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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Doors Open Journeys

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Every time that we open a door, a journey begins. Four years ago, I started writing this blog without ever imagining where this journey would take me. Today, more than 200 posts later, I can say that it has been one of my proudest creations.

Thank you so much for reading it, for supporting me and for coming back every Wednesday to share with me what I learn about my business, about London and about life.

I promise you that I will keep on putting my 100% into it because if I can help or change at least one person’s life with any of my posts all the effort will be completely worth it.

These are the most-read posts of the last 4 years:

 Models: Beware Of Fake Model Agencies

Models: Beware Of Fake Model Agencies

 I Wish I Had Known… About Fashion Journalism!

I Wish I Had Known… About Fashion Journalism!

 What If The Goal Is Becoming You

What If The Goal Is Becoming You

 I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

 Take The Blindfold Off

Take The Blindfold Off

 A World That Others Can’t See with Ivan Weiss

A World That Others Can’t See with Ivan Weiss

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We Don't See Ourselves As We Are

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The person under the ET costume is me, circa Halloween 1982. I don’t remember much about that day, just that my brother got to be a cool Storm Trooper and I was dressed up as an awkward alien. Growing up, I was never a self-confident self-loving person and for the 30 years following that photo, I would see myself exactly as that alien. Minus the shiny red finger.

When you have a low self-esteem, you don’t see yourself as you are but as how other people see you. During my twenties and almost my whole thirties, that awkward boy lived inside me and controlled the image that I had of myself. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I could only see the alien on the outside and not the beautiful boy inside the costume.

It wasn’t until I was about to become forty when something clicked in my brain and I started to see life differently. I started caring less about what other people thought and what society expected of me. I gained the confidence to quit my job in a different industry to become a creative and I finally felt like myself, the authentic version of me. In the words of Pedro Almodovar’s character Agrado from ‘All About My Mother’: “you are more authentic the more you resemble the image that you have of yourself.

Nowadays, when I look in the mirror, I am in love with what I see. I love the grey hairs, the tiny wrinkles, but most importantly, I love the person that I’ve become. Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve never trusted anyone who says ‘I love you’ and the person doesn’t love herself or himself. How can you? How can you give something you don’t have?” The more I age, the more beautiful I feel and the more I love myself, and it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, the only person that I have to please is myself. And that knowledge makes me happy.

Had I known this when I was younger, I would probably remember the day in the photo better and all the fun that I could-have / must-have had. It was a very cool costume, indeed. I think my grandmother made it. If only I had possessed back then the confidence and self-love to be able to enjoy it and appreciate it…

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How Can Your Business Contribute To A Better World

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We easily forget that the availability of information and technology that we enjoy today is a very recent phenomenon. Up until not so long ago, the information that we received from news outlets or educational sources was thoroughly filtered to meet the needs of those in power. Information is power, and if you want to control the people you must only let them know what you want them to know, or not let them know anything at all for that matter. An uneducated population is an easily controllable group. This has always been the strategy of regimes and religions throughout history.

A few months ago, I read somewhere (I just can’t remember where, excuse the absence of a proper bibliographical reference) that if you took a person who died in the 10th century and woke them up in the 15th century, they probably wouldn't notice much change in their surroundings. But, in comparison, if you took someone who died in the 15th century and woke them up in the 21st century they'd probably think that they woke up in a different planet.

That prompted me to think how far back in recent time could I go for someone who died back then and was woken up today to feel that they didn't recognize the world around them. And it immediately occurred to me that, in recent times, the farthest back that I could go would be just before the mobile and the internet revolution. Someone who died in 1990 and woke up today would feel like they were in a sci-fi movie.

The internet has become the nightmare of those in power who want to be able to control the people as they wish. There is so much information out there that almost no one has an excuse today for not knowing what is going on in the rest of the world. That is why the need to control its access or to produce information chaos is imperative for those who want to remain in power: Kim Jon Un in North Korea, Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, UKIP with Brexit in the UK, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda or Donald Trump in the United States, to name a few examples.

In this day and age, the most powerful tool that we have is knowledge and our most powerful weapon is our voice. The more we know about our communities, about our heritage, about local and international news, and about our history, the more we can avoid repeating the mistakes that our societies made to help put these people in power. And the more we use our voice, by expressing our opinions, by calling out those who attempt against human rights, or by voting, the more we contribute to make this a better world.

The times we are living require a less passive approach to solving the issues in the world today. Over the last 5 years, I have continuously asked myself how can I contribute to make this a better world? Not only as a person but as a business as well. I strongly believe that it is incoherent to be longing for a better world in our personal lives but then going to work and supporting the opposite of what we believe in. Our businesses, especially for freelancers, are an extension of ourselves and therefore should follow our personal ethos.

That is one of the reasons that my blog is so important for me because apart from sharing everything that I learn in my journey as a creative business owner, I also try to call attention to the issues that matter the most to me. Running a business that doesn’t contribute to making this world better doesn’t make sense anymore. It should be as mandatory as paying taxes.

Photo credits: image by Facundo Bustamante.

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Does Your Mailing List Comply With The Law? - Part III

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This post is part 3 of 3 posts.

In case you have been living under a rock for this past year, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, forcing businesses across the globe to reassess how they process personal data. It has been a very painful and confusing process, especially for freelancers and sole traders. That is why this month, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched a self-assessment checklist that will help freelancers, sole traders and self-employed individuals to assess their compliance with new data protection laws.

