Before Alex Telfer was selected as IPA’s 2017 Photographer of the Year, he was first and foremost a creative with a simple goal: to create authentic images. “I am evangelical about authenticity within my work. My whole approach is to shoot with very little post-production.”
Steadily climbing the ranks in the international photography scene, the genius of Alex shows no signs of declining. The deeply tailored compositions and intense details crafted beautifully to his vision lure viewers into Alex’s world.
Tell us the story behind your winning IPA entry, Lurpak, from the inception to the final touches.
Lurpak is a very honest brand with wholesome values and it became quite obvious to me that the authenticity afforded in crafting the set design, food preparation, lighting design and creating a cinematic image quality in camera was 100% the way to go. In many ways, the shoot techniques were so traditional and old school, relying on technical ability and a heightened creativity. Everyone assumes that it was heavily retouched, but it could not be further from the truth. Rehearsals and in-depth test shoots ensures its ultimate success and quality.
How important is post-processing in your work?
I really never rely on it, preferring to conceive as much as possible in camera using my skills that have been honed over a 27-year career. I do utilize retouching; I have my own post-production facility that is dedicated to working on my projects. However, we never reinvent the wheel, we just subtly heighten and craft the work, that’s all.
What techniques did you apply in making the series?
Camera techniques are the key. I shot on a phase one 100mp with a wide 35mm lens. Backlighting steam and shooting through heat-resistant glass enabled me to get super close to the action. Debris from the cooking hit against the glass and defocused seemingly on the lens, adding a great sense of immersion into this world of home cooks.
Now, take us back to the time you first held a camera and the moment you realized your passion for photography.
I was studying Fine Arts and got introduced to a non-qualification support study in photography. I was 16 and was immediately hooked. I never looked back and photography became and still remains my passion.
Tell us about the pivotal moment that really launched your photography career.
The first professional photography award that I won was at a regional advertising award. It was 1993 and I was young and inexperienced, but full of creative flair and absolutely no fear. I swept the awards, beating industry heavy weights and in the process my reputation just grew from there.
Your photography has a documentary feel, setting them apart from mainstream advertising images. Is this a conscious effort on your part?
I’ve always been heavily influenced by documentary photography. That is an astute observation. It stems from the first time I held a camera in a post-industrial town in North East England. I was immediately drawn to the subject matter of my surroundings, the people and urban landscapes. Also, my love for the works of Don McCullin and the Magnum photographers are contributory. Of course, my work is influenced by the genre, but much more crafted and controlled to enable it to appeal to the advertising audience.
You do have personal projects besides your commissioned works. How essential are those to the development of your craft? Would you recommend the same practice to other photographers?
Oh, for sure. I always have at least 3 personal projects in progress. I’ve just completed a huge project that I shot in Iceland over two winters called “Signs of Life.” When I do agency presentations, my personal work gains the attention. Creatives love to hear the stories behind the images. Personal work also massively enlightens my advertising ideas and approach.
How would you compare moving images to photography since you shift between the two?
I am commissioned a lot to produce combined print and motion campaigns. Not only to direct the motion, but I physically shoot it as well. I invested heavily in my own Arri Alexa and have mastered the handling of it. It only means my clients are very much getting my total vision across both mediums. I love both in equal measure.
If you had to drop one or the other, which would you choose: moving images or photography? Why?
I couldn’t possibly drop either now. They are both so important to my development as an in-demand image-maker.
With your variety of exceptional works, do you still have a dream project? Give us a brief description.
Recently, I’m really enjoying my increasing volume of editorial projects. Just lately I shot a great hero of mine, Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. It was an amazing afternoon with just Jimmy, my assistant and myself shooting Jimmy around his amazing house and talking music … more of that, please!
Your studio is a converted 19th-century church, which is quite unusual. Tell us about it.
It’s an awesome space that has been pivotal in helping to cement my brand identity. “That award-winning photographer from up north who has that converted church!” It’s kind of mysterious, but at its core it’s a really great world-class studio facility that is in a really gritty part of Newcastle in North East England. I’ve hosted shoots with American clients and agencies from all over Europe. In fact, I’ll be hosting a Leica Akademie Masterclass in the studio on October 30-31.
How’s winning IPA International Photographer of the Year going so far?
Good, I’ve worked for many years with the same people in the advertising industry and there was a genuine sense of pride at my achievement. They’ve seen me grow and develop as a photographer and director, and the recognition of this award is significant.
What is your advice for emerging photographers?
Be passionate about what you do. Do a great job and do not concentrate on monetary gain — forget that in fact. If you do everything right to the very best of your abilities and you can maintain that mantra year in and year out, then quite possibly, you will be financially rewarded for your efforts. Never be driven by it though. Just love and be excited by your work.
You can find out more about Alex Telfer’s work here.