Ever since my Dad showed me old photographs, from his travels in the 1960’s, I’ve wanted to be a photographer. What made them extra special was that he only had a handful; two years’ worth of photos had been stolen from him in the last week of his travels. I was looking at his memories from a time when I wasn’t yet born. I love the timeless quality that good photographs possess.
I had a fascination in the natural environment driven by the photographs in the National Geographic Magazines of the 1980’s, that I would look through almost every day. This led me to reading Biology and Geography at University and ultimately taking a Masters in Biological Photography. I’ve learned along the way as I studied and travelled, but it wasn’t until assisting a range of different professional photographers that I learnt the essential skills.
Initially, after starting out on my own, work was sporadic, but I was fortunate enough to get commissions regularly enough each month to get by. After a busier month it was important to buy a little more equipment to build up the business. Digital photography hasn’t helped with this, as the amount of equipment and the speed at which it changes along with the corresponding software is becoming increasingly expensive. When I first started I had a Rollei, a tripod and a light meter and very little else!
I don’t think you ever truly feel you are ‘on the map’ as a professional photographer. It’s good to think independently and to be very critical of your own work so that you constantly learn. If you think you’ve ‘made it’ you get lazy and don’t progress – I constantly evaluate my work and think of ways to improve it on the next shoot, as well as think of new projects to get involved in, be it professional or personal.
I enjoy almost all shoots. When you are self-employed you can really pursue your interests. Some of my favourite shoots are when I visit producers. It’s great to meet different people and to see different environments – there is always a great story to tell. I think it’s the human element I appreciate the most. I love travel and meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures; work has taken me to some very interesting places and introduced me to some real characters. Working on books from start to finish is also very enjoyable and seeing the finished product is always rewarding. I’m happy to say I’ve always worked with friendly people and enjoyed some great food on all of the shoots.
In the future I’d like to work with some ‘up and coming’ chefs and producers in the UK and Europe; people with ideas, innovations and ambitions are always an inspiration, especially small businesses with genuine agendas, environmental awareness and sustainability.
There are many photographers whose work I admire. Michael Ormerod’s images of the American mid-west are beautiful; Sebastião Salgado and Sally Mann’s black and white images, as well as Eugene Richards, William Eggleston and more recently Simon Norfolk’s work is all stunning. At the moment the majority of photographers’ work I love was shot on film as opposed to digital, but perhaps in ten years that will change.
I have several ambitions and dreams for 2012. I’d love to own my own studio in London and have a large, framed Ormerod print on otherwise bare white walls! I would also like to publish my own book – my family have a long history of publishing and it would be fantastic to be involved in some capacity.
At the moment I live in London but I would love to grow more of my own food and to have an herb garden. It would be ideal to live more independently and to produce small habitats that can help support insects, especially if they are endemic species that encourage bees. Perhaps I’ll need to move out of London. Whilst I’m here my favourite place to eat is Andrew Edmund’s restaurant on Lexington Street, with gorgeous food, great wine and the perfect atmosphere to match. Outside of London I love all markets and always make a point of visiting them if I am in the area. Many of my favourite travel memories involve markets and the vibrancy of colours and hustle and bustle of life that they bring.
The future of photography is an interesting one. I don’t believe in trends; I’ve always preferred less-cluttered images and it’s important to stay true to your style. Trends are after all, cyclical. So many people shoot food these days I really believe it’ll change the industry, certainly editorial, but it’s whether technical photographs lit in a studio (be it artificial or natural) become less of a norm for editorial or not in this digital age. Digital images today seem to have less intrinsic value than the transparencies (photographs) my Dad showed me 25 years ago for instance.
Every year I speak to the students at Nottingham University on my old Masters course and the advice I give to them is not to get too concerned with equipment; initially keep it simple and learn to control natural light in all situations and to use artificial light when it is required. Don’t rely too heavily on Photoshop, but instead learn to create the finished image in-camera. Once a few subtle digital changes have been made you’ll get more satisfaction from your work. Being able to provide print and web-ready files in a mixture of colour spaces is also certainly an advantage, but I believe it is most important to assist a range of photographers to experience different approaches to varied subject matters and to develop your own style accordingly.
Visit Charlie Richards’ Website: www.charlierichards.com
Follow Charlie on Twitter: @foodbycharlie