Fri 11 May 2018 - 10.45

My Career So Far... by Nathan Ford

In this personal essay, commissioned by The Photographers' Gallery as part of the DEVELOP creative careers programme, Nathan Ford (age 18) tells the story of his career so far.

I have been interested in pursuing a photographic career ever since I was 15. I’m 18 now. My love for photography sparked when I was given the opportunity to have my work exhibited in the National Portrait Galley, I felt reinvented and motivated to finally put to use my artistic talents on a potential career path.

I am currently studying 3 Art based A-levels which has encouraged me to use my preparation and planning skills. As well as photography, I also study Fine Art and Media. This has fed my stamina and the growth of a critical and independent attitude needed to thrive in this industry.

Attending the DEVELOP programme at The Photographers’ Gallery has made me realise that it’s important to gain as much experience as early as possible. The programme enables me to hear from photography professionals – amazing because you won’t get this kind of education “free” anywhere else – and inspired me to look for work experience. Work experience can not only give me primary insight into the photographic industry but also branch out my network.

I set this challenge and made it my primary goal to begin looking for work. I feel quite lucky in this stage, as I already have many connections; I know a lot of events managers, promoters and musicians, so this is quick access into getting real commissioned work. I have continuous work with promoters like ‘The Real Deal Comedy Jam’ and ‘Geestor Productions’; attending and photographing stand up comedy events. These events have huge exposure and are often held in places like the Catford Broadway Theatre and the O2 Indigo. It creates network opportunities and I meet inspirational stage stars such as, Eddie Nestor, Robbie Gee, Kane Brown, Slim, Axel the Comedian, Mo the Comedian, Richard Blackwood and Chris Eubank. This has led to being invited to photograph at celebrity events such as the ‘Black Excellence’ and award ceremonies.

I think I most enjoy photographing music events, because it has a youth-like culture so I can relate to the environment more, it also gives me room to experiment with my lighting and composition, and to network with people around the same age. Through networking, I was met a woman named Taya. She works in commercial retouching for the clothing brand OASIS. I was given a work placement with OASIS head office and spent some time working alongside professional fashion photographers, models and the team of commercial retouchers. I worked with real models, assisted photographers and retouched real images that are regularly distributed for advertisement. This experience made me understand the fast-paced and self-disciplined role of an assistant in such a competitive field.

I’ll be off to study Documentary Photography in 2019 at The University of South Wales. I am confident that this degree will boost my chances of doing what I want to do. However, I do worry that a career in this field has become outdated or hard to access. Technology is catching up, making photojournalism more competitive. I worry that the real money lies in commercial work but I have too much love for the process of documenting the third world and conflict. Is it possible to find a middle ground?

So I have started to work with moving image too.I have been quite accepting to the idea of ending up in the film industry; possibly working as a movie stills photographer or more ambitiously aiming for the Director of Photography seat. That said, I am still confident that this university course will aid me because Documentary photography has become quite conceptual and this gives me room to explore more professions.

I am currently working for an Internet fashion business named ‘Cat Walk School Gates’. I am one of the two personal photographers to this brand, photographing all the items and then advertising them on the website, blog and Instagram page. These images sell the item, so I need to ensure that my work is clean and communicates the beauty and uniqueness of the item. I am quite new to this business so I find that I’m still adapting to this work environment, never-the-less I am very excited to be working with them more and more.

Looking at where I am now, I can honestly say that the DEVELOP programme provided me with solid ground and basic knowledge to start looking for work experience, also playing a huge part in the improvement of my photographic skills and my exposure to the commercial industry.

I feel that where I am now reflects how far I have come and, surprisingly, I feel that the time since I began this challenge wasn’t too long ago. When I started my journey, I had no idea how I was going to get my foot in the door. A year later I find myself on my way to studying, continually photographing at live events and meeting inspirational people, and now working part time as a personal photographer. If I was to give any advice it would be that work experience disciplines and educates you way more that any one person can. You need to surround yourself in that environment, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll start to find paid work.

– Nathan Ford