A World That Others Can't See... with Simon Leach

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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 fourth post of the series, lifestyle advertising photographer Simon Leach talks about his personal work, the importance of collaboration and how to know when you are being asked to work for free.

Simon says: “I have selected my ‘Gymnasium’ series. In selecting this series I hope to highlight the importance of personal work – something I consider to be a vital ingredient in any photographer’s portfolio.

There is currently much talk and publicity about the ‘#NOFREEWORK’ campaign (initiated largely by The Freelancer Club) and its underpinning ethos that creatives should not provide their services for free, under any circumstances. Whilst I wholly support and am signed up to this initiative (promises of exposure or future work should not replace appropriate remuneration), it is important not to lose sight of the need for creative individuals to explore ideas and concepts.

There is a difference between ‘personal work’ and ‘free work’ - the latter ultimately benefiting an individual, business or service, not just yourself and your creative team. With personal work there is complete freedom to explore a joint vision. With ‘free work’ the ‘client’ requires specific content that has to take priority.

The Gymnasium series was ‘personal work’ and with it, as with other such projects, I have been extremely lucky to collaborate with some incredibly talented, creative and trusting people. For me personally, it is within such a collaborative environment that I feel challenged to bring my A-game. The images showcased here came from such a process, working initially with one of the models, Rob, later with the make-up artist, Vickie, and second model, Tanya, to develop my ideas. I was assisted by Jon Cooney.

The series of images were shot at my old secondary school weeks before the old gymnasium was scheduled to undergo modernisation. Windows dominated the length of the room and presented me with a brilliant opportunity to mix controlled studio light with natural light for ambiance – a technique I’m particularly fond of using. This series features a couple of Profoto studio heads, used to light the shot, which were manually balanced with the available light - evident on the back wall.

The result: a warm, relaxed and natural looking image.”

That is brilliant, Simon! Thank you so much for sharing with me this gorgeous series! You can see more work from this very talented photographer at www.simonrleach.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 photographer each month!

Photo credit: portrait of Simon Leach © 2019 JC Candanedo

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We All Have This Superpower

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Last night, I was having a conversation with a very good friend of mine and we were talking about how being friendly opens so many doors. A smile doesn’t necessarily get you everything that you want, but it goes a long way. Ironically, a peer once told me that in some cultures, like in France or some Asian countries, for instance, smiling too much is associated with having a lower level of intelligence. Well, I don’t know if I’m perceived as dumb to some people, but I am a happy person and I smile a lot. And I don’t intend to change that any time soon.

When I used to work in corporate, my friendly and outgoing personality was always perceived as a weakness. I was too nice. Maybe they thought that I was easy to take advantage of, or maybe they were just jealous that I live a happy life. But, even if that always played against me, I never considered for a second smiling less or being less friendly.

I like to surround myself with friendly people, especially when I work. I think that we have enough stress in our lives and jobs to have to put up with the crankiness or bad moods of others. I don’t necessarily think that you have to act like a clown or try to make people happy all the time, but just being friendly and accepting of others really doesn’t cost that much and it makes all the difference.

Admittedly, we are here to work, not to make friends. But, let’s try to make work an enjoyable experience. When I have to put teams together, I obviously look for the best that my budget permits, but someone who is the next best thing but is nice to work with will always be chosen over someone who’s a diva or makes people around them uncomfortable. Life is short, let’s try to enjoy ourselves while we can.

A smile is such a powerful thing to share. Being able to make someone else feel better with just a smile, albeit for a few seconds, should be considered a superpower. So, if we have that power, why not use it more often?

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"The Warrior" Is A Finalist!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Women In My Blog

Photo by Sania Saleh

Photo by Sania Saleh

This coming March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day that has been celebrated for more than 100 years, since 1911. International Women’s Day is not a day to be celebrated only by women for women, it is a day that should be celebrated by any person who cares about equality and human rights. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter because a gender-balanced world is a better world.

In honour of International Women’s Day 2019, below you will find posts from some of the amazing women who have contributed to my blog over these last 4 years.

