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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I Wish I Had Known... A Year On!

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Two months ago, my monthly column entitled I Wish I Had Known - 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 - turned one year old...

And I forgot to celebrate it!

As a belated one-year anniversary post, below you will find the most-read interviews of the series from the last 14 months.

I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed talking to these incredible people who were so kind to take part in them.

Which one has been your favourite thus far?


Thanks so much for reading and for your continuous support!

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!

Photo credit: my portrait taken by Wayne Noir.

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On Being Pretentious

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A few weeks ago I went to an event from a well-known organisation in the fashion industry. As I was walking into the auditorium where the event was taking place, the people before me in the queue started saying really loudly that they wouldn't seat anywhere else than on the first row because they must have had reserved seats for sure. I immediately thought to myself "how pretentious" and went to sit in the last row of the venue, as far away from them as possible. While observing their behaviour from the un-cool people's row, I couldn't help but wonder if they knew what being pretentious meant? Certainly, if they did, they wouldn't be behaving like that in the first place.

Being pretentious means to attempt to impress others by trying to show that one is more important or has more merit than one actually has. Basically, pretending to be something that you are not. So, if we all knew the meaning of the word, and we all knew that others know that when we are behaving like that it is because we are just trying really hard to look like something that we are not, then nobody would be pretentious.

Still, it is one of those behaviours that one witnesses regularly, not only in this industry but in society in general. Frankly, it looks exhausting. Living a life trying to always impress others so that you can feel good about yourself must take a lot of energy. An energy that could be used for being productive or to do some good, something that is really needed these days.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Fabiola Bastianelli.

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How To Survive A Portfolio Review

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Over the last four years, I have been shooting non-stop in order to learn the technicalities of my craft, to train my eye and my creativity, to create work for clients or for my personal projects, and to update my portfolio. All along, without even realizing it, everything that I was doing was bringing me to this past weekend when, for the first time in my photography career, I showed my portfolio to some of the major publications in the UK during PhotoMeet. It was intimidating, it felt like an emotional rollercoaster, but it was one of the most rewarding things that I have done since becoming a photographer.

Having your work reviewed is no easy feat. It doesn't matter if you are showing it to family, friends, peers or potential clients. You feel vulnerable, exposed, judged, and your self-confidence and the confidence in your own work is put to the test.

Imagine what it felt like when I attended PhotoMeet and walked into a room full of reviewers knowing that, for the following two days, eight of them would get to give me their feedback. It was like speed-dating for photographers. I felt like I was having eight job interviews one after the other with almost no time to breath and decompress. But I survived, and I owe it to how well I prepared for that weekend, not only mentally, but also by seeking advice and doing a lot of research.

Here is a list of the things that I did to prepare for my portfolio reviews:

Before the reviews

  • I made sure my portfolios were ready to be shown. You should always show the very best of your work, even if that means that you are only able to show 10 images. Everyone I asked and everywhere I researched suggested in between 25 to 30 images but, if you don't have that many, only show the very best of what you have. Also, most of the times we are our worst critics, and we tend to select images that we are attached to rather than the very best ones. If you can afford it, hire a photography consultant to do the selection for you. If you can't, ask peers, friends or even relatives to help you select them.

  • I prepared different portfolios tailored for different types of publications. If you are a food and travel photographer but you also shoot fitness, you don't want to show your fitness work to a travel industry publication. You should have two separate portfolios for this. In my case, I prepared three: one for fashion, one for portraiture and one for my personal projects, which fall more on the documentary side.

  • I updated my website, my social media and my print portfolio. Once you have the selection of the very best of your images, update all your communication channels. You want to show a coherent image of your brand.

  • I updated my promo material. After updating my portfolio and my communication channels, I printed new promos using the new images that I was going to show the reviewers. After each review, you want to leave something behind so they can remember you and hopefully visit your website and/or social media when they are back in the office.

  • I researched each and every one of the reviewers that I was going to see. Find out what their role is, what they look like so that you don't confuse them with someone else, what sort of photography they like (usually looking at the latest issues of their publication is enough) and what was published in their latest issue (good conversation starter and shows that you did your research).

  • I prepared a set of questions to ask them. Reviews are short, and in events like this one, they tend to last 20 minutes maximum. So you have to use this time wisely. Let them do the talk and ask you questions, but also have a clear goal of what you want to get out of the review so that they can give you good advice. In my case, I wanted to know if my portfolio was ready to be commissioned for editorial work (both in fashion and in portraiture) and what type of photography were their respective publications looking for.

During the reviews

  • I arrived on time. This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised.

  • I was courteous and friendly. Always be polite, hopefully not only with them but with everyone you meet.

  • I respected the time allocated for my review. Time flies and twenty minutes can feel like ten seconds. When your time is up, leave. It's disrespectful to them to take more time than they have given you, but also to the person coming after you because you are stealing minutes from their allocated time.

  • I established what I wanted from the review from the beginning. The reviewer needs to know what is it that you want to get out of the review so that they can give you productive feedback. Have a clear goal and a clear vision of where you want to be as a photographer.

  • I let them do the talking. Let the photos speak for themselves and wait for the reviewer to ask you questions before you speak. Reviewers love photography, you should let them enjoy that.

  • I was openminded when I heard the feedback. You may or may not like the feedback that you are getting, but you should keep an open mind and accept the feedback gratefully. They are the experts on their publications and the type of photography that they are looking for, and you are there to grow as a photographer and to learn what you have to do to be hired by them. Some of the feedback might be contradictory, but that is only because everyone looks for something different and what works for one publication doesn't work for another. Don't react negatively if you don't like what you hear. If you want to make it as a photographer, you have to grow a thicker skin and be ready to take negative feedback and rejection. It's part of being a creative.

