This In Focus interview is with Neil Bremner of Made Portraits. Neil is an award winning photographer based in the UK and has also won several awards in The NPS monthly image competition.
Good morning Neil and thanks for being a part of “In Focus”, we’ll get right to it with the questions!
How long have you been photographing professionally?
I’ve pretty much worked in photography my entire working life with only a couple of breaks here and there. I left school in 1994 and my first job was working as a photographers assistant. The company unfortunately began to face financial problems and this led to me being let go just a few weeks before Christmas. Desperate to not have to sign on, I started to work in a music shop and through that company got a transfer down to London. This eventually led to me landing another assisting role with an incredible advertising photographer called Adrian Wroth in 2000. He was already Digital using everything from the Fuji S1, Phase 1 backs on the back of Mamiyas and Leaf 3 shot RGB Digital backs as well as 5×4 Dicomed scanning backs. I was incredibly lucky to be working with him so early on in the Digital age of photography. In 2002, I happened to be walking down Eton High Street in Berkshire and I spotted a Venture studio, which I had never seen before. I walked in to look at their work and was really impressed. The owner came out to speak to me, I told him what I was doing and within a few days, I started my first professional photographer job with them. It was a massive jump from commercial and advertising but the ethos of Venture at the time really worked for me. They encouraged creativity and wanted to see you push the brand forward and I loved that. This was the start of my professional career and where I really discovered my love of people photography.
Thanks for that, so how did you get started?
It was my art teacher in school in Scotland that really started the ball rolling. For my final year in art, I was producing an animation and he made me join the photography class to get access to their equipment. This was so I could photograph the acetates however it didn’t take me long to fall in love with photography in its own right.
I suppose the next question then is where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
For years, I’ve worked for other people and in the photography world, that really doesn’t pay very well so opening my own studio in January 2013 was a huge turning point for me. This was my chance to continue doing what I love whilst hopefully starting to make some better money from it. In 10 years time? I really hope to have built a studio that is successful and credible. I hope I have a couple of new photographers working with me that I can inspire and teach in the same way Adrian and Venture did with me. I also hope I can realistically take a holiday but that may be wishful thinking. *laughs*.
What advice would you give someone starting in the industry today?
Honestly the list is endless! Find your niche. Your own definite style is the thing that will help people recognise your work and choose to use you over others. If you can find a genre that you love to do then do everything in your power to specialise in that area and make money at it. Don’t under value your work when you start out. You will struggle to increase your prices later on. Enter competitions and learn from them when you don’t succeed. Photography can be a lonely job and it’s easy to get in to a rut. Personally I find because I’m competitive, entering monthly competitions keeps me pushing to be at the top of my game. There are some amazing photographers out there who are incredibly generous with their advice so listen to them. On the flip side there are a lot of people that are quick to criticise and sometimes with no just cause so know when to listen and when to let things slide. Grow a thick skin. Finally, remember what you love about what we do. We get to be creative every day and our only limitation is our imagination but it’s sometimes easy to forget that so try to remind yourself what you fell in love with in the first place. I could go on but I’ll leave it there.
Do you ever photograph just for pleasure and if so what do you like to shoot?
I had never really considered shooting for myself until I opened Made Portraits. There are hundreds of photographer websites bookmarked on my computer who truly inspire me but there was one guy in particular who made me look at photography differently.
In 2012 I came across a portrait project he did called ‘Blow Job’ which was a series of head and shoulder shots of people stood in front of a powerful wind machine and it was amazing! I saw this and thought ‘I want to do something like THAT!” This really stuck with me and so when I opened, I promised myself that every year, I will do at least 1 photographic project that is not for financial gain and I’ve stuck with it.
I guess that leads me on to ask how did you come to start doing the unique style of shots that you do in your Movember Portraits? They are very unique pieces of work.
