Neon signs blink down from Los Angeles billboards, clouds roll across the New Mexico desert, and New York skyscrapers reflect in the windows of other tall glass buildings.

Harpenden artist Toula Mavridou-Messer’s debut photography exhibition, of her travels in the United States, is extraordinary in its scope – and in the fact that all the pictures were taken when she was still untrained.

“I’ve been taking photographs for a long time but had never really done anything about it before,“ says Toula. “But then I moved to LA and became friendly with a photographer. He sold me his old camera and I went off on a road trip, just me and the camera. I was too scared to do anything with it, there were so many buttons and functions on it, but my friend told me to just keep it on automatic and hit click.“

It’s a technique that has worked remarkably well. Toula continued taking trips around the States, when she wasn’t busy being a celebrity producer and booking the stars to appear on TV shows and at awards ceremonies, and showing them to her friends – and they were so impressed with her talents that they started showing her photographs to agents and gallery owners. The result is Toula’s debut exhibition at Mill Green Museum in Hatfield, with two more already lined up for next year, and the curator of a photography gallery in New York has also expressed interest.

Toula is now studying photography and would like to specialise in fine art photography – work which reflects the photographer’s creative vision, much like in art – and to work as an assistant to a well-known photographer.

“My ultimate goal is to take pictures for National Geographic,“ says Toula, 44, who bought a home in Harpenden three years ago after returning from LA. “What I’d also really like to do is start up a little art co-operative in Harpenden or St Albans,“ she continues, “using an empty shop as a gallery and create a bit of an income for us all. It sounds a bit romantic but if people want to come and talk to me about it that would be lovely.

“When I pick up a camera my heart rate slows down and it feels so comforting,“ says Toula. “It really feels like what I should be doing.“

  • New York, New Mexico... New World is at Mill Green Museum & Mill, Mill Green, Hatfield until Sunday, December 16 from Tuesday to Thursday, 10am to 5pm and Sundays, 2pm to 5pm. Details: 01707 357850,,