"The Warrior" Is A Finalist!

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I am happy to announce that my image “The Warrior” has been selected as a finalist for this year’s AOP Open Awards stills category. The AOP Open Awards is run by the Association of Photographers and it has been running for 13 years, each year attracting approximately 1500 entries from around the world. The image will be exhibited in April alongside the rest of the finalists and will be included in The Awards Book 2019.

The 2019 AOP Awards exhibition will take place at One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, tor 7 weeks in the main public lobby of the building. The exhibition will be free and open to the public from 15 April – 31 May 2019. The winners will be announced on the 14th of May, 2019.

“The Warrior” was created by experimenting with distressing negatives. I shot the image on film and then dipped the negative in various household cleaning chemicals. After that, I let it drip dry and once dried I scanned the negative, revealing the final image.

I started experimenting with this technique a year ago, after I went to a portfolio review where the reviewer told me that my work didn’t have a soul, that it lacked personality, that it was too cold and that I should consider doing something else instead of photography.

At the time, I did my best to not let their words affect me because I knew that it was only one person’s opinion about my work. But the following day, while I was at home going through the negatives of a recent shoot, I remembered their words and I took all the negatives that I was handling and soaked them bleach in the sink. After I scanned the negatives, I found the resulting images really beautiful. Since then I’ve been working on this technique.

Save the date and if you can come visit the exhibition in April. And wish me luck!

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What Is Wrong With Being Human?

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The other day, I was having a conversation with some people in the industry about computer-generated models and the brands that have started to promote them (Fenty and Balmain). They argued that this is just a trend and that it won’t necessarily mean that CGI models will replace human models in the future, as some people fear. But, nonetheless, as a consumer, I feel like it’s a bit insulting. In times when we are trying to make the industry more diverse and inclusive, we don’t need brands to make us feel that humans are not perfect enough for their advertisement campaigns.

After that conversation, however, I spent the rest of the day thinking about our perception of what is real and our relationship with everything that is fake around us. We spend our days interacting in social media and, to be honest, nothing that we see in social media is real. The curated version of ourselves that everyone sees is not really us. There is more to being us than what we let others see.

Photographer Rankin performed an experiment with 14 teenagers where he took their portrait and handed them the image to edit and filter until they felt that it was ‘social media ready’. Participants mimicked their idols, making their eyes bigger, their nose smaller and their skin brighter, and all for social media likes.

This week, during a client photoshoot, I spent the whole day posting videos and photos on my social media showing the beautiful work that we were creating. For everyone out there, that is my life. That is who I am. Yet, I only spend around 10% of my time taking photos. I never show in my social media when I am doing admin work, or when I am retouching, or when I am doing my taxes.

Nobody saw me when I woke up on the day of that shoot with sleep in my eyes and rushing to use the toilet, or when I came back from the shoot and crashed on the couch completely knackered. Those moments in my life are also a part of who I am, and probably a more human version of me than what others see, but not a very promotion-worthy one. For, in the end, that is all we do in social media, promoting a curated version of ourselves.

Those in-between moments are what makes us humans, what makes us real. And there is nothing wrong with being human, there is nothing to be ashamed of. But our industry is based on selling a fantasy, an unattainable life that presumably everyone aspires to and is tricked into thinking that by buying from a certain brand we get closer to it. The problem is that the level of perfection of a CGI model is unreachable and it would hook us into searching for that dreamed life forever. The dream of every advertising agent might be the doom of our self-image and our mental health.

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Emma Steventon.

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Creative Pioneers at The Trampery

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According to a report from the Creative Industries Federation, the creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK economy. These creative businesses share many of the challenges that are faced by the wider business community, but these challenges are particularly felt by those in the creative industries due to factors such as the high volume of self-employed workers and the micro size of creative enterprises. Creative enterprises tend to be unaware of the finance and business support available for them because many times those offering finance and support either lack in their understanding of the way the creative industries work, or can’t tailor their product or service to the specific needs of creatives. Enter Creative Pioneers, a programme run by The Trampery to support early-stage, emerging creative businesses and startups.

