The Creative Industries Need Our Support

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A few months ago, a person who was explaining their business venture to me told me that their target client was not the creative entrepreneur. Their reason for avoiding this segment of the market was that, according to them, creatives are known for not making much money and we wouldn’t be able to afford the services that they offered. That is why, they continued saying, they couldn’t come up with a business strategy that relied on us. This idea that creatives can’t live from their art is not new. BBC radio Veteran John Humphrys famously said that “Art Does Not Get You A Job”, and a phrase like this said by someone who works within the industry shows that we have a lack of support from outsiders as well as from peers.

Last year, I wrote a post titled Art Puts Food On The Table about the contribution of the Creative Industries to the UK economy as a reaction to the thought that, while we are contributing massively to the economy, it doesn’t feel like we are given the importance that we deserve. This is something that also troubled Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards, the creator of an artists’ network with the aim of encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration across the arts sector, who said that “now more than ever, the arts are minimalised and trivialised”. The network that she created is called Art Does Not Get You A Job, and its name is inspired by Humphrys’s phrase.

In July this year, the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) sent the new British Prime Minister an open letter stating that “The Creative Industries are the UK’s fastest growing sector, growing in every region and at twice the rate of the wider economy. In 2017, the sector generated £101.5bn GVA (that’s more than aerospace, automotive, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined). There are 2 million jobs in the Creative Industries (and jobs in the sector are growing at three times the UK average), while the Creative Industries account for more than 5% of the UK’s economy, and almost 12% of all UK businesses. Moreover, 87% of creative jobs are resistant to automation, which means that a creative workforce is one that is both resilient and future-proof.”

Later this year, the CIF also published an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, on the value of creative education.

It is true that early-stage freelance creative businesses struggle to take-off, but the same can be said of so many other industries. So, what’s the difference between our industry and others?

Well, for starters, in other industries like Technology, investors throw millions of pounds at thousands of startups in the hopes that at least one of them becomes the next big thing. In the Creative Industries, you have funders and patrons, but there aren’t enough, or there isn’t enough money to be able to develop early-stage creative businesses as there are in Technology.

Second of all, as Sonya Dyer says in her essay “Pivotal Moments”, mid-career creatives, considering mid-career to be the longest and most productive phase of a creative’s life, do not receive the same level of support that early-stage creatives receive. So, if early-stage creatives receive very little support, mid-career creatives don’t receive any at all.

This is the state that our industry is in right now. Like we have seen from the figures, we are a vital component of our economy, but one that seems to be as invisible as air. So, the same way that we need air to breathe think of all the consequences to our economy if we stopped creating financial and business support that targeted creatives.

If you don’t believe me, think of all the movies and the TV shows you like, think of the clothes you wear, the spaces where you live, the places you like to visit because of the way they are designed. Think of your favourite music playlist. Think of that witty ad that made you smile, or of the books you read, the poems that inspire you, the photos or artwork that hang on your walls. Think of museums and galleries, theatres and concert arenas, think of the videogames you play or the foods that melt your senses. A creative made that happen for you. Do you still think we are not worth targetting?

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Graphic Design!

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This is the twentieth post in my series of posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Ruby Lee, the Creative Director of London-based Studio 77, about graphic design, the role of creative directors these days and how can design studios contribute to making this a better world:

1. What is graphic design, and why is it important?

It’s written words’ better-looking sister.

Graphic design is a visual form of communication, a story-telling aid if you will, and it’s everywhere and impossible to escape. In fact, I bet if you look up right now, you can see at least 3 types of graphic design around you? Adverts? Signs? Posters?

Graphic design is such a prevalent part of everybody's day to day life, it has the power to communicate a story, emotion or feeling, so it’s important that it’s executed properly.

2. What skills do you need to become a graphic designer?

From a creative perspective, you need to have a willingness to explore ideas and do things a little bit differently, nobody likes a copy-cat designer.

From a more technical standpoint, I think an understanding of space (#ilovewhitespace) and layout skills are important too, as well as making sure what you’re trying to say with your design is clearly communicated.

However, the most important thing you need to be a successful creative is patience. Sometimes ideas can take a while to populate and form in your head, and other times, let’s be completely honest, clients can be an absolute nightmare with changing their minds. It’s important to be willing to satisfy your clients’ creative ventures as well as your own.

3. What fields can graphic designers work in?

If you’re freelance, you can work from any field as long as it has wifi (I am a dad joke person…).

Graphic design is a pretty wide market and opens up doors to all sorts of creative roles in the future. It’s totally up to you! From exploring illustration to creating brand identities to designing websites or crafting advertising campaigns, there’s a lot of specialisms to choose from.

I would say explore a few different strands of design before jumping into your chosen specialism, as it’s really useful to have a knowledge of how different areas of design work, especially if you’re looking for a creative director or art director role.

Knowledge is power!

4. You mention brand identity. What is the difference between graphic design and branding?

Graphic design is mainly a visual-focused form of communication, whereas branding is a mixture of both visual and strategy.

Most people think of just the logo when they think of branding, but it’s a lot deeper than that, think colour palettes, brand positioning, tone of voice, photography etc. A branding designer has to think about all of these things when starting a branding project.

In most cases, a graphic designer is given some sort of ‘brand guideline’ to adhere to, which will outline the visual elements of the brand itself.

5. After finishing their degree, do you think graphic designers should work for someone else before venturing into freelancing?

This is a completely personal decision for each and every designer! For starters, I didn’t go to university, I just went straight into work experience, then in-house, then agency side, then freelance and then eventually started my own design studio.

But I do think in order to be a good and adaptable freelancer, prior agency/client experience is really beneficial. Agencies are a fast-paced (and somewhat stressful) environment, quick turnarounds are expected, the ability to decipher the most scrambled briefs is a talent within itself, and if you can learn these skills within the comfort of a full-time job, I would recommend you do so.

Once you’ve successfully mastered some, or all of the skills above, if you’re feeling ready to freelance, go for it!

In the freelance community, everybody knows everyone, so word travels fast. If you’re doing a great job, your recommendations will snowball, and you’ll be swatting away work left, right and centre; but similarly, if you’re not doing a great job, it’s not good for your reputation.

The other thing I would say before embarking into the freelance world is to save up three months worth of rent and bills. It’s a pretty unpredictable market, some months you could be fully booked up, and in others, you could be twiddling your thumbs, so it’s a sensible idea to have a safety net to fall back.

6. What has been your evolution since the days when you were an in-house designer?

Geez, that was a long time ago! How long have you got? The journey from in-house designer to starting my own design studio was fairly slow and logical (which is very off-brand for me…), with an injection of impulse and ‘I’m just going to f***ing go for it’ mixed in.

As I said before, I skipped university and went straight into work experience, to in-house, then to agency side, then to freelance and then to Studio 77, my website design studio.

The biggest evolution of my design journey was somewhere between working for an agency and quitting to go freelance, and then starting my own business.

I’ve learnt a lot of lessons along the way, I didn’t know anything about how to run a business, but I knew how to design things. I guess my biggest evolution was throwing myself into the deep and learning about the business side of things!

7. What is Studio 77?

We are a website design studio based in London, we work with a breadth of different clients across a multitude of sectors, but they all have the same goal - to bring moments of joy to their customers.

