I was thrilled to oblige…
JONATHAN CHERRY: What did you want to be growing up?
DANIEL LEWIS: I always had a creative impulse from a very small age so I knew it would be making something, whether drawing, taking pictures or writing words. But I knew it wouldn’t be a 9-5 desk job, that never interested me. I suppose I didn’t want to grow up and get a proper job. My first camera was an Olympus OM10 bought for my birthday by my Dad so I have him to thank for that. I went through a few phases of wanting to be a graphic designer, and a CGI animator for films in my teen years. Photography came into focus for me probably subconsciously through my own failings as an artist, my slight colour-blindness held me back in traditional art, so photography combined all the elements of creating imagery realistically, utilising graphic lines in the framing of my pictures in-camera and satisfying my creativity.
JC: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
DL: Right now I’ve been inspired by so much great photography in the public domain. There is a plethora of talent about, particularly in London, and I only see it as a booster to my own ambitions to be a better photographer. Every time I pick up the New Review section in the Observer newspaper (UK Sunday broadsheet) there is a new name I don’t recognise who I just have to look up and investigate. It inspires me to be better – that can only be a good thing, pushing yourself is the only way you improve, resting on your laurels is when you fall behind the competition.
JC: What are you up to right now?
DL: As well as my commissioned work, in which I move between the editorial & commercial/advertising fields, I have an ongoing portrait project that I’ve been working on for over a year now called Open House, focusing on London based artists in their working environments – namely their studios. The hope is that I will move around to different parts of the City capturing many, many different types of people, from various backgrounds, whether they be oil painters, street artists, sculptors, potters or fashion designers – all of those skillsets are contained within the 20 or so people I have photographed thus far and I’m hoping to gain more. I’m also hoping that the look and tone of the images will differ according to the regions of London I travel to; so Chiswick will look a lot different to Hackney (for instance), in opposite parts of the city – part of that is the aesthetic look of the buildings in which they inhabit, but also the beauty is that different artists will produce very different kinds of work, which by default helps keep the series of portraits eclectic and fresh. The main longer terms ambition is to get the project published independently, with perhaps a central London show upon completion in a couple of years.
JC: Have you had mentors along the way?
DL: The one that stands out was the Picture Editor at the news agency I worked at for three years who was a huge influence on me. He allowed me space to learn on the job, praising me when I did things well, and encouraging & explaining when things didn’t go so well. He was very calm so you knew if you tried things out on a job and they didn’t come off then as long as you got your safe shot in the bag, it was reassuring to know you weren’t going to get a telling off. He was a big influence in my early years as a professional and got me off to a good start in the business – I have stayed in touch with him since my move to London.
My Dad has also been a great guiding and influencing force in my life, never a photographer, yet creatively minded. He would have done well at it!
JC: Where are you based right now and how is it shaping you?
DL: I’m based in a lovely Victorian suburb of south west London, a kind of leafy village really, which I like because I’m not a native Londoner. So when I leave the City after a shoot it is nice to be in a quiet place, away from the hustle & bustle of central London. I’m close by to The Thames which is inviting and appealing when you want to get out for some fresh air to clear your head. The area I’m in is actually a thriving creative community that first spawned my artist project, from which I’ve made some new friends, so it’s nice to have fellow creatives living nearby who you can hang out with.
JC: One piece of advice to photography graduates?
DL: My advice would be to advise them BEFORE they graduate… and that would be to make absolutely sure that you set the wheels in motion BEFORE you graduate. So that you have work lined up, or at least have some kind of foot in the door that may lead to work. Otherwise, as happens to a lot of photography graduates: they take the summer off, perhaps get a part time job and then, over time, slowly but surely fall away and lose sight of their ambition to become a professional. I for one did not want to be getting multiple part-time jobs doing inconsequential things taking me off my career path, and eventually forgetting about photography. My ambition was to be a pro photographer, end of. So I made damn sure that during the BA Hons course I didn’t just do the minimum of just handing in my assignments on time, I made sure I was proactive in making some contacts so that when I did graduate I had something to get on with towards making it a reality and getting paid to do it. This was so important to my development because it meant I was ahead of the game and had a decent portfolio to show around when I was eventually in the big wide world. Straight away I was working for my local paper through the contacts I’d made, which subsequently led to other opportunities that led me here ten years down the line. I’m still hoping more of these opportunities will continue to present themselves.
But to answer your question succinctly, I’d say: be proactive and make all the contacts you can while you’re still at college whilst honing your technical skills as a photographer. And for graduates who have done this, persevere, keep taking pictures and keep knocking doors.
JC: If all else fails – what is your plan B?
DL: It’s a bit late for that! Hopefully now I’m established enough that I won’t have to think about it. I’m so busy with commissioned work that I’m hoping the only way is up. Plan B doesn’t exist because Plan A is still working…so far.
JC: Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
DL: Yes I think it’s a good thing to be part of some kind of group because you can speak the same language, make friends, compare notes on how you make a living and most importantly there is the added likelihood of passing each other work – ultimately as long as you are gainfully employed then you can stay in the game. Making a living in photography comes from the people you meet ultimately – I’ve been around long enough to learn that much. There’s never been a truer cliche than It’s who you know.