  • I took notes. Write down everything that they tell you. Even if it sounds silly or redundant. When you get home, leave the notebook aside for a day or two and then go back to it and read it calmly. Take the advice that you consider objective and that you think it's helpful. In the end, you decide what to do with the information that you are given.

  • I was thankful when the review finished. When your time is up, thank them for their time and for all the feedback. And don't forget to leave a promo or a business card behind.

After the reviews

  • I sent every reviewer a thank you note. Use the communication channel that they have told you works best for them.

  • I put into practice everything that they advised me to do. This is the least you can do to make the experience worthwhile.

Will I do it again? Absolutely! The feedback that I got was priceless, even though next time I will make sure to choose less and more targeted reviewers. Overall, it was an intense experience and one of the hardest things that I've done. But, like they say, comfort is the enemy of progress, and if I want to achieve the goals that I have set for myself I must strive to live outside of my comfort zone.

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The Discounted Life

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I don't like to haggle. I never have. If I see a product or service for a price that I can't afford, I just don't buy it. To give you an idea of my way of thinking: I once went to the Grand Bazaar in Istambul and I didn't buy anything because all of the vendors expected me to haggle! I guess that I find it disrespectful to ask for a discount. That's why I can't believe how often I am asked to give one myself.

I don't entirely blame the consumer. It's just this discount culture that we live in. What started with an occasional discount, or the desirable 2x1, or the unmissable end of season sale, has evolved into a constant price cut that almost makes Black Friday last from January 1st to New Year's Eve.

We are so used to having prices lowered and to having special sales that we hardly buy at regular prices anymore. So, in order for retailers to be able to sell during the non-sale seasons, they have created a constant sales calendar that has gone out of control.

Don't get me wrong, if I find a bargain I take advantage of it. But I don't expect everything that I pay for to be discounted. Something is not right when you see discounted prices at a store all year long. And as a business, if your prices are discounted all the time, then the discounted price is the new regular price. If we continue like this, there will come a day when stores will have to give customers their products for free because otherwise, nobody will buy them.

As photographers, I don't think that's the type of business that we want to be, nor the type of clients that we are after. And as a client, I like to think that you hire us because you like our photography, or because you like our passion and enjoy working with us, or because our style matches your brief and we are the best for the job that you are quoting. But, not because we are cheap. I don't think that would do any good for your project, for the industry or for our respective brands. I don't know any photographer yet who prides themselves on being the cheapest.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Ferran Vergés.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Photo Editors!

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This is the thirteenth 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.

This week I am thrilled to chat to Raffaela Lepanto, Photo Editor and Photographers Consultant, about what it is like to work as a Photo Editor, on how should Photo Editors be approached by photographers and what can photographers do to produce portfolios that stand out:

1. You have been working in diverse roles in the photography industry for more than two decades, from the editorial desk and picture research to Photo Editor and working as a photographer yourself. How did it all start?

It started by pure chance, really. I had been working part-time for an independent publishing house while studying at the university and had loved the environment; talking with photographers and sorting out the photography archive was what I liked the most about my job, but I guess I didn’t realise it until much later.

I had studied International Political Sciences, and I really liked writing, so I thought that I wanted to do something related to journalism... but I didn’t know exactly how. I didn’t have any real experience and I didn’t know anybody in the field.

I also loved photography and had been taking pictures all my life, but I had been raised with the idea that I had to find a “serious” job. What was exactly that “serious” job that I could actually do, I didn’t know. Waiting for a magical answer, after university I took one year off to travel; when I came back to Europe I was penniless, jobless and still clueless.

So one weekend, I was trying to use my time constructively and give a serious direction to my future while reading Cosmopolitan on my sofa (she laughs). And on that issue of Cosmopolitan, I found this interesting interview to a famous Italian travel Photographer, and I really liked the interview and his photos and I thought it would be awesome to have him as a teacher. So I mustered the courage to call him. He actually answered the phone, and took me onboard to teach me!

This is where, retrospectively, I think I’ve been very lucky: the photographer wasn’t just a photographer, he was also running a very small Photo Agency specialised in Travel Photography. After the photography course finished, I offered my self as an intern and asked him if I could help in the agency for a few months. Now I’m making it sound like I was very wise and smart, the reality is that I absolutely didn’t know why I was doing it, I just felt that I needed more time there. So I worked there for 3 months as an intern, and then another 6 as a part-time photo-researcher and learned so much not just about photography but also about researching and editing.

So yes, Picture Editing really “happened” to me as a way to be as much in contact as I could with Photography. I didn’t even know it existed before then.

2. For nearly a decade, you were a Photo Editor at Grazia Neri, probably one of the biggest photographers agencies that ever existed (representing big-name photographers from Herb Ritts to Annie Leibovitz). Now, you coach photographers at universities, colleges and work with private clients as well. How was the transition from Photo Editor to Photography Consultant?

Yes, Grazia Neri Agency was the biggest Photo Agency in Italy, and one of the leading Photo Agencies in the world. It was the dream Agency to work for!

At the end of the 90’s, when I started working there, the archive of Grazia Neri, and I’m talking about an analogical archive here, was counting 20 million pictures between slides and prints. Can you imagine?

20 million physical pictures. It was totally mind-blowing.

