Daniel White: Hey Stewart! You are our first interviewee that is not in the United States! This is incredibly exciting for us and I appreciate you taking the time to do this!
Stewart Bryden: Thanks for asking me to be the first interviewee outside of the US. It’s an honour! Keep up the good work lads!
DW: Let’s start with telling us what you’re doing now.
SB: I am Scottish photographer, I primarily shoot fashion but rather than categorize myself. Let’s just say I work full-time as a professional photographer. I split my time between London, Glasgow and New York.
I’m working on a couple of Projects at the moment in the UK and I’ll be in New York for the entirety of May working on a Global campaign as well as a number of editorials and catching up with old friends and colleagues.
DW: When did you first get into photography and when did you know you wanted to make it a career? Were your parents creative at all?
SB: I’ve always had less of an academic mindset and more creative one, so I think being an artist of some sort was instilled in me from a young age. Photography came about as a small module on an arts portfolio class. The module was all analogue based so no digital cameras at all, we learned to load, shoot and process film in a small darkroom in my home town college. I wasn’t hooked by any means from the get-go, it was more of a gradual love affair. I think once I graduated in Glasgow I knew I’d put a good chunk of my teenage years into honing my skills and studying, I didn’t see the point in putting so much effort in to my studies to then not pursue a career. I also hadn’t planned on pursuing fashion photography but slowly my work started to steer towards that naturally probably due to the creative side of it, in my eyes it can be the most avant-garde. I’m glad to report my love affair has come full circle and I am very much in love with photography.
Photo by Stewart Byrden
DW: I see that you acquired a photography degree in Scotland, can you tell about your experience school? Did you find it difficult or were there any obstacles that were unforeseen going forth with learning photography in the classroom?
SB: I think applying any academic study or criteria to any art form should be challenging. Art is objective; therefore, I’ve always found it odd that it can be graded. That said, with photography being a lot more technology based than most other forms of art, I wanted to study the working of the camera as well as the business side of the industry.
I wasn’t a huge fan of school, in my teenage years I played in a punk band and as such, I rebelled as much as I could from your typical or what was considered normal social constructs. I was always a middle of the road student regardless, looking back now I probably could have applied myself more but in the same breath, I wouldn’t change much of my journey. I am 31 now and more comfortable than ever regarding where my career has been, is at and where it’s going. I think my mindset has changed and I feel more confident in my creative ability.
When it came to University, my tutors were incredible, they were all accomplished photographers who had a real passion for the craft. I think they understood where I was at, I was very torn between photography and music for a while, I actually left college mid-way through, took some time out, played music and travelled for a bit. Thankfully I went back and finished my studies but I'm glad I took the time to work out if it was truly something I wanted to do. I definitely wouldn’t be the photographer I am today if it weren’t for a select few people and a selection of my core tutors are amongst them.
DW: You worked for Ryan Mcginley in New York after college, how was that arranged? what did you learn from that experience?
SB: Yeah so, I actually got the gig at Ryan’s Studio before graduating but I explained to Ryan’s studio manager Marc that I was obviously very eager to graduate from University before flying over to NYC, Himself and Ryan completely understood.
In regards to gaining my place within the studio, I contacted Marc with a selection of my digital portfolio of the time along with a small blurb about who I was and where my passions lay and then was invited to fly out to New York for a couple of days for an interview in the studio. A couple of months later I got an email to say congratulations and I should start a month then which was November 1st. I had packed my life up and was in the studio for December 1st.
The experience was incredible, I was a young man from a small town in Scotland and all of a sudden, I was living in Bushwick, Brooklyn and working in a Manhattan based studio for one of the most important photographers of our time. It was a whirlwind experience that I am eternally grateful for. I learned so much and had the opportunity to watch Ryan work, we had a sit down, looked over my work and Ryan offered me some professional guidance, we hung out, we went for sushi in Midtown, had a Christmas party, it was great.
Working for Ryan and being in New York city right after graduating was phenomenal timing. If studying photography was the kindle and starting embers of my love for photography then working for Ryan and New York city was the gasoline igniting the fire, it made me realize if I truly applied myself I could actually be a credible working artist.
DW: How was the creative community in the United States different or the same as it was in Scotland?
SB: I can only really judge by New York City and as most people know, New York could very well be the centre of the creative universe. Scotland is on the rise, the creativity in this country is phenomenal, I can personally count over 10 phenomenal Scottish talents I personally know that come from just my town. Sadly, the backing in Scotland isn’t the best, the creative sector doesn’t fully grasp what it has YET, but that’s slowly changing and its really cool to be part of that. I have a personal project in motion with one of the creative sectors in Scotland that is hopefully going to help push Scottish talent to the forefront of people’s thoughts. New York is built for creatives.
DW: Were you working any other job before you went free-lance?