This new tool is meant to show freelancers and sole traders how compliant they are by generating a rating based on their responses and provides handy links to relevant ICO guidance and further information. It also includes practical suggestions of how to stay in line with the law.

This self-assessment checklist has been created with small business owners and sole traders in mind. I recommend you take it even if you have already done all your GDPR homework. After all, it is our duty as business owners to keep our compliance with these laws up to date, the same way that we do our taxes every year.

To access the the self assessment checklist go to: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-and-support/data-protection-self-assessment/assessment-for-small-business-owners-and-sole-traders/

If you still haven’t made your business compliant with the GDPR, you can find more information on: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/

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Become The Beauty That You Seek

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Not so long ago, my friend Dean told me this beautiful line from one of Tyler Kent White’s poems: “I promise you if you keep searching for everything beautiful in this world you will eventually become it.” I love it because it reminds me that there is so much beauty in the world that surrounds us, but most of it is only available if we are open to finding it. And, for the not-so-beautiful things in this world, there is always the potential to make them beautiful. We just have to be willing to make the effort.

One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I am a humanist and a member of Humanists UK. Being a humanist basically means that one’s ethos prioritizes humans’ well-being in all our decision-making processes; that one only accepts things that can be proven by the scientific method and rejects the supernatural (being either atheist or agnostic); and that one believes that this is the only life that we have and therefore we should attempt to give meaning to it by seeking happiness for ourselves and for the rest of humanity.

It is true that you can live a life where you feel related to any of these principles without becoming part of any organisation. But, for the longest time, I felt like I needed to do something else besides just treating others with respect and procuring a better world for me and for those around me. I felt like I wanted to contribute to the world in a more active way. So, after many years looking for an organisation that I could relate to, I learned about the amazing work that Humanists UK do in pro of humanity and I decided to become a member.

Since I joined a few years ago, I have seen Humanists UK work tirelessly on some of the causes that I feel strongly about:

  • With representation in the UN, they call for action on serious international human rights abuses; they draw attention to abortion rights deficits around the world; they promote freedom of expression and the eradication of the often deadly blasphemy laws in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan; and they call for states to end the horrific practice of ‘gay conversion therapy’.

  • Through campaigns in the UK Parliament and in local and regional governments, they campaigned for free abortion services for women in Northern Ireland; they campaigned for many years to ban ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK; and they helped end the government funding for homoeopathy and pseudosciences.

  • They also played important roles in the campaigns for the passing of the 2006 and 2010 Equality Acts, bringing comprehensive equality legislation into English, Welsh, and Scottish law; the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign, which means that every state school in England must now teach evolution; the legalisation of same-sex marriage; and the campaign to abolish the blasphemy law in England and Wales, which succeeded in 2008 through an amendment to a Government Act.

  • They also run groups like Faith to Faithless, a programme that supports people who leave religions and trains the Metropolitan Police in how to identify and support apostates. Apostates face challenges that range from emotional and physical abuse from family members, friends, and peers in their community through to homelessness, shunning, ‘honour-based’ abuse and killings, and systemic failures by statutory organisations to support them.

These are just some examples of the amazing work that this organisation is doing to make this world more fair and inclusive. And I can’t feel anything less than proud to be a member. If you want to learn more about humanism and Humanists UK, go to humanism.org.uk.

And if none of the causes supported by Humanists UK is your cup of tea, there are plenty of organisations out there that need your support. I am sure that you will be able to relate to at least one of them. Support, join or become a volunteer, but do something. This is the time to take action. This is the time to become the beauty that you seek.

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A World That Others Can't See... with Ivan Weiss

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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 second post of the series, I spoke with Ivan Weiss, a London-based headshot and portraits photographer with a particular focus on the performing arts. Ivan walks us through the challenges he encountered while shooting this beautiful portrait.

Ivan says: "I was asked to do some promo images for a barbershop that's just opened up in East London. The shop is inside a shipping container in Containerville E2. So I knew I'd be dealing with very limited space, but it also gave me a cue to play on the long, narrow shape in my composition. Luckily I've been working a lot with wider focal lengths recently and I felt confident this would work. I took my 24-70mm just in case I was forced to change plans.

 ‘Troise & Sons’ © Ivan Weiss

‘Troise & Sons’ © Ivan Weiss

I had to work quickly as I only had 10 minutes with Davide in between clients. I had taken a compact version of my current favourite studio light set up. I rigged my key light as high as the ceiling would allow (i.e not very) and gaffer-taped a black cloth to the wall opposite to provide negative fill and prevent any bounce back. I was ready to roll as soon as he was. I took a few frames to get my levels right and immediately began regretting my decision not to bring a third light with me. The background was just too dark. Not bad for a moody portrait, but I needed something a bit lighter for this commercial image. Luckily, I was on a tripod. So I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/10 second and let the natural ambient light soak in to light my background.

I’ve chosen to share this image because it represents for me a fusion of my studio style with the environmental portraiture work that I’d like to be doing more of.”

For this shot, Ivan used:

  • Body: Canon 5DsR

  • Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L II @35mm

  • Settings: ƒ/9, 1/10, ISO100

  • Key light: Godox AD200 in a 70cm SMDV Dodeca Speedbox pushed as far as possible into the corner of the ceiling and wall on camera right.

  • Fill light: Godox AD200 in a RayFlash ringflash adapter on camera.