And yes, as you say, the agency represented the best photographers and agencies of the whole world. From Annie Leibovitz to Helmut Newton, from Robert Doisneau to James Nachtwey, to Tim Hetherington, if you could think of a famous photographer or a prestigious agency, they were there...

That was my school, those photographers and their amazing pictures literally shaped my photographic education and for that, I will feel forever grateful.

I always felt that it was a much bigger opportunity than working as a Picture editor for a single magazine, that I learned much more that way.

Also, working in the super fast-paced Editorial Sales Department forced me to keep things very “real”. It was the humblest, no frills, no nonsense part of the otherwise high-end world of photography, and what worked and what didn’t work was pretty vital to learn there. It wasn’t much about “talking photography”, it was more about making photography happen, and getting it published!

Meeting new photographers, commissioning them new projects and working with them was again the part of my work that I liked the most. I guess that there has always been an element of empathy in there, as I felt that their dreams, their hopes, their problems were very similar to my own...

So the “transition” hasn’t been a real transition, after all. What changed was the “external shape” but it feels like my work has always been more or less the same. I don’t feel like I’m teaching anything to photographers, today. I still feel like an Editor, who has the chance to share what she’s learned.

Paradoxically, I’ve recently come to realise that working with non-famous photographers and students is, in fact, the “advanced” level of my work. Working with someone not used to a portfolio review and unaware of their potential, competition and market is something that took me a while to learn but for which today I feel very lucky. It gave me a much wider perspective, and it keeps me away from the haughty, condescending world of Art Critique.

3. What would you recommend photographers to focus on to develop their careers and make themselves a place in the industry?

Being a photographer is not easy: It takes a special kind of discipline, stubbornness, and courage.
If I think of the young photographers that I met during my career who really “made it”, three things come to mind:

  • They were all very kind: often more listeners and observers than talkers, so I’m not thinking just about extraverted PR people, here. I’m actually not thinking of them at all.
  • They all had a very personal style, one that I could recognise across different projects: something very difficult to achieve.
  • They had a deep, passionate interest in their projects. You could see it in many little details, such as their well-researched text, their relationship with their subjects, their captions... In my work you learn to read through the lines of a photographer’s work and you’ll just know how much time they have spent on it, how aware they are of other photographers’ work, if they have studied what’s out there, if they are trying to emulate what is trendy or they are really offering a bit of their soul... You learn to respect a truly personal vision because you see in “transparency” the huge work that it takes to get there.

4. What's the best way to contact Photo Editors? What are the first things that Photo Editors want to know about photographers and their work?

Well, you know, Photo Editors belong to the very same species as photographers, so they are drawn to the very same things; pictures.

A special, unexpected light in a portrait, a bold perspective, an uncommon colour to tell a story in a different way... as all visual people, they will look at images first and will make a thousand small evaluations in a second, deciding if they like them. If they do, they will read your intro text. Never the other way round.

As for how to introduce yourself, I can’t speak for all Editors in the world, of course, but I can share what I personally like to find in an e-mail. I like personal, short messages, where I can see that who writes me has taken the time to know my work and my company and introduce themselves briefly. You don’t need more than 5 lines for this; what type of photographer you are, your location, that’s it.

When I’m reading, I will have seen your images already: even one picture in an e-mail is enough, it generally tells me everything I need to know. From there, I like to be able to access the photographer’s website, and possibly see and read more.

What do Editors want to know? Photo Editors pride themselves on discovering emerging talents, so you don’t need to be an established photographer with dozens of exhibitions, awards, and publications. Of course, showing a good publication or award helps, but you don’t need to write this type of info in an email. If you have them it’s better to keep them on your website.

For your projects, again, in my view, pictures speak a thousand words; in those cases where an intro text is absolutely needed, Editors normally look for the 3 journalistic W's: who, when and where. Something I’m personally not very fond of? If someone has to explain too much the “vision” behind their photography, or if they use the third person to talk about themselves, as if they were someone else (how weird is that?).

5. How often should a photographer contact a Photo Editor? Do Editors keep records of photographers that have got in touch with them?

This is a difficult question. It’s always a matter of finding a balance, isn’t it? Between being persistent and becoming... too persistent.

I personally respect persistence very much, I see it as an achievement, a quality belonging only to photographers who went through the hard initiation of rejections and have been ignored already and didn’t give up. There is nothing more deafening than the silence after a well-crafted newsletter, one that took the photographer days to prepare, not to talk about the months spent working on the project he’s trying to promote... It’s disheartening. And it makes Editors look like cruel, evil people, I know.

The reality is that a photographer seldom knows the amount of very similar newsletters and promotions Editors receive in one single day. “Very Similar” is the key, here. It’s disheartening, too. Because you really wish to get back to (almost) everybody, but you can’t because you just don’t have the time. Unless - I’m honest - you have a glimpse of something so special that makes you jump on your chair and it becomes a priority.

For a first contact, I would write a very short personal e-mail rather than a newsletter, showing the best of my work and also showing knowledge of the Editor’s magazine, agency, whatever...I would then ask for an in-person appointment. If you don’t get a reply, I would be persistent, until, hopefully, I get one. How often? It could be... a few times, leaving a few weeks in between.

For direct marketing and keeping in touch with old clients, it all depends if you have the right project to offer, if you are looking for an assignment, what is the reason for your campaign...there is no right frequency, really. I would write down the reason, the why, first of all, for each group of clients. When I know exactly why I want to contact them, I would.

