Feature Story

Every thousand words tells a picture.

Duck! Pigeons!
Bodmin Gaol
Hayley with twins at 16 weeks.
Beach shell, Hayle.
Walk into the light
Hayley in the dunes
Fire Marshalls

1. What kind of designer are you?

I am a graphic designer, a photographer and a writer. The way that works is whichever one I should be doing I usually distract myself with the other two. Damn, that's the third time I have used that now (note to self: must write new snappy intro line).

2. What did you want to do for a living when you were a kid?

I don't think that the concept of 'earning a living' was ever a reality when I was a kid. Having watched too many films, I always wanted to do something that involved dramatically snipping wires. As spying and bomb-disposal were a little out of reach that only left the option of inept electrician. When I discovered that inept electricians aren't the biggest earners in the world, I was forced to sit down and think about what I was actually capable of doing.

3. What is it about your design work that makes your photography better? And vice versa? Where do you see parallels between the two?

The basic foundations of visual aesthetics - composition, colour, tone, balance, weighting, pattern, symmetry, focus - are common and crucial to both. Particularly if you compare graphic design with a studio shoot where you have complete control over what you are producing - they are both a process of concept to visualisation to production.

Even in more 'standard' photography these rules all still apply, but the challenge is to seek out and discover them in the scene before you.

Even as a writer I find that the overlaps in the creative processes are readily apparent. Much of the time when writing a novel I will begin with something visual in my mind that I am looking to achieve and then the writing comes through extracting the narrative from the visuals. When analysing other people's photos, I usually find I study the image and try and dig out the narrative underneath. This is not to say that I am looking for a clearly defined 'story,' but just to find the fullness of the moment that has been captured.

And when producing graphic design or setting up a studio shoots for clients then the process is exactly the same - the order just reverses. In among all the concerns and precise details of the brief lies the narrative and this is the key to achieving what the brief actually requires. Once you have extracted the narrative from the client you then set about building this into a visual image.

In all my creative work, this process of narrative and image becomes cyclical. Whatever the project before, you just have to discover which piece of the circle is missing and it's your job as the creative resource to complete the circle, be it extracting the narrative from something visual or building the image from a supplied narrative.

4. What do you find most challenging about your work?

I think the biggest challenge is walking the tricky tightrope between creative freedom and the realistic restraints that have to exist in the commercial world. Unless you are very disciplined and know how to keep your business feet on the ground then it's far too easy to get excited by a particularly engaging project and go excessively over budget. On the reverse side of that, you have to make sure you don't stifle yourself either - you sometimes have to give the client a peek behind the veil at the full potential, as often the parameters set down by the client don't extend from budget restraints at all, but are just due to the fact that they have reached the full extent of their own imagination. In a situation like this you have to read between the lines and then diplomatically extend their vision.

5. Do you have design heroes? Photography heroes?

I don't really see the aspect of inspiration as being clearly regimented to your design work being influenced by other designers and photography from past photographers. Having said that, however new and individual you feel you are, it is crucial to appreciate that you are the latest branch on a tree that has been growing down the ages. But, if you want me to nail my colours to the mast then the photography of Irving Penn has a diversity and longevity that has clearly been a inspirational springboard for many in the field.

6. Name some unexpected sources of inspiration you've had.

Aside from all those happy accidents that designers and photographers are never keen to admit, I try and draw inspiration from everything and anything around me. Other creative fields that are great for conceptual input in the visual realm are film and fine art. The twisting themes and narratives of a Julio Medem movie are a great influence for breaking something fresh out of the mold and the mermerising cinematography in Andrey Zvyagintsev's 'The Return' is breathtaking and can cause you to fall in love with your art all over again during a dry spell.

7. Do you have any regular habits/exercises that make you a better designer? Photographer?

I probably irritate everyone around me (except for my long-suffering, but extremely understanding wife, Hayley) by studying everything in sight in infinite detail. At meals out I will scrutinise every label and the scenes unfolding at each surrounding table. When entering any new building I will stare up in awe at yet another bland white ceiling as if a small child or alien taking in this view for the first time. Rather than being the centre of attention at any gathering I am usually hovering at the edge, switching on all my senses and trying to absorb the entire scene like a sponge. You can't guarantee that this makes for the most dramatic and exciting life, but when all you have taken in sparks off some chain reaction in your subconscious then the returns are like finding gold.

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—The JPG team

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