If you want to find out more about the events taking place in your area during International Women’s Day 2019, go to the IWD Website. From concerts and conferences to fun runs and festivals - celebrate International Women's Day with friends, family or colleagues. Raise awareness, celebrate achievement or rally for change. Help forge a more gender-balanced world.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Writing A Cookbook!

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This is the seventeenth post in my series of monthly 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.

On this post I speak with the fabulous Dina Begum, a Bangladeshi-born/East London-bred food writer about her passion for Bangladeshi food traditions and stories and her book Brick Lane Cookbook, in which she celebrates the diverse cultures and flavours of this much-loved area of London:

1. Where does your love for cooking come from?

My mother. I grew up seeing her prepare delicious meals from scratch almost every single day, using fresh produce. It seemed magical to me that she created feasts out of a few bags of groceries - that made me fall in love with cooking. My extended family are huge foodies and my maternal grandmother is also an amazing cook and this further inspired me, as I spent time with her during school holidays while growing up.

2. How does one go from writing down recipes on a notebook to actually writing a cookbook? Did you ever see yourself as an author?

I wanted to be an author before I even knew what an author was. I remember writing my first poem at the age of eight or nine and receiving a compliment from my teachers. In fact, my writing career began with fiction, poetry and narrative non-fiction including an essay on the shipbreaking trade in Chittagong, Bangladesh. While I loved to cook and write down recipes from a very young age I actually began focusing on food writing about five years ago. The two things I love are words and food, so I decided to combine the two!

3. What challenges did you face when you set yourself to writing the book?

Writing my debut cookbook was a tremendous learning curve for me. I learned how to write and format recipes properly, create delicious sounding yet relevant headnotes to accompany the recipes – which are crucial as they not only describe the dish but give helpful hints and tips. As a Bangladeshi cook, I learned through observing and helping. My mother and grandmother, like the majority of women of those generations never used measures, or wrote things down. It’s a very intuitive way of cooking. This made recipe testing a challenge at first as it was all new for me to measure ingredients exactly and time things. It’s so much easier now!

4. Did you work with a publisher or did you self-publish?

I was lucky enough to find a publisher through a friend who loved my blog and forwarded it to my publisher Kitchen Press. They’re an award-winning independent publisher and specialise in market cookbooks so it was a perfect fit for Brick Lane Cookbook. A blog is a wonderful way to highlight food writing, especially if you’re in the early stages.

5. How difficult is it to promote and sell a book? Where do you sell them?

My book is sold via my publisher and a distributor who deal with the business side of things. There’s also a PR to handle a lot of the promotional side. It’s available on Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Oliver Bonas and independent bookshops – one of which is the fabulous Brick Lane Bookshop on Brick Lane. As an author, I also consider it my responsibility to promote the book and I do this via social media posts, where I engage with my audience with regards to cooking and also promote any events I do. I also welcome press and promotional interest and do interviews where possible.

6. It has been said that people publish books nowadays for self-promotion rather than for profit? Is that your case?

I believe writing is a part of me and my life’s main purpose. Since my teens, I’ve published poetry, short fiction and wrote and edited articles for a magazine. This gave me a real sense of what it feels like to write for a living. To me being recognised for writing something interesting and producing good work is key. Self-promotion and profit is, and can be superfluous. Of course, if what you love can help you earn a living that’s a real bonus! My freelance food work is an essential part of my life and I try and connect it to my book as well as long term career goals.

7. Are there any other books in the pipeline?

Nothing concrete at the moment but I am working on a second book with more of a focus on Bangladesh. My book is split into Bangladeshi recipes and other cuisines which reflect the lovely diversity of Brick Lane, but it would be amazing to give Bangladeshi food 100% of my attention for my next project.

8. In your book, you publish recipes from your own kitchen but also from restaurants in Brick Lane. How did you get them to agree for you to publish them for all to see? How did you get their trust in the first place? Were they protective or happy to share their knowledge?