Each and every client gets treated like the unique entity that they are. No box templates, no quick fixes, we take each website from original sketches through to a fully-launched, functioning bespoke digital masterpiece.

We really care about not only our clients but also our clients’ customers - as they are the ones that will ultimately keep our clients going!

We start off each website with a discovery and strategy session, where we get deep into the minds of our customer’s customers, and imagine how they think and how they’d use the website from their perspective. Then, and only then, can the visually creative process begin.

We only work with a select number of clients at a time, meaning that we can focus on their websites. This not only means we can get our creative juices flowing, but that we can take an idea, and turn it into a live website in as little as two weeks.

8. In your role as Creative Director of Studio 77, how are your responsibilities different from when you started as a Graphic Designer?

As a creative director, you not only design things, and give your creative input, but you oversee the whole creative process. My job as a creative director is to make sure that nothing leaves our studio that’s not as ‘perfect’ as it can be.

I oversee the freelance team members we have and make sure the work is up to standard and is creatively pushing boundaries. No-one wants a boring design, not us, not our clients, no-one!

9. As a client, when would I need to hire a Creative Director?

I think a Creative Director is really important for projects where you have more than one creative working on your brand.

We are essentially ‘the brand police’ and make sure that everything that goes out the door is on brand, looking good and to a high standard.

10. How involved are Creative Directors in the final outcome of the project?

We work closely with all of the creatives, copywriters and artworkers to, well, direct the project.

Any creative project is a joint effort (and if it’s not, it should be!), but Creative Directors have the ability to steer the creative outcome in one direction or another. We are the brand ‘guardians’ for projects, and we ultimately have the say whether something is approved or not before it gets sent to the client.

11. When you talk about your clients, you say that you handpick those clients who bring joy to the world, which sounds to me as if you were trying to have social impact through your work.

All businesses should have a social impact!

We only have one planet, we should treat it, and everyone on it, with respect. We like to mix up our work with the high budget luxury clients with work with charities and start-ups, think of us at the Robin Hood of design…

We also donate £150 of each website project we do to Friends of the Earth to help tackle global issues such as climate change.

12. How do you think design studios can contribute to make this a better world?

Stop using comic sans. I joke (kind of.)

In all seriousness, design is a form of communication, so just make sure what you’re saying with your design is impactful.

I think if you’re at a place where you financially and time-wise can, reach out to charities or partner up with those in need of a graphic designer with no budget.

13. How can anyone interested in your work get a hold of you?

Digitally, we exist at www.wearestudio77.com and @wearestudio77 on Instagram. Physically we’re housed in the lovely Second Home in London Fields.

Pop by and say hello!

Thank you so much, Ruby, for sitting down with me and sharing what graphic design is all about. It’s everything that I Wish I Had Known!


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different creative each month!

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When It Comes To The Environment, Less Is More

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A few weeks ago, I attended an anti-capitalism summit hosted by The Trampery and one of the conclusions from the event that stayed with me for weeks was that, when we speak about counteracting climate change, the reductions that we need to make go against the concept of capitalism and growth. To slow-down the damage that we are doing to the planet, we must also slow-down our purchase and consumption behaviour. Less is more, no truer words were ever spoken.

Buy less, reuse more and learn to give a new purpose to items that until now were considered waste. All these necessary habit changes in our lives are not good news for businesses that rely on us continually stocking on their products, but if they don’t take the planet seriously, we are going to have to teach them a lesson. I’ve been writing a lot about this over the last year and a half:

One thing that I haven’t done is to write about the changes that I’ve been implementing in my life to reduce my waste. Some of these changes were no-brainers and easy to implement, while others took a lot of deliberation and compromise. Not only with myself, but also with those who live with me. It’s not an easy feat.

I have divided them in three sections: already put in practice, in the process of and on the drawing board.

Already put in practice

I am trying to reduce as much as possible single-use plastic. This has proven to be a massive endeavour as almost everything you buy these days has plastic. From clothes to food, you always end up with unnecessary plastic waste:

  • I love cooking, and I not only cook very often, but I also like preparing elaborate meals to share with others. This translates into having a lot of leftovers that I need to store in the fridge or freeze for future consumption. One of the most convenient ways to do so is to store the leftovers in zip-lock bags. And that means that, at the end of the year, I have gone through hundreds of these types of bags, mainly because you can only wash them and reuse them a limited amount of times. This was the first change that I implemented. I bought several silicone zip-lock bags that are washable and durable and have completely eliminated single-use zip-lock bags from my kitchen.

  • Tap water in London is terrible. It is safe to drink, but it’s so hard and tastes so awful that it even affects the taste of what you cook. Since we moved to London, we got into the habit of buying bottled water that we use for drinking, cooking, coffee, tea, etc. We only use tap water for washing. This translates into dozens of bottles of plastic wasted every week. It got to a point where I felt like the sole responsible for climate change in the world. I replaced bottled water with a Britta jug in which I filter tap water. The taste is not as good as bottled water, but at least all the minerals that come with the tap water get filtered out, and I’m not producing so much plastic waste.

  • Also, in the kitchen, plastic wrap is something that is commonly used to cover and protect things that you store in the fridge. My friend Chloe told me about these fantastic bee-waxed organic cotton cloths that are washable and shapeable and that easily replace plastic wrap. I’ve been using them for weeks, and I haven’t looked back at plastic wrap again.

  • I hadn’t bought new clothes in almost a year. I know that this goes against the industry that I work in, but I just didn’t want to give my money to brands that were not taking into account the environment when making their garments. I’ve done extensive research on the matter and a very little percentage of the brands that call themselves sustainable actually are. To be fully sustainable, a brand must have procedures in place for the whole life cycle of the garment, even after the garment can’t be worn anymore and it’s disposed of. Very few brands do this, and the whole concept is very confusing for consumers:

    • First of all, it’s worth mentioning that Ethical and Sustainable are two different concepts. You can be one without the other, and you can most definitely be both, but the terms are not interchangeable. An ethical brand sources materials from suppliers that pay their workers a fair wage, that treat their employees equally disregarding gender, religion, sexuality, age, etc., brands that guarantee humane working conditions in their sites.

    • A sustainable brand worries about its environmental footprint. It sources materials from sustainable suppliers, and it tries to produce their garments using sustainable techniques with the least amount of transport possible between the different stages of the production cycle. A brand that, when it sells you an item it tells you what to do with the garment once you decide not to wear it anymore and that would take back those garments and tell you how they will repurpose them.

    • These two concepts sound like they should be at the core of every single fashion business ethos, but you’d be surprised at how very few brands out there actually take them both into account. As a photographer, I use a lot of plain black t-shirts for work, and up until last year, I was buying them from a very well-known Japanese fast-fashion brand. But, last year I decided that I was going to stop buying from fast fashion brands because they are part of many of the problems that we face in our societies these days (environment, local economies, working conditions).

