Photo by Shayne Bennett/ @shanyewashere
Josef Pitts is a portrait and street photographer currently based in Sumter, SC. He found his passion for photography while studying retail and fashion in college. In this interview. He discusses how Tumblr, Hypebeast and Instagram fueled his interest in the visual arts, why he loves using the streets as his canvas and how he overcomes roadblocks on his journey to becoming a successful creative.
Daniel White: Hey Josef! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this with us. You are an amazing image capturer and I know our viewers will enjoy hearing your story. So tell us, How did you get into photography?
Josef Pitts: I originally went to school for Retail and Fashion merchandising so I was all about style and fashion. I’d browse websites like Hypebeast and scroll through Tumblr and I’d just admire how the outfits were presented, I think this is when I really started in photography aside from just snapping random photos on my phone. Eventually my mom noticed I was into photography when I spent time messing with a family members' cameras during a family gathering so she bought me a little point and shoot. I out grew it it quickly by watching YouTube videos and learning the basics by taking nature photos and pictures of swans at the park where I live. That was about three years ago and a year later i bought first professional camera and took it from there. I shot family events, got a chance go to Portland and try street photography for the first time, essentially teaching myself everything I know now by just getting out there and doing it. I’d travel to cities like Charleston or Charlotte and just walk the entire city shooting and perfecting my craft whether it was hot or cold. I think just consuming myself in my work helped me grow a lot quicker because I really haven’t been shooting for very long but I’ve had the opportunity to do some really awesome things with great people because i came up so quickly and caught the eye of the right people.
Daniel: I see that you really focus on portrait and street photography, why those two?
Josef: I originally started shooting street as a way to help me cope with my life at the time, I was unhappy and burned out from work and needed something to help me unwind and keep me happy to say the least, I had always been interested in photography more so through fashion and just being on Instagram, but I eventually discovered street photography during my research into buying my first DSLR, I was influenced by Youtubers like Kai W and Eric Kim which led me to researching the older photographers like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Joel Meyerowitz. I was hooked after that. The portraiture kind of came afterwards as a way to play the Instagram game and diversify my talents at the time, but it wasn't my passion; however it allowed me to meet some awesome people and step out of my shell a bit so I’m grateful of the time I’ve spent learning the craft.
Daniel: Give us a glimpse of what's going through your head when you walked around the streets of Vegas and the QC when you were taking photos. Did you know what you were looking for or did you just wing it?
Josef: Whether it’s Vegas or in the QC I just look for subjects who stand out. I try to find people who look like they have purpose or a story they could tell which could be anything from an old couple, a suit on his way to a meeting or just how the light is playing in a scene. Being able to resonate with what I m looking at through my camera helps me appreciate the moment so I’ll snap the photo if I feel like I can put myself in their shoes or see myself in that moment.
Daniel: How do you overcome road blocks when creating?
Josef: Honestly I’ll just take time off and just not shoot, I’ll ditch Instagram or other social media to let myself recharge. I think for me, unplugging helps me stay fresh and keep my love for photography alive because I’m not doing it all the time. it’s fun when I get to come back to it and I appreciate the moments that I’m able to shoot a bit more.
Daniel: What projects are you working on? What does the future hold for you?
Josef: My current project is called Street Scenes About Nothing which is the brand and overall arching theme that I base my photography off of. I want SSAN to be something bigger than just an Instagram page, whether it be a photo exhibit, coffee table book or maybe an actual magazine. I'm still trying to pin point exactly where I want to take it, so it's in its infancy right now. Despite this, I’d say I’m in one of those mental breaks from photography, I’m still shooting and creating with others but at the same time it’s taking a backseat to real life.
Daniel: Top 3 Creative inspirations?
-Video games with a photo mode (i didn’t have Pokémon snap growing up so it was Gran Turismo 4 for me). I kinda wish I had gotten into Fatal Frame
-The old shooters like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Joel Meyeoritz
-Whatever song is in my EarPods as I release the shutter at that moment
Daniel: Advice to everyone in the creative world?
Josef: You’re never to old or to young, if you want to create and if you’re able then you should go for it if it makes you happy.
Daniel: How are you marketing yourself and what tools do you use?
Josef: I am crazy awful at marketing myself. I’m a very low key person and so I don’t do a very good job at putting myself out there, I’ve got work on several sites and a personal website but I should be better and letting people know that I’m actually pretty good at what I do.