Periodical, general, impersonal newsletters or mailers don’t work much, in my experience.
I’d rather focus on building real relationships, and when you do have one, you normally also know when to call, right?

As for Editors and Agents keeping records of photographers, of course, they do. Not all of them, but the ones who emerged as somehow different, or especially talented, they sure do keep them.
I’m still doing it now, as I often use a special project as a reference in my work with photographers.

Back when I was working for the agencies, I had endless lists of websites that I actively researched, looking for a single picture that I remembered, for a whole body of work, to assign new projects... again, Editors pride themselves on finding hidden talents, it’s just something they do, so yes, perhaps they don’t answer to all e-mails but they are like elephants, they don’t forget (she laughs again).

6. What kind of relationship do you like to have with photographers, and is it one that you'd like to grow over time?

Photographers have always been “my people”, the sort of people that I feel comfortable around; perhaps because as a photographer myself, I went through the same rejections, the same insane joy seeing my pictures published. And I know we share the same obsessions, that pale light on a dark background, a perfect coupling on a book page, a moment that just the eye of a photographer can see and doesn’t make for a normal conversation with normal people. Those details. You know what I mean...

In most cases, the working relationship becomes a very friendly one; I like to be updated on their success, and I genuinely share their happiness when our hard work pays off.

7. In your opinion, what makes a Photographer's portfolio stand out from others?

  • A deeply personal vision
  • Style consistency, all through
  • Courage

8. When you are editing a project/portfolio, what criteria do you use for selecting or discarding images?

Editing is a very complex process. You have to keep in mind so many factors that I often don’t have a clue myself what the result will be until I finish. Artistic and technical merit are just the tip of the iceberg; you also have to take into account style consistency, patterns, colours, type of light, final usage, type of public, type of layout, and of course the meaning of the project, what the photographer really wants to convey and who they want to be... It’s indeed an alchemic process, one that is very hard to describe and almost has a “life” of its own.

If I have to summarise it in two words, though: no matter how long is the project and how many pictures I have to work with, I normally do a first edit which is purely emotional and instinctual, meaning that I literally just pick the images that I like without thinking twice or having other thoughts. From the second edit onwards, rationality takes charge again; here I start thinking about all the elements above, about the sequence, about avoiding repetitions and so on... eventually, I just take out what just doesn’t work.

9. What advice would you give to a photographer who is transitioning from working as an assistant to working as a full-time photographer?

Working as an assistant is an exceptional experience for a photographer; it’s not just about learning the technicalities, it’s having a chance to be in touch with the whole photography business from the inside. My best advice is to keep it as a side-job until your solo career is on (very) solid ground: this is, having enough clients, established relationships but also a good, realistic strategy.

10. Finally, what can photographers expect from your services and how can they get a hold of you?

I keep my services as much product-oriented as I can.

I do help photographers also in the medium and long-term through coaching, but I normally start with a focus on short-term results; an edit for their new book, print portfolio, homepage, a full web edit, a new website.

I believe that offering ready-to-use tools and dividing the work into practical steps works better than offering endless consultations on how to market themselves.

All my services and contacts can be found on my website www.raffaelalepanto.com

This is fantastic, Raffaela! Thank you so much for your time and for helping me understand what being a Photo Editor is all about. This is everything that "I Wish I Had Known"!

Thanks, JC, speak soon!


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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A Case Of Divided Loyalties

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Last week, while I was shopping for new trainers,  I started thinking about some brands that do not have our best interests at heart. From Adidas standing by Kanye West's comments on slavery to Nike's (and so many other companies') misogyny culture, we keep supporting brands with ethics that go against everything that we stand for. I then realized that, in my closet, I have 6 pairs of Adidas trainers and 7 pairs of Nike trainers, which made me wonder: why am I still giving my hard-earned money to brands that do not represent me and what I believe in? So, instead of shopping those brands, I consciously supported a lesser known one.

It is true that causing controversy has helped the careers of so many people throughout history. It seems to be PR 101. Kanye does it, Trump does it, Lady Gaga did it, Madonna did it, Dali did it, Marilyn Monroe did it, and the more you go back, the more you realize that it has always been part of the celebrity toolkit. Mae West once wrote: "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." But, one thing is causing controversy and another completely different thing is attacking a particular group.

You shouldn't expect women to buy your products when as an organisation you oppress them, the same way that you shouldn't expect women's support when you claim that they should be grabbed by their parts when they don't respond to your advances. Or expect black people to keep endorsing your products when you support slavery deniers, the same way that you shouldn't expect gay people to be religious when every single religion in the planet has discriminated them at some point.

The irony in all this is that there are still women buying Nike products, black people wearing Adidas, women voting for the Trumps in the world and gay people supporting religions. I don't know if it's in our nature or if it's just that we are brainwashed from birth into condoning these practices. But, at some point, the cycle must be broken.

And I'm not writing this post trying to call for a boycott on any brand. Those boycotts don't really help, they just give brands free publicity, even if it's bad publicity (remember Mae West's quote). What I'm saying is that we should be more conscious about who we give our money to. Because money doesn't grow on trees (I know mine doesn't) and something doesn't feel right when we are working our lives away trying to make a respectable living, but then we give that money to companies that are not respectable at all.

Brand loyalty shouldn't just be about the quality of the products we buy or the customer experiences that these brands give us. It should also be about which brands reciprocate and are loyal to us as well. Because, in the end, the most important loyalty is the one that you have to yourself and your principles, and if a brand doesn't align with them it should be their loss, not yours. There are plenty brands out there to choose from, but there is only one You to buy from them.

