We chat to photographer and artist Luke Evans about getting an agent, his kit and making ends meet
Based in a studio just moments from his house in Hereford, photographer and artist Luke Evans splits his time between commercial work for the likes of The Gourmand, The Wellcome Collection and Channel 4, and the more artistic side of his practice. Both play with texture, atmosphere and a process – he’s shot with powerful telephoto lenses, made prints with 500,000 volts and created sculptures by exploding lumps of clay and casting the result. Financial security is still something that worries Luke (even if his early work was scooped up by a celeb art collector) and he’s just picked up his first agent. But photographs aren’t the only things he shoots – Luke spends his downtime training with Team GB’s Archery team and hopes to make the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The Saatchi Gallery, The Gourmand, The Wellcome Collection, Channel 4, WIRED, Intern magazine
BA Graphic Design & Photography, Kingston University (2011–2014)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m an artist that predominantly works with photography. At the core of what I do is personal work which can vary from sculpture, photography, and print. This work is totally selfish and usually finds itself in an art gallery environment. Since graduating though, that personal work has lead to me working with magazines, agencies, and TV, so I’m at the point now where I’m straddling the roles of photographer and artist evenly. To make things even more difficult, I’m training with Team GB’s archery team with the hopes of making Tokyo 2020.
The majority of my commissioned work is editorial still life photography for magazines. The great thing about editorial photography is you can be a bit more loose and experimental, compared to that for advertising. Today I’m working on a new personal project with the Natural History Museum, and also working with Commission Studio on something top secret.
What does a typical working day look like?
Generally I spend the morning doing admin or researching until about noon. Visual research for me is huge. By midday I’m in the studio next door and I work there until about 8pm. If I don’t have any commissioned work I’ll be testing out new ideas for a personal project, editing, or taking care of the studio. After that I switch from shooting cameras to shooting arrows, normally until about 10.30pm.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
My commissioned work is almost exclusively studio-based, but personal work can take me all over the place, from lightning research centres to museums or the tops of mountains. But if I’m in the research phase of a personal project, I’ll spend most of that time in front of my laptop, which could be the majority of my waking hours.
“The great thing about editorial photography is you can be a bit more loose and experimental.”
How do projects usually come about?
I have a belief that the right people will find you, rather than the other way around. All of my commissioned work has come as a byproduct of people seeing my personal work online, or through word of mouth. The obvious flaw with this is that I’m broke half of the time. But that’s a conscious decision. I haven’t yet found a way to commercialise what I do without losing the integrity of it. It’s the classic problem. That being said, I’ve recently been signed to an agency (I can’t mention which right now!). Since graduating I’ve had several agencies approach me, but finding the right one takes time. So perhaps a year from now I’ll be able to say that the agency is my primary source of work.
How collaborative is your work?
I’m used to making work by myself, making things out of nothing and learning as I go along. I’m at the stage now though where I want to work with the best people and so although my work isn’t very collaborative now, I think that’s the key to moving it forward.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Nothing beats the feeling of seeing a piece of work framed. It’s the only time I ever feel like I can fully relax and just enjoy what I’ve been working on. The worst part is the sheer emotional and financial instability. But the truth is, I don’t have a choice. I’d rather be broke and crying and having those incredible moments where a project comes together, than in a full time job that I don’t care for. This has got easier over the past 12 months, but it is a long game to play.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
At the beginning of this year I worked with a new tailor on Saville Row, Rachel Singer, to make images for her website and printed material. The best part was that both the art director and the tailor were old university friends of mine. I worked with them so intensely, then not at all for a few years, so it gave me a weird sense of home. The idea was to show the relationship between hand and material, visually keeping it sharp and feminine, as Rachel has a unique position on the Row being one of the only women. I was the photographer and the art direction was by Francis North, and we used Rachel’s own hands.
What skills are essential to your job?
Pretending like you know what you’re doing.
“I’d rather be broke and crying, having those incredible moments where a project comes together, than in a full-time job that I don’t care for.”
What tools do you use most for your work?