Photo by Cris @ The Trampery

Photo by Cris @ The Trampery

Through Creative Pioneers, The Trampery addresses the rising cost of workspace in London by offering selected participants free desk-space and membership to The Trampery Republic in East London for six months, including access to a curated programme of member events offering both business and wellbeing support. Successful participants are asked to contribute to the culture of growing supportive and creative environments, and the community at The Trampery Republic, by hosting at least one event or equivalent skill shares throughout their tenure.

I am happy to announce that, starting January 2019 and for the following six months, I will be part of the Creative Pioneers programme and will be working from The Trampery Republic.

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Who Stole Pink From Men?

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When I read the news that the new Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, Damares Alves, said that a new era begins where boys will wear blue and girls will wear pink, I thought to myself: is this still a thing? I was under the impression that we had moved past this whole ‘blue for boys / pink for girls’ thing a few decades ago, but oh! was I wrong! Just a quick browse at the major retailers online shows that the majority of them still support the idea that colours have a gender. In times when the fight for a fairer and more equal society should be on every brand’s agenda, why does it seem like so many fashion brands still haven’t gotten the memo?

Last year, I wrote about our loyalty to brands that don’t deserve it. So, for this post, I decided to start my research by going to the kids section of the online stores of the brands that I spoke about in that previous post: Nike and Adidas. I was shocked to see that these brands are still designing clothes for kids predominantly using pink and pastel colours for girls and more neutral and bold colours for boys. And it doesn’t end there, other brands like H&M, Zara, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and even the very progressive Desigual perpetuate these colour roles as well. From all the websites that I visited, the only one that had a more neutral gender store was Hollister, to my surprise.

If you asked the creative directors of any of these brands the reason behind this, they might tell you that the trends for boys this season don’t include pink, or that if they designed clothes for kids switching these gender roles parents wouldn’t buy them because their children wouldn’t want to wear them. But children don’t make these decisions on their own, they have been conditioned by their family, the media or society in general to think like this. I am convinced that if any of our children’s male heroes or male role models wore more pink, we would see a rise in pink coloured clothes sales for that season for boys.

Besides, this idea that pink is feminine and blue is masculine is a very recent invention. Until the arrival of pastel colours, the colour for children of any gender used to be white. According to the Smithsonian Institution, at the beginning of the 20th century, that is less than 100 years ago, colours began to be assigned to genders with pink being promoted as a colour for boys because it was ‘decided and strong’. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century when trends changed and the colours for genders were switched to blue for the boys and pink for the girls. But, as a trend, it faded away until the mid-80’s when it came back thanks to the pregnancy test brands and have since been imprinted in our minds.

As a photographer, I know that the message behind the colours that we use in imagery can be very powerful. But I also know that colours don’t have an innate meaning; humans assign it to them. For instance, in the western world, the colour red can be associated with love, passion and sensuality, but a red flag is a sign of risk and danger. Meanwhile, in countries like China, red means good luck, happiness or success. In some cultures, white symbolizes purity but in other cultures, it is associated with death.

Not a single colour means the same to two different people. What a colour makes someone feel is something unique to the individual. If you need a colour to be able to tell your children apart, then you have a different problem. But a boy won’t feel less masculine if he wears pink unless you make him feel that way. Besides, what does feeling masculine or feminine even mean to a baby? Babies start developing their identities as they grow and if a baby boy identifies as a male they will continue feeling like a male no matter how much pink you put on them.

The fashion industry has a massive impact on our lives, even if one is not conscious about it. We express ourselves through the clothes we wear. They speak about our mood of the day, our cultural backgrounds, our political stances or what we do for a living. Sometimes, they can also be used as tools of oppression.

The message behind the words of Minister Alves is about undoing everything that we have accomplished in terms of gender equality. We mustn’t let that happen, we must fight back. As an industry, we have the most incredible tool at our disposal for the task, one that is so powerful and ubiquitous that it can reach every single person on the planet. Stop forcing pastels onto girls and let’s get more boys to wear pink

Photo credit: me, age 2.

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'Tis The Season Of Returns

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Before becoming a fashion photographer, I worked for a fashion brand for many years and I can tell you, without the shadow of a doubt, that one of the worst nightmares for retailers is the reverse logistics (a.k.a. the returns). The return of an item shopped online unleashes an inverse journey that accounts for a loss of an average of £2.2 billion for businesses, according to figures from early 2018. Will online shops ever be able to reach the point of no return?