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Thank You For Coming To Photo Scratch

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Thanks to everyone who came down to Photo Scratch last Monday! I had an amazing time, it was a brilliant opportunity to see familiar faces but also to get to know some really interesting people and, more importantly, to have the chance to appreciate great photography work. On top of that, the feedback that I received from the lovely people who stopped by my corner was invaluable. I am very grateful to Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz and Phil Le Gal for letting me be part of this event and, above all, thankful to everyone who shared their opinion in regards to my project with me. Enjoy the photos of the night!

Photo Scratch is an event designed for photographers working on documentary projects to help them understand how their work is perceived and gain valuable insight into how to take their work further with the benefit of other people’s outside eye. The ethos of the night is a peer-review approach and it is a chance for photographers at many different stages of their careers to meet, discuss and have open dialogues about their practice in a supportive environment, in order to make meaningful connections, and stronger work.

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Founders Hanna-Katrina and Phil host this night where spectators have the opportunity to preview projects, offer feedback, and engage in conversations about photography. The format of the night involves a group of six to eight photographers previewing a project in an incomplete state. The audience comprised of other photographers and people within the industry are then welcome to discuss the work and leave written feedback for each project. This valuable written feedback is then kept by each photographer for future reference.

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To find out more about Photo Scratch visit photoscratch.org

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I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

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Last Saturday I was on a train when a group of kids boarded with bikes which they placed against the opposite doors from which they entered. As the train sped, the bikes wiggled and threatened to fall over. Without giving it a second thought, I jumped from my seat and tried to hold them, but before I could reach them, they stabilized and stayed upright. I was already half standing, so I just tried to go back to my seat but, instead, I fell to the floor on my bum, hitting the edge of the seat with my back and the side panel with my elbow. I had forgotten that I had been sitting on one of those retractable seats.

I stayed on the train floor for probably five seconds which felt like an eternity. I then tried to get up but, because the train was in motion, I struggled to grab one of the poles to lift myself up. After probably 30 seconds of battling to hold the pole firmly, I was able to stand up, dust my jacket and my trousers, and make sure that this time the seat was down before I sat. Meanwhile, the rest of the passengers acted as if nothing had happened. No one came to help me. Not even the kids who owned the bikes. One of them just exclaimed "wow!" and looked away. The whole car remained in silence until the next stop.

As I was trying to make sense of what had happened, I didn't feel any embarrassment nor pain. I was just shocked, upset really, that nobody came to my aid. I could have broken a bone for all they cared and absolutely no one could be bothered to help a fellow human being in distress. When did we become like this? When did we stop caring for the wellbeing of others? Has it always been like this and I just hadn't realized it? Where did it all go wrong?

Photographer Bettina Rheims said during the Festival de Hyères: "If one day we convince one person to open their ideas and minds then we help make the world better." I hope that if at least one person reads this post, I convince them to make an effort to offer a hand when another human being is in need of help. Like Bettina, I believe that we can change the world, one person at a time.

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I'm Taking Part In Photo Scratch

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On the 14th of May, 2018, I will be taking part in Photo Scratch, an event designed for photographers working on documentary projects to help them understand how their work is perceived and gain valuable insight into how to take their work further with the benefit of other people’s outside eye. The event will take place at Hotel Elephant (Spare Street, London SE17 3EP) in Elephant and Castle. It's free, but you must book your tickets in advance to guarantee entry.

Founders Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz and Phil Le Gal host this night where spectators have the opportunity to preview projects, offer feedback, and engage in conversations about photography. The format of the night involves a group of six to eight photographers previewing a project in an incomplete state. The audience comprised of other photographers and people within the industry are then welcome to discuss the work and leave written feedback for each project. This valuable written feedback is then kept by each photographer for future reference.

The ethos of the night is a peer-review approach and it is a chance for photographers at many different stages of their careers to meet, discuss and have open dialogues about their practice in a supportive environment, in order to make meaningful connections, and stronger work.

I will be presenting all the portraits that I have taken thus far of my personal project on the Catalan conflict "Catalonia: A Work In Progress". I hope to see you there!

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I Wish I Had Known... About Modelling In Your 50's!

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This is the twelfth 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.

Today I have the honour of chatting with British model Nicola Griffin about how opportunities arise when you least expect them and about what is it like to pursue a career in modelling after a certain age:

1. When we met a few years ago, you had recently started modelling at a very unconventional age. Can you tell us a bit about your story?

I first started modelling when I was 53. A lady asked me in the bank if I would do a photo shoot for a new shampoo product called white hot hair. This launched me into the modelling world and I was approached by an agent to be represented. Not long after, I was lucky enough to get a job with a company called Swimsuits For All in the USA.

2. From the cue at the bank to being flown to the Caribbean for a photo shoot with the one and only Ashley Graham to be featured together on Sports Illustrated! And then the cover of Bazaar, and countless advertising campaigns, editorials and catalogues. How does it feel to be part of this new pro-diversity movement in the industry?

It is really inspiring to be part of this as I represent older women in the fashion industry. I was the first woman to appear in Sports Illustrated magazine at the age of 56. Which I'm very proud of! It's a wonderful feeling to be part of this movement showing diversity in every age, size and race.

3. What sort of opportunities are there in the industry for models starting out later in life?

I think they're all sorts of opportunities out there now for older models. Things are improving all the time and I do believe anything is possible and anything can happen. I am living proof!

