Each year as part of Graduate Photography Online we ask a number of professionals from the world of photography to review all the work submitted and choose their favourites. We chat to Rebecca McClelland, Creative Director & Curator at The Ian Parry Scholarship and Selector for the BA phase of Graduate Photography Online 2020.
Tell us about your job? What does your core role at the Ian Parry Scholarship involve?
For the last twenty years I have been part of the small team that originated at The Sunday Times Magazine behind the creation and development of the Ian Parry Scholarship, an international award for Visual Journalism. This year we are immensely proud to celebrate our 30th year anniversary. The award was set up in memory of Ian Parry, an extremely talented young photographer who died on an assignment for the paper at the age of 24 years old. The scholarship is a free competition for any full time photography student from the UK and around the world to enter a series of 12 images and a proposal of a feature they would shoot for the The Sunday Times Magazine should they win. Their work is also exhibited in a large print exhibition in London and we offer a mentorship with an Alumni. Our deadline is the 5th July and you can enter through www.ianparry.org.
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 began my career on a scholarship for Magnum Photos, spending a year working in the London office, which led to a role at The Sunday Times Magazine. Magnum Photos and the The Sunday Times were then and still are leaders in the field of visual journalism and I set myself the goal to work for them. I felt very privileged to be a Photo Editor on the magazine, assembling special issues like the End of Year photography selection and commissioning cover shoots and stories. I met Don McCullin our Patron, who plays a very active role in the scholarship jury. Over the years, my relationship with photography has evolved and developed beyond print thanks to so many new opportunities. I am currently learning more about the curatorial practice and have curated several large exhibitions recently, I also continue to participate in teaching on industry practice when possible.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
Any sense of what makes a strong image is intuitive, you have to believe in your edit, trust in yourself. I have always said that a successful image is one that makes the reader stay on the story longer, I prefer less obvious images, oblique images and portraits with depth, so in that sense I don’t adhere to general newspaper rules, the image isn’t there to illustrate the story but to develop its meaning further. At the New Statesman magazine, I challenged myself and my Editors to go beyond and not hold back on content and to take the reader out of their comfort zone.
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?
When showing your work, it is most important that you speak with confidence, respect and knowledge for your work and your subjects. A photographer’s statement needs to be a personal, unique statement about one’s intension as an artist, it needs to convey the creative journey that this work has taken you on. I would advise photographers to avoid flowery language and hyperbole and instead be sincere and honest.
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?
I left my degree course after the first year for a job at The Sunday Times because at the time, professional practice and industry knowledge was generally lacking on photography courses. Thankfully that has now been addressed so skills like ‘how to navigate industry’ and ‘how to disseminate your work’ are a central focus. University courses like Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Danish School of Journalism, University of South Wales and Falmouth University are doing particularly well to ensure that their students reach the right market place. The photography I encounter from universities through my work with the scholarship is brave, competitive, fresh and highly motivated. The photographers know how to write treatments, pitches and produce an assignment to a professional standard, they are extremely impressive. Over the years we have seen the standard increase sharply, with many much younger photographers winning the award.
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?
Surely one of the greatest challenges to a graduate is to forge a unique voice amongst the huge number of people emerging from photography degree courses - set against the overwhelming volume of visual material being created by those students and the subsequent platforms they are sharing their work on. Artists like Campbell Addy, Diana Markosian and Coco Capitan are photographers that I work with who are successfully carving interesting and hyphenate careers by developing their own distinct visual language.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
My big advice is always take it slowly and be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint, for your career in photography. It is really important to support your practice with stability - which isn’t easy right now - but by this I mean a secure environment, income and well-being. Exposure to the photographic industry shouldn’t happen before you are absolutely ready, it will be a series of connections - with curators, photo editors, peers that will remain throughout your entire life so don’t rush into these relationships before you are ready. Don’t suffer from FOMO, the world will wait for you and your work. It is best to observe and calmly launch a well designed website, well written artist statement and a mature 'thought process', thinking about who you want in your network rather than jumping in unprepared.