How did you get into the industry?
Prior to coming to London, I studied Communication Design in Stuttgart, Germany. Before that, I did an apprenticeship and trained as a fine art silkscreen printer. I got into branding and visual identity design with my first job in London at (now defunct) branding agency Henrion Ludlow Schmidt.
It was founded by legendary branding pioneer FHK Henrion and at the time was a leading corporate identity agency. I’ve been interested in photography from a very young age, but started to get into it more seriously after I had the opportunity to publish a book of travel photography around 15 years ago. Now I try to combine the two skills wherever possible.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I live in south London and – since the pandemic – work mostly from my little studio at home. Even though, over the years, I’ve had permanent jobs at various design and branding agencies, I’ve been mostly working freelance since around 2005.
As a designer/creative director, I sometimes work directly with clients, but mostly with creative agencies of all kinds. Recently, I’ve been helping agencies that are not working directly in the branding field, but have landed a visual identity project, which they feel they’d need a specialist like myself to realise.
As for the photography side of things, I occasionally get commissions from magazines and clients such as charities and design agencies. Sometimes there’s a photography job coming out of a design project I’m working on. But mostly I do my own personal projects. I’m currently working on a documentary project around Brixton, which I’m hoping to turn into a photo book.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
For many years, I used to play drums in a band, playing gigs around London. When I was younger, my dream was to make it in music. The band fell apart when everyone became too busy with their day jobs, family and other things.
I’m missing that now. But with rehearsal spaces having become so hard to come by and the music industry having completely changed, it’s very difficult to keep a band going, especially if it’s purely as a hobby.
Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?
I’m not sure I can explain it and I’m also not sure the process is always the same. But having done this for quite a few years, I think I’ve learned to trust my intuition a bit more and maybe not spend so much time on trying out every potential approach to answer a brief.
I think it’s very important to get a feel for a client, being able to have a thorough conversation with them. As much as I value a written brief, sometimes clients are not very good in articulating themselves in this way. Finding out as much as possible about the client, their situation, and the landscape they operate in is key to creating successful work.
How would you describe your style?
As a designer, I don’t think that it’s helpful to have a recognisable style and I’m not sure that I have one. As a photographer, though, it’s almost impossible to get anywhere without your work having certain qualities, or a certain look, that makes it stand apart. But I’d be hard-pressed to describe what exactly that is in my case.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I think I have gained more inspiration from working with junior designers or people much younger than me, than from any of the big names in the industry.
What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?
Most designers inevitably tend to specialise over the course of their career and find their own niche. However, starting out now, it’s almost expected that you know all the software packages, can do a bit of animation, ideally build websites yourself and be a total all-rounder. I think, though, it’s as important to know something about design history, as well as about the latest design trends.
What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?
Building a network is the most important thing for a freelancer, although I’m probably not the best networker myself. But I’ve recently been recommended for really interesting work by people I’ve either worked with before or simply chatted with at a party. And finding the few genuinely good recruiters and establish a long-term relationship with them.
What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?
I think I’ve waited far too long before finally upgrading to a new computer. It’s hard to believe how much time I’ve wasted working with a slow and unreliable machine.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
I’d say not hanging on to working with clients or agencies if the work is really boring or draining. But I know very well that’s often easier said than done.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
Like other freelancers, I’ve had no work for several months during lockdown. I started to go out on my bike in the evenings, first just to exercise, but then with my camera to document a deserted London at dusk.
It was almost therapy to be able to do something creative during those weeks, and it was never supposed to turn into a commercial project. But then the pictures went viral and I started selling prints. With the help of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, I managed to publish my book ‘Pause’, which quite literally helped me to survive the lockdown months – and won an award.
What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?
Working with recruitment agencies has always been a hit and miss experience. But when I first started working for myself, you met recruiters and sat down with a coffee looking through portfolios had a chat. Now it’s mostly a matter of responding to LinkedIn postings, dealing with people who have no clue who you are or what you are good at.
Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
If you are interested in photography of any genre, then I would recommend Ben Smith’s podcast A Small Voice. It’s probably the best resource for learning about contemporary photographers out there.