Thank you so much, Ivan, for kindly taking part in my series and for showing us your amazing work! You can see more of Ivan's photography on http://www.ivanweiss.london.


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 Ivan Weiss © 2018 JC Candanedo

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Napoleon Didn’t Have Internet

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Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman whose influence over European and global affairs made him one of history’s most notorious and controversial leaders. His political and cultural legacy is still relevant almost 200 years after his death. And he accomplished all this without access to the internet. If he had used social media we would all be speaking French today!

I was born in a time when there weren’t any mobile phones, nor internet, nor personal computers. But, in my early twenties, almost everyone I knew had a mobile phone, and most people had computers at home. The internet revolution was about to start and change our lives forever.

In spite of all these technological advances and the influence that they had on our culture and in our lives, none of them changed the way we see life as social media did. And when mobile phones became smarter, we had in our hands the power to communicate without limits, to learn anything we wanted to and to conquer the world.

Social media brought people together and in today’s society time and distance are no longer barriers. You can connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere, which makes it the perfect tool for bringing the world together. But, somehow, it has also evolved into a parallel universe, some sort of upside-down, where your best friends are people that you have never seen in person and your real-life friends are not relevant if they are not online; a world where brands measure the success of their political statements in sales and not in how they are making this a better world.

Lately, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed by social media. Everyone else seems to be doing better, having more fun or being more successful altogether. Of course, I know that it’s all fake, but it doesn’t help with the self-imposed challenges that sometimes make their way into our minds and numb our efforts to move forward. "My work is not good enough", "What if nobody likes what I do?", "What if they say no?"... all irrational fears but all fed by how perfect everyone else’s lives or careers seem to be.

Social media is anything but ‘social’ these days. It is very alienating and it has taken control of both our personal and work lives to the point where we now do things just because they would look good online. Napoleon would have thrived in this environment. In spite of allegedly having so many complexes and of being looked down on by his peers, he got to be one of the most influential persons in history. Imagine how much more he could have accomplished if only he had had Instagram?

Or, would it have been his doom? Perhaps all his self-doubts would have been magnified by seeing online everything that he was not. We will never know. What I would like to find out is what would happen if we take all the power that we have in our hands these days and use it to do some good instead of just to pretend that we are cool. I bet not even Napoleon would be able to defeat us.

Photo credit: your typical restaurant bathroom selfie.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Pattern Making!

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This is the fifteenth 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.

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Neil J. Christopher, Pattern Cutter and co-owner of ARN Mercantile, a small company with great ideals that makes workwear combining British Heritage with Japanese technical skills and quality. Neil and I spoke about what makes a good Pattern Maker and how to successfully mix technology with manual skills within the craft:

1. What is the role of a Pattern Maker?

The main role is to interpret the ideas, ideals and vision of the designer, taking from the flat image and building a 3D garment, but also advancing the concept of what you are doing, offering advice on structure, movement and fabrics needed to build a better garment.

2. Which skills does a Pattern Maker need to have?

The ability to see in 3D is a key skill, but also fabric knowledge, construction and production. If you can sew that is a wonderful thing, but on a basic level, maths help, as does skill with a pencil. Clean lines save time and effort later on.

3. Is there a difference between a Pattern Maker and a Pattern Cutter, or are they interchangeable names?

In basic terms, they do get confused, but a Pattern Cutter cuts cloth to build garments in a factory, where a Pattern Maker makes the pattern they will work from, but a knowledge of what is needed for both jobs helps. If you can cut cloth and build garments it helps you to understand how the production works and will make you a better Maker. A Cutter can and do make patterns but that is a question of ownership

4. Why do we need patterns?

They are the building blocks of garments. To be able to make anything we need the pattern to make it from, but there is also an ownership issue and to fully have control over what you make and to keep it 'yours' is to own the pattern.

5. How are patterns made?

I cut the card by hand but some use computer-based cutting which would only become a 'hard' pattern in the factory, which is the basic answer, but the more build focused answer is with a lot of practice and understanding of the finished product.

6. There are in the market many software packages aimed at Pattern Making, but there is still a percentage of Pattern Makers who prefer to do it by hand. Are they just being old-fashioned or is it still more reliable to do it by hand?

There are many different software packages out there to build patterns but they suffer from the age of the core processes used to establish them. Many do use them and in fact, if you are making basic mass-market products they are the most cost-effective way to go. But, if you wish to build something that speaks to you and is yours, a hand-made card pattern is the best way to get your ideals out there. I am very bias on this but I have worked on many different kinds of 'software' and even helped build them and I feel you can not replace the hands of a good Maker within the process.

7. Do you think that technology has helped Pattern Making in any way, for instance, with fabric optimisation?

For layout, the cutting of cloth, yes very much so. It has simplified that part and increased fabric usage. I would always say that nothing beats the computer for that, but for shape and construction, we still have a fair way to go.

8. Can a designer make and cut their own patterns?

A few do, to begin with, but it's a skill where the basics can be simple to learn but as you grow and build a more complex garment you would need to have a skill set of hands working on that. With the basic skills, you can better help a skilled Maker to achieve your needed shapes. I would highly recommend anyone who was thinking of going into design to spend the time to understand patterns.

