University: University of the West of England, Bristol
Statement: Hard Work is my book that was the result of a long-time interest in martial arts, specifically the art of Kung Fu and the culture, ideals and beliefs that surround it. I have grown up watching and loving films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the legendary Bruce Lee films; it was the portrayal of mystical lands, mythological powers and magical beings that captured me so completely as a child and still as an adult. And so I began a journey to discover the place where it all began, to train in the art and explore the surrounding values, and the people whose lives revolve around it. I applied to attend a school of Kung Fu for foreigners in China, the birthplace of this particular martial art.
What is your favourite photobook by another photographer? I’m always really temperamental with my favourites - I have to say though, my favourite at the moment is ZZYZX by Gregory Halpern. The photographs are incredible, as are the narratives it shares. I think it’s hit me quite strongly because I went to America for the first time last summer, and felt slightly underwhelmed by the West Coast despite only ever hearing good things about it. But looking at it through Halpern’s eyes in his book made me realise that I just wasn’t paying enough attention, that in retrospective
Direction: My route into photography started with a little digital Fujifilm camera that was gifted to me for my 14th birthday by my older brother. It was some time later that I started doing anything remotely serious with photography; dipping my toes into the music scene. Being a really cool, hardcore teenager (not!), I used to go to these local rock concerts and eventually started taking photographs of the bands, and then became the in-house photographer. I moved on from this as I got closer to my A-Levels, as my style, and likes and dislikes developed and matured. This all led to me studying photography at university, which was also the reason for my photobook, as the project was my final year project. I was very lucky in that my publisher, Brown Owl Press, caught wind of the project on social media during my degree show!
Considerations: I had thought about and planned the work becoming a photobook from the very early research stages, as to me it felt like the natural path to take for this specific project and the way I wanted to tell the narrative. However, when the book launched I did create an exhibition around it too, which I really enjoyed. But I still think, almost two years on, that the narrative I’m trying to get across is best told in book format.
Being a first photobook, and due to my own personal preferences, I wanted to keep the process - and the “features” of the book - very simple and minimal. So the book itself is not hugely unique in the way that it was built, and was put together for both my final year assessment and the published book also by a great company - Ex Why Zed.
Interior: This was the hardest part. I came back from my month-long trip with over 4,000 photographs; I shot digitally and was extremely trigger happy! What really helped me was contacting some creatives in the industry whom I admired. There were a select amazing few who gave me so much in-depth information and fully helped me during my time making the book. I used these contacts as well as my own friends as much as possible to help me make an edit, using their fresh eyes and expertise to see what I couldn’t. I made a decision to include text, although my tutors were against it. Hard Work isn’t intended to be a mysterious piece of art that needs unravelling. I struggled with the order of the edit quite a bit, and in the end settled on “categorising” the edit into sections, with each piece of text introducing each section.
Inspiration: The influences on me at the time were from an amalgamation of artists, work and theory that was all part of my research, but these are the most memorable. In terms of the excellent photography but also in terms of the travel, and looking outside my own comfort zones and my own country: Jon Tonks and Empire, which he came to speak to us about at university; Christopher Nunn and his publication Kalush Part 1 which was the first photographic publication I ever bought; and finally Nadav Kander’s enchanting Yangtze: The Long River.
Advice and Future Goals:
1. Write to creatives you admire for advice, regardless of if you think they’ll reply to you or not. Write to as many as you can, and try and meet up with them to show them your work in person. You’ll get fantastic, priceless advice, and will likely end up with a wonderful friend and/or connection in the industry.
2. Always, always get others to look at your work. Fresh eyes are so important; when working on putting the images together for the book, I had such bad tunnel vision that I had an experience similar to when you repeat a word so much that it loses meaning. Get as many other people to look at your work as possible, and collect their feedback. Give yourself time away from your images too.
3. Don’t forget that presentation is just as important as the photography. It should be right for your work, and show your photographs in the best possible light. Try and get a designer, or use your friends if there’s a designer among them!
4. For getting inspired, look at the work of others. Find work that you like and especially work that you don’t like, figure out why you don’t like it and realise what you do. Find what inspires you and makes you tick.
5. I was lucky in that I was approached to be published, but this came about from my active “social life”. I realised during university how useful a tool Twitter was for connecting with other creatives and members of the industry, and I used it constantly. I was very active online with an active website from even before I was at university, always showing and promoting my work. It’s something that I think is hugely important, and is so easy to do once you get into it. Figure out which platform is best for you, or try and connect a few. For example, I post almost daily on Instagram, which is connected to my blog, Twitter and Facebook.