Through sheer power of persuasion and perseverance! Many businesses were easily convinced and keen to include their recipes in my book as they could envision how important it was to document the diversity in the food of Brick Lane. I think people love sharing their food stories. Some were protective of their recipes, especially ones they’d spent years perfecting or family recipes. I totally understood that as these are treasured recipes. I made it clear from the onset that they would be given credit and I would love to share the stories behind their dishes so they were happy to come on board and loved the process of chatting to me and showing me how to cook certain items, which was a real treat.

9. Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Have you thought about opening your own restaurant?

I haven’t worked in a restaurant as such, however, I have worked in them to host supper clubs and pop-ups, most recently at Darjeeling Express, which gave me a little taste of how restaurants operate. I also have some knowledge of them from family members who run their own restaurants. I would love to open some sort of eatery one day serving Bangladeshi food, with my own spin on it.

10. What are your thoughts on cooking robots like the Thermomix? Have you heard about the MIT robot restaurant that just opened in Boston last month?

I’ve literally just googled Thermomix! And to be absolutely honest this kind of cooking has never appealed to me. I’m sure it works for many people and it has its benefits but I just couldn’t imagine cooking this way. I’ve not heard about the robot MIT restaurant and find that very bizarre. I’m an old fashioned cook and not a huge gadgets person either.

11. On the day that we met, you were doing a demo on how to make one of your recipes using what you already have around in your kitchen. Do you try to apply the same concept to all of your recipes?

I believe in zero waste as a basic life philosophy, especially when it comes to food. So I strongly believe in utilising what you have lying around in the fridge or pantry first before buying more groceries. I love to create most of my recipes with that in mind. Use what you have and try and use substitutes. For particular recipes, substitutes don’t work but so many recipes are flexible. It’s all about adaptation.

12. Apart from the book, I know that you have also had your recipes published in many publications and that you host brunches where you share your delicious cooking with your guests. Have you ever considered giving cooking classes?

I love cooking for people and hosting pop-ups and demos. My teaching is currently available on Yodomo.co for whom I’ve filmed a Bangladeshi spice blend and recipe series. However, I’d love to give cooking classes and it’s something that’s on my list of things to do.

13. Where can we find out more about your book and your recipes?

You can find out more about my book and my recipes on my website (which has a recipes blog) and also follow me on Twitter & Instagram @dinasfoodstory to see what I’m cooking and eating and also find out about upcoming events.

This is wonderful, Dina! I really appreciate you sharing with me your tasty recipes and what being a food writer is all about. It is 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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The Quest For The Post-Human

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Everywhere we look around us, Artificial Intelligence is taking over our workplaces, our streets and even our living spaces. Siri controls our phones, Alexa is in charge of our homes and robots are conquering our kitchens. AI is even being taught how to write poetry! We seem to be wanting to create an artificial new version of ourselves, one that corrects all the flaws and limitations that are inherently human. But, a future when the robots take over the world is still far from becoming a reality.

AI programs and devices are still tools to support humans in performing activities that go beyond human capabilities. Machines can perform extraordinary tasks but, when it comes to analysing the results of these activities or making critical decisions, humans still have to step in. In reality, the computer intelligence that powers AI is still, nowadays, more human than it might seem. AI software is created, managed and supported by humans. It takes 10000 people to make Amazon’s Alexa work.

Humans v2.0, post-humans or however you want to call them, will be a species beyond our wildest expectations, capable of doing things that we can’t even dream of today. And, in this quest to create a better version of us humans, we have already produced human-machine hybrids, a breed unable to live their lives separate from their smartphones. But, in spite of the fact that this technology has turned us into some sort of superhumans, we are still pretty much Humans v1.0.

Over the weekend, during a conversation about AI replacing humans, one of the arguments that a I heard was that in order for machines to replace us they must have something that, at the moment, only humans possess: our self-awareness. According to Ai Weiwei, what gives the concept of humanity a special meaning is our self-awareness and the actions that we take to uphold human dignity.

Therefore, in order to create a better version of a human, this new post-human species must not only be able to exceed the limitations that our brains and bodies have, but it must also be able to solve the issues that make us so inefficient as a collective, like our lack of empathy for our own people (70 million refugees roam the planet at the moment of writing this post) or how careless we are with the ecosystem that keeps us alive, for instance.