Daniel: Josef, thank you so much for your time! Tell us where we can find you on the internet.
Instagram: @jamaaljosef /@email@example.com (side side project slightly nsfw)
Róisín Bryson is a theater director and photographer currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Originally from Ireland she ventured to Scotland to study drama. In this interview she tells us about auditioning for her play at 13, growing up in a creative household and her love for working with people to bring her ideas to life.
Daniel: Hey Róisín! Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Lets start from the beginning, when, when did you get into directing/theatre?
Róisín: I’ve always had a sort of affinity for the arts and creativity, but I remember auditioning for a play as a laugh when I was about 13. I got a part and subsequently gave up everything else to spend all my time in the theatre. I think it was a people thing – I am fascinated by people, the way they work and feel and interact with each other. Drama and performing is about that, whether it’s the people you meet and work with or the characters you get to delve into. I loved theatre instantly – even if I was and still am absolutely terrified of it!
Through school I had this sort of battle choosing between fine art and theatre, and which one I would go into. I chose drama and came to Edinburgh to study. With all the intention of being a performer. I’ve discovered I’ve an affinity for directing now, which is a lot of organising and decision making and creating whole worlds. Maybe I’m a control freak, but I really enjoy it. There’s something so exciting about being in a rehearsal room and building an entire live world and then sharing that with an audience. It’s completely magical.
Daniel: I see you do some photography, how did you get into that?
Róisín: I’m not sure exactly how or where I started using photography. I know it’s often a documentation thing for me – I want to capture moments of joy. Maybe that’s a bit pretentious. Most of my photos are just pictures of friends or family. I love portrait photography, and those photos are often my best, because there’s so much life in a still image. I also find it really useful when I’m doing theatre work – often I’ll document rehearsals, or head out and create a bunch of visual resources for the concept/vision of the piece – it’s very versatile.
Daniel: Where do you get your creativity from? How do you overcome road blocks with creativity?
Róisín: My entire family are all artists in one way or another, and very creative, so art has always been around as a sort of outlet I think. I can’t imagine not doing anything creative. Often it comes out when I’m stressed, or emotional, or in love. So, if I’m none of these things, I don’t really make anything. When nothing exciting is happening that’s when I have the biggest creative blocks. I think the only thing you can do is just to keep going, which might sound a bit obvious. But if you do that, even if 99% of what you make isn’t great, there’ll be the beginnings of something in there.
Daniel: What projects are you working on right now?
Róisín: Right now I’m writing a show for my alter ego, Sharon Fruit. She’s a very sad, lonely woman trying to be the perfect wife. The show is about all the men she’s loved and sharing that with an audience in (hopefully) a funny way. It started as a bit of a joke and now it’s a collection of different performances I’ve done over the last year or so. I’ve a separate Instagram for Sharon, so she’s also an ongoing photo project.
I’m also working with a group on a theatre piece which follows the different phases of women’s lives and the various relationships they have, and how love affects them. We’ve been workshopping and playing about with a lot of poetry, turning it into performance text and stimulus and things. I think it’s going to be incredible.
Daniel: Who are some of your top creative inspirations and why?
Róisín: It’s always changing but I recently discovered Juno Calypso’s photography. The worlds she creates are so strange and so beautiful and a little bit spooky. Pink is definitely my new favourite colour because of her.
Always Lady Gaga - everything she does is beautiful. If I could have that level of control, and autonomy with my own art I’d be sorted. But also – the fashion, iconic.
The performance artist Bryony Kimmings – somebody recommended her work to me after I first performed as Sharon Fruit and I am in awe of everything she does. She makes such interesting work and it’s a really accessible form of performance art so I love it. Her character Catherine Bennett, who’s a fake popstar, is wonderful.
Daniel: Advice to everyone the creative world?
Róisín: Have confidence in your own ideas and be honest. The best things I’ve created have always come from a place of truth and honesty. But also, I think people respect that – no matter how strange your art might seem.
Daniel: What do you think the future has in store for you?
Róisín: I’m not sure yet! I know I’ll continue doing what I do. Next year I’ll probably take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe, I also want to start a podcast. These are short term goals I guess.
Daniel: I really appreciate you taking the time to do this! I look forward to seeing all your projects flourish and am excited for all the good things that are going to come your way. Tell us where we can find you on the internet
Instagrams: @roisinsbryson and @sharonxfruit
Robert Coffey is a commercial and street photographer in Columbia, South Carolina. In this interview we discuss the importance of being in a creative community, overcoming the fear of photographing strangers in public and how he plans on getting more involved in working with non profits with his photo work.