    • That’s when I started researching ethical and sustainable brands and found the people at Rapanui Clothing, a brand from the Isle of Wight in the UK. They produce circular economy t-shirts with organic cotton using renewable energy and are transparent about the whole production cycle of their garments. Rapanui makes their t-shirts from ethical, sustainable organic cotton and all the stages of the production take place under the same roof so that the environment is not impacted by transporting materials between factories. Once the t-shirts are finished, they are sent to the UK via ship, which has a lesser impact than planes. When you buy from them, all their packaging is made out of paper, including the tape, and once you are done wearing their garments, they buy them back from you with store credit and repurpose the materials to make other items.

In the process of putting in practice

At home, the kitchen seems to be the biggest entry point of single-use plastic, and I’m guessing it is a similar reality in other people’s homes:

  • I am now researching food suppliers that don’t use plastic for packaging or use as little plastic as possible. It’s difficult with hectic lifestyles in big cities to find online supermarkets that have reduced their plastic usage. Amazon and Morrisons have joined efforts to deliver groceries, and they only use paper for their packaging, but still, most of the items inside the paper bags come wrapped in layers and layers of plastic.

  • I’m at the stage of identifying one by one the brands that are the alternative to the ones that I commonly buy from but that don’t use plastic or that much plastic. This is proving to be a very difficult endeavour because of how cheap and convenient plastic packaging is.

  • In general, I am also trying to reduce buying single-use items or items that have a very short lifespan. I’m trying to go back to how our grandparents thought when they bought anything. Everything was meant to last, good quality meant something that could be used throughout your whole life and then passed down to the following generations. Sometimes that means spending a bit more, but in the long run, you spend less because you end up replacing your items less. The good old quality over quantity.

On the drawing board

When you start doing the exercise of studying all your spending habits to see where you can reduce your waste, the most inoffensive of things turn out to be the most polluting:

  • Travelling is one of them. I have always been an advocate for exploring the world. It helps us learn about foreign cultures and expands our horizons, but our vacations are killing the planet. The proliferation of low-cost airlines and cheap holiday packages have benefited both suppliers and consumers, but it has been the doom for the Earth. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and it is a tricky one, especially for those of us who live far from our families. But, we need to start travelling abroad less, travelling locally more and using the train rather than the plane when going on holidays.

  • This way of thinking will also benefit local economies, so it’s a win-win. The money earned here will be spent here, the anti-globalization movement. It sounds difficult to implement in our own lives, but ask yourself: how well do you know the city/country/continent that you live in? Why go explore overseas when you don’t even know how your backyard looks like? It’s true that most of the times it’s cheaper to travel two continents away than going to the town next to ours. But, like with everything related to reversing climate change, you have to look at it from the point of view that your money is being invested in saving the planet.

What measures have you started implementing in your life to reduce your waste and become more sustainable?

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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When You Learn, Teach. When You Get, Give.

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Last Sunday, Sandy Abdelrahman from Skaped invited me to take part in their Me & My Community Programme to talk to young photographers about turning ideas into photography projects and empower them to explore the issues that they care about the most. Skaped is an organisation that raises awareness of human rights issues and challenges as a way to inspire young people to become actively engaged in social and political matters around the world, as well as at their doorstep.

When Sandy first contacted me about running this workshop with Skaped, I couldn’t help but think about Maya Angelou’s poem Our Grandmothers where she says: “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” To me, there is nothing more fulfilling than to share what you have learnt along the way with others. It’s my way of paying forward all the kind support that I have received since I moved to London to become a photographer.

You climb, and then you lift others. That is the only way our industry gets stronger, and that is also the way in which you help people to grow and empower them to make our communities better. Working with those very talented young photographers made me think about me at their age. They are so hungry for change, they are so aware of the issues affecting their communities, and they want to do something about them.

What was I doing in my early twenties? Not trying to change the world, I can tell you that. I wonder, what would have happened if an opportunity like this one had been offered to me back then. To take part in workshops exploring human rights in my community through photography. Would I have taken part in them even if they were for free? Probably not. They say ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will come”.

I wasn’t ready. I lived a comfortable life, oblivious to the issues affecting my community, my country or the world. And my surrounding never encouraged me because we all had very superfluous priorities. But, it is never too late to take action. Even if it took me twenty years to get here, I am now more ready than ever.

I thank Skaped for asking me to be part of one of their outstanding projects, and I applaud all of the young people who take part in them. I wish that one day, I get to be half as aware and engaged as you are.

Photo credits: behind the scenes shot by Skaped.

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Glass Is A Revealer Of Hidden Realities

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Comic artist Rob Bidder works at the Wellcome Collection in London and publishes his work on their website. As part of his series Body Squabbles, he created a piece called Glass which starts with the phrase “Glass Is A Revealer Of Hidden Realities”. Today, I went to an optician to have my sight checked, and I finally understood what Rob meant. After trying different lenses during the eye test, a reality that was hidden for me was suddenly revealed. Not only could I read better, but I could also see with my own eyes how having a good customer service makes all the difference in the world.

I have been trying to get my sight checked for months, but every time I tried to make an appointment, something didn’t work out. At first, I thought that I would go to one of those cheap high street opticians because I’ve never worn glasses before and just have my eyes checked to see how bad the situation was. I tried to make an appointment three times in three different shops, but for some reason or another, I was never able to.

The first shop that came out on my online search was one of those that has a name which implies that with them you will be saving money. I made the appointment online, which seemed easy and straightforward, but a few days before the appointment, they called me to tell me that they didn’t have availability for that day. I asked the person on the other side of the phone how come the website let me make the appointment, and they said that the calendar on the website is just for me to suggest a date when I’m available, but they still need to call the client to confirm if the date is truly available or not. They wanted to give me an appointment for a month after the date I had requested, but I declined. I’d instead go somewhere else.

The second one that came on my search was from that chain that has a name which implies that with them your lenses will be made quickly. I made the appointment online, also an effortless and straightforward experience, and I received an email confirmation. A week later, on the day of the appointment, I showed up in the shop, but they couldn’t find my name in their appointments system. I showed them the email that the website had sent me and they said that even if I received an email, I still needed to receive a phone call confirming the date. Imagine my disgust.

The third one on my search was one of those that belong to a big chain of pharmacies in the UK. I checked on the website if they took walk-ins and went to the nearest one. But, to my surprise, the clerk asked me if I had made an appointment and when I said that I hadn’t because on the website it stated that they took walk-ins he said that even if that was true, all the time slots were taken for that day. The only thing that he could offer me was an appointment for a week from that date.

I was livid. I couldn’t believe that in 2019 and in a city like London it would be so frustrating to have your sight checked. My reaction was to postpone my eye test for a future when high street opticians got their act together. However, the next day, my friend came over to visit, and when I realized that she wore glasses, I asked where did she have them done. She said that she goes to an independent optician who’s not cheap, but she feels that they treat her like royalty. At that point, I didn’t care anymore about the money. I just wanted to feel that I was giving it to someone worthy of it.

A few days later, I went to said optician’s website and found out that they didn’t take appointments online, only over the phone (who uses a phone these days?!), they cost three times more than the high street shops, and they are located 45 minutes away on the train from where I live. At any other point of my life, this information would have made me not even consider them for a second but, after all that I had been through, I felt like I had no choice. I rang them, I made the appointment, and today I had my sight checked and ordered my new glasses.

