Today Clare Hewitt gave a talk about her work and process, and how to make ends meet within the photographic industry. It was very useful to hear first hand how she has juggled many jobs since finishing her degree in photography, and has gained many transferable skills in doing so. Her main source of income is from commissioned work, through big publications such as Oh Comely and The Independent Magazine. Like other guest speakers that have given lectures in the past, Clare values the importance of crafting an individual style when making pictures, both in the realm of personal and commissioned work. It is clear that Clare has a strong emotional investment with her subjects, and her photographs maintain a clear style throughout. Interestingly, she predominantly shoots on medium format film and has a strong dislike for digital format. Again, I think this a true testament to her competency, as she even works in analogue when shooting commissioned work. She relishes in the fact that medium format is “slow, and [she] can observe. [She] really enjoys looking.” This is something that I have discovered whilst shooting my current project, as I have always preferred working digitally in the past. However, using a Mamiya RZ-67 and colour film allows for a much slower and considered approach, which is very well suited to my style of shooting and looking.
Clare talked about having multiple income streams to ensure that she can make ends meet. For example, alongside shooting commissioned work, she also has a wedding photography business with her boyfriend, in which one wedding will pay for a months rent. She also sells some of her images through syndication websites, such as Camera Press, which is where other publications can pay for a licence to use photographer’s work.
A good way of gaining exposure, and also making a project more coherent is to enter competitions, which is what Clare often does. She said that even if the images do not get accepted into the competition, the actual process of editing a project, and submitting final images is just as valuable. She mentioned the Portrait Salon and the Portrait of Britain competitions, both of which I am going to keep on the radar for future reference.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to show Clare some of my project work, and it was well received. She liked the fact that I had been shooting on medium format, and I explained my choices behind this. I told her that I have really enjoyed the process of slowing down to make images, and that it has really allowed me to properly see what I want to photograph. She provided me with other photographers that have similar tastes to mine, and have produced work around a similar subject matter. For example, Dan Holdsworth produced a series of long exposure photographs in which he was looking at the empty or in between spaces around the city at night. He has photographed empty carparks and motorways at night, which are both eery but very other worldly, mesmerising almost. Some of his other work references the New Topographics style which I am particularly fond of, such as some of the photographs in the series California.
Clare also advised me to have a look at the work by Freya Najade and Toby Coulson, who are very applicable to my work. In particular, Coulson’s series Divided looks at the highly manicured and maintained world that is suburbia. The way he frames his photographs in this series are quite tightly cropped, with hedges, roads and houses often extending beyond the frame, inviting the viewer to guess at the surrounding environment. He seems to be making a comment on how middle class dwellers aim to display their wealth (or apparent wealth) to their neighbours and other members of the public. The hedges must be kept neatly trimmed and manicured to maintain a sense of pride. They seem to be in competition with each other in terms of wealth, success and appearance. His way of photographing these well looked after environments, places in which people live and reside is very clean and well considered. In comparison to the project that I have been working on, his style of image making seems to be more up-close and perhaps a bit more personal. By looking at his work, it has made me realise that throughout this project, I have perhaps been a bit too distant with my image making, and perhaps I have been a bit too much on the periphery of these places. I have therefore decided that the best way to move this project forward, and something that Clare pointed out, is to delve deeper in terms of the emotional connection that I invest in this work. I need to inject some form of originality into my work, which is a very difficult thing to achieve well, but I think it is the only way in which my work can be made stronger. I need to really question why I am photographing these places, and what it is that actually draws me to make images in this way. I think I need to continue to research in depth the psychological effects of transitional spaces, and begin to question my photographic practice.
It was extremely valuable to have had the opportunity to talk with Clare today, and I feel that although this project has not arrived at an end point, I am reassured that my work so far is strong and has the potential to grow into something more.