4. Modelling is a tough job that requires a strong will, very thick skin and a heck-of-a-lot of self-confidence. Still, people, in general, have the misconception that modelling is an easy job where you just have to look pretty. Can you describe what a career in modelling is about?

Trying to describe what modelling is all about it's quite difficult. What I would say is it's really fabulous when you're on a shoot with wonderful people in a beautiful place and it's really the most wonderful thing to be actually making a living doing something that is truly amazing. However, it's lots of hard work. The downsides, of course, are the travelling, the delayed flights, the arriving at your hotel at midnight and having an early call at 4 AM. It's hectic and you're under pressure.

5. How much of making it in the industry is about working hard in promoting yourself to modelling and casting agencies and how much is it being at the right place at the right time?

I think that to make it in the industry involves a lot of good luck and a lot of hard work and being in the right place at the right time. Promoting yourself on Instagram and Facebook and all the social platforms is important in today's industry. Castings can be tough, the feeling of rejection when you've not been chosen can be quite upsetting but you have to move on quickly, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and tomorrow is a new day.

6. What would you suggest to starting models on how to start their careers? How does one become a model?

I think if you are starting out as a model today I would suggest getting some good photos together and start looking for an agent and agency that would suit you and your style and your strengths. Work hard and believe in yourself, stay true to yourself, be brave and be strong because you're going to need it.

7. You are represented by some of the biggest agencies in the industry, both in the UK and the US. What is the role of an agency for a model?

The role of the agency that represents you is to guide you and nurture you, to get you the best deals from the client and look out for you. They take care of your travel arrangements, check your tickets and check your hotel, check you got everything, they make sure that you're getting the jobs that suit you and the client is happy. And, most importantly, that you're happy. That's a lot for the agency to do to look out for you so picking the right agency is very important.

8. As a mother yourself, what message would you send parents whose children are interested in modelling on how to navigate the industry?

As a mother of two daughters, I always pushed for them to finish their education when they showed interest in modelling. It was very important to me that they were not distracted from their studies. I did tell them many times that when they finished their A-levels we would all get a shoot together by a photographer. But that never happened. They then went off to university and now they are in full-time employment. But, had they have been interested in the industry I would've given them all my support.

9. We are living in times when models careers are longer than they ever were. Where do you see your career going?

I do look forward to being in the industry for a very long time! I'm hoping I can continue working well into my 80's, maybe even 90's... how wonderful would that be!

Thank you so much, Nicky! Thank you for being so fabulous and taking part in my column to help me understand what modelling in your 50's is all about. 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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Exhibition at One Canada Square

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From the 16th of April to the 1st of June, the AOP (Association of Photographers) will be celebrating its 50 year anniversary with an exhibition called "AOP50: Images That Defined The Age" at the lobby of One Canada Square (Canary Wharf, London E14 5AB). Alongside these memorable 50 images, a digital exhibition of work by current AOP Accredited Photographers will be shown on a screen, including the image "The Anglomaniac" from my Brexiters project.

AOP50 is a retrospective which includes images by some of the world’s most well-known and respected photographers from the past 50 years. Curated by Zelda Cheatle, the collection of images celebrates 50 years of the AOP with photographs that illustrate the impact, diversity and quality of work by AOP members since 1968. As the AOP's Executive Director, Seamus McGibbon, explains, "many of the images have defined a generation, and helped to shape public opinion and to create change."

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Last night during the opening reception, while I looked around at the fantastic work on display I couldn't help but feel proud of belonging to a group of professionals that sets the bar really high and makes me want to improve myself every day.

Come celebrate this important milestone of the AOP with this free public exhibition, open daily from 7 am to 8 pm.

Photo of me by Andrezj Gruszka.

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Online Portfolio Updated

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These past few weeks I have been working hard updating my website with the help of a Photo Editor and Photography Consultant called Raffaela Lepanto. Raffaela and I gathered all the images that I have shot over the course of my career and put together an online portfolio that presents a more accurate version of who I am as a photographer. Along the way, it also made me realise that the quality of my work was better than I gave it credit for. What do you reckon?

It wasn't an easy task. We had to come up with a portfolio that was strong and coherent but that would also balance all the different types of photography that I shoot. Our main goal was to make the website appealing to those who are looking for my fashion work but also to those who want to see what I can offer as a portraiture photographer.

Raffaela helped me unify the Beauty & Fashion portfolios with the Portraits one, finding a consistent style all through. Also, she managed to build a Homepage Portfolio which could be appealing to Editorial and Commercial clients at once but also suitable and interesting for the general public. In the process, some of my favourite images were left out. But we had to sacrifice the most obvious commercial shots in order to give a contemporary edge to the website.

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I am really happy with the result and I think that we nailed it! It was a really difficult process because as photographers we are emotionally connected to our work. Having someone else take control over our work and tell us what we should and what we shouldn't present in our portfolios is probably one of the hardest things an artist can go through. But, in the end, it has been a relief. Just having the weight lifted off my shoulders of having to decide what to display in my portfolio has made the whole experience completely worth it.

Please browse through my website and leave me a comment below to let me know what you think!

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Exhibition at Four Corners

Catalonia: A Work In Progress

From the 18th to the 28th of April, my portraiture project on the Catalan conflict "Catalonia: A Work In Progress" will be part of the collective exhibition Salon 18, organized by the London Creative Network (LCN) at Four Corners Gallery (121 Roman Road, London E2 0QN). “Catalonia: A Work In Progress” is a personal project where I explore the spectrum of opinions that people living in Catalonia have in regards to the Independence from Spain.

