Charlotte May creates bold graphic images for brands and magazines. The Kent-based photographer started out shooting products for fashion sites before going freelance and has since worked on playful shoots for Oh Comely and The Perfume Shop as well as musicians Soft Wax. She also collaborated with stylist River Jade Gibbs to create a striking set of images and a timelapse video for Freddie’s Flowers as part of our On Brief initiative, which pairs emerging creative talent with startups and not-for-profits.
Whether she’s creating product shots or something more conceptual, May’s work has a playful feel, and combines strong shapes with pops of bright colour. “I think I’m always trying to create something that is satisfying to look at, whether it’s through colour, how something’s positioned or what’s going on [in an image],” she tells CR.
As a teenager, May planned to become a classical musician, but she soon changed her mind after taking a photography class at sixth form. “I wasn’t really enjoying music – I liked the social aspect, but not the practising – and art was what I enjoyed more,” says May.
“I remember in my first [photography] lesson being shown a really famous picture of Dali with cats and water being thrown across the room – it was so abstract and weird and I remember thinking, ‘maybe this is the thing I’ve been waiting for.”
May went on to study photography at Middlesex University with hopes of working in fashion. After graduating, she did an internship at Kurt Geiger, before landing a job shooting products with online retailer Matches. A few months later, she moved to Net-a-Porter, where she continued to work on product shoots and editorials, but she eventually found herself longing for a chance to work on more conceptual projects.
She began doing test shoots in her days off, and eventually, decided to give up working in-house and go freelance. “It got to that point where it was like, ‘I’ve learned everything I can from these environments, and now I need to just go for it’ – so I handed in my notice.”
Freelance life was a shock at first – and May says it wasn’t quite as creatively fulfilling as she’d hoped it would be: “I felt like there was this big build up and then it was like not much had changed. I was still working in e-commerce and I was doing that for a year and a half before I thought ‘I need to stop doing this. I went freelance because I wanted to do something more creative’.”
The opportunity came when she landed a project for Oh Comely magazine, where she met Gibbs. The pair hit it off immediately, and have since collaborated on several shoots featuring cosmetics, accessories and homeware.
Now she has honed her style, and found a regular collaborator, May plans to continue working on fashion and editorial shoots which allow her some creative freedom. She’s also keen to test out her skills on a larger scale: “I’d love to shoot some interiors and maybe even build some larger sets with furniture. I’ve been looking at loads of digital renders of architecture and imaginary spaces, and when I get a quiet period, I’m planning to learn Cinema 4D or some sort of architectural programme that I can use to mock up sets,” she adds.
While she mainly works in still life, she hasn’t ruled out working on other mediums such as portraiture, and says her tastes and her style are still evolving. “It changes all the time,” she adds.