The sales process does not end when the product reaches the hands of the consumer, it ends when the consumer is satisfied with what they have bought or have been gifted. For Black Friday last year, I wrote a post where I spoke about how selling more doesn’t equate to making more profit. And this fact is even clearer when you are dealing with returns. It used to be that the average returns rate for offline shops was 8.9%, but in today’s e-commerce environment the rate has gone up to 30%.

Just picture that, 30% of what a brand sells online will be returned to them and, sadly, if a brand wants to stay competitive in today’s market they will probably have to cover all the returns expenses: shipping, quality checking, sorting, re-stocking, re-selling, etc. As unfair as this may sound, offering free returns are a necessary evil. If brands want to stay relevant and possibly sell more they have to accept the fact that returns are part of their cost of doing business.

Minimizing this returns rate is one of the biggest challenges for retailers nowadays. Many have already started investing resources in tackling one of the main reasons for customers returns, which is sizing. You may ask yourself, why is it that in 2019 we still haven’t found a way to have global standard fitting metrics? Well, mainly because there is no such thing as a standard type of body with standard proportions. But, there are many other reasons which include fabric types, pattern designs, etc which affect the way that the clothes fit. Two identical size medium t-shirts with exactly the same measurements but made out of different types of fabric have a different fit.

The whole sizing problem deserves a new blog post on its own (stay tuned). But basically, back in the day, you would go to a brick and mortar shop, you would try on the product and then you would decide whether to buy it or not. These days, most of our shopping is done online and it is common practice to buy several sizes of an item and return the ones that don’t fit. This comes with an immense cost for the retailer.

Sizing is not the only reason for returns, other reasons include defective items, fraud (wear and return) or simply how easy and inexpensive it is to return an item. But, no matter the reason for the return, the whole reverse logistics process comes with big consequences:

  • Cost of reverse logistics: like I mentioned before, returns are really expensive. The item that is returned needs to be shipped back, checked for defects, sent to the warehouse from where it came from (most brands outsource the returns process and the items are shipped to a different warehouse when they are returned) and re-stocked so that it can be available for sale again.

  • Missed season: when dealing with seasonal products, the whole returns process can take too long for the item to be re-sold under the same season. This affects particularly fashion brands that would end up sending the item to outlets or reselling them on the secondary market (TJ-Maxx, or ‘TK-Maxx’ in the UK, specializes in buying this type of stock).

  • Customer loyalty: as I said before, returns are a necessary evil. Not offering a simple and free returns policy may discourage customers from buying from a brand again.

  • The environment: this is a consequence that should concern both the brand and the consumer, because shipping an item twice, back and forth, has double the carbon footprint. Also, some retailers like Amazon don’t provide return labels and the customer has to print them at home or find a place to print them, which has an impact on the environment of its own.

Finding a solution to reduce the number of returns will require involving both brands and consumers. On the one hand, brands need to make greater efforts in providing more accurate ways for consumers to see how a product fits. On the other hand, consumers should be aware of the consequences of returning an item and refrain from practices like the ones mentioned prior (e.g. buying several sizes of the same item and returning the ones that don’t fit).

Reaching the point of no return might take longer than expected, but understanding this reality as brands and as consumers might help make the buying process more successful and hopefully reduce its impact on the planet.

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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New Year News: New Newsletter

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I am aware that the title of this first post of 2019 is like a tongue twister, but I sort of like how you can’t read it more than three times in a row without starting to get it wrong. And now that I’ve got your attention, here are the New Year News: I’ve designed a new newsletter to inform my subscribers about the updates in my blog.

If you are subscribed to my blog updates, you already noticed that the email that I send weekly has been completely redesigned. If you haven’t subscribed yet, what are you waiting for? The new newsletter features a link to the current week’s post, a link to an image that I have taken, a link to an article or post that I have read in the recent past and that I feel is worth sharing, and a link to a post from my blog’s archive. You can check it out here!

For the longest time I wanted to be able to share with my subscribers something more than just an update from my blog, but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. It wasn’t until I subscribed to Carl Burkitt’s newsletter entitled Carl Tells Tales that I found the inspiration that I needed. If you don’t know Carl, please go check him out and subscribe to his newsletter.

I hope that you are as excited about these changes as I am! Thanks for reading and thank you so much for your continuous support!

Happy 2019!

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Thanks For Stopping By Last Folio Friday!