SB: Yeah, when I first left school I worked full-time for a bit, I then played music full-time before going back to College and ultimately University. During the majority of this time I worked in fashion retail. I’ve always had a mild interest in fashion and the industry that surrounds it, even before I picked up a camera. I enjoy clothes.
I think working within the high-end stores likes Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Paul smith made me respect the craft of the clothing seen as I was around it every day. I think with working in fashion coupled with coming out of University and living in New York, fashion photography was a natural sector for me to fall into. I was always photographing people anyway, so in my mind photographing the clothing surrounding the portraits was a natural step.
DW: Was there a point in time that you thought “I don’t think I can do this” as regards to pursuing photography as a career? What did you do to overcome that?
SB: Yes, fairly often. Every now and then the doubts and frustrations will rear their ugly heads but I always tell myself nothing worth doing is easy, if it were then everyone would do it. I think being a full-time creative of any medium takes a lot of perseverance, you’re not going to be at the top of your game over night, your forever learning. I probably learn more now day to day on the job, on set or on location than I did writing dissertations or reading. Not to say it wasn’t worth it, I'm very proud of my arts degree but that’s not for everyone, what I mean is the little tricks of the trade you learn along the way are paramount to growing as a business owner and an artist. Anyway Yes! I think everyone has times where you think you should quit, but it’s what makes you better, stronger and hungrier for success. I always give myself small goals, I describe it as tiers, going up a tier at a time and making sure I'm still progressing every couple of months or year is important to me. Eventually I'll have the perfect skillset and knowledge to arm me for shooting for the top dogs. Soon!
DW: What was the first brand you worked for and how did you land the gig? What is it about shooting for brands that make you love it too much?
SB: A lot of my first ‘gigs’ so to speak weren’t fashion based, they were odd jobs shooting events or model testing, standard stuff to get the ball rolling, growing your name/brand.
A lot of the time in the beginning I would email companies, phone their reception and ask whom was best to forward my portfolio too etc., now it’s more word of mouth or my work for a client has been seen by a new one, technically my work should speak for itself. I’m luckily that I’d like to think I'm hired to shoot my particular style, you can look at one of my images and know it’s mine.
The first time I remember shooting for a brand and thinking that it was a fairly big deal was ‘Massimo Dutti’ who are based out of Barcelona and fall under the umbrella company ‘Inditex’ who also look after the likes of Bershka, Zara, Pull & Bear etc. so it was fairly substantial. I landed the job through a Scottish media company who were handling all production, they had suggested me to the label. Massimo Dutti wanted to shoot in Scotland with a full Scottish team, they were doing shoots throughout Europe with teams from each country. Luckily for me it all went ahead without a hitch, the creative team flew over from Barcelona, I was flown up from London, I had previously worked with both models and I had my won assistant there to help with any of my needs. It was a fun shoot and a great learning curve at that time.
DW: What was the first publication that you worked with? How are you finding more opportunities to work with them currently?
SB: Some of the first publications I worked with were Scottish newspapers or the magazine pullouts, As a student I would shoot it for free for experience or exposure.
The first Major publication I worked with was ‘CLASH’ magazine. I shot on assignment in New York, A portrait series of the late great Soul legend Charles Bradley (An absolute gentlemen of a man, a phenomenal talent who I was sad to recently learn had passed away). Clash were so happy with the images that they extended the interview and made it a photo issue.
More recently, fashion based I’ve been shooting with Fucking Young! Magazine. I had a meeting with the editor Luca who had been a fan of my work for a while. initially he sent me on assignment to shoot an editorial featuring contemporary menswear designer Liam Hodges and have shot a handful of times for them since, print and digital. I’m actually back in New York in May to shoot an editorial for them so working with the mag is ongoing.
DW: What really stands out to me is your amazing portrait work and the overall feeling that each gives off. What are you trying to accomplish with every shoot you do?
SB: Thank you! Initially it was portraiture that I was drawn to and fashion kind of happened naturally from that so it’s going to know my portraiture still shines through within the fashion work.
I think while on set I have the goal in mind from the client, the shoot deck/list is always there but I also have ideas I know I want to achieve that I know the client will like. It’s always nice to surprise people with little extra ideas on set, the feedback is always the best for this. You gotta remember people aren’t just hiring you to come in and push a button, I'm not that type of photographer (Not that there is anything wrong with that) I like to think I’m brought in for my mindset, vision and creative eye. I like a lot of movement on set from the model, not only does it loosen them up, it relaxes them, they don’t focus so much on looking stern or posed, its more natural looking. Half the battle with being a photographer is being a people person, especially in my particular line of work, if you’re on set and everyone is uncomfortable then it’s going to come across in the images. Regardless of how good the model is, if he/she is uncomfortable in front the lens then it’ll show.
DW: You’re in London now. What brought you there? Has it been hard getting adjusted to the creative environment there?