Daniel White: Hey Robert! Thank you for being doing this interview with us. We became friends on Instagram some time ago and I have been a huge fan since. Can you tell us how you got started in photography?
Robert Coffey: Sure, thanks for having me. My journey in photography began around 2006. It started with me buying a point and shoot. I thought I would take better pictures with a SLR, so I bought one and, to my surprise, they were just as bad…probably worse. That’s when my quest began to figure out how to take a better photograph. Twelve years later, I’m still on that quest.
Daniel: That’s pretty amazing, so the challenge of getting images you loved kind of gave you the determination to power through the struggle part of photography. What pushed you to buy the point and shoot? Was it just a general interest or was someone else involved?
Robert: It was curiosity, and I would attribute that part of me from my dad. He took a lot of pictures when he was younger, and as we (my two sisters and I) grew up, we would look through tons of photo albums he created. I remember thinking how cool it was to have a glimpse back to a time that I’ve never experienced, nor ever will experience. So, when I purchased the camera, it wasn’t with the intention of becoming a photographer, but probably had to do more with a part of me wanting to archive (and relive) moments in time. At that time, I only understood it as curiosity.
Daniel: I love that, I think most people dive into the creative field because of that exact reason and it ends up blossoming into so much more. So, tell us how you finally conquered the skill the creative the images that you do now. Was school involved or did you just learn it all on your own?
Robert: Well, I had no idea where to start once I decided to better myself, so I started reading books and joining online message boards. I was not interested in going back to school, so I would go to bookstores and read, and read, and read some more. I joined local organizations and national organizations, attended workshops, conferences, etc. I showed up to everything in Columbia and the surrounding areas that had anything to do with photography. The cool thing about that was that I kept running into the same people. That helped me build a network of photographers in my area. I just kept showing up. There was this one time I showed up to a workshop only to find burning crosses and men dressed in hooded sheets printed on canvas gallery wraps. But hey, you run into all types out here.
Daniel: Oh wow! That is absolutely amazing. The power of community is so amazing and inspiring. I always think "Just showing up" is probably the most important factor in trying to learn anything so I’m very glad you put it that way. What road blocks did you hit when you were studying the books and going to these workshops? How did you overcome them?
Robert: I think the biggest roadblock was trying to understand without someone to explain why. It’s one thing to read “what to do”, but it’s another thing to understand “why to do.” Why do you tell the model to tilt her chin down? How do you convey emotion when the subject is giving you nothing? I needed to understand why, because if it made sense to me, I could use it. So, I asked a lot of questions, took workshops and classes that were over my head, and kept shooting. I jumped into film, shooting cameras like the Mamiya RB67 and Holga just to get a good foundation of how to see light, and how to shoot with limitations.
Daniel: Oh yes! those are definitely some of the hardest things to understand in photography but I’m glad the workshops helped. I think you are the first one to mention anything about workshops so far too, so that’s really awesome to hear. Can you tell us how exactly jumping to analog kind of helped you get through those hurdles?
Robert: My dive into film photography came along probably around late 2013. By that point, I had made acquaintances with a number of photographers. Some were students and professors at the University of South Carolina, a few were photojournalists, a couple commercial photographers, and the others were part of a national organization that promotes certifications, print competitions, etc. Each of these groups had their idea of what a good photograph was. And some of those ideas were diametrically opposed to another group’s approach to photography. It was like William Eggleston vs Ansel Adams. I had to rectify that within myself.
So, I got back to the basics and started asking myself questions. What is photography at its core? Writing with light. What motivates me to take pictures? Curiosity. Challenges. People. What made the photographers in the past great? Nothing, except that they stayed true to themselves. That's when I realized I needed to follow what moved me to make an image.
Film was the aesthetic I liked, and the idea of not looking at the back of the camera was liberating. The other part is that I don’t like doing what everyone else is doing. If one or two people are doing it, that’s fine, just not too many people. It helped me be me.
Daniel: Wow that is absolutely amazing Robert! I know a ton of people going back to film as a step backwards but it is quite the opposite and you are living proof of that. I’m also glad those questions were answered after doing that. After looking at your photos on your website, I can see that you have a passion for street photography. Can you tell us where your love for street photography began and why you take a liking to it the most?