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Thanks to everyone who made it down to The Photographers’ Gallery last Friday for December 2018 Folio Friday! I had a really nice time chatting to so many interesting people who gave me beautiful and constructive feedback about my work. Also, I got to see what fellow photographers and artists are currently working on and learned about the work that the hosts Steve Macleod and Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz do.

Folio Fridays present an opportunity for photographers to present their work to the The Photographers’ Gallery’s audiences. Each photographer gets a table for visitors to sit and view their work.

The resident host for these sessions is photographer and educator Steve Macleod, who is also the Creative Director at Metro Imaging. A guest speaker is also invited for each session. Both Steve and the guest speaker also meet with each photographer as part of the afternoon.

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Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz is a documentary, portraiture and travel photographer who hopes to make photographs that are authentic, observant, and emotionally engaged. She is also the founder of PhotoScratch.

To learn more about Folio Fridays and The Photographers’ Gallery visit thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

Photo credit: photo by Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz.

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Folio Friday At The Photographers' Gallery

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On Friday afternoons, once a month, up to 12 photographers and artists present their work to the public in the Eranda Studio at The Photographers’ Gallery. The programme runs from 2pm to 5pm and it is included with an exhibition day pass for all members of the public. Come and join me this coming Friday, December the 7th, 2018, while I will be presenting the work that I am currently working on.

The Photographers' Gallery was founded in London in 1971 as the first public gallery in the UK dedicated to the medium and remains a leader in the presentation and exploration of photography in all its forms. It has been instrumental in promoting photography’s pivotal and influential role in culture and society and ensuring its position as a significant art form.

Located in the heart of Soho in central London, it is easily accessed by the Tube, National Rail and London Buses:

The Photographers' Gallery

16 – 18 Ramillies Street

London

W1F 7LW

Exhibition Day Pass £5 (£2.50 Concessions)

I hope to see you there!

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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Don't Rush

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The other day, a non-English speaker asked me to explain the word banter to them. I had a really hard time finding a word in Catalan or even in Spanish that could explain the concept. Maybe there is one and I couldn’t come up with it, or maybe there isn’t. The point is that, no matter how long I’ve been speaking my mother tongues for, I definitely don’t know every word there is to know in those languages. How then do I expect to be an expert on anything else that I have just started doing?

I need to cut myself some slack. I can’t possibly become an expert in something that I’ve only been doing for a few years now, or expect to produce the best work of my career when I have probably 30 more years of career ahead of me. Besides, the word expert becomes outdated easily. When you become an expert in something, that something is already obsolete. You have to keep updating yourself which means that you are always learning, you are never 100% expert in anything. And that is totally fine. That means you are growing.

It’s difficult to see your own progress because you are the one living your own life. For you, everything that you are doing feels like a work in progress; for others, you might be producing some really outstanding work. I have to stop and take a breath and try to see myself from other people’s perspectives. The signs are there, I just need to see them: some interesting people are starting to notice my work; my clients keep on wanting to work with me; I get recognized when I go to events in spite of the fact that I’ve only been living in this city for a bit more than 4 years. I must be doing something right.

This is not a competition to become famous and it’s definitely not one to see who makes the most money. This is your life and it’s less like a race and more like a journey. Anything that is worth achieving takes time. You weren’t born as a 45-year-old adult; it took you 45 years to get to where you are.

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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Doors Open Journeys

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Every time that we open a door, a journey begins. Four years ago, I started writing this blog without ever imagining where this journey would take me. Today, more than 200 posts later, I can say that it has been one of my proudest creations.

Thank you so much for reading it, for supporting me and for coming back every Wednesday to share with me what I learn about my business, about London and about life.

I promise you that I will keep on putting my 100% into it because if I can help or change at least one person’s life with any of my posts all the effort will be completely worth it.

These are the most-read posts of the last 4 years:

Models: Beware Of Fake Model Agencies

Models: Beware Of Fake Model Agencies

I Wish I Had Known… About Fashion Journalism!

I Wish I Had Known… About Fashion Journalism!

What If The Goal Is Becoming You

What If The Goal Is Becoming You

I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

Take The Blindfold Off

Take The Blindfold Off

A World That Others Can’t See with Ivan Weiss

A World That Others Can’t See with Ivan Weiss

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Does Your Mailing List Comply With The Law? - Part III

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This post is part 3 of 3 posts.