SB: I’ve been in London around 2 years now, I moved down here for the creative needs. Scotland is great but the opportunities aren’t the same as the big cities. The main difference is the size and scale of the industry. I think in Scotland it’s easier to be perceived as a big fish in a small pond. It’s the opposite in London, it’s totally saturated with creative talent, an absolute plethora of talent, but if you graft and have the talent it’ll pan out. It was almost like restarting but I'm enjoying their hustle.
DW: As far as marketing and branding, what do you think has been the most beneficial tool you have used?
SB: Id find it hard to say, Social media has been a huge platform for pretty much every creative but I also believe it has been fairly detrimental. People are being hired more for their follower count rather than the wealth of knowledge or talent they possess.
I think like I said, a lot of my commissions and projects come from word of mouth or clients seeing my work for other brands or labels. I still personally continue to forward my digital portfolio to an abundance of labels, publications and media houses etc. I reach out to people I would love to work with, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m now also in final talks with a London based photography agency about representation, they will act as my agent so they will contact clients and deal with all the business side of things for me. It’s the logical next step.
DW: Who are a few of your favorite creatives that have inspired you to create art?
SB: An abundance of people Photographers like Ryan Mcginley, Tim Walker, Cindy Sherman, Gregory Crewsdon, Hiroshi Sugimoto, , Musicians Tom Delonge, Tim Mctague, Aaron Gillespie, Nina Simone, Gil Evans, Dallas Green, Miles Davis & Dvorak & Hans Zimmer, skateboarders like Andrew Reynolds, Jason Dill, Lizard King, directors like Denis Villeneuve, David Fincher & Andrew Dominik and the cinematographer such Roger Deakins blows my mind constantly.DW: What are some accomplishments that you’ve achieved through your journey has a photographer?
SB: I don’t tend to dwell on anyone thing, I have a goal and I'm completely focused on it, but once I achieve it, I move on. I think I'm too focused on the future, everyone always says I don’t really live in the moment and I'm always thinking about tomorrow, or next month, week or year. Still I have reached certain goals which I’ve strived for which I'm proud of. I’ve exhibited in Scotland and Italy, I’ve had images published worldwide, my work has been in store and their windows across Europe etc. Like I mentioned earlier it’s all about reaching the next tier or the next step in the ladder. Small victories and then on to the next one.DW: What is an end goal for your career in the creative industry?
SB: I’m currently in the process of gaining my own studio space, so that will be exciting. Stew Bryden Studios (Another small victory) should be set up just as we go into summer so I'm stoked on that.
Ultimately the end goal is to be a known photographer within my field, busy and travelling as often as possible, I have no desire for me to be personally famous, that’s why I stopped posting images of myself across social media, instead I want my work to be known, for people to look at it and know it’s a Stew Bryden image. I want to be right up there shooting credible and groundbreaking work that inspires others for the big fashion houses and magazines. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have the desire to reach the top of my field. For me credibility is of the upmost importance, I’m not going to shoot certain projects if it doesn’t measure up to me morally just for the money. If you’re in this game for the money then you’re in the wrong job. Sure the budgets can be great and the travel is a total bonus but it’s a lot of hard-work. A lot of being a photographer is paperwork, client liaison, filing, digitizing etc. It’s an in joke that being a photographer in 10% actually taking photographs. As long as I'm surviving, I’m travelling, creating and working I’ll be happy.
DW: What advice would you give to someone that is interested in starting a career in the arts?
SB: I’ve been lucky enough that whenever I'm back in Scotland and specifically Glasgow, I'm invited back to my University to speak to the current students, from the entry level NQ straight through to degree. Its particularly Apt for me to speak to the next generation as I went studied from NQ to my Sons degree and then I’ve taken the next steps over the years to really start carving out a name for myself. I think it would have helped me to have an ex student in to talk about the next step directly after my studies. I always explain what I’ve been touching upon, that perseverance is key. If you have talent and determination, if you persevere, keep learning, hone your skills and your never arrogant, it should technically work out. For me, when I'm on set and the client see’s that the ground work we have all put in is paying off and the images are looking strong and positive energy is flowing on set, everyone knows the initial worries have faded and everyone start getting really excited, it’s such a great feeling. Artists can’t help but stamp a little bit of themselves into their work, it’s the same for me and when that pays off, its phenomenally rewarding. DW: Thank you for doing this interview! I know a lot of readers will be inspired by your story! Can you tell us where we can find you on the internet.
SB: It’s been my total pleasure, I don’t tend to do any interviews etc. now as I feel I need to strive more to really warrant people hearing what I have to say but as you said, we have known each other (Digitally) for years Daniel, your work is looking great, I love your portraiture, there’s a beautiful honesty to it, I really think you capture an American relaxed vibe in your work!
If anyone ever has any questions etc. they can drop me a line at; email@example.com. I’m always keen to chat things photography and the arts.
I’m on the usual social media outlets;
And my digital portfolio can be found here;
Keep an eye out for my artist on artist project over the coming year and keep an eye on my social channels and digital portfolio, I update it as often as possible.