Growing Pains: Things we've learned at the Breakthrough Sessions

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As part of BJP Breakthrough, we hosted the Breakthrough Sessions at the Free Range graduate shows – a series of free talks and workshops for emerging photographers where leading figures share their experiences, mistakes and advice. We heard from fantastic speakers coming from different parts of the industry – here’s what we’ve learned:

Always be nice

“I’ve Del Boy-ed my way through the last four years, but I’m nice to people – that’s why they work with me,” said Max Barnett, with no little modesty. The editor-in-chief of photography magazine PYLOT was born in his bedroom as a photography student at University of Westminster, and has grown from a DIY zine to a beautifully produced, biannual all-analogue magazine with a growing team, working with the likes of Roger Ballen and Jane Hilton.

Having pulled in numerous favours to get PYLOT to where it is today, Barnett said that treating collaborators well was crucial to developing long-term relationships and working with the best possible people.

PYLOT Magazine editor Max Barnett. Image © Hannah Burton

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

The George Eliot quote provided Director of Seen Fifteen Gallery Vivienne Gamble with much inspiration, as she told us during her talk. Gamble had a moment of clarity in front of the William Klein/Daido Moriyama Tate Modern exhibition in 2012, deciding to quit her advertising job and pursue her love of photography.

She went back to university to study photography and used the time to plan out her dream gallery. “I realised there was a gap between New York and London’s photography scenes, and that gap was an opportunity for me,” she told the audience, and joined Peckham’s burgeoning art scene. The first exhibition shown at Seen Fifteen? BJP Breakthrough winner Jan McCullough’s Home Instruction Manual.

Seen Fifteen Gallery’s Vivienne Gamble. Image © Hannah Burton

Expectations vs. reality

Photographer Sam Ivin initially thought he wanted to be a war photographer like his early heroes Don McCullin and James Nauchtwey, but quickly found his own style more suited to his interests. “You learn more in your first six months after graduating than the whole three years at uni,” he told BJP editor Simon Bainbridge, as he re-aligned his aims to focus on the social issues he was passionate about. His recently published book, Lingering Ghosts, features in the upcoming issue of BJP.

BJP editor Simon Bainbridge talking to Sam Ivin (right). Image © Hannah Burton

Get it seen, get it seen, get it seen

As director of Trolley Books and London’s TJ Boulting Gallery, Hannah Watson is well aware of the mistakes photographers make when approaching publishers and gallerists. While judging award entries (such as BJP’s International Photography Awards) and conducting portfolio reviews, she’s encountered work that she’s gone on to champion, even if their work isn’t quite right for that specific award.

Trolley Books and TJ Boulting Gallery director Hannah Watson. Image © Hannah Burton

Collaboration is key

Louise Clements has helped run FORMAT Photography Festival since its inception in 2004, building it to one of the UK’s leading photography festivals. She shared her insights into the thought process behind programming and shared her tips for survival strategies for photographers.

Working closely with others has been central to FORMAT’s success, and she advocates for photographers pooling resources, citing photo collectives such as Rawiya and MiniClick as ways to “continue your practice, share skills and co-promote your work.”

Louise Clements, QUAD & FORMAT International Photography Festival. Image © Hannah Burton

Tread your own path

Sometimes, you just have to do it your own way. Self-taught photographer Dan Wilton has combined commissioned music photography (shooting the likes of James Blake and Stormzy), client work and personal projects to satisfy his varied interests. While on a commercial assignment abroad he’ll often extend his stay to shoot his own work, and when travelling with bands, he’ll shoot constantly and then publish short-run zines. The personal projects can help facilitate paid work, Dan told us – having been approached by brands off the back of work he’d shot himself.

Photographer Dan Wilton. Image © Hannah Burton

BJP Breakthrough is British Journal of Photography’s summer season of awards, talks and workshops celebrating student photography.

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