In case you have been living under a rock for this past year, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, forcing businesses across the globe to reassess how they process personal data. It has been a very painful and confusing process, especially for freelancers and sole traders. That is why this month, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched a self-assessment checklist that will help freelancers, sole traders and self-employed individuals to assess their compliance with new data protection laws.

This new tool is meant to show freelancers and sole traders how compliant they are by generating a rating based on their responses and provides handy links to relevant ICO guidance and further information. It also includes practical suggestions of how to stay in line with the law.

This self-assessment checklist has been created with small business owners and sole traders in mind. I recommend you take it even if you have already done all your GDPR homework. After all, it is our duty as business owners to keep our compliance with these laws up to date, the same way that we do our taxes every year.

To access the the self assessment checklist go to: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-and-support/data-protection-self-assessment/assessment-for-small-business-owners-and-sole-traders/

If you still haven’t made your business compliant with the GDPR, you can find more information on: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/

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The Pain Must Be Felt

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A few months ago, I went to a portfolio review and the reviewer told me that my work didn’t have a soul, that it lacked personality and that it was too cold. The following day, while I was reflecting on the reviewer's words, I took my recent work and attempted to destroy it with what I had around me at home, trying to emulate how the reviewer had destroyed it with words. To my surprise, from destruction, something beautiful was born.

The American painter Mark Rothko once said that he was interested only in expressing basic human emotions, like tragedy, ecstasy and doom. As creatives, we are in close contact with these emotions every day. We are familiar with exploring (and sometimes exploiting) the tragedy around us, we know first-hand the feeling of ecstasy when we create something beautiful, and we most definitely have felt doomed when our work has been rejected. And we also know that, by embracing our emotions is that we create our best work. We know that the pain must be felt.

So, instead of shying away from how that person's words made me feel, I decided to feel the pain and look for the meaning behind their words. What is it that my work is missing? Is my work looking like everyone else's? Am I just taking pretty photos? Am I just another photographer? That day, when I looked at the ruined images in front of me, I realized that they were unexpectedly beautiful, that I was finally creating something that came from deep inside of me and not inspired by something that I had seen on someone else's work.

Here are some of the images that I have been working on lately:

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Artists Need The Observer

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During an interview in 1947, Mark Rothko said: “A painting lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world.” It is a symbiotic relationship, that of the artists and the observer. Without the latter, the former wouldn't be able to express themselves for it is through the eyes of the observer that their work comes to life. Similarly, those who appreciate art need artists to stimulate them, to make them reflect about the world that surrounds them, to get to know themselves better by the emotions that a piece produces in them. It is indeed a risky act to show ones work, but you never feel more alive than when you do.

This coming Friday the 10th, I will be showing my recent work at the Show and Tell organised by Almudena Romero in partnership with R.A.W Lab and Bow Arts. Almudena Romero is a visual artist working with a wide range of photographic processes. Almudena's practice uses photographic processes to reflect on issues relating to identity, representation and ideology; such as the role of photography in the construction of national identity, or the link between photographic archives and colonialism. Her work focuses on how photography transforms the notions of public, private, individuality, identity, memory, and, in general, the concept of the individual.

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Sometimes It's Worth It To Slow Down

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Susan Sontag wrote in her essays On Photography (Penguin Books, 1977) that as cameras became more sophisticated in the 70's, some photographers preferred to submit themselves to the limits imposed by older cameras. Working with a cruder, less high powered machine was thought to give more interesting or emotive results, to leave more room for creative accident. Forty years later, her words aren't any less true. In times when digital photography has made everything just a bit too perfect, there is something magical about the non-perfection of shooting on film.

A few posts ago, I wrote about my newest acquisition, a medium-format film camera Pentax 645N, which I haven't been able to put down since the day that I got it. The whole learning experience of shooting with a camera like this one is a reward on its own. It's a slower process than on digital, you have to think more and shoot less, and to take photos blindly without a preview screen can be very intimidating at first. That, and the few days that you have to wait to get your photos back from the lab to be able to see what you have shot, can be a real test to your patience.

