Kelly Lynch talks with three young photographers who made waves last year within the challenging fashion and commercial environment
Coming up roses
Personable young photographer Oliver Rose has based himself near central Auckland’s trendy hub, Ponsonby Central — the ideal spot to meet clients and discuss image ideas over a strong cup of coffee. Working in close proximity to your requisite caffeine fix is just one of the invaluable tricks the 23-year-old has picked up while working predominantly as a fashion and portrait photographer for the past two years.
In that short time Rose has built up an impressive list of clients, and enough of a reputation that he’s now eyeing up the international market. Rose says he has managed to stay ahead in the highly competitive market because he is eager, passionate and driven, which people notice and like. “Agencies are always looking for something fresh, the new kid on the block,” he explains.
But it is bigger than that, Rose spends time understanding what he calls his client’s vocabulary, getting to know their brand. He researches trends applicable to them, what medium their message will work well in, and he shoots stills and/or video to match.
A diverse interest in visual arts has helped Rose establish his distinct visual style. His passion for oil painting was kindled in school, where he produced artworks drawing influences from cinema, particularly early German expressionist films from the 1920s to ’30s. His photographs unsurprisingly now echo this cinematic feel, too.
His time at Auckland’s Elam art school was focused on film-making, with stints assisting on music videos and an independent film to bolster his practical experience. After he finished school at 19, an opportunity to shoot during New Zealand Fashion Week opened doors for him, igniting a career in fashion photography.
He says he spent three years killing himself doing jobs. He lived on two-minute noodles, and would spend nights learning, upskilling in areas like post-production, studio shoots and business acumen to further his prospects. Now, despite now having a healthy number of key clients who keep him fed on more substantial fare than packet noodles, he still regularly spends evenings in the studio, further developing his know-how by trialling lighting and different shoots.
The effort has resulted in a style Rose can claim as his own, and one he is very protective of. Instead of working a shoot he feels wrong for, he says he would rather turn down a job to ensure the client hires the right person.
It’s a work ethic that ensures business has been very good, so much so that next year he is expanding to Sydney while still maintaining his Auckland business, returning regularly for shoots. There is no hesitation in his voice when he shares his future ambition to make imagery in the fashion worlds of New York and Europe.
Finding a niche is always solid business advice, and Sacha Stejko has done just that — in the last three years the young photographer has taken close to 450 head shots. Over the past two years, since she turned 21, Stejko has become the go-to photographer for actors’ head shots, a reputation gained from working with the country’s chief acting agencies and a healthy dose of word of mouth.
Stejko’s photographic beginnings include a scholarship to Auckland’s Whitecliffe College, and winning a Sony-sponsored competition at the age of 18. Her prize was the opportunity to shoot during New Zealand Fashion Week, which opened her eyes to a career path that she then knew she was bound for.
Six months later Stejko took a trip to Switzerland, with the opportunity to photograph Russian actor and clown Slava Polunin’s world-famous production, Slava’s Snowshow. The resultant images were published in the show’s promotional material and book.
Back in New Zealand she did a few assisting gigs for fashion photographers Sam Crawford, Garth Badger and the late Craig Owen, learning vital tricks of the trade. Before long opportunities to photograph for agencies and theatre companies arose, and Stejko branched out on her own, establishing her distinctive niche.
Having grown up with a mother who was an actress, director and acting tutor, Stejko is no stranger to the business. She has witnessed hundreds of casting photos pass by the casting director’s gaze, and recognizes the looks that cause the page-flicking to halt, from which leading roles are won.
Her familiarity with actors and their world allows her to easily relate and offer insight. “A lot of actors are pigeonholed into one look,” she says. “I photograph the presence of the actor, take a range of shots, if the person is a bit cheeky then I want to show that and give them an edited selection.”
Stejko takes shoots in a naturally-lit space in her home, creating a relaxed environment for clients to unwind and trust her. Because she wants to capture authentic imagery, she must be genuine and able to connect with those in the industry. She sees her work as a huge responsibility, directly related to her clients being able to generate income, but it’s also a source of pride as she watches clients gain roles time and again.
While head shots make up the bulk of her work, Stejko also shoots PR shots for theatre companies and, like many, is increasingly asked by clients to supply video. Ultimately she sees herself doing more fashion photography, and she’d also like to direct and produce films in the future, but for now she is in her element.
Karen Ishiguro is a 20-year-old fashion and beauty photographer who has attracted a lot of attention in a very short space of time. She has quickly earned her stripes on the photographic assistant track, and is now blazing a trail of her own, already catching the eye of one of the country’s top fashion designers.
Ishiguro’s work was published in the Platform feature in Remix magazine late last year, a space where up-and-coming photographers collaborate with Kingsize Studios to produce a spread. This issue was seized upon by Trelise Cooper, and Ishiguro’s images are now front focus of the Trelise Cooper website, and her 2013–2014 collections.
Without any formal photography training, Ishiguro launched into practical assisting work right after high school. She assisted the late fashion photographer, Craig Owen, on a two-week Farmers Trading Company shoot, and was impressed with his know-how, professionalism, and the high esteem in which he was held. In awe of Owen’s work and the shoot, the experience left her hungry for more.
She emailed other fashion photographers whose work she admired, and feels extremely lucky to have worked for the likes of Jessica Sims, Guy Coombes, Caroline Haslett, Stephen Tilley, and Monty Adams. The assisting experience taught her teamwork, punctuality, how to deal with stress and, most importantly, to have fun and be inspired by other creatives.
Though her career as a photographer has quickly been established, Ishiguro will still assist other photographers if available — only these days the photographers come calling on her.
In addition to Trelise Cooper, the photographer’s clients include fashion labels Ruby and Liam, Showroom 22 PR agency, Taylor boutique, Meccano clothing, and magazines like Remix and Element. For such jobs she is happy to mix things up, and shoot in hired studios or on location.
Asked what inspires her photography, she points to biannual Dutch magazine, The Gentlewoman, saying she’s moved by articles containing strong, confident women in the workforce today. “The photographs are absolutely beautiful to look at too; the lighting is always very simple but very powerful,” she explains, “with minimal retouching and often containing many black and white images, which I love.”
Ishiguro works on shoots from beginning to end, keeping control of the whole process and, like others, sees the value in doing the hard yards between shoots — researching ideas, scouting locations, retouching images, working at her business. She balances the intense work with travel as a way of expanding her horizons, and hitting the reset button. I talked to her as she is returning from a trip to Iceland, where she was stirred by the colour and dancing movement of the Northern Lights. Now she says she’ll hit the ground back in Auckland refreshed and ready to work.
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