The shop was small and lovely, the staff went the extra mile to make me feel welcomed, and they took all the time and had all the patience in the world to help me select the frames. Most importantly, they made me feel like to them it really mattered that I was satisfied with the experience. When it was time to pay, and I saw the big figure, I honestly didn’t care about all the money that I was spending there because they really deserve it.

This whole experience made me think about my photography business and how tough the competition is in London. There is always a new photographer starting out every day, and some of them are charging a third or less than the rest of us for a job that could be considered almost as good. That is why, when I talk about my work to potential clients, I don’t talk about my style (anyone can do what I do) nor about my rates (there are plenty of cheaper photographers). I talk about myself and my ethos, and I let my personality be the unique selling point.

Think about the last time when a supplier made you feel special. Don’t you want that same experience for your clients as well?

Photo credit: Sabrina Carder © 2017 JC Candanedo.

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Blogging Is An Act Of Ego

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Writing is an act of ego. When you sit down in front of the white page, you have to truly believe that you have something interesting to say for someone else to want to read it. And, even though writing can be a cathartic and liberating way of expressing what’s on your mind, it can also become an experience filled with frustration. Continually trying to measure the success of your writing by the number of people who read your posts can send you down a spiral of disappointment. There will never be enough analytics in the world to satisfy your need to be read.

When I started my blog, I did it with the idea in mind to tell the story of my journey from working in a different industry to becoming a full-time professional photographer. I wasn’t actually telling the story to other people, I was telling it to myself. It was my way to track my progress and to remind myself to stay humble and to never forget where I came from. However, it quickly became my strongest marketing tool, and, nowadays, I purposely use it to shape my branding and to tell the world about my learnings, my work and my concerns.

When you work professionally in photography, the competition is intense. You need to be constantly promoting your work and letting potential clients know about your existence. This is particularly true in big cities like London, where photographers spring up like mushrooms. What’s worse, we are all promoting ourselves in the same unidirectional ways (emails promos, newsletters) and it is very frustrating when after so many years of investing time and money promoting yourself nobody seems to be listening on the other side. According to figures from Spektrix, over 75% of these promos remain unopened, and over 97% are not clicked through.

Blogging seemed like a solution to that. Through my posts, I am telling the story of my brand and telling my readers what I stand for. But, measuring the success of blogging comes with its challenges. You find yourself from very early trying to figure out how to increase the number of visits and subscribers. And none of those numbers tells you if people are actually reading you.

Luckily, I realised that keeping track of those figures was useless. Even if I had hundreds of subscribers and thousands of visits to my posts, I wouldn’t be able to know if someone was actually reading them unless someone gave me some form of feedback. So I stopped obsessing over those numbers. These days I just write hoping that one day someone will run into my posts and find something useful in them. Until then, it’s only a labour of love.

If you are a photographer or a creative in general, and you still haven’t found a way of promotion that feels like you, why not create it yourself? That’s what my friend Olivia Pinnock did for herself. She wasn’t finding the jobs that she wanted in the industry and that’s why she created the Fashion Debates, a platform that has allowed her to show the industry what she wants to be hired for.

So, even if blogging sounds like a self-centred thing to do, I do it in the hopes that my words inspire others to reassess their lives, to consider a different perspective on the issues that I care for and to learn about the creatives industries. That is what my brand and I stand for, and that is what I try to promote.

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For Every Mean Thought, Speak One Kinder

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I just read the title phrase of this post on The Authentic Project’s Instagram account today and thought that it was an excellent piece of advice. Especially in the times we are living when we are surrounded by so much negativity and so much hatred. You can’t fight fire with fire, so cooling down our thoughts before we speak might help us meet in the middle with those who think so differently to us. Being kind to others does not mean being weak; anyone who has been kind to someone who has mistreated them knows how much courage it takes.

We need more kind words, and we also need to start making an effort to make the people around us feel like they matter. It sounds like a lot of work and the sceptical who reads this might wonder why even bother. But, the truth is that happiness is contagious, and when you start making people feel better about themselves, they will inevitably try to make others feel the way that you made them feel. This will result in improving your community’s mood, and in return, you will be more comfortable belonging to a happier environment.

We are bombarded every day with sad and apocalyptical news. From social media, from the news outlets and even from the small talk with strangers or peers. Every day there is something that has gone wrong with politics, with the environment or with humanity. This affects particularly the more susceptible demographics like our youth because they either haven’t lived long enough to compare what is going on today with similar events in the past or because people in power haven’t provided them with the right tools through education to be able to deal with these situations.

The importance of self-worth has been lost, and people today feel that there is no future for them. This makes us all vulnerable and prone to manipulation. An emotionally broken population makes and easy to handle pack. This is why this is a moment for solidarity and for finding more points in common and pointing out fewer differences. We are all in this together, from the far left to the far right and everyone in between because we are all part of society. If we don’t start being good to people now, the consequences can be catastrophic for all of us. We don’t want to relive the events that affected humanity a century ago.

This is not the time to be a bystander and shrug the shoulders when we see what’s happening around us. We need more citizen engagement, and we need more acts of kindness. We need to start speaking from the heart more because when you speak from the heart, the other heart will listen.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Who You Are Defines What You Do

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Although it might seem very obvious, when I heard the phrase “what you do does not define who you are; who you are defines what you do” I had a sudden realisation. For the longest time, I tried to keep the two sides of my craft separate. On the one hand, my commercial work focused on fashion, beauty and portraiture; on the other hand, my personal work dealt with human rights, mental health and national identity. But, the one thing that they both had in common was me. So why was I trying to keep them apart when in reality they are but two sides of the same person?

It’s not that I was ashamed of any of the aspects of my practice. On the contrary, I’m very proud of everything that I have done over the past few years. But I had been advised over and over again to keep those different types of photography separate because clients might get confused. According to my advisors, clients only hire you when they see that you do only the exact thing that they are looking for, and when you can be put in a niche. The truth is that I have never been busier since I decided to show in my portfolio who I really am.

It was no secret that I am interested in social issues like immigration, discrimination and human rights. I have been writing about them for years in my blog. But if you saw my portfolio, all you could see was my flashy fashion, beauty and portraiture work. If you wanted to know what I was doing in my personal projects, you had to go to my blog or ask me to see those images. It didn’t make sense.

And then I heard that phrase. Who I am informs my work. Who I am. Who am I?

I am JC, and I’m a London based photographer. I work commercially in Fashion, Beauty and Portraiture with clients that include designers, production companies and beauty brands. In my personal work, I deal with the Social Issues that matter the most to me like Human Rights, Mental Health and National Identity.

Before becoming a photographer, I was a Project Manager for 20 years, and all the skills learnt in my previous industry help me to deliver my photography projects to my clients successfully.

I also write a Blog about my experiences working in the Creative Industries where I talk about the industry and the business of photography through interviews to other creatives, features on fellow photographers and opinion pieces on social issues.

I am a member of the Association Of Photographers - AOP, of Humanists UK - an organisation that campaigns for Human Rights (LGBTQ+ rights, Women’s reproductive rights and the rights of non-religious people), and of PhotoAid - an organisation that links NGO’s in need of photographers with photographers willing to volunteer their time for the causes that they believe in.

Ultimately, my goal is to use my work as a photographer to help make this a Better World.

There, that sounds like a complete version of me.