However, no matter how far a future when the machines take over is, I for one am not looking forward to the day when the post-humans arrive. I am not against technological advances, and I appreciate everything that we have accomplished as a species. But, I like humans. We are beautiful organic machines capable of loving and creating so much beauty that I think that we deserve a chance even if our imperfections make us do the most horrible of things. We don’t need a post-human at the moment, we just need to fix the human that we already have.

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A World That Others Can't See... with Chloe Rosser

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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 third post of the series, Chloe Rosser talks about her image 'Function 5, 4'. Chloe is a photographic artist based in London represented by L A Noble Gallery who has just released her new book Form & Function, available at Stay Free Publishing.

Chloe says: "This image is from my Form & Function series. In this work I hide all the identifying features of the figures - the heads, hair and hands. When seeing a body like this, you can't make the usual assumptions or judgements about a person that you normally would. Instead, you're able to focus on the details of the structure of the figure.

'Function 5, 4' © Chloe Rosser

'Function 5, 4' © Chloe Rosser

For these works, I try to use natural light whenever I can. I was usually shooting in people's homes, which means utilising window light as much as possible. This image doesn't get shown very much when the project is featured or exhibited, but it's actually one of my favourites. That's because of the quality of the light and how it falls beautifully over their shoulders, spines and muscles. They look so statuesque to me.

The other aspect I love about this image is the angle at which one of the figure's leg rests. It looks so strange, almost amputated. It rests there heavily and relaxed, but in a position which looks so awkward. Almost painful, but so calm.

The sole of that figure's foot is dirty from the floor. I see that as a little pop of humanity. We're looking at this pile of body parts, but right there is evidence of the human act of walking. For the same reason, I leave all the marks on the floors and walls - because it's proof the space is lived in.

I shot this image on a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105 mm lens using natural light. The image is featured in my new book, Form & Function"

Thank you so much, Chloe, for sharing with me such beautiful image from your breathtaking work! You can see more of Chloe's amazing work on www.chloerosser.co.uk.


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!

Photo credit: portrait of Chloe Rosser © 2019 JC Candanedo

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A World Without Social Media Likes

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Picture for a second a world without social media likes and follower counts. Would you still use social media? I think very few people would. What made the social media phenomenon so successful had less to do with the social part of it and more to do with the need that we have to be liked and accepted. Is a utopian world without likes and follower counts on social media possible? Some think it is.

Platforms like Facebook or Instagram play with our self-esteem and hook us by making us think that the more likes or people following us that we have, the better we are. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, women’s magazines have been doing it for ages making women feel bad about themselves and their bodies to hook them into buying the products from their advertisers.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently told an audience that the "follower count" on the social platforms is meaningless and that, back in the day, when they were still developing the tool, they were not really thinking about it as an important feature. Little did they know that it would become the most important feature for users, advertisers and anyone profiting from social media in general. These days, however, Twitter is considering discontinuing the “likes” feature.

How would a post-likes, post-follower-count world look like? Would social media platforms be relevant anymore? Maybe this would be the biggest digital revolution since social media itself. People sharing ideas and having meaningful connections without the popularity contest that these platforms have turned into. A real social platform.

Could this even be possible? How would you feel if you weren’t able to tell if anyone watched or liked your posts or stories? How would the so-called influencers make a living? Maybe it would be a more democratic and less noisy social media environment, where the algorithms of these platforms wouldn’t be able to favour the posts of those users with more likes and followers, or where the motivation to write a post would be to share knowledge rather than to clickbait people for traffic and conversion.

Maybe I’m just being too naive and someone would find a way to keep on profiting from our vanity and egos. Whoever figures it out and finds a way to monetize it will be ahead of the game. Is anyone up for the challenge?

Photo credit: photo by Ruby Rose.

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What Is Wrong With Being Human?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Emma Steventon.

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Creative Pioneers at The Trampery

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

Photo by Cris @ The Trampery

Photo by Cris @ The Trampery

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

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

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Who Stole Pink From Men?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: me, age 2.

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'Tis The Season Of Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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New Year News: New Newsletter

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

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

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

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

Happy 2019!

