I always like to preamble these with a bit. To start this one I was going to write about Dunbar's number and anthropology and buying from small businesses, buying local (this photographer is only 25 miles away from me) and whatever, but it ended up being convoluted so I decided to stop. Essentially, I gave myself the yips.
I then re-read this interview back and it got me thinking about how personal Photography can be as a career, and how more often than not, creative careers are. You have two choices, create a "professional persona" and manufacture a brand, or you lean into being your “brand”. Take your whole self and be authentic to you.
Authenticity is the path I follow with Cloverlily, I am Cloverlily Leatherworks and Cloverlily Leatherworks is me. And someone else who follows this path of authenticity is my next interviewee of “people behind the lens” Ian "Biggers" Bignell of Ian Bignell Photography.
Ben - What's your name, and where are you located and what's your beverage of choice?
Ian - Hey Ben, I’m Ian! I live in a village called High Halden, relatively near the Kent/East Sussex border…a pretty lovely part of the world. I love being outside, so the fields that surround me give a great opportunity to escape into nature in an instant with my partner and our (currently) 6 year old daughter.
Drink wise, black coffee with a custard cream is my go to during the day. I don’t like milk, and I’m a self confessed coffee snob, so no instant is getting near these lips!
When it comes to party time, you can’t beat a Mojito, while wearing a Hawaiian shirt, pretending you’re in the Caribbean.
B - Ah I am a coffee snob too, life is too short for shit coffee. So, how long have you been a photographer and how did you get into it, how did the journey start?
I -In 2007 I went on a month-long snowboarding trip to France with some friends. While we were there we made friends with an incredible photographer (James North) that was shooting for a magazine. He inspired me to get a camera and have a dream, which is what I did the second we landed back in England.
Then I photographed literally everything.
Fast forward a few years, with lots of awful photos in between and as everyone grew up; my friends got married, I got invited, and I ALWAYS had a camera round my neck. The excitement I felt when I would wake up the next day, with an inevitable hangover. I'd pop the memory card into the computer to see what I had captured, is what made me realise that this was the career for me.
I was then made redundant from my nineteen year long career in retail, and I decided that it was the perfect time to redefine who I was and what I want to do with my life. That’s when Ian Bignell Photography became a reality, rather than just a dream that I had in 2007! I’m relatively new to the game, but loving every second.
B - It's funny how sometimes you need that push like redundancy or a big personal change to fully bet on yourself. It's a brave step man and so many never take it, enjoy the journey. Now, What is the coolest event/wedding/ or shoot you've worked at?
I - I know it sounds like a cop out, but every wedding I’ve shot at has been cool. If I was to pick then it would feel like I’d be saying that someone’s love story is better than someone else’s, and I’m a fan of all love stories in their own way. I guess I’ve been lucky that they’ve all been super chilled and relaxed, which matches me and my style of photography to a tee.
B - Doesnt sound like a cop out at all. So, How have you been enjoying your Cloverlily Harness?
I - I’ve owned plenty of camera straps and nylon harnesses over my time, but my Cloverlily Harness is the first leather harness I’ve ever purchased….and I’m never going back! It is so darn comfy with two heavy cameras hanging on each side either for a full day at a wedding, or rambling round the Kentish countryside for the weekend. For me, the fact that it’s ethically handmade by someone that’s passionate for their craft, less than 25 miles from my door, is hugely important to me.
Also, I like to pretend I’m Bruce Willis in Die Hard while I’m wearing it round the house!
B - Ah man, I'm not ashamed to admit I've worn my harness pretending I am Dirty Harry from time to time. "are you feeling lucky punk". So, What camera setups do you use typically with your Harness? And do you have any interesting cameras in your arsenal?
I - My go to setup is a Canon R6 (took the jump into mirrorless only a few months ago) and a Canon 6D. These generally get twinned with a Sigma Art 24-70mm and a Canon 70-200mm (both f2.8), a nifty fifty, and a 100mm (f2.8) This is my standard setup for a days shooting at a wedding or event, but I’ve got plenty of other gear that I use for my personal/creative work. It took me a few years to understand the technical side of taking a traditionally good photo; and once I did, I started enjoying breaking the rules using digital to make mistakes because it’s so disposable. I then got obsessed with film photography, both 35mm and 120. I currently use a Canon AE1 and Pentax ME, both with various lenses I’ve picked up from boot fairs, charity shops and second hand camera shops; and twinned them with old Cokin p-series creative filters, just to see what I can create. My other half also bought me a Lomography ‘build your own camera’ a few years back. I develop my films at home with a LabBox so it’s exciting to see the results from the Lomography camera because it’s so unpredictable.
B - Nice! AE1 is such a good, easy to use film camera, Ive got 2 of them! And I've got a Pentax ME knocking around somewhere. A few years ago that ME used to be my film setup id take to weddings, they're fun little rig.
So now, If you had to describe your shooting style, how would you describe it? How do you insert a bit of you into your work?
I - documentary all the way baby! I just love spending time with, and watching people. The bit of ‘me’ that goes into my work is the relationship I build with my couples before the wedding; getting to know each other, so I’m there as a friend, which puts people at ease when they notice the camera pointing at them, making it easier to tell the story as it happens. My business slogan is ‘Real.Love.Stories.Told.’ , and I really believe in that when I have a camera in my hand. I want my work to be a true reflection of the day, not an interpretation.
B - Nice, so the groundwork is building a relationship with your subjects beforehand. Now, How do you edit? Do you lock yourself away and churn, are you organised and have actions or presets that run the show? Do you use lightroom or photoshop or any other software?
I - I’m not a big editor in all honesty so it’s not the lengthiest of processes. I use Lightroom and Luminar for categorising and changing a few sliders to highlight my style (I like a slightly washed and film-esque look) but I’m not a photoshopper. it’s really not something that I have ever had any interest in. I like to use creative tools(physical filters, multiple exposures etc.) for when I’m feeling “arty-farty”, but I’d rather do this in camera. When I’m working, I like to capture real life so editing heavily would compromise that.
B - You've recently updated your website, looks good! Did you do the work yourself?
I - Thankyou very much…and yep, all my own work, even down to my logo which is my own handwriting. the site is made using WordPress with Elementor Pro. I’m not the biggest of tech heads so it was a very steep learning curve, but a lot of fun, if frustrating at times! I’m passionate that my personality and beliefs are at the heart of my business, and I don’t think they would be portrayed in a genuine way if I had asked somebody else to make it for me, even if I’d provided the content for them.
B - Yeah you are your brand so makes sense to live all aspects of it, I am much the same, i do my own website and everything. It's not the most efficient way of working but pure efficiency is the killer of creativity. So, If you could give one piece of advice to any other budding photographers out there, what would it be?
I - Be you! Whatever area of photography you want to succeed in, if you are not genuine with how you portray yourself and what you produce, it will show in your work, and you won’t be able to sustain it. The best photographers aren’t the most commercially successful, they’re the ones that believe in what they do.
B - Thanks Ian, thats that.
If you want to get to know Ian's work a bit better, here are his links. Go show him some love.
Ian has the Cloverlily Double Harness in Antique Brown
This interview was written up whilst listening to the fantastic Zach Bryan - Something in the Orange from his album American Heartbreak that dropped yesterday! Go give it a listen its a banger.