At first sight, it might seem like there are only two possible positions: in favour of the independence of Catalonia or in favour of the permanency in Spain. But the reality is more complex than that; there is a diverse set of opinions from the people caught in the middle.

Some people definitely want out, while others feel very much part of Spain. But, not everyone who wants to leave wants an Independence per se and would opt for just more autonomy for the region. Meanwhile, not everyone who wants to remain in Spain feels Spanish or agrees with the policies of the Spanish government.

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Whatever the outcome of the Catalan conflict is, the government of Catalonia or the government of Spain will have to guarantee that all the people living in Catalonia can live in harmony disregarding their political views.

This is a conflict that has been going on for centuries, but the rest of the world found out about it after the events of October 1st, 2017, when the pro-Independence parties staged a referendum that the Spanish government considered illegal.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Alternative Processes!

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This is the eleventh 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.

As I explained on a previous post titled I Am An Immigrant, early this year I had the opportunity to meet Almudena Romero, a London based visual artist from Spain, and with whom I had an amusing discussion about art, immigration and alternative photographic processes:

1. On the day that we met, I posed for you for your Growing Concerns project using the Wet Collodion technique, and your enthusiasm and passion for your craft captivated me. When did you first know that you wanted to become an artist? When did it all start?

I think when I signed up for an MA in Photography with a fine arts focus is when I made that choice. I was working as a photojournalist in Canada, and I think I gradually became more interested in the artistic possibilities of the medium rather than the documentary ones.

2. You create beautiful pieces and portraits using both early and contemporary photography techniques. Why did you decide to create your art using photography?

I find photography very powerful. We consume and produce images constantly. From my point of view, knowing how to analyse and create an image is like knowing how to read and write, but with visual content instead of words. I find surprising how poor visual education we have in Spain. Not having the tools to analyse the critical context of an image, what it signifies, makes us very vulnerable. I think that the more I read and work with photography the more I like to explore the medium.  

3. As a photographer myself, I know how the industry is always looking for ways to label us into preconceived types of photographers. Do you consider yourself a Portraits Photographer, a Fine Art Photographer or don’t even consider yourself a photographer at all?

I consider myself an artist, but if someone describes me as a photographer I am perfectly fine with it.

 Almudena Romero making collodion plates at her studio in East London for her project "Growing Concerns" about immigrants to UK. With JC Candanedo (Grey Pistachio).

4. You combine your practice with teaching at the University of the Arts London, doing talks and running workshops in the UK and abroad. Is this the life of the contemporary artist? Do you do it out of passion or to make ends meet?

I work with photographic processes that are very little known, and therefore, to engage people with these processes is to engage them with my practice too. I consider teaching part of my practice, and I don't think teaching is less cool than selling pieces or taking commissions.

People always like making distinctions and hierarchies. Photographers vs Artists, Technicians vs Academics, Artist selling through small commercial galleries vs Artist working with public institutions, etc. These categories are not helpful, so I don't really worry about them. Everything has advantages and disadvantages.

I see the benefits of teaching very clearly. First, it pushes me to be precise and consistent and then it helps me enormously to expand my network.  Teaching has the same effect as when you are cooking for someone else, you put so much more effort than if you were doing it just for you, and in the end, you end up being much better at it.

5. Speaking of your practice and your business model, when you sell your art do you sell the originals or do you sell prints? Do you do limited editions? Who are your clients (collectors, museums, galleries, private clients)?

I only sell originals to other artists that are also collectors (this happens very often, and I see myself collecting pieces soon too) and other people in my network including relatives, friends, art collectors, people working in the arts.  

6. I was lucky enough to visit your recently opened studio space in London. How long have you had your own space? Do you think it’s important as an artist to work in your own private studio? How did that affect your practice?

I have this one since October. I think it depends on the work. Some people need interaction and feedback, but I need to control the light and the ventilation conditions. It's easy for me to work 8/9 hours non stop, and this complicates a lot sharing the space.

7. Affordable spaces in cities like London are rare and in very high demand, with waiting lists that sometimes go for years. What advice would you give to other photographers and artists who are looking for a space but haven’t been able to find an affordable one yet?

Sign up for those lists now. Use artists studio finder website. Avoid companies managing spaces, go for charities or artist-led spaces like ACAVA, Bow Arts, SPACE, Cubitt, Acme- There are so many good space providers!

 Almudena Romero making collodion plates at her studio in East London for her project "Growing Concerns" about immigrants to UK. With JC Candanedo (Grey Pistachio).

8. Your projects deal with 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.  I tend to go towards this sort of topics in my personal projects out of my own experience as an immigrant coming from a family of immigrants. Is it also a personal journey for you? If not, why do you feel attracted to these topics?

Having lived over the past 10 years in the UK, France, Canada and Italy, I have a strong sense of belonging to the immigrant community rather than to any nation. I want to use and share my knowledge to work with one of the most archival processes and leave a legacy of a contemporary understanding of colonialism, identity and photographic archives.

9. Your work is exhibited in galleries across the globe, and your most recent project, Growing Concerns, will be at the Centquatre Gallery in Paris from March 17 until May 6, 2018. For those who don’t understand the exhibitions circle, how does exhibiting your work come about? Do you get commissioned to do a project for an exhibition space? Do you pitch a project that you have in mind and that you want to work on? Do you create your work and then the exhibition spaces come for it? Do you submit to competitions?

