January 26th, 2015

Over the past years photographer Julian Hanford has collaborated with Shots and the Advertising Producer’s Association to create a series of photographic spreads for the APA collection.

On Thursday ad land’s greatest gathered at The Mill’s London studio to see these images brought together in an exhibition that celebrated industry icons from all creative areas.

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The exhibition was curated by year; 2011 being the Director's feature, 2012 reserved for London’s best Editors, 2013 featured APA council members and 2014 was the year of the music company.

Julian specializes in portraiture photography with a conceptual twist. Previously working as a creative director and commercials film director, he then applied his knowledge and skills to photography.

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We caught up with Julian to find out how he got into photography and why he loves portraiture.

When did you decide to move into photography and why? 

I was an advertising Creative Director for many years, and then left advertising to do some entrepreneurial things. A few years later, I realised that I had an itch to get back to the purity of ideas and creativity, but on my own terms, so as a very hands on creative, photography was the natural step. That was about seven years ago, and I’m very glad I did. Photography suits me down to the ground, and I can work almost entirely autonomously from the conceptualising to the shooting to the sophisticated post-production. I always do my own post; I feel it’s very important as the image-maker that I do it myself.

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What is it about portraiture that you find appealing?

My particular thing is conceptual portraiture - people and ideas more often than not combined. For me the beauty and challenge of it is coming up with something that both illustrates the character of the subject, and then says something broader about creativity. And I absolutely love people, particularly people who have big personalities, which of course is most of the people in the advertising and production industries!

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Is there any advice you’d give to budding photographers and artists out there? 

Photography these days can be a really tough career choice, particularly with the rise of digital. Even with the most domestic SLR and compact cameras, anyone can produce a half decent image. So the differentiator now really is creativity and ideas. As a budding photographer you need to relentlessly try to find your own voice, and to do that you need to be a bit obsessed with looking at great images, and also really observing the world. Go to exhibitions, study the work of the greats in books and online, and slowly but surely you will begin to see a structure to your work that is uniquely you. Give it time, don’t be hard on yourself, believe you can do it, and never, ever, ever quit.

Who and what inspires you?

Everything inspires me - my thought processes are stimulated by life itself. Inspiration comes from being genuinely interested in the world around you, and asking questions - never taking anything at face value. I can just as happily sit in a cafe and watch people, or sit and study a single great painting in the National to the point of meditation. The great John Webster looked in the most obscure places for his inspiration, building up a vast mental reservoir of reference material for his creative ideas. Love and live life to the full, and you will be creative, because life itself is creative.

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Tell me a bit about your style 

My style is deliberately quirky, because that is what appeals to me. It’s a way of seeing the ironies in the world, and converting them into ideas for images that will hopefully resonate with my audience. I’m more akin to a painter in the way that I work - I always start with a sketch, shoot my elements to match each other, and then compose the whole thing in post. And I’m a real stickler for detail - my aim is to compose a seamless image that really doesn’t look like it was composed, so all the elements need to be carefully considered - particularly the lighting direction, etc.

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Have you any stand out memories of shooting advertising icons over the past 4 years?

All these shoots were linked by the simple fact that we had a blast doing them. In 2011, doing the directors, for instance, I asked each of them to come to the studio with an item that meant something to them, as a starting point for each shoot. Walter Stern brought in a copy of Frankenstein, which he thought he would be reading in the shot. Me being me, I thought we could make it funnier if he grabbed a whole bunch of cables and wires in one hand, and reading the book in the other, so he looked like he was using it as a manual! I love shooting Mark Denton too - you can’t really get a bad shot of him, because he has such a great sense of humour. The shot of him with his Johnny Seven gun still makes me smile. Thanks a lot Mark!

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See more pictures of the evening here.