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On top of that, If you also take into account how expensive film, processing and negative scanning are, you understand why digital photography came to be. But, when you get those photos back from the lab, and you get to see the textures, the lovely colours, the imperfections, and the rawness of it all, it makes everything else completely worth it. Below, you will find some of the images that I've shot with that camera so far.

Photo credits: behind the scenes images by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Art Is Meant To Be Shown

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According to NASA, the light coming from the Sun takes 8.3 minutes to reach Earth, covering an extraordinary distance of 149,596,208 km before it bounces off the objects that surround us allowing us to see them. If you take a photo of an object that you see in daylight, when is the image of that object created? When the sunlight bounces on it, when the bounced light hits your eyes and is interpreted by your brain, or when the camera fixes that image on the film or the digital sensor? Depending on who you are, the answer to this question might be more philosophical than scientific.

If you were a copyright lawyer, you would most likely say that the image is created when it is fixed on a physical support (film, sensor, paper) and it is only then when the copyright is assigned to the creator. If you were a scientist, you would probably assert that the image was created in our brains when we interpreted the light bouncing off the object that we are looking at. If you were a philosopher, you would argue that the image is always there for as long as the light bounces off the object and it is only waiting for a set of eyes to see it.

However, any photographer, or any artist for that matter, would tell you that the image was created in our brain, not when we saw the object, but when we imagined how the object would look like from a different perspective, with a certain composition or at a different time with a different light angle even before pressing the shutter. For we as photographers are able to imagine the future and automatically turn it into the past by just the click of a button.

But, what would happen if we decided not to press that button? What would happen if we created an image in our minds that the world had never seen and just left it there, without allowing it to take its potential physical form? What would happen if we created the most beautiful and unique image and just treasured it in our brains without allowing anyone else to see it? What would happen if we denied humanity the privilege of looking at our vision of the world?

Probably nothing. Other photographers will continue creating their art and the absence of our images would likely go unnoticed. But, art is meant to be shown, and the images in our minds deserve to come to life because it is only through them that we know how to express ourselves. That's why we take photos.

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To Older Selves And New Beginnings

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A few weeks ago, I got myself a new camera. Well, it is new because I just bought it, but it is actually pre-loved (meaning that it is pre-owned, but really well taken care of). It is a medium format film camera from the 90's, a beautiful piece of equipment used by professional photographers back in the day. In the process of learning how to use it, it has never been clearer to me that, no matter how good the equipment that you own is, if you don't know how to take good photos, you will never be able to take good photos. Anyone can be a photographer these days, they say...

Back in 1889, George Eastman advertised the Kodak camera with the slogan: "You press the button, we do the rest." It was the first step towards the democratization of photography that, a 130 years later, has resulted in everyone having a camera in their pockets today. But, the same way that having a good pen doesn't turn you into Shakespeare, owning a good camera doesn't automatically make you a photographer. After almost four years working as a professional photographer, I've never felt more like a beginner myself. I am back in square one.

Starting from scratch is not too bad, though. It forces you to reassess everything that you have done so far and to start again with renewed energies. As creatives, we have the luxury of feeling like a beginner every time that we face the empty canvas, the blank page, the unexposed film or the image in our mind that hasn't been fixed on a physical support yet. We have this amazing opportunity to start from scratch over and over again, to try again, to fail again, to fail better...

The best of it is that, the older you get, the better it feels to start from scratch because you still have the hunger to learn that children have, but you have lived long enough to know how to apply your new found knowledge. That's something that I love about ageing, and it's surprising to me that so many people around me fear to get older so much. The older you get, the more things you get to see, the more adventures you get to experience, the more new things you get to try out for the first time.

Getting old is a privilege denied to many. Embrace it. And, along the way, don't fear to start from scratch every now and then. Paraphrasing the words of Robert Browning, a person's reach should exceed their grasp. Only by trying out what you have never tried before is that you grow.

Photo credit: light test during a shoot by Naz Simons.

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On Being Pretentious

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A few weeks ago I went to an event from a well-known organisation in the fashion industry. As I was walking into the auditorium where the event was taking place, the people before me in the queue started saying really loudly that they wouldn't seat anywhere else than on the first row because they must have had reserved seats for sure. I immediately thought to myself "how pretentious" and went to sit in the last row of the venue, as far away from them as possible. While observing their behaviour from the un-cool people's row, I couldn't help but wonder if they knew what being pretentious meant? Certainly, if they did, they wouldn't be behaving like that in the first place.