Robert: When I was getting into photography, a lot of wedding photographers were calling themselves wedding photojournalists. That was the big thing, and some photojournalists were getting a bit upset because they take the ethics of photojournalism pretty seriously. That, in turn, revealed a whole new world of photography to me. A lot of the photojournalists I started following credited street photographers like Gordon Parks, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Bruce Davidson, as their inspiration. Naturally, I started studying those guys and my passion grew. The reason I like it so much is that it’s raw and real. The limitation is the photographer’s imagination
Daniel: That's great! That is one thing that really draws me to your work is that it’s so in-the-moment and genuine. Can you remember the first time you went out on the streets and started making images?
Robert: Oh yeah, it was with my cell phone! I didn’t have the nerve to bring a camera and point it at people. I would compose photographs far away and run. I would sneakily get close to people and keep pressing the shutter button, hoping I got something. I was so scared!
Daniel: That is hilarious but I admit bringing a camera out and doing that can be very awkward for people not really expecting it. How did you overcome that fear and stop running away?
Robert: What got me to the point I’m at now was rejection, hard core rejection. I was going along just fine with my phone until I started feeling a bit brave. I was back in Columbia from a wedding I shot in Mt Pleasant and wanted to use up the last bit of Portra 400. I had about 12 frames left on my Mamiya 645 AFD. I said to myself, “I’m going to make some portraits of strangers.” (This was before Humans of New York was a thing).
I asked the first person, they are honored. Second person, awesome. Third person, I’m on a roll. The fourth person, completely shut me down and ran away. Fifth person, heck no. I was like, “People must think I’m nuts. I’m quitting, this is crazy!”
I had to think through those emotions and recognize what I was doing was good, and not crazy. My emotions were trying to protect me from the pain of rejection. I had to get pass that.
Daniel: You really just hit the head on how street photography is because despite the photos you do get, there are a ton of people not having it. I’m so glad you have stuck with it. I know there isn't a goal in mind when you're capturing street portraits because you never know what you are going to get, but tell us your process of taking the photos out in these public places; what are you looking for?
Robert: I like to separate what I do on the street into two different categories; street photography and street portraits. With street photography, I’m looking to either create an idea based on what I see in front of me or convey a mood. Some of my photographs are busy, while others are very simple with one or two people. Sometimes the subject is merely the light that casts across someone’s face, other times it’s the expression on someone’s face. It really depends on what’s going on. I usually take my Fuji x100t to make photographs like this.
With street portraits I’m really looking for characters, people that have this uniqueness about them that they have embraced and have made their own. I typically take my Sony A99 with a 50mm 1.4 lens for photographs like this. There is something special about the street portraits. The stories that come from strangers just help me realize that we’re more alike than different. We all have problems. We all need hope.
I also wrote a blog (www.robcoffey.com/tips-for-photographing-strangers/) post on how to photograph strangers a while back.
Daniel: I love that! I will post that link on the blog! So, would you say your main purpose is really just convey that to your spectators, even when there aren't words? That we're all connected in some way or another?
Robert: Yes, and more. Not only are we all connected, we’re purposefully connected. Sometimes my motivation is just to have a smile with a stranger. It’s not only for them, but for me. What’s been on my mind recently is this, “What can I do to offer a bigger piece of me into this stranger?” I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m not too concerned. I believe it will manifest itself during an interaction. I just hope I have the presence of mind to photograph it.
Daniel: I’m sure you will through your journey forward and I think you have done so well with it so far! I know you get some inspiration from your father who I’m sure is in the back of your head when you’re shooting, but who else inspires your work? Other artists, things, people?
Robert: Honestly, it’s a lot that inspire me. I’m a musician and I’ve found that musical arrangements can be as complex as an Alex Webb photograph. Both inspire me. The sunlight reflecting off a building can make me jump out my car and chase it for 3 hours. Portraits from Yousef Karsh and Avedon, landscape work from Ansel Adams, cinematic photographs from Gregory Crewdson, photojournalism from Doug Mills and Pete Souza. it’s all inspiring.
Daniel: That’s really beautiful that inspirations can be found from a variety of places! It's wild the many different things that inspire creatives. I want to talk about your marketing strategy when putting yourself out there, what tools are you using that seem to work the best?