9. What about sizing? Why don’t we still have a standardised sizing in the industry?

Simple answer: too many markets. The clothing business can no longer focus on one market and with that comes a huge set of block patterns and sizes options. Even within one market, we are not all the same shape. Sizes have to reflect the needs of the customer; block patterns must also focus the producer to make for body type, not just size.

10. There is also some controversy with laser cutting. A lot of people criticise laser cutting because of its perfection. Do you think it diminishes the garment?

I have just seen some laser cutting and been given the option to program and cut with it. Yes, there have been issues with it, but mainly due to how it's been programmed to be used. It was not originally set up for cloth and the engineers who set it up did not intend its use in this field. In time and with care it will be a great benefit to the industry but right now it's still in a learning curve.

11. Is Pattern Making something that you study or that you learn as an apprentice?

Both, if you are lucky and find someone who is willing to teach you then an apprenticeship is a wonderful way to learn by doing. Some colleges do offer a short course, but it is normally part of a bigger design lead program. In the US and the EU it's a course in its own right, but here in the UK we tend to show the basics and hope that that will do and that you pick up more by working on it. I was lucky enough to work with a skilled Maker when I was young and then learnt more as time past, but you will always learn from other Cutter/Makers as there is little formal training outside of the bespoke business. As a Maker we find our own way around 'issues' and sharing that with your peers is a great way to improve.

12. Do Pattern Making students need to learn about the history of fashion?

I do believe they should at least look into it but within context. I have a huge collection of vintage patterns and pattern books yet some students I know have no interest in it. Most problems that you will ever have with Pattern Making are problems that others have also had, solved and, if you are lucky, shared their results.

Thanks so much, Neil, for taking a few minutes from your busy travelling schedule to speak with me about the important and often overlooked role of the Pattern Maker! This 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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I Have Always Trusted Strangers

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I have always trusted strangers. My mom used to say that, when I was little, if anyone offered me their arms I would go with them. No hesitation. Pure innocent trust in humanity. Nowadays, as an adult, not a lot has changed. I always engage with other people with an open heart and a disposition to have a meaningful exchange, no matter how mundane the encounter is. You can call me naive, and sometimes I would deserve it, specially when someone has tried to take advantage of me. But I never let one bad experience with anyone affect my relationship with someone else.

I know a lot of people who have a completely different approach. When they meet others, they need to feel that the other is worthy of their trust. So, they start from zero and build their trust from scratch. But to me, that is the wrong way of looking at human interactions, because you start with a rejection instead of with an open mind. I feel like you are missing out on the possibility of fully experiencing the time that you spend with others.

It is very rare to find people who think like me these days. We live in such a constant state of paranoia that we don't trust anyone anymore. It's understandable, but it's sad. We are loosing our connection with other human beings. Everyone else is a potential enemy instead of a potential friend.

I’d rather be called naive than to live in a world where you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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A World That Others Can't See... with Benjamin Youd

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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 new 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 first post of the series, Benjamin Youd talks about his image 'The Writer'. Ben is a London-based photographer who loves documenting natural emotions and interactions between people in a quiet and non-obtrusive way.

Ben says: "This image was taken as a part of a commission that I was sent on for housing charity, Shelter. I've called the image 'The Writer', as that symbolises a lot about the subject that I photographed.

 'The Writer' © Benjamin Youd

'The Writer' © Benjamin Youd

"The initial brief was to travel to Bristol to meet with a lady who in her older years, had decided to gift the charity as a part of her Will. I was sent to take a few portraits to accompany a write up about the gift that she was giving them. When I met the lady, and we talked for an hour or so about her life, I realised that her story was worth so much more than a quick portrait or two. So, I ended up spending the entire day with her, talking in her apartment and walking through the grounds of the retirement village that she now lived in.

"She told me how much she loved to be involved with her community, and how despite living on her own, she kept herself busy with a variety of activities, such as drawing, writing, holding workshops, yoga, meditation, and playing the piano – to name just a few. I found her attitude, and approach to life amazingly inspiring. So, as we talked the hours away, I documented some of the activities that she described to me with such enthusiasm.

"This particular image depicts her love of writing and story-telling. Something she's liked since she was a lot younger, and now passes on through her own experience, as she engages young people in writing classes and workshops.

"My intention with this shoot was to make it as natural as possible, so although I did bring along a set of consistent lights, I didn't end up using them. They would only ever have been used in this occasion to brighten up the ambient light, but fortunately her living room had a huge set of west facing windows, which let in some really beautiful light. The fall off of the light was pretty dramatic as you went further into the room, but this allowed for a more dramatic approach, using deeper shadows to define features.

"I was the only one on this shoot, which is often the nature of working with charities. To some extent, working in this way is quite freeing, as you really get to connect with your subject, and pay attention to the setting and light. It also limits the amount of kit you can take with you, so you're often looking for the best available light.

"I think at the time, I was using a Canon 5D MKII, and this would have been shot with a 24–70mm f2.8 lens, at around 35mm to get the wider angle. Metering for the light hitting the subjects face from the window enabled me to get more of a dramatic and high contrast image."

Thank you so much, Ben, for being so keen to take part in my series and for showing us your amazing work! You can see more of Ben's beautiful work on www.benjaminyoud.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 Benjamin Youd © 2018 JC Candanedo

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Is There Such Thing As A Sustainable Photographer?

