The Importance of Vision and Planning in Photographers' Careers

Drawing on her diverse experience in the visual arts industry, Rebecca McClelland shares her insights into career building and the current state of photography.

© Andrew Renneisen (winner of the 2016 Ian Parry Scholarship Award for Achievement)

For many years, Rebecca McClelland has been an active player within the photographic industry. She is the long standing Creative Director and Curator of the Ian Parry Scholarship, an international award for visual journalism. After starting her career at The Sunday Times, she has directed digital campaigns for international corporations, collaborated with various publications, and given talks and lectures to the new generations of photographers. As a member of the PHM 2017 Women Photographers Grant judging panel, we spoke with her about the need to find space for a conversation about gender bias in the photography industry, and the importance of resetting the balance through positive initiatives.

After a career as picture editor at the Sunday Times magazine, Wallpaper* Magazine and New Statesman you are now working as Creative Director of the Ian Parry Scholarship and as a Photographic Art Director for companies like Airbnb and BBH. Can you tell us more about your experience as a freelancer and the projects you have been involved with recently?

Most recently I have been commissioning and art directing photographic stories for the Times, for a special quarterly luxury magazine called LUXX. This mainly involves fashion stories but I lend a hand wherever they need me and the subject matter may involve still life or portraiture too.

© Hosam Katan (Highly Commended in the 2015 Ian Parry Scholarship)

You have been working in the field of photography for many years. During the last decade the industry has changed radically, with technology playing a major role in this process. How do you think these changes have affected the way you are searching/discovering new work?

Peer to peer sharing is now a large part of how most creatives source new work, which is very different from my days at the newspaper. For instance, Instagram and Facebook are good platforms to showcase the broadest range of work including commissions by independent magazines. I enjoy following colleagues and collaborators who disseminate new, interesting and relevant work.

Why do you think it is important to have a conversation about female photographers today? Do you think women have the space and are earning the recognition they deserve? How do you see the next generation of female photographers?

We see many fearless and creative entries from women each year in the Ian Parry Scholarship, but I still feel that those photographers need to shout louder to claim their place in our industry. There is still space for a broad and frank conversation to be had about bias against women working in visual journalism. Confidence to discuss this can be an issue. New initiatives, like your grant for women photographers, help underrepresented female photojournalists through positive actions, which will reset the balance eventually. At the same time, I would like to see more discussion about the complex and often personal circumstances through which female photographers strive to maintain their careers.

© Igor Elukov (winner of the 2016 Ian Parry Scholarship Award for Potential)

I still remember the practical advice you gave to me and my classmates at the University of South Wales during the professional practice module. Can you share with our audience two or three actions every young photographer should undertake to further their career?

My big preach is to ask for a 3-year plan of where you would like to be in your career, being honest with yourself about what is blocking your goals and ambitions. I’d suggest you make a list of all the people that you need to help you on this journey and then work out how to reach them, how to get on their radar. Personal blockers can be financial, or overcoming shyness or lack of knowledge of the industry. This is a really good way to have a focused conversation about how you can make and manage the career you want. Aside from the obvious, a well designed website and social media presence, it is also important to put your camera down and spend time researching your industry and thinking about who your audience is. Before you make the work. We see so many students not thinking about this: who would appreciate their work and how they can reach them. It makes it really hard to get strong and important work seen.

What characteristics do you expect to see in a strong submission?

I would expect to see a coherent and well-edited body of work supported with a factual text synopsis and meta-data captions with names, dates and locations.

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Rebecca McClelland is a Director of Photography, Art Buyer and Creative Director. As a passionate visual storyteller, she has most recently art directed and produced OOH and campaigns for BBH and Airbnb as the lead Photographic Art Director for EMEA. She also writes about photography for media outlets like New Statesman, Creative Review and Photoworks.

Rocco Venezia is an Italian photographer whose works originate from a personal interest in literature and an awareness of European political and economical situations. He started collaborating as assistant curator with PHmuseum in April 2017.

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