For personal work I use a Sinar P2 4”x5” camera which I nabbed off eBay for a total steal. I do a lot of close-up work so I use two full bellows to extend the standards far apart. I also use digital, and for that I use a Canon 5DS R or if there’s budget I’ll rent a Phase One 645DF + IQ 180 digital back. I like the flatness of longer focal lengths, so I tend to shoot with 100mm lenses and their large format equivalents. When I’m shooting film in the studio I will use my Canon as a proof, then switch over to my Sinar.
For years I used a really slow old MacBook to edit, but now I use a much faster MacBook Pro and connect it to a colour-accurate monitor for editing (an Eizo ColourEdge). For storage I use the LaCie rugged SSD’s connected via Thunderbolt. I store all my Raw files and drum scans on those, rather than storing and working from them on the laptop directly. They work fast enough that I’m not waiting around forever for files to transfer.
If you shoot large format, one of the most useful apps is Mark II Artist's Viewfinder. When you’re location scouting, it shows you what framing different lenses will produce without having to lug all the equipment there. When I’m shooting digital and tethered, I use Capture One X. I do a lot of focus-stacking to make sure everything in in focus, and for that I use Helicon Focus, it’s much better than what Photoshop will churn out.
Would you say your work allows for a good work-life balance?
I’m extremely lucky though since my studio is separate to where I live (barely). That physical separation of space is very important to me. Equally important is having a separate mental space, it’s why archery has become such a big part of my life. It’s a physical exercise as well as a mental one which gives me a mental distance from working. Being in that space, if only for a few minutes, works best as a daily practice.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I was such a geeky kid. I actually applied for physics at University level, then decided last minute that I wanted to itch the art scratch that been there my whole life. Maths and physics require a lot of creative thinking to solve problems, so I don’t think it’s as far apart from what I do now as people assume it is.
What were your first jobs?
In my second year of university I interned at Rankin for a couple of months with the film team, which introduced me to fast-paced studio life. I realised that wasn’t for me. I let that scare me a bit too much and is probably the reason I haven’t assisted anyone since. I learned a hell of a lot and I’m totally thankful for the experience, but finding what you don’t like is almost as important as what you do like. My first paid work was straight out of Kingston working as a freelance art director with Futuredeluxe, a design and technology agency. They got in contact after seeing me as one of the Graduates from It’s Nice That. I was there to help with a project for Converse. I absolutely loved working with them, and I was getting paid to do it.
“Although my work isn’t very collaborative now, I think that’s the key to moving it forward.”
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
A friend and I presented a piece of work in our first year of university and a third year student came over and said that we should send it to Creative Review. It was the most important thing I ever did – it led to some ridiculous opportunities. With support from It’s Nice That, Creative Review and a other blogs, people I had only dreamt of seeing my work were interested in it. All of that culminated in my first sale of work, to Charles Saatchi. He bought my entire body of work, and that money went into the building of my studio in Hereford. That experience may not have happened if it wasn’t for that third year student.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me was being able to continue to make work when I left university. I took all the equipment, studio environment, and my peers for granted. I’m only just at the point now where I have built up the equipment and space to be able to make quality work again.
What would you like to do next?
As I have an agent now, the next 12 months will be interesting to see how I can fit and work in the photography industry. Hopefully I’ll be able to be more financial stable and pump that into my personal work. I’m currently working with a production company that’s making a new TV show about artists, and the scope for that is a huge. It will really push my limits of what I think I’m capable of doing. So as long as I feel like I’m learning, then I feel like there’s progress.
Could you do this job forever?
I could, but I’m not sure if I’d want to.
Words of Wisdom
What advice or recommendations would you give to a young creative wanting to become a freelance photographer?
You’re only as good as your taste, so make sure to absorb as many images as possible and really understand why you like a certain idea or aesthetic. Then work on bridging the gap between the images you make, and the images you like.
Don’t say yes to Everything. That way lies madness. Being able to say no to something that you’re not 100% on will give you a sense of control, but never say no to something just because you’re scared.
Interview by Laura Snoad