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When the use of digital photography became widely spread, many praised this new form of taking photos as environmentally friendly. At last, gone were the days when the planet was harmed by the film photo processing chemicals, they said. The truth is that digital photography is not as clean as we might think, and I am willing to say that sometimes it's even worse. With all the talk in recent years on sustainability in the fashion industry, I asked myself the question: could there be such a thing as a sustainable fashion photographer?

Last week, I wrote about assessing the environmental impact of our businesses and putting in place best practices to reduce the amount of waste that we generate. Today, after assessing my own practice, I have come up with ways in which my photography business can be more sustainable.

The aim is not to be 100% eco-friendly, because that concept might not even exist at all. Our own existence has a direct impact on the environment, and practices considered good for the planet, like recycling, have impacts of their own. The aim is to reduce our impact as much as we can. And, as photographers, there is so much that we can do to reduce our waste, not only in our practices, but in our personal lives as well.

To start my environmental-impact self-assessment, I asked myself: what is my business? I take photos. What are the tools of my trade? A digital camera and a computer. What is the impact that my equipment has on the planet? Contrary to what one might think, digital photography is not a low environmental-impact medium. All the technology that we use on a daily basis has an enormous impact on the environment:

  • Electronic waste: our photography businesses run on electronics. All this equipment has a very limited lifespan. Even if we tried to really get our money's worth, we would still have to replace our cameras, computers and phones every 5 years because they become obsolete (read about how manufacturers stimulate consumption by using planned obsolescence). In contrast, my 35mm film camera is from 1981 and I still use it regularly and for commercial purposes. None of my digital cameras will ever last that long and still be worth using.
  • Packaging: every time we buy new equipment, it comes protected by layers of packaging, most of it non-biodegradable and some of it, albeit recyclable, will end up in a landfill as we are unable to recycle all the waste that we produce.
  • Batteries: our cameras, computers, lights, phones, tablets and wireless equipment in general use batteries. Nowadays, most of these batteries have a lifespan of 3 years and need to be properly disposed of.
  • Data Storage: with digital photography we don't use film-processing chemicals anymore. Instead, we rely on a gigantic network of electronic devices to store our photos and documents. What we call the cloud (or internet in general) is a massive amount of data centres scattered across the planet that process and house everything that we do in the digital world. These data centres use an unbelievable amount of resources. They use electricity and fuel for generators, they need batteries for uninterruptible power supply, their equipment generates a lot of heat so cooling mechanisms need to be put in place (water, air conditioning, coolant), and they are in constant need of expansion so a lot of land is required.

These were just a few of the things that I could think of in which the core of my business has a direct negative impact on the planet. The reasonable thing to ask next was, what can I do as a photographer, and a business-owner in general, if I want to run an environmentally friendly business?

  • Buy from suppliers and manufacturers that are environmentally conscious, those which use less packaging material, and those which have strict environmental policies in place.
  • Turn off electrical equipment when not in use.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • When buying new equipment, buy products that will last longer and that will not force me to replace them too often.
  • If I need to change my equipment, try to repurpose the old equipment by using it as a backup, by selling it on the second-hand market or by finding ways to reuse their individual parts or as a whole.

The concept of 100% green photography might be an oxymoron. To be a 100% eco-friendly I would not only have to stop taking photos, I would have to stop living completely. But, by putting some of the aforementioned practices in place and by trying to reduce my waste and to reuse as much as possible, I can make sure that my business is more environmentally friendly.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Are You Running A Sustainable Business?

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A few weeks ago, while planning the catering for a shoot that I was producing, I decided to go with a vegan catering because one of the crew members was vegan. On the day of the shoot, when all the food arrived it came protected in layers after layers of plastic packaging. What is the point in going vegan for environmental reasons, if you will then generate so much plastic waste that it defeats your purpose? What you do with your hands, you destroy with your feet, my nan used to say.

The majority of people would argue that all that plastic waste is recyclable, so we would still be on the right track to saving the planet. But, the reality is that not only not all of our rubbish is recyclable nor reusable and will probably end up in a landfill, but from the part of that rubbish that is recyclable less than 45% will be recycled or reused in the end. What's worse, the amount of waste generated by households that can actually harm the environment is very small in comparison to the waste that industries generate. So, even if we recycle all the waste that consumers produce we still wouldn't be saving the planet. According to official figures in the UK, 15% of the waste generated comes from households, while 70% comes from commercial, industrial, construction, demolition and excavation activities.

Recycling is not the solution that we were promised, it's just a small part of it. It's easy to make consumers feel guilty about all the waste that we are generating and have us obediently separate all of our rubbish at home. This way, governments feel like they have done their part on the matter and consumers are happy because we are left feeling like we are doing something good for the planet. Meanwhile, producers keep on packaging their products in plastic because it's cheap and it's all about margins and profit, and the rubbish that is not recycled nor reused keeps piling up in a landfill in a town near you or it gets sent to other countries. Well, that is up until not so long ago, because we are using such bad quality materials in our production chains that developing countries don't want our rubbish anymore.

Specialists in waste management talk about the four R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. Any waste that is not subject to these 4 principles ends up in landfills or incinerated without energy recovery. Recycling comes in third place of these principles because we don't have the capacity to recycle all the waste that we produce, and the multi-million pound recycling industry itself has an impact of its own (the economic impact, the pollution that comes from collection, transportation and operation of recycling equipment, and the production of greenhouse gases, to name a few). Priority is given to Reducing our waste and trying to Reuse as much as possible.