Being pretentious means to attempt to impress others by trying to show that one is more important or has more merit than one actually has. Basically, pretending to be something that you are not. So, if we all knew the meaning of the word, and we all knew that others know that when we are behaving like that it is because we are just trying really hard to look like something that we are not, then nobody would be pretentious.

Still, it is one of those behaviours that one witnesses regularly, not only in this industry but in society in general. Frankly, it looks exhausting. Living a life trying to always impress others so that you can feel good about yourself must take a lot of energy. An energy that could be used for being productive or to do some good, something that is really needed these days.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Fabiola Bastianelli.

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How To Survive A Portfolio Review

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Over the last four years, I have been shooting non-stop in order to learn the technicalities of my craft, to train my eye and my creativity, to create work for clients or for my personal projects, and to update my portfolio. All along, without even realizing it, everything that I was doing was bringing me to this past weekend when, for the first time in my photography career, I showed my portfolio to some of the major publications in the UK during PhotoMeet. It was intimidating, it felt like an emotional rollercoaster, but it was one of the most rewarding things that I have done since becoming a photographer.

Having your work reviewed is no easy feat. It doesn't matter if you are showing it to family, friends, peers or potential clients. You feel vulnerable, exposed, judged, and your self-confidence and the confidence in your own work is put to the test.

Imagine what it felt like when I attended PhotoMeet and walked into a room full of reviewers knowing that, for the following two days, eight of them would get to give me their feedback. It was like speed-dating for photographers. I felt like I was having eight job interviews one after the other with almost no time to breath and decompress. But I survived, and I owe it to how well I prepared for that weekend, not only mentally, but also by seeking advice and doing a lot of research.

Here is a list of the things that I did to prepare for my portfolio reviews:

Before the reviews

  • I made sure my portfolios were ready to be shown. You should always show the very best of your work, even if that means that you are only able to show 10 images. Everyone I asked and everywhere I researched suggested in between 25 to 30 images but, if you don't have that many, only show the very best of what you have. Also, most of the times we are our worst critics, and we tend to select images that we are attached to rather than the very best ones. If you can afford it, hire a photography consultant to do the selection for you. If you can't, ask peers, friends or even relatives to help you select them.

  • I prepared different portfolios tailored for different types of publications. If you are a food and travel photographer but you also shoot fitness, you don't want to show your fitness work to a travel industry publication. You should have two separate portfolios for this. In my case, I prepared three: one for fashion, one for portraiture and one for my personal projects, which fall more on the documentary side.

  • I updated my website, my social media and my print portfolio. Once you have the selection of the very best of your images, update all your communication channels. You want to show a coherent image of your brand.

  • I updated my promo material. After updating my portfolio and my communication channels, I printed new promos using the new images that I was going to show the reviewers. After each review, you want to leave something behind so they can remember you and hopefully visit your website and/or social media when they are back in the office.

  • I researched each and every one of the reviewers that I was going to see. Find out what their role is, what they look like so that you don't confuse them with someone else, what sort of photography they like (usually looking at the latest issues of their publication is enough) and what was published in their latest issue (good conversation starter and shows that you did your research).

  • I prepared a set of questions to ask them. Reviews are short, and in events like this one, they tend to last 20 minutes maximum. So you have to use this time wisely. Let them do the talk and ask you questions, but also have a clear goal of what you want to get out of the review so that they can give you good advice. In my case, I wanted to know if my portfolio was ready to be commissioned for editorial work (both in fashion and in portraiture) and what type of photography were their respective publications looking for.

During the reviews

  • I arrived on time. This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised.

  • I was courteous and friendly. Always be polite, hopefully not only with them but with everyone you meet.

  • I respected the time allocated for my review. Time flies and twenty minutes can feel like ten seconds. When your time is up, leave. It's disrespectful to them to take more time than they have given you, but also to the person coming after you because you are stealing minutes from their allocated time.

  • I established what I wanted from the review from the beginning. The reviewer needs to know what is it that you want to get out of the review so that they can give you productive feedback. Have a clear goal and a clear vision of where you want to be as a photographer.

  • I let them do the talking. Let the photos speak for themselves and wait for the reviewer to ask you questions before you speak. Reviewers love photography, you should let them enjoy that.