Knowing who you are and what your work is about takes you a long way and makes telling your story so much easier. Getting to know yourself, not easy at all. For me, it has been 45 years in the making, but now, when I see my work, I can see myself in every single one of my images.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Tori Dance.

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When The Mercury Rises

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I’m writing this post in the middle of a heatwave. Tomorrow, the mercury will rise to an unprecedented 38º C in London, which means that it will be hottest here than in my tropical native country of Panama. Funny enough, summer-loving people in London are celebrating this weather without thinking for a second that this heat is a sign that our planet is not doing well. Admittedly, I am a winter person, and I don’t like the heat, but if I go to a Caribbean beach in Panama and all of a sudden it starts snowing I would be far from happy. We are warming up the planet to extinction, but we are going down with a celebration.

Around this time last year, I wrote a post on sustainability and the myths of Recycling and how we need to reduce our waste as much as possible. Today, I write about why we should be cautious when the brands that we buy from tell us that they are sustainable and green. Over the last year, many brands have jumped on the wagon of sustainability, especially fast fashion brands, but I wonder if we are starting to use this term as a selling point rather than as a real concern for the planet.

I’m not underestimating the efforts and the investments that brands are making to become more sustainable. But, some of the things that these brands are advertising as their efforts to becoming green are just a fraction of what they need to be doing. To be truly sustainable, a brand must acknowledge that the life-cycle of a garment is longer than they had anticipated and should also include the life after the item has been worn and replaced.

This new way of thinking about the life-cycle of clothes involves both brands and consumers. We are all in this together and if we don’t want to kill our planet, we must act now.

What actions can we take right now to become more sustainable?

As Brands:

  • Use sustainable materials/suppliers/processes: this is what the majority of brands calling themselves sustainable are doing right now, and in principle, it is something good. But it is just the first step on the roadmap to sustainability. The work doesn’t end there; there is more to be done.

  • Source locally: it is kind of counterproductive to source sustainable materials in remote places, ship them all the way to the factories and then ship the finished garments to distribution centres where they will be shipped again to the points of sale. It really doesn’t matter how sustainable a brand’s materials are if the carbon footprint of their supply chain is destroying the Earth.

  • Generate less waste: this is the tricky bit. Fashion brands need to sell to stay in business and to sell more, you need to produce more, but there must be a limit to the amount and frequency of the items produced. A brand may be the greenest of them all in sourcing sustainable fabrics or having a sustainable supply chain, but if they are releasing hundreds of new designs each month to force their customers to keep on renewing their wardrobe, all their sustainability efforts will go to waste. Literally. The real challenge of turning a fashion brand into a sustainable brand is how to make customers buy new clothes while at the same time stopping them from sending the old ones to landfills or incinerators. This is where the concept of circular economy comes in, but is it really possible to make fashion circular?

  • Keep it affordable: Price is the icing on the cake. Sustainable materials and research are still not cheap and to be able to lower their cost we would need to produce and sell so much that we would be contributing to the problem of waste while trying to amend it. At the same time, the sad reality is that if sustainable clothing is more expensive than non-sustainable one, people will keep on buying the latter.

As consumers:

  • Buy less: it all comes down to generating less waste, and to generate less waste, we must renew our wardrobes less often. This is the last thing that brands want to hear, but in all honesty, we don’t need to buy new clothes every season. Today we have five times more clothes on average than our previous generations, maybe because they didn’t have the money or the offer, or perhaps because they made their clothes themselves and these lasted longer. My mom once told me that she only had two dresses that my grandmother had made her, and as a child, she would have to go out on Sundays looking the same every week. And so did everyone else! Obviously, I’m not pretending that we go back to making our own clothes (which wouldn’t be too bad) or to owning just two pieces of clothes. The ideal would be to buy less but buy smarter, buying from brands that are truly sustainable and circular and that produce quality clothes that last longer and promote less waste.

  • Buy Second-hand/Vintage: Buying smarter also involves giving a new life to someone else’s old clothes. Pre-loved clothes are not only a sustainable way to renew our wardrobe, but it also gives you the advantage of not looking exactly the same as everyone else who buys from current seasons.

  • Don’t Become a serial returner: sizing is a serious issue when buying online, and sometimes we have to purchase and return at least once to get the right sizing. Some consumers buy/wear/return consistently, or buy many different sizes of the same item in the hopes that at least one would fit instead of properly researching the measurements of their body according to the tables that online retailers provide. Serial returners have a massive impact on the environment.

  • Buy from brands that are circular: again, buy less but buy smarter. Buy from brands that allow you to take your old clothes back to the shop in exchange for store credit. But, before doing that, ask them what they will do with your old clothes.

  • Repurpose your old clothes: don’t throw away your old clothes. Hand them down, take them to charity shops, return them to the shops where you bought them from if they offer store credit, donate them to the homeless but don’t throw them in the bin.

  • Don’t judge people for what they wear: the pressure to look always stylish and trendy is one of the main reasons that force us to buy so many clothes that we don’t need. This is particularly true when you work in the fashion industry because peers and superiors are constantly judging you from what you wear. This forces workers in the industry to contribute to this cycle of massive spending.

The time for complaining about the heat is long gone. It is time that we do something about it. We must seriously keep this conversation alive and look for ways to becoming more sustainable and saving our planet. Do you have any other ideas of how to become greener as consumers and as brands?

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Stand Up For Human Rights

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was conceived by the international community 70 years ago as a way to avoid the atrocities of the Second World War from ever happening again. Its adoption in 1948 by the then newly created United Nations meant that, from that day forward, the concept of individuality was declared universally and every individual everywhere would have a set of rights assigned at birth that must be guaranteed at all times. The Human Rights concept is very recent and very fragile, and that is why upholding and protecting them is a matter of priority for all of us.

The proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one of the biggest achievements in the history of humankind, and its significance has no parallel. Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote that on the day the declaration was adopted “there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

Today, those who are born in countries where their Human Rights are protected can’t imagine a world where they never existed in the first place. Before the concept of Human Rights was conceived, states had ownership over their citizens’ rights and their power over individuals was absolute. Still today, there are nations in the world where the fight to have your most basic rights as a human guaranteed is an ongoing feat. What’s even worse is that some of the nations that voted in favour of the declaration back in 1948, like the United States, China or the United Kingdom, seem to be abdicating on that system that they gave us.

Human Rights are the roots of justice and freedom, of peace and inclusion, and their main restriction is fear: fear of others, fear of what’s different. Fear makes humans do the most horrific things to themselves. We need to stand up for our rights and for the rights of others and put an end to the toxic tide of hatred that is rising around us. I know that if we all join forces, we can do it. In the words of my friend and fantastic poet, Dean Garland: “in the brazen heat of fire and hate, hope trickles down like fresh water.”

That is why I have joined the #Standup4humanrights campaign, and I have pledged that:

  • I will respect your rights regardless of who you are. I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you.

  • When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone's rights are undermined, so I will stand up.

  • I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.

Visit www.standup4humanrights.org and take the pledge today!

Photo credit: portrait taken by Dan Clarke.