What can we do if we want to run an environmentally friendly business? Just last week, I spoke about this matter with fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock, who has written extensively about sustainability in the fashion industry. We both agreed that we can't possibly do everything that there is to be done to be 100% sustainable because the nature of our businesses will eventually have an impact on the environment. Instead, what we can do is assess our personal and professional environmental impact and make changes in the areas where we feel that we can contribute to generating less waste.

To reduce the amount of waste that we produce, we should start by paying attention to how much and how often we buy and whom we buy from, and source suppliers that are environmentally conscious. Suppliers that are actually doing something to reduce their environmental footprint and not just trying to comply with the minimum guidelines required by our governments. Suppliers that use biodegradable packaging instead of all that plastic. Suppliers that make products that can be reused or repurposed, in line with the Circular Economy principles.

Also, we should Reuse as much as possible, and give a second life to what we don't use anymore by repurposing it, selling it on the second-hand market or passing it on to those who might have a use for it. And, above all, we must use the power of voting to elect politicians that are more strict with the sectors that are the biggest producers of waste. Stop punishing consumers for something that we haven't done wrong and forget the notion that Recycling is the answer to our waste problem. This is a problem that has to be tackled at the source.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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The Pain Must Be Felt

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A few months ago, I went to a portfolio review and the reviewer told me that my work didn’t have a soul, that it lacked personality and that it was too cold. The following day, while I was reflecting on the reviewer's words, I took my recent work and attempted to destroy it with what I had around me at home, trying to emulate how the reviewer had destroyed it with words. To my surprise, from destruction, something beautiful was born.

The American painter Mark Rothko once said that he was interested only in expressing basic human emotions, like tragedy, ecstasy and doom. As creatives, we are in close contact with these emotions every day. We are familiar with exploring (and sometimes exploiting) the tragedy around us, we know first-hand the feeling of ecstasy when we create something beautiful, and we most definitely have felt doomed when our work has been rejected. And we also know that, by embracing our emotions is that we create our best work. We know that the pain must be felt.

So, instead of shying away from how that person's words made me feel, I decided to feel the pain and look for the meaning behind their words. What is it that my work is missing? Is my work looking like everyone else's? Am I just taking pretty photos? Am I just another photographer? That day, when I looked at the ruined images in front of me, I realized that they were unexpectedly beautiful, that I was finally creating something that came from deep inside of me and not inspired by something that I had seen on someone else's work.

Here are some of the images that I have been working on lately:

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Artists Need The Observer

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During an interview in 1947, Mark Rothko said: “A painting lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world.” It is a symbiotic relationship, that of the artists and the observer. Without the latter, the former wouldn't be able to express themselves for it is through the eyes of the observer that their work comes to life. Similarly, those who appreciate art need artists to stimulate them, to make them reflect about the world that surrounds them, to get to know themselves better by the emotions that a piece produces in them. It is indeed a risky act to show ones work, but you never feel more alive than when you do.

This coming Friday the 10th, I will be showing my recent work at the Show and Tell organised by Almudena Romero in partnership with R.A.W Lab and Bow Arts. Almudena Romero is a visual artist working with a wide range of photographic processes. Almudena's practice uses photographic processes to reflect on issues relating to identity, representation and ideology; such as the role of photography in the construction of national identity, or the link between photographic archives and colonialism. Her work focuses on how photography transforms the notions of public, private, individuality, identity, memory, and, in general, the concept of the individual.

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Sometimes It's Worth It To Slow Down

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Susan Sontag wrote in her essays On Photography (Penguin Books, 1977) that as cameras became more sophisticated in the 70's, some photographers preferred to submit themselves to the limits imposed by older cameras. Working with a cruder, less high powered machine was thought to give more interesting or emotive results, to leave more room for creative accident. Forty years later, her words aren't any less true. In times when digital photography has made everything just a bit too perfect, there is something magical about the non-perfection of shooting on film.

A few posts ago, I wrote about my newest acquisition, a medium-format film camera Pentax 645N, which I haven't been able to put down since the day that I got it. The whole learning experience of shooting with a camera like this one is a reward on its own. It's a slower process than on digital, you have to think more and shoot less, and to take photos blindly without a preview screen can be very intimidating at first. That, and the few days that you have to wait to get your photos back from the lab to be able to see what you have shot, can be a real test to your patience.

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On top of that, If you also take into account how expensive film, processing and negative scanning are, you understand why digital photography came to be. But, when you get those photos back from the lab, and you get to see the textures, the lovely colours, the imperfections, and the rawness of it all, it makes everything else completely worth it. Below, you will find some of the images that I've shot with that camera so far.

Photo credits: behind the scenes images by Andrzej Gruszka.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Creative Networks!

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This is the fourteenth 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.

I recently spoke to Owen Thomas, co-curator of the Four Corners gallery and projects coordinator of the London Creative Network programme, about his love for music and film-making, and the role of Four Corners in the history of the visual arts in the UK:

1. We met through LCN - the London Creative Network - delivered by Four Corners and several other centres in London. How long have you been a part of Four Corners and what is your role there?

I’ve been at Four Corners for over 25 years.  When I first joined, the organisation worked solely in film.  In those days, we’re talking primarily 16mm / super 16mm.  We hired out production equipment as well as providing cutting rooms, sound transfer facilities, rostrum camera and a small cinema/screening space all offered at subsidised rates. We also provided unique free training opportunities targeted at those under-represented within the film and broadcast industries. This is something we continue to do today with current schemes such as Zoom.