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Is A Better World Possible?

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Just a few days until the end of the year and I have been reflecting on the state of the world these days. Judging by the news outlets and our social media feeds, the world as we know it is coming to an end. We are doomed. This is the worst time in history to be alive. But, if you think about it carefully, it is impossible for this to be the worst time ever. Just picture our parents and grandparents who lived through two world wars, two post-war depressions, a few civil wars, hundreds of dictatorships and many economic recessions, and still, they managed to raise your parents and raise you so that you could make it to where you are today. Is this really the worst time ever or is it that we have no idea what tough times are really like?

Don’t get me wrong, admittedly there are some really bad things happening in the world today and we must address them and try to fix them. However, before writing this post, I started thinking about how to make this a better world. So, I wrote a list of the things that I thought could be changed in order to achieve that and, when my list got to almost a hundred lines, I learned two lessons:

  1. Most of the things that I consider to be in urgent need of fixing will never compare to having your city taken over by Nazis and your family sent to concentration camps.

  2. If I started filtering people who committed any of the “crimes” in my list out of my life, I’d probably end up alone in the world.

I’m not trying to say that nowadays there are no people going through hell and possibly living the worst situations imaginable, but the majority of us complaining about the state of the world today live very privilege and comfortable lives and don’t really know suffering. Things are not that bad in comparison to where we come from, they just seem worse because of the way the media and our feeds are exposing us to them.

I read somewhere that mayflies only live for a few hours. For them, 3 hours is a lifetime. Our species gets to live to a hundred years these days, that’s 300000 mayflies’ lifetimes. For the last 100 million years, mayflies have only existed to be born, reproduce and die. However, human beings went from living an average of 31 years in 1900 to the life expectancy that we have today. Clearly, we live better lives these days than at any point in history.

We mustn’t stop fighting to right the wrongs in the world today, but we must also count our blessings and acknowledge how far we have come as a species. Let’s condemn the wrongdoings, but let’s also praise the accomplishments that we have achieved. There are good people doing really good things out there, but only the bad ones are getting all the press. Besides, if we want to keep on fighting to make things better, we must at least know that there is the possibility for things to get better. In the words attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Have a wonderful 2019.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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One Singular Sensation

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Yesterday, I watched the movie ‘A Chorus Line’ for the first time and when the cast started singing ‘One Singular Sensation’ I thought to myself that this is the perfect set of words to describe the special feeling of this season. The cold, the decorations, the friends and family gatherings, “these are a few of my favourite things!” However, being so fond of this season made me feel very guilty for a long time because I am a Humanist and, even though I was brought up in an atheist family, I’ve been celebrating these holidays all my life. In our defence, “everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?”

Long before Christianity took over Europe, many cultures had celebrations throughout the year that are now considered as part of the Christian religious calendar. Christians appropriated of most of the Pagan festivities and made them their own, like conveniently making us believe that their prophet was born in late December so that we had to celebrate Christmas instead of the Winter Solstice. So, if I’m not Christian, I shouldn’t feel bad about celebrating this season because these holidays are not even theirs in the first place. They just took over them.

Anyway, if you think about it, Pagan festivities were also religious festivities and, as a Humanist, I am a non-religious person and I shouldn’t even be celebrating those either. What a conundrum! Perhaps the solution that I should come up with for my dilemma is to appropriate myself of the already appropriated festivities and make them my own, taking out the religious connotations and the myths and making this season about being happy for the people in my life and about sharing this happiness and love with others. In the end, that is what being a Humanist is all about.

Happy Holidays 2018 and let Love be stronger than the differences that divide us.

Photo credit: photo by Ivan Weiss.

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Thanks For Stopping By Last Folio Friday!

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: photo by Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz.

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Folio Friday At The Photographers' Gallery

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

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

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

The Photographers' Gallery

16 – 18 Ramillies Street

London

W1F 7LW

Exhibition Day Pass £5 (£2.50 Concessions)

I hope to see you there!

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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Don't Rush

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Contemporary Poetry!

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This is the sixteenth post in my series of monthly 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.

