Josh Redman: From sculpture to Taylor Wessing
1 March 2017
How did you get into photography?
For 9 years I was a sculptor and potter, making things mostly on the potter’s wheel and with kilns. The work I was producing was very unusual and basically a commercial waste of time at that point, but I had that artist’s drive to make whatever was in my head. I was paying less than £100 a month to rent a huge converted dairy farm, but after a few years I was asked to leave. My production was too large and cumbersome to downsize effectively, so instead of compromising I sold my kiln to buy a camera, moved to London and did whatever I could to survive. I had no contacts in photography and no real idea of what photographers did other than take photos, but I was really determined to make something of it. I did low end photography jobs in night clubs, unpaid gig photography, lots of personal work which was usually ‘’street’’ photography for obvious practical reasons, and assisting. I also started getting the occasional interiors photography job and some studio still life, basically photographing another photographer’s pack shots for him. I got a part time job in a bookies, was sacked within six months because I was taking on photography jobs (which at £120 a day was double the wages of the bookies), and things very slowly got better. Those figures sound like a joke now, but I had no relevant portfolio for the work I was getting at that point, so it was all about being cheap and available.
Tell us about your work
I produce a lot of self directed work, from candid ‘’street’’ type photography to portraits done in the studio to still life and the odd landscape. I can’t tell you what my personal style is, other than I have this internal photo detector that lights up when I feel I’m onto something. I just follow that really. As for professional work, I try to be as versatile as I can, for obvious reasons that it’s difficult to turn down a job, but also because I find that it fine tunes my skills to work on such a variety of commissions. More recently I’ve been getting advertising work which has some relevance to my personal photography.
How has your previous life as a sculptor shaped how you work as a photographer?
My sculptural work was very different aesthetically, but my classical training as a potter meant that I had certain lines and proportions hammered into me for years, which I’m sure informs my photographic framing. I did and still do go to a lot of exhibitions and galleries, particularly now that I’m in London. When sculpting, I’d let the work bring flashes of other things into my head, for example a Breugel or a lobster cage or a milking stool, and the final piece was informed by what you might call that ‘’stream of consciousness’’ which came about through all those weeks and years of previous research. When photographing, I have that same pool of inspiration in my head plus a few extra years now. I’m always using those little flashes of memory to help me take a meaningful shot.
You won the AOP Assistant award in 2014, you were a finalist in the Open Award in 2016 and won the Taylor Wessing John Kobal award in 2016, how have these achievements helped your career?
The AOP Assistant Award in 2014 was judged by Mark George, who one year down the line became my agent. I’m now getting work through him that I’d have no idea how to get myself, so that’s a direct boost to my career. With the Taylor Wessing, I’ve had a couple of print enquiries and a £5,000 commission to photograph somebody for the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.
Tell us more about having an agent.
Mark first met me when I’d had my DSLR for just 2 years, and I’d had no formal training. Despite my ambitious nature I couldn’t fathom why he might consider taking me on, especially when I’d seen his other photographers’ work. He clearly saw something in my photographs that I didn’t, which was their potential to look like adverts. I’ve learned a lot from agents – the group crits at the AOP were instrumental in revealing to me what commercial photography was all about, as I’m really more in tune with fine art than how the commercial industry works. Once signed to Mark, I had to get a (very expensive) printed portfolio, and basically just email him personal work as and when I did it, which was usually every couple of weeks. One year later, the commissions have started rolling in. They are for the kinds of clients that I could only dream of getting off my own back, so I’m delighted.
What do you think the future of the industry looks like?
I really can’t comment on the future of the industry because I’ve not been part of the past. I only get to hear about the past through solemn conversations with older guys who feel like the world is collapsing around them, and I just don’t have that experience. CGI will no doubt get simpler for the technically savvy, just like video has, and so clients might start to wonder why us photographers with our big fancy cameras can’t do CGI video. After all, their phones do Snapchat CGI so what’s the big deal? And when clients ask, photographers will acquiesce. Taking short videos purely to grab stills from the footage might become commonplace when pinpoint timing is important (which will be really interesting for portrait work I think). My dream is that lighting and modifiers will become unrecognizably portable, so that production and studio space can simplify. As for the whole money thing, I honestly have no idea. I like to think that light and composition is a respected craft that people will continue to pay for in a still image, regardless of how cheap and easy to operate the capture device becomes.
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