I had the idea for the Movember Portraits project very early on in 2013 although I wasn’t sure what it would be till around September. Just after I opened the studio, my Father in Law broke the news that he had been diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Because they live abroad and we had just opened the studio, we couldn’t really afford to go and be with them so we felt helpless. I came up with the idea of using the studio to capture peoples Movember Mo’s but in terms of what I would do, I didn’t have a clue. I just knew it had to be unique and a little bit quirky. Movember is an incredible charity that raises money for men’s health in such a unique and fun way that I knew my project had to be an extension of this.
My wife made it over by July and we were delighted that he was already on the mend by then but this didn’t stop my desire to want to raise money for the charity. One evening in September, I was talking to my wife about what I could do for the Movember Portraits event and amongst the various ideas I was talking about was caricature portraits. I then really started to visualise it and knew that this was it. The plan was to invite in Mo Bros to have their own unique portrait done but then it occurred to me that they wouldn’t come if they didn’t understand what I was doing so the idea of a self-portrait a day capturing my Mo’s journey came out of a need for marketing.
I knew I wanted to get a different picture every single day with a different theme of some sort as it needed to be entertaining for my Facebook and Twitter followers to encourage them to want to participate. This was the hardest part by far. I found that I obsessed about it and I remember half way through thinking I should stop because it must be annoying people seeing a new picture of me every day but then the donations started coming in with words of support. “Loving this project Neil”. “This is really entertaining and creative and for such a great cause”. “Your imagination is bonkers but in a good way”. This was reassurance that I wasn’t annoying everyone at least and so it carried on and by the end of it, I had raised £260.
Creatively, this project was tough and I loved that. It wasn’t running a marathon by any stretch but I had to come up with 30 different Portrait ideas that all follow the same crop with the same subject (being me) and the same lighting but every image has a different outfit and a story. I also wanted to do every single image myself with no assistance. I had to go in to the studio, which is 20 minutes from home every day regardless. You can’t miss a single day so it’s important to not go away for a weekend or go and visit family. With Metadata embedded in each image, people could easily find out if the image was actually taken on the day I said so it really wasn’t an option to do two in one day for example.
On some days, inspiration would happen straight away and I would just know what I would do when I got in. On other days I would sit in an evening in a day-dream while Masterchef was on trying to just figure out what the next days image would be. Then there were also days I would find myself wondering around the studio looking for things I could use and trying to decide what would work and what wouldn’t.
When I did the project again in 2014, I knew I wanted to do the same idea but with a new lighting setup and background so there was a distinct difference from the previous year. I also knew I wanted to avoid repeating any 2013 shots and I wanted them to be more extreme than previously. Not easy!
I started writing some Portrait ideas down from around August to try to help a little but in the most part, the ideas came from real events that happened on the day or things that were said. So for example, before Movember Portraits 2014 even started, I knew I would be doing an image to mimic the Andy Murray GQ shot. I also knew I would be using a friends body to make me look ripped as well as the marmite shot. There were a couple of other Portrait ideas I had planned but they never happened. The start of Movember Portraits 2014 wrote itself when I genuinely took off a large chunk of my finger-tip with my razor. My finger was in a bandage for 12 days so you can see some tube bandaging on day 3 and a coloured one on day 10 where as the other shots, I tried to keep it hidden.
After 2013, I genuinely didn’t know if I would do it again but by July I knew I would. Movember Portraits 2014 then really pushed me even further and caused many a sleepless night so for now, I’m afraid to say I will be taking this year off. I have a new project idea that is not related to Movember and I will be focused on that for 2015 although it may not be published till it’s complete.
Finally, what is it that you love most about being behind a camera?
Being creative. Letting my imagination take me wherever the hell I want it to and then transforming that in to something real to enjoy or to be enjoyed by whoever it has been created for. I love incorporating humour in to my work as well so there is nothing quite like when a client embraces and appreciates that.
Thanks for that Neil, great chatting to you.
Thank you for letting me do this. It was a real pleasure.
To see more of Neil Bremner’s work including his unique and award winning Movember Portraits visit his website at www.madeportraits.com a few of his images are also show below.