Navigating a career as a self-taught creative

Photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez and designer Jordi Ng both forged a career without a formal arts education. They reflect on how they learned their craft, coping with insecurity and what taking an alternative route has brought to their practice

A formal arts education or training isn’t just about what you learn from the programme. Being part of a cohort of students can give you access to support, guidance, future leads and collaborators. As for what comes afterwards, a formal education can reassure employers as much as it can yourself that you’re a capable and committed creative that’s reached a certain benchmark.

Yet going to art school or receiving formal training isn’t the only way to forge a creative career. Given the competitiveness and cost associated with joining programmes and universities, combined with the availability of online resources to pick up skills and inspiration, some creatives understandably rethink the traditional route. As they will testify, veering away from this path might even enhance your outlook and approach.

This appears to be the case with New York-born, Berlin-based photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez. For years, dance had been his “identity”, having joined a dance school at the age of 11 and spent 15 years as a professional dancer. “It really was like my saving grace, based on where I come from and how it’s opened so many doors for me,” he explains.

His dance background comes through in his photography practice through an instinct for form and composition in his images. They often feature bodies stretched and contorted into exaggerated, complex positions, whether in his collaborative People of the Mud series set in Ireland, which translates hurling into a delicate art form, or his recent fashion campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein and Hood By Air.

Top: Spirit Walking for The Face. Above: From the series People of the Mud. Both images by Luis Alberto Rodriguez