Working With A Creative Photographic Mentor
What is mentoring?
Mentors provide objective, supportive and tailored guidance to those needing help to move their career forwards by exploring ideas and options relevant to their practise. They are usually an industry professional that has lived and breathed the same career you aspire to have or someone who has been embedded in that world and gained expert, hand-on knowledge. I hail from the latter.
Mentoring sessions ideally take the form of face-to-face meetings where the individual can voice their ideas, questions and concerns in private.
A single session of 2-3 hours can be sufficient for some photographers to gain new insights and ideas to take their work forwards while others might prefer several sessions to work through different of aspects in their practice with support along the way.
My role is to help provide positive momentum by tapping into the inherent drive of a photographer so they can move through tough and often challenging phases in their career while remaining relevant in today’s competitive landscape.
How did you become a mentor?
I worked at Getty Images for 17 years, working my way up from being a hands-on Editor and Art Director through to the more strategic position of European Director of Photography. My role was to coach and motivate teams of editors and art directors to inspire world-class, award-winning photographers to create exceptional imagery for the global creative marketplace.
Throughout this time I learnt an enormous amount about how the commercial marketplace uses imagery and gained a thorough and acute understanding of the dynamics and pressures felt by photographers. Add to this my hands-on experience of conceptualizing imagery and managing the logistics and practicalities of shoots, working as a mentor, as I have since 2009, seemed a very natural next step.
What are the main areas of help photographers tend to need?
Most photographers I work with find it invaluable, at the very least, to have an objective, professional eye on their pictures and practice. Many work in isolation, finding it a rare event to actually talk about their aims and challenges other than with close friends and family. Unfortunately these perspectives are often biased and are rarely professional and impartial.
Working across all genre of photography, typical areas a photographer might come to me for are:
A photographer will typically get in touch at a time in their career when they feel something needs to change. They might be looking for a reappraisal of their direction or perhaps an objective opinion on their body of work. Working in such a rapidly changing and competitive industry, many will also want to explore ideas about how to effectively brand and market themselves.
The first stage is to have an initial no-commitment consultation over the phone lasting around 15-20 minutes so I can get an understanding of the areas in which they need some guidance, during which I can assess and explain how I may be able to help.
The initial session takes place on a one-to-one in London or over Skype/Zoom and will last a minimum of 2 hours. Many photographers choose to stay longer to capitalize on the momentum, ideas and action plan being discussed.
Following this, it will be up to the photographer to decide whether they would benefit from a follow-up meeting, be it within a matter of weeks or months. Many find this helpful as it can be a motivator to keep things moving forwards. There is no definitive timetable for follow-up sessions; I would always prefer to be lead by the photographer’s requirements rather than be prescriptive. There are options for consultations to take place over Skype/phone should it be more convenient after the initial session.
Do photographers have to prepare before a session?
After a date has been agreed, I will set some ‘homework’, which seeks insights into their practice. This helps me to gain a more thorough understanding of their thinking as a photographer and to tailor our time together accordingly. Most photographers find this process very revealing in itself and helps to focus the purpose behind their need for a session.
Can you characterise your typical mentee?
Most photographers I work with are very open-minded and understand the benefit of objective feedback in helping them to move forward. I rarely come across someone who comes to me resolutely defending his or her position and not open to adapting or rethinking elements of their practice.
Those I work with come with wide-ranging needs and experience and while some want ideas on how to establish a presence, others may already be doing very well but are looking for motivation and ideas on how to find a new creative direction and/or work that satisfies them at a deeper level.
What are your hopes for the future for your mentees?
My primary objective is for a photographer to leave a session with a spring in their step; a renewed confidence, excitement and drive coupled with a to-do list and a clearer awareness of the opportunities that may exists to take their work and business forward that they may have previously been unaware of.