Rachel has had some brilliant success in her photography career, which has also been shaped by a few difficult setbacks. Through the bad times she maintained her momentum by reminding herself to never give up, and to think proactively about how to improve her situation.
During the podcast Rachel also drops some amazing insights about how to get your photography career going, and how she funds her fine art practice with her commercial photography career. Read on for Rachel’s top tips as well as highlights from her interview.
*GradUAL is a podcast that explores the big questions and challenges that many new graduates will face. In each episode, we share unfiltered stories from creative professionals who make a living doing what they love. Search ‘Gradual Podcast’ on popular podcast platforms to subscribe and listen. Created by UAL Careers and Employability.
Part One: Into Education
Rachel grew up in a working-class household in Huddersfield, and her family – although supportive – had some financial struggles, and the secondary school she went to had a bullying problem. For her, photography was a way out of that situation, and she went on to get a degree and a masters in photography. As she explains at 15:00 minutes in Rachel wants young people to know that photography and education can be a way out of difficult situations, “There’s a seed in me that wants people to know that if they want to get out of somewhere, they can.”
Getting settled in London
Rachel’s first years at university were actually quite tumultuous, what with suddenly being in a huge city (London) as a young person. She was also struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia and dyspraxia which kept her from participating fully in critiques and other activities. In fact Rachel was close to dropping out. What turned it all around was something that happened in the third year. Rachel was given a professional mentor through UAL, a woman called Anne Hardy. At 03:00 minutes in, Rachel explains how Anne helped her produce a body of work that catapulted her into a New York based artist’s residency, then work in production with photographer Steven Kline, which then led to an internship at Vogue UK, which then snowballed into Rachel taking on various roles at the magazine, which led to a role as a studio manager for Tim Walker in London. Her career was off and running! It’s worth mentioning that Rachel herself now works as professional mentor at UAL.
Part Two: Into Work
Rachel actually went back to study for a Masters at the RCA after returning from New York.
However, this early success was followed by a difficult setback involving a gallery that approached Rachel to represent her after she graduated from the RCA. The gallery was small, family-run and based in the Cotswolds. After her second exhibition with the gallery, the owners disappeared and defrauded her out of all of her earnings. Rachel says it’s partly because of what happened with that gallery, that she is still in a full-time job today. She goes into detail about this awful situation (as well as how other photographers out there can learn from her experience) here at 17:00 minutes into the podcast.
Nowadays, Rachel fits her personal work into two of her four weeks annual leave from her full-time job as photography director at Harpers Bazar and Town & Country Magazine. These past few years this have been spent in Florida, where Rachel has been an artist in residence at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, where she documents what she sees there with the perspective of a Huddersfield native. She talks more artists residencies at 16:00 minutes in.
Part Three: Rachel’s tips for students
1) How to the transition to professional photography:
- Artists Residencies – There’s a lot of them on offer, all around the world, and they give photographers (and other types of creatives) the chance to work in a different environment with some/all of their living costs met. Some also offer a stipend. Rachel recommends the following websites to look at: Residency Unlimited and Trans Artists.
- Enter competitions – Build your portfolio and make connections with judges (who work in the photography industry). Even if you don’t win anything, it will help to get your name out there.
- Don’t sign with the first gallery that approaches you: Also don’t give a gallery the right to share your work or to store a copy (the gallery that ripped-off Rachel was selling the work she stored at the Cotswolds gallery without her knowledge). UAL has a useful webpage dedicated to issues like intellectual property.
- Think carefully about pricing your work – At 24:00 minutes in Rachel discusses the importance of factoring in the cost of producing the work – and if a gallery is selling it remember they will take 50%.
2) You don’t need to pigeon-hole yourself, you can take many paths as an artist:
Rachel says there’s nothing wrong with doing different types of photography, in fact they can complement each other (and help you make a living). For her that means balancing private commissions, her photography director job and her fine art practice.
3) Make the most of the UAL experience:
Rachel says get in that library! Also take advantage of the studio space, the professional lights, the darkroom, the technicians – out in the real world these things are hugely expensive. And also, talk to people and make friends!
Want to know more about what Rachel is up to? Follow her online:
Interested in Photography? Take a look at these courses: