Meet BJP International Photography Award 2019 judge Russ O’Connell, Picture Editor at The Sunday Times Magazine

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In the first of our interviews with BJP International Photography Award 2019’s judges, we meet Russ O’Connell. His impressive career has seen O’Connell in editorial roles at celebrity weekly Heat, music magazine Q, and men’s lifestyle guide British GQ. He is currently Picture Editor at The Sunday Times Magazine – which, as the UK’s first colour supplement to a national newspaper, has long been leading the way with editorial photography.

O’Connell has worked with superstar photographers from David Bailey to Nadav Kander, and regularly direct shoots with Hollywood actors, world-class musicians and prominent politicians, including – among many others – U2, Rihanna, and Hillary Clinton. When pushed for a career highlight, he can cite memories that most can only dream of: joining Bruce Springsteen on his private jet, and hanging out with Daft Punk in Paris.

We spoke to O’Connell about the benefits of entering photography awards, and what he’s looking forward to during BJP IPA 2019.

What are the most exciting things happening in photography at the moment? And what trends do you think we’ll see in 2019?

I’m glad that there seems to be a growing trend of more natural looking photographs of late, especially within the portraiture field.

Photographers and editors are starting to shy away from the overuse of retouching, which I think is good for both the honest approach to photography and also the cultural implications of unrealistic imagery; I feel strongly that it’s important for the youth of today to know that people aren’t perfect in a world in which they are bombarded with over retouched images on social media.

© Shamil Tanna

What makes a photographic project compelling to you?

A project that has been edited well and can tell the whole story within a handful of frames, and that shows a great understanding of composition, light and focus of subject(s).

I like to be able to learn something from projects that I see. This being an international competition, I’m hoping to see a wide range of interesting subjects from around the globe.

What kinds of images are you hoping to see entered into BJP IPA 2019?

I’m looking for something that may surprise me. I’m also interested in seeing some great domestic UK-based projects, especially at this turbulent time in our country’s history.

How do you think photographers – both emerging and established – can benefit from entering photography awards like BJP IPA?

There is nothing like exposure to get your work noticed. BJP IPA gives both emerging and established photographers a perfect platform to show their work to both the industry and wider public.

Art Directors, Art Buyers, Photo Editors and Commissioning Editors will all be inspired by the work on show. That may lead to commissions within the editorial, advertising or commercial world, which can only be a good thing.

What advice would you give to photographers thinking of entering BJP IPA – eg. when choosing which project to submit?

Choose something that is visually arresting, but also something that tells a story. Be mindful about the editing process – it surprises me how many photographers can’t seem to edit their work properly. If you’re struggling to choose the best frames, ask a friend to look over the edit to help remove the emotional attachment you may have with your work.

And what advice would you give about getting commissioned by editors such as yourself?

The key thing is to focus on your work and your style. Don’t try to mimic other photographers. Also, don’t get too hung up on the final grading look or fall into the trap of being more concerned about the style of your images than the content.

That said, you do need to make sure you’re doing something different. There are so many photographers out there trying to get work in an ever-shrinking market, so you need to make sure that you can provide something different – that, to me, is the best way to get noticed and commissioned.

Want to be in with a chance of winning a solo show at gallery TJ Boulting, London, UK? BJP International Photography Award closes on 20th December. Don’t miss out – apply today!

© Joe Pugliese



© Rankin