Robert: I think what’s working best for me is Instagram. It’s a natural fit for what I like to do. I have to be inspired to write, so my blog doesn’t get as much attention. However, Instagram is designed to promote the image first which fits how I like to communicate. Thankfully, through that medium I’ve been invited to give presentations to local photography clubs, I’ve booked weddings and commercial gigs through Instagram.
Daniel: That seems to be the norm these days and it is definitely a powerful tool for all creatives alike! I’m so happy it's working out for you in a positive way through that. What is the future looking like for you and your work? Any idea of how you would want it to end? Is there any other style you'd like to pursue?
Robert: I’m looking to get into some non-profit work. Perhaps bringing awareness to some of the more pressing issues in society. I love a good photo story, so being able to tell a story long term would be awesome. I’m inspired by the work of Joey L. and what he’s been involved with recently. His style and purpose has evolved into something that’s quite beautiful. I don’t necessarily want my images to look like his, which are beautiful, but being able to capture the essence of people where they are…. that’s beautiful.
Daniel: I need to look at his work but that sounds amazing! Working with nonprofits is a very rewarding experience and I know you’ll achieve that goal! Let’s hear some advice you’d give to anyone interested in getting into the creative industry.
Robert: These are what I've learned on this journey:
Daniel: You are speaking the truth Robert! That is some sound advice and I know the readers will take note of it. Thank you so much for this, your work is so beautiful and I’m so glad we have your story now. We are excited to watch you grow and reach your goals. Tell us where we can find you on the internet.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Photo By Jimmy Petty
Daniel White: Hey Amanda! thank you so much for doing this interview with us. You have had a major influence on me as a photographer for a long time and I am very excited to put your story out into the world. Tell us a little about yourself?
Amanda Sutton: I was born and raised in the town of Lenoir, NC. It was a short drive to the mountains which is one of the things I miss the most about living there (other than my family). I studied Information Technology at Lenoir Rhyne University where I graduated in 2008.
Daniel White: When did your interest in photography begin? When did you take it seriously as a career?
Amanda Sutton: I’ve loved art since I was a little kid. I used to love drawing and painting. Art class was always my favorite in elementary/middle school. In high school my focus shifted to sports, AP classes and preparing for college. Art wasn’t on my radar at all during that time and it wasn’t until after I graduated college that I became interested in learning photography. I took a Photography 101 class at the local community college every Saturday for a semester and absolutely fell in love with it. Professor David Hessell – such an awesome guy. That class totally changed my life simply by reminding me how much I loved creating. Fast forward about a year…an old friend randomly asked me if I would be interested in photographing her wedding and I said yes. I had no idea what I was doing but I went for it and shot my first wedding in May 2011.
Photo by Amanda Sutton
Daniel White: That's amazing! What were some of the first projects you worked on that you can remember?
Amanda Sutton: One of the first photography projects I worked on was called Project 365. It was a personal project where I took at least one photo every day for an entire year. It forced me to pick up my camera every day, even when I felt too busy or discouraged with my work. I took a LOT of photos of my dog, friends, family…pretty much anyone who would let me practice on them!
Daniel White: I know you worked at a bank for a long time before you transitioned into doing photography full time, can you tell us some of the biggest obstacles you faced when doing that? What are some of the advantages?
Amanda Sutton: I’m sure any entrepreneur or creative person can relate when I say it’s hard to focus in a 9-5 job you don’t love when you have a million creative ideas running through your head all day that you’d much rather be working on. I think that was the biggest struggle for me. I had a great job, but I wasn’t passionate about it. And at the end of the day, there wasn’t much time left for me to work on what I loved. Unfortunately, I let that get the best of me and suffered some serious burnout until I finally quit. I definitely didn’t feel “ready” to take on photography full time. But to be honest, if I had waited until I felt ready, I’d probably still be working there. On the bright side, having a background in IT and customer service has been helpful in running my own business. I code and manage my website on my own (it’s not perfect but it gets the job done) and it taught me the importance of building lasting client relationships.
Daniel White: That's great! I know that taking a chance on yourself can seem extremely risky but it seems like you made the perfect choice following your heart. I know that you mostly do weddings and I know they are some of the hardest events to capture, what keeps you motivated to shoot them?
