Last month, the Image Source Art Directors visited the Free Range Graduate Shows at The Truman Brewery, Brick Lane to discover what the industry’s freshest talent is showcasing.
In the first of our Graduate Showcase series, Tanya Lefevre interviews Mat Hay, an Edinburgh-based photographer whose impressively epic project The Messenger explores interesting stories from different religions and plays them out in a modern context.
When did you decide you wanted to study photography and what was the best thing about your course?
Well I had been dabbling with skateboard and snowboard photography for a while and then did some part time courses in B+W film photography and also photoshop. Then I decided that the best thing was to completely immerse myself in the subject in order to get a confident understanding of it and so worked towards getting on a degree course.
Spending four years learning the craft was fantastic. But I have to say that the most important part of the degree was the history and critical thinking which made me realise how little I knew about the world.
“Officially” you are a graduate but I can see from your blog that you’ve been commissioned for several professional photography jobs during your degree. How did you manage to make the transition from student to photographer?
I tried to keep pro-active during my studies and build a good portfolio through personal and commissioned projects. Having the confidence and curiosity to take on projects outside of Uni is important as you won’t get enough experience just from doing course work. I started with a lot of free jobs for events or businesses that I had a personal connection to already, and then started to get bits of paid work coming in more frequently.
Your graduate show included brilliant behind-the-scenes footage – you seem very aware how important it is to promote yourself as a photographer? What led you to realise this?
Yeah I constantly watch behind the scenes videos and interviews online to get ideas and inspiration so firstly I wanted to be part of that community of sharing experiences. Then there is the fact that when you share your experiences and offer a way for people to engage with you and your whole process of image making, and not just the final images, you build a connection to people which keeps you at the front of their mind.
Your graduate show “the messenger” is an impressive shoot in terms of the scale of production involved. Did you find it challenging?
Challenging was a word I used a lot during the project. I say that with a smile on my face because I was quite amazed at how stressful it was, and for such a prolonged period of time. But everything that made it challenging made it unique so I am happy for that. I knew it was going to be hard and that’s why I did it. That’s also another reason for making the behind the scenes video, to show my lecturers how much had gone in to it. Especially when one of them turned to me just before the end of term and said “five images isn’t that much is it?”. You can imagine how I felt towards that remark.
The skill in lighting is also apparent in “the messenger”, is this an aspect of your work you see as defining your style in the future?
Yes, partly. I think it’s important to push your lighting abilities as far as possible, if one day you want to become a craftsman, and it will inevitably become part of your signature. With this project I wanted the images to look striking, but realistic, so didn’t want to over-produce them. It was more about finding locations with great available light and keeping it simple. Really only two shots have flash added.
Tell us about the idea. Do you see it translating to a commercial project?
Originally, after working on a visual anthropology project on Hinduism, I thought about taking some of the most interesting stories from different religions and recreating them in a modern context. This could definitely be used in a commercial situation for sure, and it would be a great project to work on. The Messenger is probably transferable but I would like to develop it a lot further before thinking about getting involved with other people.
Having left college where will you now look to keep feeding your brain, your eye, for ideas?
I’m trying to get together with as many of my creative friends as possible on a regular basis, even just to chat about random stuff that’s been on their minds. I have a group of really good photographers, all from different backgrounds, who are up for discussion and checking stuff out together. I’m also moving to London to get immersed in what the city has to offer.
What are your next steps, any projects you are working on, what is your ambition?
Well I hope to develop The Messenger a further, plus explore some ideas on the same subject that came about while researching and shooting. The main aim is to keep the momentum going and make sure personal projects get plenty of attention. After that I just really want to get to a stage where I get the most out of photography, both for personal satisfaction and also a career.
For more information on Mat, head on over to his website.
Are you a recent photography graduate looking to showcase your own work? Get in touch via the comments below.