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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I'm Taking Part In Photo Scratch

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On the 14th of May, 2018, I will be taking part in Photo Scratch, 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 event will take place at Hotel Elephant (Spare Street, London SE17 3EP) in Elephant and Castle. It's free, but you must book your tickets in advance to guarantee entry.

Founders Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz and Phil Le Gal 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.

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.

I will be presenting all the portraits that I have taken thus far of my personal project on the Catalan conflict "Catalonia: A Work In Progress". I hope to see you there!

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Exhibition at One Canada Square

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From the 16th of April to the 1st of June, the AOP (Association of Photographers) will be celebrating its 50 year anniversary with an exhibition called "AOP50: Images That Defined The Age" at the lobby of One Canada Square (Canary Wharf, London E14 5AB). Alongside these memorable 50 images, a digital exhibition of work by current AOP Accredited Photographers will be shown on a screen, including the image "The Anglomaniac" from my Brexiters project.

AOP50 is a retrospective which includes images by some of the world’s most well-known and respected photographers from the past 50 years. Curated by Zelda Cheatle, the collection of images celebrates 50 years of the AOP with photographs that illustrate the impact, diversity and quality of work by AOP members since 1968. As the AOP's Executive Director, Seamus McGibbon, explains, "many of the images have defined a generation, and helped to shape public opinion and to create change."

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Last night during the opening reception, while I looked around at the fantastic work on display I couldn't help but feel proud of belonging to a group of professionals that sets the bar really high and makes me want to improve myself every day.

Come celebrate this important milestone of the AOP with this free public exhibition, open daily from 7 am to 8 pm.

Photo of me by Andrezj Gruszka.

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Online Portfolio Updated

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These past few weeks I have been working hard updating my website with the help of a Photo Editor and Photography Consultant called Raffaela Lepanto. Raffaela and I gathered all the images that I have shot over the course of my career and put together an online portfolio that presents a more accurate version of who I am as a photographer. Along the way, it also made me realise that the quality of my work was better than I gave it credit for. What do you reckon?

It wasn't an easy task. We had to come up with a portfolio that was strong and coherent but that would also balance all the different types of photography that I shoot. Our main goal was to make the website appealing to those who are looking for my fashion work but also to those who want to see what I can offer as a portraiture photographer.

Raffaela helped me unify the Beauty & Fashion portfolios with the Portraits one, finding a consistent style all through. Also, she managed to build a Homepage Portfolio which could be appealing to Editorial and Commercial clients at once but also suitable and interesting for the general public. In the process, some of my favourite images were left out. But we had to sacrifice the most obvious commercial shots in order to give a contemporary edge to the website.

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I am really happy with the result and I think that we nailed it! It was a really difficult process because as photographers we are emotionally connected to our work. Having someone else take control over our work and tell us what we should and what we shouldn't present in our portfolios is probably one of the hardest things an artist can go through. But, in the end, it has been a relief. Just having the weight lifted off my shoulders of having to decide what to display in my portfolio has made the whole experience completely worth it.

Please browse through my website and leave me a comment below to let me know what you think!

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Exhibition at Four Corners

Catalonia: A Work In Progress

From the 18th to the 28th of April, my portraiture project on the Catalan conflict "Catalonia: A Work In Progress" will be part of the collective exhibition Salon 18, organized by the London Creative Network (LCN) at Four Corners Gallery (121 Roman Road, London E2 0QN). “Catalonia: A Work In Progress” is a personal project where I explore the spectrum of opinions that people living in Catalonia have in regards to the Independence from Spain.

At first sight, it might seem like there are only two possible positions: in favour of the independence of Catalonia or in favour of the permanency in Spain. But the reality is more complex than that; there is a diverse set of opinions from the people caught in the middle.

Some people definitely want out, while others feel very much part of Spain. But, not everyone who wants to leave wants an Independence per se and would opt for just more autonomy for the region. Meanwhile, not everyone who wants to remain in Spain feels Spanish or agrees with the policies of the Spanish government.

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Whatever the outcome of the Catalan conflict is, the government of Catalonia or the government of Spain will have to guarantee that all the people living in Catalonia can live in harmony disregarding their political views.

This is a conflict that has been going on for centuries, but the rest of the world found out about it after the events of October 1st, 2017, when the pro-Independence parties staged a referendum that the Spanish government considered illegal.

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Let The Creative Juices Flow

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Over the last month and a half, I have been attending a set of creative writing workshops organized by the guys at the Centre for Solo Performance in order to improve my writing and develop my storytelling skills. As a photographer and a visual artist, storytelling is at the forefront of my craft and these workshops are not only helping me with my image-led narratives, but they are also helping me to write a better blog. Joan Miró said in I Work Like a Gardener: "An artwork must be fertile. It must give birth to a world." Hopefully, from now on, I will be creating more interesting worlds.

This is the first time in my life that I take part in creative writing workshops, but it will definitely not be the last. I guess that I just didn't see any use for them in my previous industry, or I didn't fully understand how they could have an effect in my life. Learning how to structure stories or how to move past the blank page syndrome comes very handy whether you are a writer, an artist or someone just putting together a speech.

Besides, being surrounded by creative people from various disciplines and every walk of life is inspiring on its own. We all approach the exercises so differently that is very helpful to see the same topics from other people's perspectives. In my group, there are actors, visual artists, improv performers, physical performers, dancers, writers, teachers, preachers, playwriters, scriptwriters, poets and TEDtalk speakers. You can really feel when the creative juices flow!

