Our Artist Manager, Aretha Campbell met with the winner of the Bridgeman Studio Award, Imogen Forte in February 2019 to discuss the Photographer's winning entry and her artistic career thus far.
Born and raised in London, Imogen cut her teeth as an advertising creative, copywriting and art directing for clients including Magners, Carlsberg, Audible and Reebok- winning awards and pitches along the way.
As soon as she bought a camera she became hooked and before long she was taking it everywhere she went. She learnt her craft as a street photographer, looking for moments of beauty amongst the chaos of the everyday.
She quickly started gaining coverage and clients and in 2017 she won the LPA Futures Award, which recognises and supports emerging talent in photography, and packed in her job to focus on photography full time. Since then she’s produced commercial and editorial work for major clients.
1. What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
Art was a big part of my life growing up. My parents are both passionate about it and we’d often visit galleries. I remember being blown away by the size and impact of Matisse’s Snail in the flesh as a really young child.
My dad, who’d gone to film school, was also always keen to share his photography books with me and I remember loving the strength and graphic simplicity of Bill Brandt’s work.
2. What did you study at University?
I studied Sociology and I loved it. It really taught me to think critically and investigate people’s motivations and behaviours. It really fed my curiosity and taught me to look beneath the surface.
3. When did you decide to pursue photography full time?
As soon as I picked up a camera I was hooked but that wasn’t until around 3 and a half years ago. I instantly spent all my free time with a camera around my neck but as much as I loved it and wanted to do it full time I was apprehensive about quitting my job. I was still so new to it and it’s such a competitive industry. Then I won the LPA Futures Award, which looks to recognise and reward emerging photographic talent. It’s an incredible initiative and part of the prize is professional representation. This gave me the confidence and the support to quit my job and I left at the beginning of last year to focus on photography full time.
4. How have you developed your career?
Photography’s great because it’s quite easy to make your own portfolio based on what you’re interested in, particularly if like me you like capturing real people and real places. I was lucky because when I started shooting I’d never considered that I’d be able to turn it into a job and so everything I shot was purely because I was interested in it. I’d never second guessed the kind of thing that people would want to buy. This meant that when I turned professional my portfolio was just filled with things that I liked which consequently meant that people chose to work with me because they wanted that kind of shot.
Once I quit my job I also built up my portfolio by volunteering my services to companies and causes I cared about- shooting for charities and doing portraits of people I admired- in order to fill my portfolio with more of the kind of work that I wanted to do and build my client list.
5. What inspires you when you are creating work?
I love working responsively. I cut my teeth as a street photographer so I’ve always shot quickly and intuitively based on what’s going on around me, using the real world as inspiration. Whatever kind of shoot I’m doing, whether it’s people or places, there’s always something to respond to and I love that. I have to find the inspiration in every situation.
6. What are the most exciting projects that you have worked on so far?
I spent a month in Milan on a Magnum Photos scholarship, shooting my own project for Milan Photo Week and that was AMAZING. I’ve also been really lucky to work for some causes I really care about. I travelled around Europe for YouTube, shooting people who use the platform for good. I’ve shot for Birdsong who create all their clothes sustainably, training disadvantaged women to make the clothes and reinvesting profits in local causes. I also shot a personal series of artists in their studios which was great because I got to meet people I really admire. I’ve also shot for some of my favourite brands and magazines including Adidas, Stylist Magazine, Lonely Planet and shot a couple of book covers so it’s been a fun year since I quit my job.
7. What type of film do you use and do you develop your own pictures?
I usually shoot Kodak Portra although I love playing around with other films. Cinestill 800T, Ektachrome, Extar, Fuji Superia are all great. I actually shot my Bridgeman commission on expired Lomography coloured film that I got given as a gift and forgot about!
8. Tell us a bit about your recent trips to Norway and Cuba and how they may have inspired new work?
I visited a small town in Norway called Rjukan that gets no direct sunlight for six months of the year. In winter the days are very short in Norway and Rjukan lies in the shadow of a large mountain. To tackle this giant mirrors have been installed on the top of the mountain, projecting light into the town square. It was such a fascinating place to visit, and I tried to capture the atmosphere of the place in my shots.
Cuba is a visual treat and I loved taking pictures there. It’s so vibrant and fast moving, and due to the heat life really plays out on the street. Windows and doors are constantly flung open and it felt like there’s less of a delineation between outdoors and indoors. People constantly flitting in and out of houses, which are often shared by many generations of the same family.
9. If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
Salvador Dali because of course. Frida Khalo because ditto. Joel Meyorwitz because his work has been such a huge source of inspiration and he talks about it so eloquently, plus he seems lovely. William Eggleston because I could talk about his photography for ever. Vivian Maier because I’d love to talk to her about her work too, although she was pretty reclusive so I’m not sure how chatty she’d be...
10. What work of art do you wish you owned?
A big colourful Hockney. I’d take any but Garden with Blue Terrace would be nice...
Imogen Forte was recently awarded a Magnum scholarship and headed to Milan where she took part in a masterclass with Magnum photographer Alex Majoli. While there she shot her own project which was presented at Milan Photo Week.
In 2018, she was awarded the Bridgeman Studio Award, winning a commission which she shot in Cuba. The winning piece will be shown at the exhibition space at the Affordable Art Fair in London and New York.
See more of Imogen Forte's work here.
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