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De-Stress, A Photography Project

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Ansel Adams is often credited with saying “We don’t take photographs, we make them”, and this phrase has never been more accurate than in my latest photography project in collaboration with The Trampery. I took portraits of members of their community and explored how working in a creative environment surrounded by a supportive group contributes to the success rate of entrepreneurs and their well-being. I shot the portraits on film and distressed them using household chemicals. The project title is a play on words, "distress" being the technique used to create the images about the "de-stressing" offered in the supportive environment created by the co-working space.

Before becoming part of The Trampery community, I had been working from home since I launched my business. Working from home offered me all the comfort that working in your pyjamas can give you, but it also came with a high price to pay in the form of isolation. I had been considering working from a shared space for almost a year, but I was never able to make up my mind about it. I was under the impression that working from a co-working space would decrease my productivity. I believed that these type of spaces lacked privacy and were crowded, noisy and full of distractions. However, the experience at The Trampery has been the complete opposite and, like most of the participants in the project expressed, being part of a creative community like this one keeps me inspired and has made me grow both personally and professionally.

When you have a group of highly creative and motivated people in the same space, the synergies between the members of the group produce an environment where they can thrive. When interviewed, the majority of the participants in the project agreed that the combination of a supportive community with a space in which the primary purpose is to make great work contributes to keeping them motivated and energised throughout the day. Being in contact with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds working in different ventures and industries, with whom you can bounce ideas around, gives you a different perspective on your challenges, expands your way of thinking and refreshes your work. As one member pointed out, the worst thing about starting a business on your own in your bedroom is that you've started a business alone and in your bedroom. Creative communities like this one provide members with the right environment to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions.

If you want to learn more about my De-Stress project and read extracts of the interviews with The Trampery members, visit this link.

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Life In De-Stress

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Over the last few weeks, I have been working on a personal project in collaboration with The Trampery in which I have photographed members of their community and explored the effect that working in co-working spaces has on their ventures. The Trampery is a London-based social enterprise, specialising in shared workspace and support for entrepreneurs and creative businesses.

The project is called “De-Stress” because I am taking the portraits with my film camera and once the film is developed I dip the negatives in household chemicals to “distress” the images of these people who work in supportive communities that contribute to relieving their stress.

I visited all the sites that The Trampery has in London and photographed members of their different communities who volunteered for the project. After the portraits were taken, the participants were interviewed and asked questions like how do they think a creative environment like The Trampery contributes to the success rate of their business.

As soon as the film came back from the lab, I started the distressing phase. But, before dipping the negatives in the household chemicals, I blocked the eyes with a gel so that they were the only part of the image that was not affected by this technique. By doing this, the portraits were distressed except for the eyes in an attempt to convey that, even though the life of an entrepreneur is surrounded by uncertainty and stress, working in a supportive community helps them keep clarity and stay focused.

You can learn more about the project and see the resulting images, interviews and behind the scenes on The Trampery’s Instagram account @thetrampery.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Tori Dance from The Trampery.

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Making Bad Decisions Is Better Than Not Deciding At All

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Last weekend, I was having a conversation with my photographer friend and collaborator Andrzej Gruszka about making decisions and how some people freeze when they have to make one. Admittedly, there are easier decisions to make than others, especially if the stakes are high, but not deciding at all is even worse than making the wrong decision. If all the decisions that you’ve made in your life brought you here, to this moment when you are reading this blog post, then you haven’t made too many bad choices, after all, have you?

I know that some people who are reading this post might not be going through the happiest moments of their lives, and probably some of them are due to their past choices. However, making a series of bad choices doesn’t necessarily mean that you will never be able to make the right decision again in your life. Besides, no one is capable of making great decisions 100% of the times. All of our current circumstances are the result of both our good and our bad choices.

I used to have a boss who would tell me that she liked delegating on me some of her tasks because I wasn’t afraid to make decisions. For her, it didn’t matter if I made the right or the wrong choice; what was important was that I always found a way not to stagnate the projects in which I was involved.

When I am faced with a challenging decision, I try to make as much research as I can to make an informed choice. Most of the times, the outcome of your decision is not as important as the process that you took to arrive at said decision. This is particularly true when all of your options will have a positive outcome, even if the paths forward might be completely different.

Another strategy that works for me, whenever possible, is delaying the decision. Gather all the information that you need to make your choice but sit on it for a while. Some people say that procrastinating can be some sort of decision-making process. There are decisions that don’t need to be made right away.

Whichever your decision-making process is, don’t avoid making them because if you don’t make the decision, someone else will make it for you and you won’t have a voice in it. If you make the right decision, you will move forward; if you make the wrong decision, you will learn from your mistake; but, if you don’t do anything, you will never grow.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruzska.

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There Is Freedom In Letting Go

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The other day, I heard someone say the phrase “the worst thing in my life never happened” and I couldn’t have related more. Maybe not so much at this age (the perks of growing older and becoming wiser), but at some point in my life that was me. I used to date someone who would tell me all the time “don’t worry about what hasn’t happened yet” but, I used to think that they were just talking nonsense. I was always under the impression that, if you wanted to properly manage your projects, your career or your life you’d have to be constantly worrying about all the possible things that could go wrong so that you could prevent them. But, the reality is that one thing is doing a proper risk assessment, and a completely different thing is living with the anxiety and paranoia that everything could go wrong at any minute. It’s not healthy and is very counterproductive.

The future that we imagine is not real. You can plan your whole life in advance, and I can assure you that nothing will turn out the way that you expected. When you are a worrier, and you are continually planning for the future, you become some sort of mental time traveller. Your body is in the present, but your mind is in the future. You end up missing out on what is going on in your present life for worrying so much about what could happen in a hypothetical future.

Thoughts are not reality, and this is a tough lesson to learn. Whatever you imagine that could go wrong, or whatever is causing you anxiety and preventing you from moving forward, is only in your mind. It doesn’t exist because it hasn’t happened. And you certainly can’t predict the future.

The best way to combat those negative thoughts is to remember that life is not a performance, it’s just a long rehearsal, a draft. All our lives are only works in progress. I’m not saying here that you mustn’t have an idea of where you want your career or your project to go, but give yourself some room for improvisation. Learn to surf the metaphorical wave that life is and enjoy the ride.

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Notes From The Fashion Debates On Mental Health

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A massive thanks to everyone who came to the latest edition of the Fashion Debates at The Trampery Republic in London. We had an outstanding discussion about the mental health problem that we face in the Fashion and Creative Industries, with a panel led by Olivia Pinnock in conversation with designer Charli Cohen, Dr Jonathan Gander from The Haven + London and business consultant and facilitator Fabian Hirose.

Employees in creative careers such as fashion are 25% more likely to experience mental illness. Dr Jonathan Gander started the discussion by saying that “young people are amazing, that’s why I like working in a university. But I do see vulnerability. The cost of [the creative industries] production is often hidden. It’s not the money, it’s often someone”.

Designer Charli Cohen said that “the creative industry will either help with someone’s mental health issues or actually worsen them” and “you can’t complain about it, [because] everyone [else] is stressed. In fashion, it’s [seen as] ‘normal’”.

Fabian Hirose added that “we [designers] need to give meaning to existence. We are trying to solve the problem for others, and we do so at the expense of ourselves”. Cohen agreed by adding that “as a designer, you’re expected to draw inspiration from your lowest low to create, and it’s a lot of time to spend there.”

