Young Photographers Alliance Prizewinner: Mike Byrne

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Mike Byrne: Best Fashion & Portrait Award YPA 2011

You may be talented, do great work, but as a young photographer just how do you get a foothold in the industry? Mike Byrne, who won Best Fashion & Portrait Award at the YPA, tells us his story

Mike Byrne on the Glasgow Team in the Young Photographers Alliance mentoring program won the Best Fashion & Portrait Award (sponsored by Bowens). The images condense in a single image the strangely different worlds we inhabit everyday, how our comfortable lifestyles often have other unpleasant realities sitting behind them. His photo heroes, some of whose inspiration you can see in this work, include Gregory Crewdson, Tim Walker, Erik Almas and Martin Parr.

How did you get involved with the YPA Mike?

Mike Byrne: I’m not entirely sure where I first read about the YPA.  I was studying photography at Edinburgh Napier University at the time.  They were pretty good with promoting opportunities to students.  I thought it was a long shot as there were only five places available, but I submitted my portfolio and was lucky enough to be accepted into the program.

Mike Byrne. Best Fashion & Portrait Award, YPA, 2011

Who was your Mentor, how long was it, and how did the relationship work?

Mike Byrne: Elaine Livingston (Picture Editor, Opus Media) and Claire Stuart (Photographer) were great mentors to work with.  I had to be highly motivated throughout the 3-month process and weekly meetings with the group really helped keep me on track. It was very much like being at university and bouncing ideas around within a group, mentor guidance was available if required but we were given space to do our own thing.

What was the most important lesson you learned during the Mentorship, Creatively? Businesswise?

Mike Byrne: Creatively I learned that anything is possible.  It was a conscious decision to start creating photographs rather than just taking them.  The YPA program was my chance to push my limits.  I had worked with large sets in the studio before but my team and I planned the YPA shoot on location.  Businesswise I came to realize how important a good creative team is.  I spent years building a network of talented people, and for the YPA shoot I needed them all to make it a success.

Mike Byrne. Best Fashion & Portrait Award, YPA, 2011

Was your fashion shoot a response to a theme?

Mike Byrne: The series is a response to the theme of ‘Energy.’  It was a very open brief and we had a variety of responses in the mentoring group.  My concept is about the conflicts that arise in the quest for secure oil supplies.  I wanted the concept to be accessible in order to engage with a wider audience.   I’m not trying to force an opinion; I’m simply trying to encourage thought on the issue.

Looking at your blog, the shoot seems like quite a logistical feat?

Mike Byrne: It was a challenge.  Taking the pictures was the fun part at the end of a long process.  The planning of the shoot took three months.  As I was funding the shoot myself I had a very limited budget to work with.  A cast and crew of twenty-three people contributed their time and skills free of charge. Coordinating everyone was a logistical nightmare.  On a shoot of that scale and with so many people involved I had to deal with a host of legal issues.  Edinburgh Council required health and safety reports and liability insurance. As we had replica weapons on the beach the local police had to be informed and there was a slight concern that the smoke flares might attract attention from the coast guard.  I spent a lot of time making phone calls and filling out insurance forms.

What was the response to the work?

Mike Byrne: I’ve had a great response to the series.  The YPA exhibited the images in London and New York.  In the last few months they have also been included in two shows in Los Angeles and I’ll soon be exhibiting in San Francisco.  I have also been awarded a substantial cash award from ‘Artists Wanted 2011’, and to top it all off they’ll be published in two books later this year.  It has been an interesting and exciting time to say the least and the YPA deserve credit for providing those opportunities.  The audience response has been encouraging but it is sometimes hard to get an accurate impression of what people really think.

How has your photography evolved since the YPA?

Mike Byrne: I think the YPA shoot has set a new standard for me to work to.  I’m shooting less personal work now but what I do shoot is more considered, I think that is necessary if I’m to continue to improve as a photographer.  I have plans for more big projects but I need to find the required resources. I enjoyed the process so much it inspired me to get into advertising photography.  I think the high production value of advertising shoots is inspiring and I have moved from Scotland to San Francisco to assist some great photographers and to learn how they create their work.

Mike Byrne. Best Fashion & Portrait Award, YPA, 2011

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