  • I was openminded when I heard the feedback. You may or may not like the feedback that you are getting, but you should keep an open mind and accept the feedback gratefully. They are the experts on their publications and the type of photography that they are looking for, and you are there to grow as a photographer and to learn what you have to do to be hired by them. Some of the feedback might be contradictory, but that is only because everyone looks for something different and what works for one publication doesn't work for another. Don't react negatively if you don't like what you hear. If you want to make it as a photographer, you have to grow a thicker skin and be ready to take negative feedback and rejection. It's part of being a creative.

  • I took notes. Write down everything that they tell you. Even if it sounds silly or redundant. When you get home, leave the notebook aside for a day or two and then go back to it and read it calmly. Take the advice that you consider objective and that you think it's helpful. In the end, you decide what to do with the information that you are given.

  • I was thankful when the review finished. When your time is up, thank them for their time and for all the feedback. And don't forget to leave a promo or a business card behind.

After the reviews

  • I sent every reviewer a thank you note. Use the communication channel that they have told you works best for them.

  • I put into practice everything that they advised me to do. This is the least you can do to make the experience worthwhile.

Will I do it again? Absolutely! The feedback that I got was priceless, even though next time I will make sure to choose less and more targeted reviewers. Overall, it was an intense experience and one of the hardest things that I've done. But, like they say, comfort is the enemy of progress, and if I want to achieve the goals that I have set for myself I must strive to live outside of my comfort zone.

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The Discounted Life

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I don't like to haggle. I never have. If I see a product or service for a price that I can't afford, I just don't buy it. To give you an idea of my way of thinking: I once went to the Grand Bazaar in Istambul and I didn't buy anything because all of the vendors expected me to haggle! I guess that I find it disrespectful to ask for a discount. That's why I can't believe how often I am asked to give one myself.

I don't entirely blame the consumer. It's just this discount culture that we live in. What started with an occasional discount, or the desirable 2x1, or the unmissable end of season sale, has evolved into a constant price cut that almost makes Black Friday last from January 1st to New Year's Eve.

We are so used to having prices lowered and to having special sales that we hardly buy at regular prices anymore. So, in order for retailers to be able to sell during the non-sale seasons, they have created a constant sales calendar that has gone out of control.

Don't get me wrong, if I find a bargain I take advantage of it. But I don't expect everything that I pay for to be discounted. Something is not right when you see discounted prices at a store all year long. And as a business, if your prices are discounted all the time, then the discounted price is the new regular price. If we continue like this, there will come a day when stores will have to give customers their products for free because otherwise, nobody will buy them.

As photographers, I don't think that's the type of business that we want to be, nor the type of clients that we are after. And as a client, I like to think that you hire us because you like our photography, or because you like our passion and enjoy working with us, or because our style matches your brief and we are the best for the job that you are quoting. But, not because we are cheap. I don't think that would do any good for your project, for the industry or for our respective brands. I don't know any photographer yet who prides themselves on being the cheapest.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Ferran Vergés.

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Thank You For Coming To Photo Scratch

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Thanks to everyone who came down to Photo Scratch last Monday! I had an amazing time, it was a brilliant opportunity to see familiar faces but also to get to know some really interesting people and, more importantly, to have the chance to appreciate great photography work. On top of that, the feedback that I received from the lovely people who stopped by my corner was invaluable. I am very grateful to Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz and Phil Le Gal for letting me be part of this event and, above all, thankful to everyone who shared their opinion in regards to my project with me. Enjoy the photos of the night!

Photo Scratch is an event designed for photographers working on documentary projects to help them understand how their work is perceived and gain valuable insight into how to take their work further with the benefit of other people’s outside eye. The ethos of the night is a peer-review approach and it is a chance for photographers at many different stages of their careers to meet, discuss and have open dialogues about their practice in a supportive environment, in order to make meaningful connections, and stronger work.

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Founders Hanna-Katrina and Phil host this night where spectators have the opportunity to preview projects, offer feedback, and engage in conversations about photography. The format of the night involves a group of six to eight photographers previewing a project in an incomplete state. The audience comprised of other photographers and people within the industry are then welcome to discuss the work and leave written feedback for each project. This valuable written feedback is then kept by each photographer for future reference.

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To find out more about Photo Scratch visit photoscratch.org

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