I create work I want to create, then I research who can be interested in the work and then I apply to open calls and other opportunities within that network.  I tailor my applications to the space/facilities available. It's crucial to tailor your proposal, otherwise, the juries might not visualise how they could bring it to their own space/platform.

10. As a visual artist, what do you consider is the role of the artist in our communities nowadays? Why do we need artists? Why do we need art?

We need art in the same way we need science. It enriches us, it gives us perspective, a different angle, it helps us to understand. I see the role of an artist very similar to the role of a scientist, it's an everyday job that you do in conjunction with other people working in the same field that ultimately facilitates understanding and generates engagement.

11. What is in store for you in the future? What sort of new projects do you plan to work on?

I am now working on a series that focuses on the deregulation of goods and capital and the environmental and social impact of this, forcing communities to migrate. I have started to use plants which are originally from Asia, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands, and nonetheless widely available at daily markets in London, to alter the photosynthesis process and print images that relate to the migration history and context in their native countries on the leaves of said plants.

Beautiful, Almu! Thank you so much for answering all my questions and helping me understand what working with Alternative Processes is all about. 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!

Photo credits: behind the scenes images by Chelín Miller.

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Let The Creative Juices Flow

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Over the last month and a half, I have been attending a set of creative writing workshops organized by the guys at the Centre for Solo Performance in order to improve my writing and develop my storytelling skills. As a photographer and a visual artist, storytelling is at the forefront of my craft and these workshops are not only helping me with my image-led narratives, but they are also helping me to write a better blog. Joan Miró said in I Work Like a Gardener: "An artwork must be fertile. It must give birth to a world." Hopefully, from now on, I will be creating more interesting worlds.

This is the first time in my life that I take part in creative writing workshops, but it will definitely not be the last. I guess that I just didn't see any use for them in my previous industry, or I didn't fully understand how they could have an effect in my life. Learning how to structure stories or how to move past the blank page syndrome comes very handy whether you are a writer, an artist or someone just putting together a speech.

Besides, being surrounded by creative people from various disciplines and every walk of life is inspiring on its own. We all approach the exercises so differently that is very helpful to see the same topics from other people's perspectives. In my group, there are actors, visual artists, improv performers, physical performers, dancers, writers, teachers, preachers, playwriters, scriptwriters, poets and TEDtalk speakers. You can really feel when the creative juices flow!

I would definitely recommend these sort of workshops to anyone who's interested in improving their storytelling. It doesn't matter if you don't work in the creative industries, these skills are transferable to other types of jobs too. If you write proposals, letters, copy, if you talk in public or give speeches at work, or if you manage contents on social media for a brand, you are a storyteller in your own way.

Like they say, a good artisan never blames their tools, but they know that a good set of tools will make them better at their craft.

Photo credit: behind the scenes with Fabiola Bastianelli by Andrzej Gruszka.

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RIP Stephen Hawking

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Today we have lost one of the brightest minds in modern history and a person whose contribution to humanity is unmeasured. Professor Stephen Hawking passed away this morning at age 76 in his home in Cambridge, leaving behind a legacy which includes his works on black holes and the relationship between Einstein's theory of relativity and the Big Bang. One can only begin to comprehend how much humankind has lost today.

There are many human deaths every day, people constantly die from natural causes, from diseases, in horrible conflicts, accidents or even natural disasters. And it doesn't seem fair to mourn the death of just one person when there would be so many other human beings who deserved to be honoured as well. But the reason why I decided to honour the memory of Professor Hawking is that his life is an example of how one person can battle their own demons and overcome all the obstacles and limitations that have been thrown at them and still live an exemplary life contributing so much to our species.

These should be our heroes. These should be the role models our children look up to. Not one single person who achieves celebrity status these days has done so much for humanity as this man did. And I'm sure that there are so many more exemplary human beings working in the shadows and doing real good who we will probably never hear of in the news or in our social media feeds.

That's why I decided to acknowledge his passing on my blog today. I hope that everytime that I'm faced with a challenge that can potentially set me back, I remember people like him, who in spite of adversity managed to achieve so much. Rest in Peace, Professor Hawking.

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Let Your Light Shine For Long

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This past weekend, as I was preparing all the paperwork for a submission, I had to make an inventory of every single photo, client, publication, competition and exhibition of my photography career. Thankfully, I have only been shooting professionally for a little under 4 years, otherwise, this would have been an impossible endeavour. Even so, for such a short career, it took me 3 whole days of non-stop sorting and documenting to be able to put all the work that I've done into one single folder. But I'm really happy that I had to do it because it was a cathartic experience and it made me realize how far I've come since I started this new phase in my life. And you want to know something? I haven't done too bad!

It's funny how sometimes we are unable to realize how much we have accomplished because we are caught up in our daily routine of running our businesses. But it takes opportunities like these when you sit down and look back at where you were when you started and where you are right now, to really make you see your path from a different perspective.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Create a visual inventory of every single image/set/project that you have shot. I used Powerpoint, but you can use any software that you are comfortable with. For every single image/set/project, create a separate page and write below the single image/set/project it's client, the date, the brief in one line, any publication that took it, any competition where it was highly commended, shortlisted or chosen as a finalist or winner, or every place where they were exhibited. I promise you that by the end you will start looking at your career with new eyes.

I shared the whole experience with a colleague and we both agreed that no successful career happens overnight. It's a slow process of learning, erring and growing and we should enjoy every step of the way and try not to rush things. Because, in the end, the light that shines twice as bright, lasts half as long.

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