‘I believe that many people, especially creatives, have a certain degree of synaesthesia’ says Caroline. ‘For example, visualising sound emitting from colours and making senses malleable. The world began to feel fascinating to me again. I was lost in paint and the emotions carved out from and within colour.’
She experimented with digital art and her small studio space, initially in St Michael’s Trading Estate in Bridport, became a haven of escapism as she developed and found the medium that allowed her imagination to reach a new canvas. Now, as well as tutoring students in advanced Photoshop techniques and Painter tutorials, her work has been highlighted internationally in publications including Photoshop Creative, Digital Photographer, Dark Beauty and Living The Photoartistic Life.
As a conceptual photographer and a digital artist, Caroline has been referred to as a ‘creative powerhouse’ but her talents were once directed to a very different industry. Her journey toward a career in art came in a fascinating, yet roundabout way—via science.
In those younger days, her feelings of awkwardness, shyness and difficulty ‘fitting in’ had the effect of making her study more. ‘By the time I got to secondary school’ she says, ‘I became so anxious about going that I would have nose bleeds. Not that I told anyone. I hid my anxiety and studied hours and hours more than I needed too; I wrote poetry, created art, listened to music. It amazed me how petty people were when the world was so blindingly brilliant.’ She describes feeling like Worzel Gummidge ‘trying on different heads for different things; Brave Caroline, Student Caroline, Friend Caroline. I certainly did not know who the Caroline at Home was.’
But studying opened up another world. Going to college rather than school to do A levels she developed a fascination for English Literature. ‘So much could be said with words that were unsaid’ she recalls. ‘Even void of actual semantics, words could mean a sound, a texture, the most intricate image.’ One of the books she studied was Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native. She remembers a Kingston College of Further Education coach trip on a Saturday when they visited Hardy’s house, walked across Hardy’s countryside and had tea in a café in Dorchester. She remembers ‘the feel of the spongy burial mounds’ and spending the journey back ‘filled with the raw beauty of it.’
She went on to study Psychology at Goldsmiths, moving into halls of residence in Camberwell, South East London. ‘I was fascinated by the different ways that behaviour could be studied’ she says. ‘Evolutionary psychology, neuropsychology, psychopharmacology. I must admit, one of the reasons I chose the degree was based on just how awesome the different “ologys” sounded!’ It took her a while to adapt to University, but she thrived on studying, and like many a student before and since, also discovered a love for cutting loose. ‘I could feel like the real me when I let my hair down and lost my inhibitions.’
After her degree she led what she describes as a ‘dual life’; tutoring Psychology Degree students and doing research work, whilst becoming embroiled in the underground alternative scene; squat parties, raves and sound systems. ‘I was inwardly terrified by both realities’ she says. ‘I had no idea who I actually was. This dissociation of self has been a life-long battle for me.’
Diagnosed with depression when she was 17 she had been given Prozac which didn’t suit her. But generalised anxiety, social anxiety, depression and panic attacks were always tapping away in the background. ‘When I left University, the tapping became more like a war drum’ she says. ‘It was like living with a fishbowl over my head that changed sounds and sensations. Like being in a bubble where the outside wasn’t there. Everything was unbearable and my overriding sadness physically hurt—my goodness, the relief when anti-depressants worked!’
Less than a year after getting her degree she was head-hunted for a research position at Hammersmith Hospital working on a project funded by the Stroke Association. ‘I worked on a series of language studies using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans mapping blood flow in the brain; revealing the use of different brain regions in real-time. Quite literally mind-blowing.’
She won a very competitive and sought-after award from The Brain Research Trust which funded study for a PhD for three years. ‘I researched the effect of category-specific anomia (where, for example, patients cannot name types of animals but can identify tools). I looked at object naming and reading in healthy people during brain scans and also patients with severe damage to their brains.’ She published several research articles in scientific journals, travelling to present findings in places like Boston, New Orleans, Copenhagen, San Francisco and Montreal.
Despite being involved in ground-breaking studies and carrying out fascinating research, Caroline’s over-riding memory is of feeling acutely like an imposter. ‘Imposter Syndrome is definitely real’ she says. ‘I felt like I wasn’t gifted, I was just obsessional and a very focused learner. And it was scary. I felt out of my depth.’ The research, because of its prestigious nature, was highly stressful and competitive. The Department at Queen’s Square was a world-class functional imaging research unit. Doctors from across the globe fought for research positions. ‘I was there by chance, the right place at the right time. I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing.’ This was all compounded by a fear of not fitting in with the people she worked with: ‘These bright young things who were just brilliant, and me, who (in my view) was not.’ It still brings flashbacks of school: nosebleeds, awkwardness and not belonging.
After a year at the Institute of Psychiatry doing research on Fragile X Syndrome and the effects of CGG triplet repeats on brain structure and function, she handed her PhD to the binders on the day her first child was due. It had been an exhausting time. She remembers travelling to Strasbourg to a conference to present work, whilst three months pregnant. ‘This was the first conference I attended on my own and I thought my head would explode from the pressure of travelling, navigating trains in France, finding my hotel, getting to the conference. I had to put on my Worzel Gummidge Bolshy Head to try and form contacts and collaborations. I spent the whole time with my heart pounding in my throat, desperate to be back home.’