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For Dr Gander, the problem lies at the top levels of the industry: “when I meet successful people, what I often experience is the attitude that ‘I went through this, I struggled, you have to struggle for it too’”.

So, what can we do about it? How can we take better care of ourselves? As Olivia Pinnock explained, freelancers make up a significant portion of the workers in the creative industries. Without a support network, creatives can feel isolated and lonely, which contributes to developing mental health issues. But the problem does not only lie in the freelance community, almost 95% of creative industries businesses are micro-businesses (less than 10 employees), according to figures from The Creative Industries Federation.

“As a freelance, you need to set your own boundaries, even if it sounds counterintuitive”, Cohen said. And Hirose added that “even if you’re a company professional offering independent services, communities are very important. We need to form [supporting] communities to survive”.

Apart from joining or creating supporting communities yourself, what other things can be done? “Keep the conversation going on every forum you can”, Cohen responded. Dr Gander said that “professional help is available, don’t be afraid to take it”. And, everyone agreed with Hirose when he added that “it’s an individual journey, there is no linear solution”.

During the Q&A part of the discussion, the audience asked what can we do to detect if someone is struggling with mental health issues and, if so, how can we offer support? Dr Gander explained that “it’s not something you can catch early and just treat it there and then. When you recognise it in someone, just be prepared for whatever can happen next, but don’t force it”. Hirose finished the discussion by saying “Vocabulary is very important”, you have to be very careful with what you say to someone who you suspect is going through a rough time.

Thank you so much to everyone who came to be part of this discussion. Like Cohen said, we need to keep this conversation going. This is an industry formed by people who really love what they do, sometimes at the expense of themselves, as Hirose taught us. That is a high price to pay to keep businesses running, and it’s the most expensive cost that the industry faces, paraphrasing Dr Gander.

Thanks to Olivia Pinnock for allowing me to be part of this beautiful event! If you haven’t been to one of these discussions yet, learn more about The Fashion Debates on their website.

About The Fashion Debates

The Fashion Debates is a London-based event series run by fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that explores ethical issues affecting the fashion industry. From sustainability, to diversity, to animal rights, and workers’ rights, their aim is to make the industry as beautiful as the clothes it produces.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Panel Discussion And Networking

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Last chance to get your tickets for tomorrow’s edition of the Fashion Debates at The Trampery Republic in London. Olivia Pinnock will be leading the conversation with the panel formed by Charli Cohen, Dr. Jonathan Gander from The Haven + London and Fabian Hirose.

We will be discussing the state of mental health in the fashion industry, how to deal with the pressures of our jobs, how to take care of ourselves but also how to support those who are going through a rough patch.

Get your tickets here.

Event information

  • Date: May 30th, 2019

  • Time: 7 pm to 10 pm

  • Location: The Trampery Republic, Import Building, 2 Clove Crescent, East India, London E14 2BE

The evening

  • 7 pm Complimentary welcome drinks

  • 7:30 pm Panel debate

  • 8 pm Questions from the audience

  • 8:30 pm Networking

The panel

  • Charli Cohen: Founder of Charli Cohen tech-wear and mental health awareness initiative Shades of Blue.

  • Dr Jonathan Gander: Associate Professor for Creative Industries, Kingston University, and Chair of The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the emotional, spiritual and mental well-being of the creative community.

  • Fabian Hirose: Business Coach who runs workshops on Fashion Burnout designed to answer the question “Why do Businesses & Individuals within Fashion Systems Collapse?”

About The Fashion Debates

The Fashion Debates is a London-based event series run by fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that explores ethical issues affecting the fashion industry. From sustainability, to diversity, to animal rights, and workers’ rights, their aim is to make the industry as beautiful as the clothes it produces.

Photo credit: taken by Anna Klepikova during one of the previous debates.

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A World That Others Can't See... with Erik Jimenez

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Our role as photographers is to capture a world that others can't see, and in this process, we leave a little bit of us in every photo that we take. In a way, every single one of our photographs is also a portrait of ourselves.

In this series, A World That Others Can't See, I ask fellow photographers to talk about an image from their portfolios in order to discover the stories behind their work and to learn about the person behind the lens.

For the fifth post of the series, Miami-based beauty, fashion and lifestyle photographer Erik Jimenez talks about his gorgeous portrait of Timothy Reyna.

Erik says: “This portrait is of Timothy Reyna, a model based out of NYC. I was very excited to photograph Timothy because when the agency sent me his comp card I immediately loved his facial features, amazing cheekbone structure and fun tattoos. But most of all, I was excited because Timothy had been photographed by David LaChapelle! LaChappelle was one of my favorite artists when I started photography, and I remember just staring at his amazing photography books for hours at the book store.

It’s an untitled image (at the moment) and this photoshoot was for a model agency in NYC called Hello. The inspiration for this shoot was Cirque Du Soleil - Kurios. Beautiful and mysterious. The styling was done by Pedro Guilloty and Johny Quesada, who is the owner of Hello Models but very much an artist himself.

'Untitled' © Erik Jimenez

'Untitled' © Erik Jimenez

I lit this image with a single light source, a strobe attached to a 60 x 60 cm softbox. It was placed very close to Timothy and up at camera right. No reflectors or fill light so I could achieve drama and mood. Although this particular image wasn’t used by the agency, it’s personally one of my favorites. I absolutely love it in black and white for the mood it creates, but really it’s the subject’s pose with his face profile and the tattoo on the back of his head aligned in such a way that speaks to our inner voices of good vs evil. I would love to print, frame and exhibit this image someday!

Tech & specs:

Aperture: f/4.0

Speed: 1/125 sec

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Focal length: 40 mm”

Erik, thank you so much for sharing this gorgeous portrait with me. J’adore! If you want to see more of Erik’s work, go to his Instagram profile now!


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different photographer each month!

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I Wish I Had Known... About Painting!

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This is the nineteenth post in my series of posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.

In today’s post, I have the honour of chatting with London-based Canadian-born figurative painter Andrew Salgado about his work, the state of the art industry these days and how being humble and grateful can go a long way in the art world:

1. How do you become a painter? Is it something that you go to school for or are you born with the talent?

Well, I think that you are inherently born with a talent, but that talent can definitely be honed. I don't think school is necessarily a determining factor. It’s also a mindset, a mentality. It takes a lot of drive, whereas most people think it’s quite a wishy-washy process, it’s actually quite the opposite.

2. Did you always know that you wanted to be a painter or did you try a different industry before becoming an artist?

I was always interested in the arts; originally I thought I was going to perhaps go into architecture or even dabbled in film; but ultimately I realized that my passion was in art - as in studio art, which is very self-directed and allows me full control of my life and creativity.

3. While doing my research for this interview, I came across many interviews of yours that go back to almost a decade ago, and the Andrew in every one of them sounded like a different person, a different artist. Has your growing up as a person influenced your art or the other way around?

Oh wow. Well, I think that the person I was around 2008 and the years after being victimized in a hate-crime, I was a very wounded person. I was angry and rattled; I had also just moved to the UK. I was uncertain. I've grown a lot. I've learned a lot. I think I have learned a lot from art, but also personal experience. I don't think you can have one without the other. I've become more of a business-minded person, but I've also become a bit more disillusioned with the art world. That sounds like a bad thing, I don't know that it is, it’s a reality of the industry. I'm quite well adjusted right now; I feel like a complete person.

