Three photographers who’ve found their voice

For aspiring photographers, finding your voice is just half the battle – you’ve got to get noticed too. Liz Farrelly presents three practitioners at the top of their game who are using some clever ideas to establish their niche

Crucial to an image-maker’s success is how they disseminate their work. Those profiled here produce commercial work alongside self-instigated projects, yet none has an agent.

By customising their core disciplines with add-on skills, each has developed a particular mix of media and methods for making and showing. They focus on the figure, recording ‘real people’ in the street, creating modern myth portraits or bearing witness to change in the landscape. They all embrace creative collaboration, explore materials and exploit the latest technology enthusiastically.

Riitta Ikonen:
Riitta Ikonen graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in communication art and design. ‘If I could write, I would,’ she says. ‘But images say it better. We Finns are not so chatty.’ Her website states poetically though that, ‘Certain items, usually small and insignificant, excite me to the point where I have to wear them and then document that process.’

Think leaf, snowflake, a fragment of ice-flow, realised as a three-dimensional soft sculpture, a just-discernible human face peeping out. Seamlessly positioned in an environment, the image is committed to film, using a medium-format camera.

A life-long ‘maker’, Ikonen calls these creations ‘super costumes’ – she first ‘dressed up’ for her University of Brighton degree show. ‘I was celebrating the invention of nylon, and after intense research concluded that there was nowhere else to go but “human nylon”,’ she explains.

Using humour to communicate her political conscience, Ikonen focuses on the need for change. ‘A project starts out of an issue and a long ponder,’ she says, with climate change top of her agenda.

Then she’ll consult sketchbooks and archives, collect reference material and talk about the idea with friends. ‘If they can “see it”, the planning goes through a vigorous chit-chatting process,’ she says. She puts her friends in front of the camera too, often repeatedly. ‘All kinds of fantastic people have been lugging gear, sailing boats, digging themselves into the ground. I’ve developed crowd control skills, can sweet-talk a policeman, and go for quite a long time without blinking,’ she says.

‘The final photograph is the work. Photography is pivotal, crucial. I’ve learned photography, but have photographers do the actualbutton-pressing as I’m often busy “adjusting”,’ she says.

Ikonen depends on her website and contacts for commissions. ‘They usually come to me. Perhaps being friendly helps?’ she says. Winning competitions does too – the 2008 Beck’s Canvas Competition saw an Ikonen label plastered on millions of beer bottles. Over the next few years she’ll be contributing ‘interventions’ in east London’s Olympic Park, which should demonstrate her blend of humour, invention, craft skills and problem-solving to a worldwide audience.

Kevin Meredith:
‘I take photographs of things that are there, not set-ups, in natural light, ordinary people in the street. Then I promote myself,’ says Kevin Meredith.

This simple approach belies the richness of the results. Cannily, Meredith has parlayed his technical knowledge into a book deal – Hot Shots: Make Every Photo Your Best, published by Rotovision. Customarily pro-active, Meredith staged signings and events, selling autographed copies via his website.

Trained as a graphic designer, Meredith is an exemplar for skilling-up at art school. After a one-hour ‘induction to photography’ class, he recalls, ‘I just got it’. And while his design was ‘mainly typographic’, his photography was ‘all mine, just for fun’. He got an early break snapping ravers at a friend’s club, and the results were published in a nascent dance-music magazine.

In 1998, Meredith needed a compact, low-light camera to shoot in New York clubs, and became an early Lomo-adopter. Runner-up in the Lomolympics, he landed his first major commission with Fabian Monheim, the UK’s Lomo-supremo, to shoot a ‘real-time’ ad campaign for Manchester’s Commonwealth Games.

Meanwhile, his day job, as an animator and interactive designer at Studio AKA, brought him into contact with new photography-sharing website Flickr, which in 2004 had two million images.

‘I was lucky,’ he says, ‘I got noticed.’ He earned a good search ranking, and commissions rolled in from art directors and Web developers, who, he thinks, are especially prone to buy from Flickr.

Diversification is key for Meredith. He’s a photographer and a Web developer. He runs workshops, writes for magazines and is planning another book. Recent commissions include a TV spot for The Sunday Times, featuring ‘wellies at fezzies’; and Moo.com, where you can select his images for your own business cards – ‘I earn quite a bit of pocket money from them,’ he adds.

Boo Ritson:
Boo Ritson’s nomadic gallerist, Poppy Sebire, stages London shows and promotes Ritson via a website. This unconventional approach mirrors Ritson’s category-defying artwork. Put simply, she costumes and paints willing friends as ‘characters’, creating layer upon layer of materials and meaning. An arduous process for model and artist, the result is captured on camera.

While studying sculpture at the Royal College of Art, Ritson went ‘hybrid’ and took up the brush. ‘It made me think about the differences between images and objects,’ she says.

If the ‘portraits’ look familiar it’s because Ritson mines pop culture, invents stories and adds ‘characters, larger than life, to quickly communicate complex visual and narrative values’. She’s fascinated with Americana, and moments, notably the 1950s and 1980s, when sartorial theatricality peaked. Her research hones in on details – ‘a description of a colour or person could be taken from a novel written in the era,’ she says.

Most of her output is presented as digital prints, but Ritson doesn’t press the shutter release. ‘I work with photographer Andy Crawford,’ she says. ‘He documents my work and makes sure the image accurately represents what I intended.’ Their long-term collaboration foregrounds experimentation. ‘We share a love of technology. When a new, larger digital back becomes available, which offers more detail and clarity, we try it out. The images are crisper and more highly detailed,’ says Ritson.

Recently, she collaborated with indie-band The Maccabees on a cover image for the album Wall of Arms. ‘They offered the opportunity to try a new flavour, reference a different cultural context,’ explains Ritson, adding, ‘I’m open to commissions, if they’re non-restrictive.’

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