Being a big fan of Erin Bolens, you can imagine what an honour it was for me when she agreed to have a chat with me about what it is like being a contemporary poet, about her inspirations and about where in the UK can poetry enthusiasts and fans go to enjoy good poetry:

1. We met in 2017 during your beautiful performance at the Thames Festival's Boat Poets session at the The National Poetry Library and since then you can consider me a huge fan! Why do you think we need poetry?

That's so kind. I think my favourite part of doing this is meeting people along the way, so it's always great to come across those who are curious about poetry.

For me poetry is like a kaleidoscope - it's a small space with such a lot of detail in. Each read of a poem is a bit like shaking the kaleidoscope - you see a different pattern, a different colour and I love that. Poetry is a great shapeshifter and rises to lots of challenges so well. We turn to it both in times of sadness and celebration and I don't think that's ever going to change but I also love it when someone discovers poems that speak to their everyday life.

If it's something you relate to then it's a mirror that makes your perspective feel seen and if it's something you have never thought of then it's like seeing a new view or a door opening on a sight you weren't expecting. I love both.

2. How does one become a poet? Is it something that you study for or is it a talent that you are born with?

I think the habit and love of writing regularly is something some people develop very early on of their own accord and you can definitely create some brilliant poetry that way. You certainly don't have to study poetry in the formal sense to be a poet but listening to and reading a broad range of writing will definitely help to keep you experimenting and will fuel a useful curiosity about how words can be used.

3. What are the career opportunities for poets today?

I think this is a really exciting time for poetry. Perhaps it always feels like that when you are immersed in a particular world, but I do think there is an increasing number of spaces and platforms for readers and writers of poetry which is very exciting.

There isn't one thing that makes it possible for writing to be my job. I have worked with children since I was a teenager so doing that through poetry was a natural step for me and I really love it but it isn't for everyone. I do a mix of teaching, performing and writing commissions both for individuals, events or companies and organisations.

4. Do you remember a time before writing poetry?

Um not really. However, I don't think I would ever have called it poetry until much later on because for a long time I saw poetry as a very structured, quite old fashioned thing. For me, it was dictated by rules and it took a long time for me to discover how fluid and varied and expansive that label can be. That's not to say those structures can't be exciting but they're definitely not the only definition of poetry.

5. How has poetry changed your life?

Oh massively. It's always sort of been there because I've written for ages but I think discovering the world of performed poetry was pretty life-changing for me. I've always enjoyed stories and talking with other people and this combined the two for me.

I have a background in acting and at that time I found the autonomy of being able to write something true and perform it yourself really liberating. It became my favourite thing to do very quickly.

Aside from it being my work, just writing for myself is something that I get a lot of benefits from. It helps me to clarify my thoughts and feelings and is just a big source of calm and joy for me. Also frustration of course, but it's the positives that are always heavier.

6. Who inspires you?

This is a really tricky one and something I'm always adding to. For me, it's a big old melting pot that includes brilliant people from history to people I've met once at a bus stop who tell me something which changes my way of thinking or encourages me to do something.

I regularly work with The Poetry Takeaway which is a mobile space where Poets chat to people and turn those conversations into poems which are taken away and often treasured for a long time. It's a really beautiful thing and last year I wrote for a brilliant woman called Enid. She is one of the biggest poetry fans I have ever met and since then we have become friends. She has given me such incredibly kind and well thought out encouragement and advice. Recently, she told me not to deny myself any pleasure and not to over analyse poems.

For that and many other reasons, I would say she definitely inspires me.

7. When most people think about poetry, they think of the classics. But, like you, there are many contemporary poets out there that are equally as good as the classics, if not better. Do you have any contemporary poetry heroes or sheroes?

Yeah definitely. So many poets I admire and know are constantly reshaping my understanding of poetry and how it can be used.

  • Hollie McNish is a modern poetry Goddess and played a big part in me not feeling embarrassed to use rhyme if I wanted to.

  • Caleb Femi was the first Young People's Laureate for London and does incredible work with poetry in film.