4. How would you describe your style as a painter and how would you explain it to those of us who don’t understand about art?

I'm figurative, as in, I 'paint people'; but I embrace a lot of abstract techniques.

5. Do you think artists must have an unmistakable style or must they follow a movement or the trends of the art world?

I think it’s important to create your own inimitable style, but I also feel like style is always in flux. I think it’s also foolish to not at least be cognizant of the art-world movements; art moves in trends (which itself is such an ugly word, but it’s true) and it would be absolutely ignorant to think that anyone is operative above these trends. A trend by its nature is a reaction to the status quo or at least some sort of acknowledgement of it; art does precisely the same. My work has changed with the time in a desire to stay relevant. Nobody wants to be left behind, and the art world moves in large steps.

6. One of the hardest things to accept for artists who live from their work is that they are running a business and that there are invoices to send, bills to pay and taxes to file. Was that ever an issue for you?

Well, thankfully my gallery does it all for me. I hate paperwork. And it takes up a lot of time. Emailing takes up a lot of time. But yes, you are running a small business, and it’s imperative to consider the business-side with wide-open-eyes.

7. Did you ever have a day job to pay for your living while you painted and if so how long did it take you to be able to live from your work?

Yeah, growing up I always had jobs; until my mid-20s I worked as a lifeguard and a waiter. I have been working professionally from my art for about 10 years now.

8. To make a living as an artist nowadays do you need to be represented by a gallery or can you sell directly to collectors yourself?

I think somewhere there exists a happy medium, where the new modes of art-showing and the traditional modes of art-showing find a sort of equilibrium. The art world has stark divides, large egos, and plenty of gate-keeping. As in, in order to be respected, you need to achieve certain goals or reach certain standards that you simply cannot achieve on your own. Like, sure you can sell a bunch on Instagram, but if you ever want to get serious peer and industry recognition, and career credibility, you need to go through the relevant channels. Like, I can unclog your toilet, but that doesn’t mean I'm a plumber, right?

9. How does a starting painter know how to find their audience? How can they reach collectors?

There’s an idea with young artists that they're doing something that 'nobody has ever done before' or this bullshit 'my art is gonna change the world’ rhetoric or 'I invented said technique…’ Firstly, get your head out your ass. You're not special; learn from history and your peers. Educate yourself. Learn about the industry you're entering. Don't expect people to fawn over you, because there are hundreds of people doing what you're doing - and frankly, doing it better.

One thing my gallery (Beers London) asks artists (if and when) they actually get a meeting with the gallery, is 'why do you think you're a fit with the gallery' and 'which of our artists do you most like?' usually to a response of a blank stare. Learn about the industry before you expect it to bend over backwards for you. Be humble. Accept that you have more to learn. Check your ego at the door.

The faster you learn these things, the more approachable you and your art will become. The best artists I know are the most grateful, humble, and approachable. Well, that was a bit of a tangent. But you can also use Instagram or start something grass-roots with your friends. Don't expect too much too soon. It’s a long, long, long road.

10. What do you consider is the key to a successful artist career in today’s art world?

This is a really tricky question. There are a lot of factors for success. Are you happy? Can you pay your bills? That’s a good start.

11. When do you know that it’s time to start a new painting? How do you know when the work is done?

I think this is different for everyone. I work in 'bodies' of work and the story reveals itself, like chapters. I know when it’s done like heat, I can feel it warming up, and then eventually it’s too hot to touch.

12. What do you do when you finish a painting? Do you take some time or do you paint more?

I usually take a little holiday to recalibrate...but ironically I just finished a body last week and I'm beginning new works tomorrow. I suppose like life, it’s always different, isn’t it?

13. How do you deal with artist’s block?

Does that exist? I find I don't have the time to get it all out, so I have to edit the ideas down. I suppose you need to look to little things and stop expecting the world to bless you with divine inspiration. What are the small things that inspire you? What gets you out of bed? What song is in your head? What memory do you go back to? A conversation? A trinket? Something you're grateful for or bothered by? Think small, execute big.

14. And lastly, have you ever painted yourself?

Yeah, a few times. I find it a bit masturbatory, to be honest.

15. Thanks so much, Andrew, for being so kind and letting me interview you. Where can we learn more about you and about your work?

You can follow me on Instagram at @andrew.salgado.art or at www.beerslondon.com or my own website www.andrewsalgado.com.


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different creative each month!

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Mental Health Awareness Month

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As I explained in my previous post, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We are very aware of the need to take care of our bodies to live healthier lives. But, feeling better and living a healthier life is not only about taking care of our bodies. We must also learn how to take care of our minds. If you are in London this May 30th, 2019, join me as I host a panel debate on Mental Health in the Fashion Industry where we will explore the relationship between creativity and mental health.

The discussion will be led by Fashion Journalist Olivia Pinnock with a panel formed by:

  • Dr Jonathan Gander - Associate Professor for Creative Industries, Kingston University, and Chair of The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the emotional, spiritual and mental well-being of the creative community;

  • Charli Cohen - Founder of Charli Cohen tech-wear and mental health awareness initiative Shades of Blue;

  • And Fabian Hirose, a business coach who runs workshops on Fashion Burnout designed to answer the question “Why do Businesses & Individuals within Fashion Systems Collapse?”

Get your tickets here.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruzska.

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Fashion Debates On Mental Health

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Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, body image, anger, eating disorders and loneliness, among others. This year, I will be co-hosting an edition of The Fashion Debates dedicated to Mental Health in the Fashion Industry with fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that will take place at The Trampery Republic on May 30th. Join me and fellow professionals passionate about this topic as we explore the complex relationship between creativity and mental health.

Does the way the industry operate lead to mental health problems in its workers, or are creative people more pre-disposed to mental health problems? How can we look after ourselves and our colleagues better to ensure a healthier relationship with our work?

We’ll be discussing these issues and more with our expert panel followed by a chance to network with the rest of the attendees. I look forward to welcoming you!

Get your tickets here.

Event information

  • Date: May 30th, 2019

  • Time: 7 pm to 10 pm

  • Location: The Trampery Republic, Import Building, 2 Clove Crescent, East India, London E14 2BE

The evening

  • 7 pm Complimentary welcome drinks

  • 7:30 pm Panel debate

  • 8 pm Questions from the audience

  • 8:30 pm Networking

The panel

  • Charli Cohen: Founder of Charli Cohen tech-wear and mental health awareness initiative Shades of Blue.

  • Dr Jonathan Gander: Associate Professor for Creative Industries, Kingston University, and Chair of The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the emotional, spiritual and mental well-being of the creative community.

  • Fabian Hirose: Business Coach who runs workshops on Fashion Burnout designed to answer the question “Why do Businesses & Individuals within Fashion Systems Collapse?”

About The Fashion Debates

The Fashion Debates is a London-based event series run by fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that explores ethical issues affecting the fashion industry. From sustainability, to diversity, to animal rights, and workers’ rights, their aim is to make the industry as beautiful as the clothes it produces.

Photo credit: Fish © 2018 Photography by JC Candanedo.

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