2. How does it feel to be part of an organisation that is such an important part of the history of contemporary visual arts in the UK?

Because of the length of time I have been here, I’ve seen the development of various careers as well as radical shifts in technology.  We used to get old-school film editors like John Trumper popping in to give advice while people cut their short films.  He edited Get Carter, The Italian Job, Up the Junction etc. We also had Tacita Dean editing all her early projects here.

I guess what is particularly interesting to me is that I’ve experienced the whole change in technologies in both moving image and photography.  When I started working at Four Corners in the early 90’s, we didn’t even have a computer.  All communication was done by phone or post.  Email and the internet were still very much in its infancy. A few years on and certain forms of analogue video technology had started to challenge film.

All very primitive compared to what we have today.  By the mid-nineties, we had managed to raise money to purchase an Avid editing suite.  This was the first in the UK to be owed by a non-profit organisation.  At the time it cost something in the region of £70K and was a revolutionary way of editing film. Now, of course, you can do the same kind of thing on a phone!  

3. Where does your love for imaging come from?

When I first went to art school, my primary interest was painting. However, I soon shifted to a more conceptual way of working, which freed me to explore different mediums; film, sculpture, sound, text, whatever best suited the ideas.

I only really touched on photography in my final year, when the university had just built a whole new photographic facility, giving me the opportunity to dabble in colour printing etc.  Even in those days (the late 80’s) photography really wasn’t regarded as a fine art medium.  It was being taught as a craft skill.

4. You are project coordinator by day, guitar player by night, having played with Blood Sausage, Cee Bee Beaumont, the Graham Coxon band and The Bristols. What comes first? Music or film-making? Or is there a happy middle?

I’d say it’s a healthy balance.  I’ve always loved music and to me, music can embrace all elements of culture, be it fashion, visual arts, photography, etc.  In a way, music gave me my first real appreciation of photography - exploring my parent’s record collection as a kid.  Those iconic 60’s LP sleeves like Bob Freeman’s elongated Beatles on Rubber Soul or David Bailey’s Rolling Stones No2. The super cool, visual representation of a band – the look and their sound contained within a 12” square format.

I’ve been making music since the early 90’s, playing in all kinds of bands from lo-fi independent through to major label supported projects.  Much like my experience with film and photography, I’ve managed to catch the music industry at various stages of transition, from the days when there were reasonable budgets for recording, promo videos, photo shoots through to the situation now which is basically no money for anything!

I’m currently working with the artist Bob & Roberta Smith on a musical project (The Apathy Band) which is very much an amalgamation of sound, art and activism.

5. In a world where the boundaries between still and moving images seem to be disappearing and where most clients expect a photographer to also shoot video, what is the future of the stills photographer? Or of the videographer who doesn't shoot stills?

Currently the converging of different technologies feels quite exciting.  Lots of people are back shooting on film, be it still or moving image, plus a growing interest in alternative & historic processes.  I guess part of the reason for this is that photographers are trying to re-instate value to what they do.

In a world where everyone is a photographer or film-maker, it is increasingly challenging to stand apart from the mass of image making out there.  As for the future, I’d like to think that, at the end of the day, talent does ultimately stand out and there is lots of really interesting work out there.

6. Four Corners and Camerawork artists where around at a time when the world as they knew it was drastically changing and they became the visual voice for the social issues of their generation. With the state of the world right now, do you think that contemporary artists still have the responsibility to document these issues? And how crazy is it that we are still fighting for the same issues that they fought for 40+ years ago?

History does have a tendency to repeat itself.

As today everybody has access to photography, and the means to instantly publish and distribute, it will be interesting to see what kind of imagery will actually stand the test of time and whether we will be left with any iconic pictures that represent this particular place in history or just a mass of social media posts...

7. I write this blog not only to speak my mind but also to share what I learn in regards to the business of photography with my readers. That is why, the work that Four Corners does, specifically through LCN, resonates with me because I too believe in building a community and in the idea that through helping others grow, the industry becomes stronger, and so does my practice. Tell us a bit about LCN.

The London Creative Network is a partnership of four arts organisations; Space, Cockpit Arts, Photofusion and Four Corners.  The aim is to support and help develop creative businesses, which in our case are photographers.  We do this through a programme of specialist workshops, mentoring support, exhibition / showcasing opportunities and networking.  The programme has been running for 3 years and we currently have over 130 practitioners working across a whole range of photographic technologies and processes.

8. Has Brexit affected the programme?

Well Brexit hasn’t happened yet and who knows, it may never happen...?

However, in theory, there will no longer be EU funding post-2020, so unless we find another form of support it is unlikely programmes like LCN will survive at least in their current form.  We’re just going to have to wait and see…

9. How is LCN and Four Corners funded?

The LCN programme is 50% funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).  Four Corners is mostly funded by specific projects.  For instance, we’ve just been working on a Heritage Lottery funded archive project exploring the first 10 years of both Four Corners and Camerawork.

We also generate income from facilities hire and from building rental.  We are in the unusual and very fortunate situation that we own our building.  That has been one of the key reasons Four Corners has managed to survive when so many small arts organisations have bit the dust over the years.

10. How has the archive project changed your perception of what Four Corners is?

It’s been really interesting to reassess those early histories. Both organisations not only produced innovative work but also radical new/alternative ways of working.