I would definitely recommend these sort of workshops to anyone who's interested in improving their storytelling. It doesn't matter if you don't work in the creative industries, these skills are transferable to other types of jobs too. If you write proposals, letters, copy, if you talk in public or give speeches at work, or if you manage contents on social media for a brand, you are a storyteller in your own way.

Like they say, a good artisan never blames their tools, but they know that a good set of tools will make them better at their craft.

Photo credit: behind the scenes with Fabiola Bastianelli by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Let Your Light Shine For Long

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This past weekend, as I was preparing all the paperwork for a submission, I had to make an inventory of every single photo, client, publication, competition and exhibition of my photography career. Thankfully, I have only been shooting professionally for a little under 4 years, otherwise, this would have been an impossible endeavour. Even so, for such a short career, it took me 3 whole days of non-stop sorting and documenting to be able to put all the work that I've done into one single folder. But I'm really happy that I had to do it because it was a cathartic experience and it made me realize how far I've come since I started this new phase in my life. And you want to know something? I haven't done too bad!

It's funny how sometimes we are unable to realize how much we have accomplished because we are caught up in our daily routine of running our businesses. But it takes opportunities like these when you sit down and look back at where you were when you started and where you are right now, to really make you see your path from a different perspective.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Create a visual inventory of every single image/set/project that you have shot. I used Powerpoint, but you can use any software that you are comfortable with. For every single image/set/project, create a separate page and write below the single image/set/project it's client, the date, the brief in one line, any publication that took it, any competition where it was highly commended, shortlisted or chosen as a finalist or winner, or every place where they were exhibited. I promise you that by the end you will start looking at your career with new eyes.

I shared the whole experience with a colleague and we both agreed that no successful career happens overnight. It's a slow process of learning, erring and growing and we should enjoy every step of the way and try not to rush things. Because, in the end, the light that shines twice as bright, lasts half as long.

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On Fake Models And Real People

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When Rihanna created Fenty Beauty, she proved that there was a demand for more products for darker complexion people in the beauty industry. Fenty Beauty is an inclusive makeup brand aimed at every skin tone from the lightest to the darkest, with the darker shades being especially popular. Her brand might not have been the first one focusing on the lack of diversity in the industry, but she offered a range of shades and undertones that was practically unheard of at the time. And then, a few weeks ago, this same brand that is making their target embrace their uniqueness and feel proud of their genetics, advertises one of their lipsticks on their social media using a flawless computer-generated model called Shudu Gram. Is this a publicity stunt or just proof that we can't trust anyone anymore?

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Don't get me wrong, Shudu Gram is stunning. She is a work of art and I personally think that her creator, photographer Cameron-James Wilson, is an amazing 3D artist. My concern doesn't come from the art itself or the possibilities of the medium; nor with the fear that some other people in the industry have that machines will take over our jobs (models, photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, stylists, etc.). What worries me is the message that the brand is sending to everyone who consumes their products, that no matter how much money you spend on them, you will never look as perfect as a CGI model.

In all honesty, it's insulting. In times when companies like CVS are forcing makeup brands to stop selling their products with deceiving advertisement campaigns that have been photoshopped to the extreme, or when social media platforms are making the so-called influencers admit that they are just outsourced sales reps selling products for the brands that they represent, a brand cannot make the mistake of calling themselves diverse and inclusive while promoting an unattainable beauty standard.

It is really disappointing and it makes me wonder if this is a publicity stunt aimed at creating controversy. Be it as it may, brands should be really careful about how they communicate with their customers. For, in the end, real people buy their products. CGI models don't.

Photo credit: behind the scenes with Anna Sawyer by Rachel Williamson.

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A Makeup Masterclass Worth An Oscar

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A week ago I had the opportunity to take behind the scenes photos during a makeup masterclass given by Oscar and Bafta Nominated Makeup Artist Tina Earnshaw at Delamar Academy in London. During the event, she explained in detail the makeup design that she created for Kate Winslet in Titanic. Tina was nominated for an Oscar for her makeup work on this iconic film.

This masterclass was opened for Delamar graduates only, and among them that night were hair, makeup and special effects artists who had worked in some of the most recognizable films, tv programs and magazines in the world. From Star Wars to Game of Thrones, to Vogue, the room felt like a shortcut to the six degrees of separation from the biggest names in stardom. And the school tutors, who were also present for this unique live tutorial, were a combination of Oscar, Bafta and Emmy winners and nominees. Talk about a tough audience to please!

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While Tina was turning the model into Rose (Kate Winslet's character) she told us about her experiences and challenges working in the film sets of Titanic, The Martian and many of the other film crews that she has been a part of. Every single person in the room was bright-eyed while listening attentively to her and I couldn't help but wonder how all these people who had worked with everyone who's anyone in the industry could still be able to be amazed by one of their peers. But, the truth is that Tina Earnshaw is no ordinary makeup artist.

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After the demo, there was a Q&A session and a screening of some of the scenes from Titanic where Tina's creation could be seen. I was then given a tour of the school by prosthetics makeup artist Ali Reith (Star Wars, Jurassic Park) who's a proud Delamar graduate and tutor. While showing me around the special effects department he explained that all the tutors of the school are people who are currently working in the industry and often have to come straight from the studio and into the classroom.

I couldn't have asked for a better gig. It was a very inspiring night surrounded by such talented and yet humble and beautiful people.

If you want to know more about Tina Earnshaw you can read my post "I Wish I Had Known... About Makeup Artistry!" where I interview her and ask her about her career and her beginnings in the industry.

The Delamar Academy was founded by Penny Delamar in 1986 and employs hair and makeup artists from all parts of the industry as tutors, which include Oscar, Bafta, Emmy and Lifetime Achievement Award winners. To find out more about the masterclasses and the school, visit their website.

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