In our series of interviews introducing the Selectors for the MA/MFA Phase of Graduate Photography Online 2018, we talk to Alicia Hart, Photo Editor at AMV BBDO.
Tell us about your job and the work of AMV BBDO? What does your core role at the agency involve?
Most of my role at AMV BBDO is mostly in creative development and new business areas. This is often pitches and selling ideas to clients on their global campaigns. Our clients include Mayor of London, Guinness, National lottery, BT and Pepsi. I co-created our Instagram site with my colleague Jaki Jo Hannan. I work as a producer on some of the charity work we do at AMV BBDO.
How did you make your way into the career you're now in? Did you always want to work in a field that involved photography?
I've done both a degree and masters in photography and that's because of my own interest in my self-development rather that this being essential for my career. My interest in photography started at 17 when I was at Sixth Form College. I did a BTEC and then did my degree in photography at Farnham, now UCA. Once I graduated, I started working for a small publisher that put together 'The Young Telegraph' which was part of the weekend supplement for The Telegraph newspaper. I moved onto 'The Face / Arena Homme Plus' and then 'The Sunday Telegraph Magazine'. When I had my daughter Mia, I decided to go back and do my Masters. I completed my masters, while being a photo editor and looking after a young baby. Let's just say it was character building. Being a Photo Editor is hugely rewarding and I've had an amazing network of friends globally who have the same passions and level of commitment to our photography community. Photography is our tool of communication and we love to mentor people moving up the ladder. It's hard juggling a family, career and mentoring others but I feel it's my natural calling. As a Photo Editor my knowledge of photography was utilized in a different way, finding editorial stories, commissioning photography and picture research. Working in Advertising has been a huge learning curve in this last year – it is very legal, process driven and working with clients makes the job more challenging. I'm lucky I work with individuals I admire, all of which have been hugely supportive of my transition into at what seems, at times, like a different world. Working on charity jobs are the most rewarding as you feel you can make a difference and it's exciting to see the end image on a OOH (Out of Home- Billboard campaign) which has a huge reach. It's a life style choice rather than a job.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
Projects or images that excite me tend to be those where the photographer made an observation about the everyday and made something normal the hero. I love speaking with photographers who have spent years photographing projects. A fine example of this is 'Imperial Courts' by Dana Lixenberg. I recently worked with an amazing photographer called Tom Sloan who had the most energetic approach to engaging youth for the Mayor of London campaign. His personal and commercial work has a running theme of exploring youth.
As regards the photographer's statement, what are the most important things for you to know about the work? When it comes to showing their work outside of University, have you any tips on how graduates should prepare their work and the supporting material that accompanies it?
In the commercial work a work statement is not important, but the photographer being able to talk about and excite the person looking at the work is. One of my frustrations is that Universities do not see this as an important element. Most great photographers let their work down by not being able to speak with confidence or passion. Trying to use clever language to explain work is likely to confuse the viewer in the commercial field. Keep it simple and adapt to your audience.
In your view, what are the kind of qualities that completing a degree course in photography should endow an individual with? Aside from specifically technical skills, what is the difference that having a demographic of emerging photography graduates makes in the world?
A degree should be a foundation and a beginning to your career ahead. What happens next and the people you choose to learn from is very important. The advice I always give to graduates is to identify a person they want to work with and go and learn from them for 3 or 4 years. This will benefit them more than any Masters. I have several friends that have assisted Nadav Kander for a minimum of three years.
What are the challenges you see facing graduates from photography degree courses as they make their way into the world at this point in time?
The biggest challenge will always be the need to adapt to new markets. I was not the best graduate from school and I had to fail before I truly understood that if you work hard then anything is possible. Surround yourself with inspirational people and be kind to others. I worked most weekends for the first two years to pay my rent as well as having a full time job. It's not supposed to be easy. Having a job that you love in the long run is worth it - I'm 43 and still wake up excited most days.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
Quite often young people starting out don't realise what a privilege it is to get their first job. Make the tea, ask questions, work long hours, go to talks and exhibitions, give back and surround yourself with people that make you better at what you do. It's a tough journey and one that will feel so tough at points but so worth it.