Amanda Sutton: I love all the feelings and emotions that happen on a wedding day…excitement, nervousness, laughter, tears, happiness. Every wedding day is different, so it always keeps me on my toes. But most importantly, I think it’s crazy cool to witness two people, who were once complete strangers, being joined together by God forever and ever…AND getting to document it and preserve those moments for them. It really is an honor to be a part of that. I like to imagine the bride and groom, forty or fifty years later, looking back at their wedding photos…showing their grandchildren and reliving those memories over again. I know that sounds cheesy but for me, that’s what matters. Creating something that, when times get tough, might help them remember the joy they felt in those moments. Providing them with their story in tangible form, so that they can pass it down and share it with their families for years to come.
Daniel White: Your journey so far has been filled with a ton of travel. Can you tell us about some of your favorite places you’ve been asked to shoot?
Amanda Sutton: Yes! God has blessed me with some really cool opportunities to work in some gorgeous places. My favorite has been New Zealand. I can’t even put into words how beautiful it is. If you ever get the opportunity to go, PLEASE DO IT! You won’t regret it! I also fell in love with Nicaragua when I visited earlier this year. I especially loved the city of Leon – so much culture and history. Visiting anywhere on the US West coast is always a dream. And this Summer I’ll be traveling to India for the first time to photograph a wedding. I’m super excited about that!
Daniel White: How are you marketing/branding yourself? What tools have been the most beneficial to your career?
Amanda Sutton: Other than word-of-mouth referrals, social media is my biggest marketing tool. Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are all awesome platforms that I’m very thankful for. I also think it’s beneficial and important to share your work with the vendor teams you work with at events. They’ll be excited to have photos of their work and you’ll get referrals from it when they share your photos! I’m currently working on implementing email marketing for 2018 so hopefully that will strengthen my marketing outside of social media!
Daniel White: What does taking photos do for you?
Amanda Sutton:For me, photography is a way of serving others and that alone brings me so much joy. I believe it’s what God has called me to do and I want to use the gifts He has given me to give love to people
Photo by Amanda Sutton
Daniel White: What have been some of your greatest accomplishments of your career so far?
Amanda Sutton:I’m not a fan of awards and competition. Overcoming comparison has my biggest accomplishment by far. It’s something I think a lot of artists struggle with and it’s so easy to do in the age of social media. I used to get so distracted by the work everyone else was doing that I would easily lose sight of why I was creating in the first place. We can make ourselves miserable by constantly comparing ourselves to everyone else. We’re all at different places in our careers and creative journeys…someone will always be further behind you and further ahead of you. But we’re all just trying to create something meaningful and I think that puts us on the same team.
Daniel White: Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the industry?
Esther Havens – She’s a humanitarian photographer who has worked for some amazing organizations like World Vision, Food for the Hungry, TOMS and more. The way she compassionately sees people and somehow translates that through her photography is incredibly moving.
Jenna Kutcher – A fellow wedding photographer, #bossbabe and promoter of self-love. I’ve taken several of her online classes and am so thankful for her willingness to teach and share her success with others.
Rosie Hardy – Her work speaks for itself. She was one of the first photographers I discovered back in the days of flcikr! I never get tired of seeing her photos. Also, #hairgoals.
Daniel White: Are you satisfied with the work you’ve done so far?
Amanda Sutton: Totally. It’s fun to look back on old work and see how much things have changed. I’ll never be ashamed or embarrassed of anything I’ve created because it’s all part what made me who I am now and where I’ll be in the future.
Daniel White: What is an end goal for your career in the creative industry?
Amanda Sutton: I love love love wedding photography, but I would also really love to work for a non-profit organization as a humanitarian photographer. And I have a tiny dream of opening a wedding venue, so I guess we’ll see what happens!
Photos by Amanda Sutton
Daniel White: Can you give some advice to individuals that are interested in wedding photography and the up and comings in the industry?
Amanda Sutton: Yes! Forget about what everyone else is doing and create things that make you happy. Ask yourself if you’d still create it if you were the only person who would ever see it. If the answer is yes, you’re doing it for the right reasons. And chances are, if you love it and are passionate about it, the right clients will fall in love with it, too. If you struggle with comparison like I did, do yourself a favor and get the heck off social media. Unfollow accounts that are causing you to compare and feel crummy about yourself. Take breaks from social media entirely if you need to. And make some friends who aren’t in the same industry. It’s good to have people in your life who can listen and relate. But having friends outside of your industry can be really refreshing when you’re feeling burned out. Don’t give up and just have fun!
Daniel White: Thank you for doing this! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell us where we can find you on the internet?
Amanda Sutton: Of course!
Facebook: Amanda Sutton Photography
Photo by Kayla King