What qualities do you need to be a successful photographer today?
Having a talent for taking pictures is obviously a given but I think there are some other vital skills which are very necessary. You need to be a good communicator, confident, very focussed and extremely driven!
In my experience being able to sell yourself on the telephone is also very important. Todays market is extremely global and commissioners can be based anywhere in the world. Once they have seen your work (usually online these days) a thirty minute phone call is sometimes all you will get to try and hold their interest. Sadly, you also need to be prepared to spend quite a lot of time in front of a computer screen although this seems to be the case in most creative disciplines these days.
What was the most important advice you were given when you started out?
I think that the most important advice that I was given was to always try to work with the most talented creatives that you can and try to find your own voice. We are all influenced by other people but by striving to produce work which will be recognised by others as being yours will always stand you in good stead. I have learnt an incredible amount from some amazingly talented people over the years and I am still learning now. The fact that I am still learning new things every day and facing fresh challenges and discoveries is one of the fantastic things about this job.
What is the best way for a photographer to get themselves noticed (apart from entering the Next awards, of course)?
Entering awards is always a good way to raise your profile if you are successful, but still nothing beats a face to face meeting. No-one likes cold calling and it is increasingly difficult to actually get through to people, but being able to actually talk someone through your work and explain your thought processes and influences is an invaluable way of building connections, be it with art buyers, art directors or other commissioners. A photoshoot can be a very intense environment and people really like to know that they are going to get on with whoever they choose to be cooped up with!
Should new photographers be an assistant first? What will they learn by being an assistant?
I am possibly coming from a slightly biassed viewpoint here as I did not go to college and only assisted, but yes I think it is very important.
There is a lot of invaluable experience to be gleaned from busy photographers and I would encourage young photographers to try and do as much as they can.
We hear a lot of doom and gloom about the future of professional photography today because of the impact of digital technology in particular, how has your work and career changed since you started and are you optimistic about the future of photography as a profession?
The printed portfolio always used to be the preferred method of showing your work and now a website and pdf’s are the new shop windows. With the onslaught of mobile phones and the internet we are bombarded with images from dawn until dusk, but I still like to hope that talent and creativity will always win through.
Digital technology has made a huge change in the way that I shoot and also the expectations of commissioners as to how they expect to approach a shoot. Back in the days of film there seemed to be wonderful almost alchemic process to shooting. The clients would sit next door whilst you magically executed your lighting and then you sent your film to the lab. When that film finally came back the leap in quality from the polaroid that we had all been working to was always impressive and sometimes breathtaking. These days you need to be prepared to be working with six people looking over your shoulder at the computer screen looking at every adjustment in lighting as it happens, and then explaining that it would all look completely different once you have graded it in post. The pace of shooting has sped up exponentially and that leaves very little space for the happy accidents which could often result in something outstanding. That being said digital technology has opened up my work to a global audience that would never have been available to me 15 years ago and this has resulted in some amazing opportunities and experiences. I am still very optimistic about the future of photography as a career but it takes real talent and drive to succeed these days in such a saturated market. It also seems that having a vast amount of Instagram followers seems to help!
What makes a great photograph?
That is a vey difficult question to answer. Photography is so incredibly subjective which is obviously one of its great beauties but one persons triumph could be an others catastrophe. The work of true masters such as Penn, Avedon or Cartier-Bresson are still as fresh and arresting today as they were when the were first seen, and perhaps that is the mark of a great photograph.
What are you hoping to see in the entries for the Next award?
I am hoping to see work which not only fulfils the criteria above but also feels new and inventive. I want to be stopped in my tracks and my gaze to be held!
The Next Photographer Award is in partnership with Getty Images and is open to photographers who have had less than the majority (50%) of their income coming from their own photography in the last three years. Full details on how to enter can be found on the D&AD website here