PhotoLondon Talk – Simon Frederick and Renee Mussai

21st November was the first PhotoLondon Talk of the 2018 series with Renee Mussai and Simon Frederick. Renee is a senior curator at Autograph and Simon is fine art and portrait photographer and Television producer.

The talk started with a discussion of shared photographic influences which include Ghanaian photographer James Barnor that they had both meet on separate occasions. James was a major influence for both of them and was a prolific photographer in the UK but shoot covers for Drum an influential South African magazine that employed photographers across both sides of the apartheid divide covering a mix of lifestyle, fashion and journalism.

Drum, James Barnor, (the Guardian, 2017)

Renee asked Simon who he would invite to a dinner party and his response was James Brown, Malcolm X, Winston Churchill and Edmund Mosses. Renee asked why Simon had selected a male orientated dinner party to which he replied if he had known the rules he would have selected a different mix.

Simon explained he does not have any formal photographic training he only started taking photographs seriously when he was in his 30s and was working in advertising.

He explained one of his early images was taken from a car in the wing mirror because he could not stop to take the picture of two men leaning against the wall in the East End.

Renee and Simon explained his career as a series of phases. He said “When photography falls in love with you it’s the only thing you can do.”

Phase 1:

Simon’s initial break was with a photograph he took of a boy band “Damage” at the Jazz Café which got used but the Independent newspaper as they did not have a photographer at Damage’s final gig. They asked Simon to photograph Erika Badu and this lead to a successful career touring with different artists including Lenny Kravitz.

After doing concert photography for a while Simon realised he did not want to spend his life on the road. He admired the work of Testino and LaChapelle so he spent time studying images by those individuals practicing until he could create images of the same quality. He put together his portfolio shooting friends and family however when to took the work to picture editors he was at best meeting the assistants and was not getting any assignments.

Phase 2:

Simon leaves the UK for Portugal and gets a different response he gets to meet Portuguese agencies who are willing to listen to his ideas and he gets to shoot campaigns for major clients including Volvo and Audi. He says his work is based on the 3 Hs (Head for ideas, Heart for passion and Hand the craft.)

He was asked to do a shoot for Benfica Television and decided to shoot in his own way which was to take images from the dressing room an area of the stadium that fans never get to visit.

Benfica Locker Room (Canvas.pantone.com, 2017)

While in Portugal he was asked to shoot a campaign for one of the political parties which is a point where Simon says he truly realised the power of imagery and the leader is now the Vice President of Portugal. Around this time Simon shoot a 12 page spread for an art magazine with a series of gay men that was designed to be viewed by straight men. The resulting images were very striking and managed to create a strong balance between naked men and dressed men.

Phase 3:

Simon returned to London and marked his return with a project mymates@work where he created a body of work using his friends and models but each image used a different style. Typically as photographers we are told to define ourself through a recognisable style and in this case Simon decided to break that rule which help differentiate himself from other photographers at that time.

I really like a quote from Simon where he was discussing this phase of his career where he said the the difference between and amateur photographer and a professional is that an amateur only has to create one great image to define their work while a professional photographer has to get it perfect every time.

He views the subjects of his portrait images as collaborators because it requires both to work together to capture the real person. He felt anyone get capture the likeness of the person but really good photographers are able to get to the mood of the person the inner person that most people never get to see. I recognise the trait in my own portrait photography as I feel my most successful images are created when the sitting is a collaborative event

Phase 4:

Simon got invited in 2015 by Sky Arts to go to Italy. He was in the room with the Isabella Rossellini and Oliviero Toscani thinking he had been invited to be a contestant but instead they asked him to be head judge for the first series of the show. This further boosted Simon’s profile and acted as a pivotal point and a friend suggested he should go into film production.

Sky Arts Master of Photography 2015 (rts.org.uk, 2017)

Phase 5:

This brings the story up to date with Simon producing his own show “Black is the new Black” about influential black people in the UK. The shows title was taken from fashion and Yves Saint Laurents comments about the fact that every women should have a little black dress where black will always be the new black.

The individuals featured on the show resulted in portraits that’s were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery to address the lack of pictures of influential black people in UK culture.

Simon Frederick is on the 2018 Powerlist of “Britain’s most influential people of African and African Caribbean heritage”.  The final comment maybe shows that even today we still view people based on how they look rather than the person. If fact these lists that segregate people based on race or gender do the opposite of promoting diversity they reinforce division. My own view is that we should recognise people on merit to create true integration and diversity.

References

  • the Guardian. (2017). ​Celebrating ​James Barnor – the first photographer to shoot Ghana in colour ​. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2016/sep/22/street-style-ghana-fashion-photographer-james-barnor#img-3 [Accessed 10 Dec. 2017].
  • Rts.org.uk. (2017). Sky Arts to air pan-Europe photography talent show | Royal Television Society. [online] Available at: https://rts.org.uk/article/sky-arts-air-pan-europe-photography-talent-show [Accessed 10 Dec. 2017].
  • Canvas.pantone.com. (2017). The Locker Room S L BENFICA on Pantone Canvas Gallery. [online] Available at: http://canvas.pantone.com/gallery/6718705/The-Locker-Room-S-L-BENFICA [Accessed 10 Dec. 2017].
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