  • Vanessa Kissule is doing brilliant things as the first City Poet for Bristol.

  • Toby Campion is one of my absolute favourite writers, performers and people and keeps everyone on their toes with how brilliant each new piece of work is.

  • Harry Baker is one of the most joyous poets and people ever. His love of playing around with words is so infectious and is always my go-to cynicism antidote.

8. Prose or verse? Or both?

Oh, both. Everything, all of it. Like with music, I think there are space and time for all ways of making and presenting any form or style of writing. I don't think it is possible for the existence of one to dilute another. You can have favourites of course, and for me, they change all the time, but I don't think anything is ever unworthy just because it doesn't speak to me today.

9. You contribute to shaping the young generation of poets through your workshops and your involvement in programmes like the Boat Poets residency. How can aspiring poets take part in these activities?

Projects like Boat Poets have been such a big part of my writing and life. They provide time, support and connections which expand your opportunities, help your confidence to grow and your work to develop and to be influenced by things other than your immediate thoughts and surroundings.

There are absolutely loads and I'll probably remember the best tomorrow but here are a few that I have taken part in or that I know have been a big part of the journeys of writers I know.

  • The Roundhouse in London. If you are under 26 you can enter their slam (usually takes place in early summer each year), apply for their poetry collective or to be a resident artist.

  • Apples and Snakes - they regularly put on brilliant workshops across and master classes for all ages and levels of experience across the UK. Their project 'The Writing Room' is another excellent collective based writing course.

  • SLAMbassadors - The Poetry Society's national youth poetry slam championships for 13-18-year-olds.

  • UNIslam - annual poetry slam bringing together teams from universities across the UK for a mixture of workshops and performances.

  • Barbican Young Poets - annual poetry course for young writers at the Barbican Centre in London.

10. Where can people find out about your schedule and performances?

I keep up most things on erinbolens.com

Thank you so much, Erin, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and learning about what being a poet is all about. It is 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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Is Black Friday Still Worth It For Anyone?

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Black Friday 2018 is nearly here and the world is getting ready for the biggest sales day of the year. A day where the big brands will try to sell you almost everything that they have in stock and consumers will buy almost anything, even if it means spending more than they can afford. It is a fierce competition among store owners, but also among bargain hunters. Sadly, it is a competition where the winners are hardly winning, and the losers may lose it all.

I have my doubts on whether Black Friday is really that good for brands and consumers. On the one hand, even if it is true that it is the biggest sales day of the year, anyone who runs a business can tell you that more sales don’t equal more profit. Also, if you have to discount everything to be able to sell something, the discounted price is your new full-price. On top of that, if everyone is waiting for the best deals on Black Friday, who will buy your products at regular prices during the rest of the year? In the end, brands would have to give out their products for free if we continue at this pace (I spoke about this in this post).

On the other hand, one could argue that Black Friday is not that good for the consumer either. The whole shopping experience during that day is awful and it makes you question your faith in humanity. Besides, there are always reports of brands pumping their prices up before Black Friday so that they can offer discounts on the day.

But, for me, the biggest losers during Black Friday are not whom you might think:

  • Small brands: smaller brands that don’t take part on Black Friday or can’t compete with the discounts offered by bigger brands because they have smaller margins and can’t afford to make drastic discounts. You might think “well, it’s the survival of the fittest”, but you must remember that small and medium businesses are the ones that keep the economy alive.

  • The economy: if stores do most of their sales of the year during Black Friday and the rest of the year customers are hardly buying their products, what is the need for brands to keep shops open all year long wasting money on staff, rent, utilities, warehouses, etc? Who is going to hire all that staff or rent all those commercial spaces if brands don’t need them anymore?

  • The environment: Black Friday does not only result in over-spending, but it also brings over-consumption and waste. Consumers not only tend to wait until Cyber Monday to renew their devices, but they also buy some new ones that they didn’t even need just because they were offered at a discounted price, contributing to the electronic waste that is piling up in the landfills all over the planet.

Brands and consumers alike should reassess whether keeping the tradition of Black Friday alive is worth all the hassle. For what is the point of a competition where everyone loses in the end?

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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