She married, had another child and after living for years on the top floor of a Council Estate block in Camberwell found her mental health ‘down in the depth of a swamp somewhere.’ With her marriage falling apart she visited her parents in Lyme Regis and decided to move. Within two weeks she found herself in a small rental in Bridport with an almost-three-year-old and an almost one-year-old—daunting, but a new start.
‘Bridport was, quite literally, like a different planet in comparison to Camberwell’ she recalls. ‘It took about six months for me to adjust and actually look people in the eye as they walked past me. I adapted to accepting that people I didn’t know could say hello without ulterior motive (I lost count of how many times I was mugged on the bus in London). I felt thrilled to be living in Dorset.’
After her move to Dorset and finishing writing up scientific papers she settled in Beaminster. She worked for Bridport Community Playgroup and as a special needs teaching assistant at St Marys School in Beaminster. ‘I had my third child in 2005 and, despite there being difficult times, I am thankful every time I walk outside that I am here and no longer in London’ she says. ‘I have three children who are fiercely amazing but strong, private individuals, as they should be. I have no need to live through them or to relay anecdotes. They are their own selves, but I will just say how incredible it is to exist in their circle.’
Like a soothing balm, the move from science to art was not only calming but allowed for an enormous development of her creative spirit. However, it wasn’t instant. ‘I tried to concentrate on more traditional art mediums but would get frustrated drawing and painting because my work would not always turn out how I wanted it to. I could not articulate the confusion or sensory overload that so often resided within my head, or the absolute wonder of senses that would obsess me. The work I produced began to feel empty.’ One day, doing a joint exhibition with Dorset photographer Nathalie Roberts, it was suggested she try using Photoshop to expand her digital work.
‘As soon as I clicked “New File”, Photoshop became like an intrinsic extension of myself’ she recalls. She describes it as ‘like opening a Pandora’s box, discovering a way to create different realities. I could produce an image with resonance and a smoother transition from the vision in my head to the work on my screen.’ Signing up for a Sebastian Michaels’ Photoshop course she quickly developed a passion for the medium and her craft took wings. Making use of her ability to focus, she took her creativity to new heights. As she puts it ‘with enough passion for learning something, you can quickly become an expert.’
As well as using stock photography as a base point, she began taking her own photographs using an art gallery and photographic studio, The Art Asylum in Brewers Quay in Weymouth. It had been set up by photographer Sean Hepburn and artist Felix Thompson. ‘The Art Asylum quickly became my second home’ she says ‘and I formed amazing collaborations and friendships with both photographers and models. We were like our own bizarre community, pushing boundaries and trying off the wall techniques. I recall Sean telling me that I often seemed to have a head full of frogs, jumping around with ideas and sparking connections and offshoots of related ideas. Indeed, my head sometimes felt like it would explode, but it is difficult to maintain such high creativity all the time. But when your brain demands downtime it is unsettling. You feel as though you will never have an idea for an image again. I have learnt that it is okay to have creative downtime. It always comes back eventually.’
Caroline’s Photoshop work ranges from cinematic to eerie and bizarre. She also likes to do more experimental, conceptual photography-based work, mainly in black and white—sometimes incorporating in-camera effects such as double exposure, deflecting light and movement with slow shutter speed. ‘There are so many ways to try to unravel part of what makes the model I am working with unique’ she says. ‘Or to show an emotion that is difficult to verbalise—a depth that goes beyond a quick portrait. I suppose that my aim is for my work to evoke an emotive reaction and challenge perception.’
Caroline wants to do more location shooting with models but inevitably Covid has made that difficult. In April she did her first ‘virtual’ shoot, and when movement is less restricted, she looks forward to using the new Art Asylum Reloaded Studio in Weymouth, since the original in Brewers Quay had to close.
Her love of words has never left her. As well as other writing projects she still writes poetry and hopes to one day produce a coffee-table art book of her poetry and images. She knows that some of her plans seem overly ambitious but that won’t stop her. ‘Unless you set your goals high, you have nothing to strive towards’ she says. ‘I have never believed in constraints. You can do so much if you put your mind to it and your belief behind it.’
To have done so much already is a testament to an extraordinary person, and much of Caroline’s achievements can serve as inspiration to those that struggle inside their heads. ‘I walked for too long in fear of myself and was bullied and laughed at’ she explains. ‘I hid speaking as I was petrified that I didn’t know how to adapt in different groups. But I feel more at home in West Dorset than I have anywhere else. It is an area that draws a lot of creative and unique individuals to its sea, woods and fields. I will always be a bit of a misfitted jigsaw piece in society but that is fine by me. I am learning to be more comfortable being myself.
‘And just because you have had a crazy life it doesn’t mean you are defined by crazy. It means your foundation for perceiving and creating is richer. You are not tethered to a merry-go-round. It is okay to be a contradiction. To smell Hardy’s earth underfoot. To feel wild like Tess of the D’urbervilles or Eustacia Vye; to walk alone in your eccentricity. But to feel somewhere is undeniably and intrinsically home is to put whatever form of roots you have down. And to not allow them to disconnect and rot. To reach the resonance where you communicate in the unheard, with other trees in your tribe; to flourish.’