I’d like to think that exploring this past will inform and inspire future developments at Four Corners.

Thanks so much, Owen, for taking some time off your busy schedule to chat with me about the work that you do at Four Corners! This 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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What if I live to be 100?

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A few days ago, I was chatting with a very young person, literally half my age, and they were telling me how they were jaded of London because they had done it all, they had seen it all, and they knew everything that there was to know about the city. Not with these exact same words, but you get the point. While I was trying really hard to hide a patronizing gaze, Samuel Johnson's words "tired of London, tired of life" came to my mind. This was the type of person that he must have been referring to.

At almost 45 years of age, I don't feel, not even remotely, that I have done everything, or that I have learned everything, or that I have even met everyone there is to meet in London. There are so many things to do or to learn or people to meet in this city that it can get really overwhelming at times. I have been living here for close to 5 years and I sometimes feel like I have just arrived.

Forget about London for a second, and just think about life in general. How can anyone possibly think, at any age, that they know or have done everything? No matter how old you are, 20 or a 100, there is always something new discovered or invented in the world every day. It is impossible to keep up! To feel so jaded about life or a city like London must be really sad.

I for one am really happy that I still know nothing and that there is so much to learn. It is such a beautiful experience when you are able to discover something new. In fact, I believe that being surprised and amused by something in a world where a lot of people think that they have seen it all is a real privilege.

That conversation reminded me of an ad that I saw in a magazine which read "What if I live to 100?" and it made me reflect on the path in front of me. If I ever feel so jaded about life as this 20-year-old is, I definitely don't want to live that long.

Our concern shouldn't be whether we live to 100 or not, but whether we live a life that is worth living. At my age, I just started my second career after 20 years in another industry and there is so much to learn and experience that I don't think that these coming 55 years will be enough.

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Art Is Meant To Be Shown

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According to NASA, the light coming from the Sun takes 8.3 minutes to reach Earth, covering an extraordinary distance of 149,596,208 km before it bounces off the objects that surround us allowing us to see them. If you take a photo of an object that you see in daylight, when is the image of that object created? When the sunlight bounces on it, when the bounced light hits your eyes and is interpreted by your brain, or when the camera fixes that image on the film or the digital sensor? Depending on who you are, the answer to this question might be more philosophical than scientific.

If you were a copyright lawyer, you would most likely say that the image is created when it is fixed on a physical support (film, sensor, paper) and it is only then when the copyright is assigned to the creator. If you were a scientist, you would probably assert that the image was created in our brains when we interpreted the light bouncing off the object that we are looking at. If you were a philosopher, you would argue that the image is always there for as long as the light bounces off the object and it is only waiting for a set of eyes to see it.

However, any photographer, or any artist for that matter, would tell you that the image was created in our brain, not when we saw the object, but when we imagined how the object would look like from a different perspective, with a certain composition or at a different time with a different light angle even before pressing the shutter. For we as photographers are able to imagine the future and automatically turn it into the past by just the click of a button.

But, what would happen if we decided not to press that button? What would happen if we created an image in our minds that the world had never seen and just left it there, without allowing it to take its potential physical form? What would happen if we created the most beautiful and unique image and just treasured it in our brains without allowing anyone else to see it? What would happen if we denied humanity the privilege of looking at our vision of the world?

Probably nothing. Other photographers will continue creating their art and the absence of our images would likely go unnoticed. But, art is meant to be shown, and the images in our minds deserve to come to life because it is only through them that we know how to express ourselves. That's why we take photos.

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To Older Selves And New Beginnings

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A few weeks ago, I got myself a new camera. Well, it is new because I just bought it, but it is actually pre-loved (meaning that it is pre-owned, but really well taken care of). It is a medium format film camera from the 90's, a beautiful piece of equipment used by professional photographers back in the day. In the process of learning how to use it, it has never been clearer to me that, no matter how good the equipment that you own is, if you don't know how to take good photos, you will never be able to take good photos. Anyone can be a photographer these days, they say...

Back in 1889, George Eastman advertised the Kodak camera with the slogan: "You press the button, we do the rest." It was the first step towards the democratization of photography that, a 130 years later, has resulted in everyone having a camera in their pockets today. But, the same way that having a good pen doesn't turn you into Shakespeare, owning a good camera doesn't automatically make you a photographer. After almost four years working as a professional photographer, I've never felt more like a beginner myself. I am back in square one.

Starting from scratch is not too bad, though. It forces you to reassess everything that you have done so far and to start again with renewed energies. As creatives, we have the luxury of feeling like a beginner every time that we face the empty canvas, the blank page, the unexposed film or the image in our mind that hasn't been fixed on a physical support yet. We have this amazing opportunity to start from scratch over and over again, to try again, to fail again, to fail better...

The best of it is that, the older you get, the better it feels to start from scratch because you still have the hunger to learn that children have, but you have lived long enough to know how to apply your new found knowledge. That's something that I love about ageing, and it's surprising to me that so many people around me fear to get older so much. The older you get, the more things you get to see, the more adventures you get to experience, the more new things you get to try out for the first time.

Getting old is a privilege denied to many. Embrace it. And, along the way, don't fear to start from scratch every now and then. Paraphrasing the words of Robert Browning, a person's reach should exceed their grasp. Only by trying out what you have never tried before is that you grow.

Photo credit: light test during a shoot by Naz Simons.

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