Rising photographer Ryan Prince on portraiture, Blackness and battling imposter syndrome
Ryan Prince is a London-based documentary and portrait photographer, currently studying for his MA in documentary photography and photojournalism. Ryan sees his camera as a powerful tool to explore themes around Blackness and identity. A recent project of his entitled Can you sit for me? seeks to reject harmful stereotypes towards the Black community and the ‘racialised gaze’, and was recently featured in the prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2021 exhibition. He’s exhibited in shows all over London, and has spoken at events for the likes of the National Portrait Gallery. We talk to the rising photographer about what inspires him to create, and the peaks and troughs of establishing yourself in the industry.
Creative Debuts, Westside Radio
BA Fine Art, University of East London (2012–2015)
MA Documentary Photography and Photojournalism, University of Westminster (2019–2021)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I am a photographer as well as a portrait and documentary photographer. At the moment I make most of my income from real estate photography, which consists of photographing homes for sale – and also event photography. However, I am an artist and I like to pursue personal projects, so I tend to use my income from my other jobs to help fund my passion projects.
If you could sum up your job in an emoji what would it be and why?
I would use the camera emoji to sum up my job, because obviously I am a photographer, but I only recently gained the confidence to call myself a professional photographer, instead of an amateur.
What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now, and why?
My favourite thing on my desk is my calendar – well, it’s not exactly on my desk but above it. It is a V&A calendar and each month I’m presented with a new fashion illustration. It’s my favourite thing because I like to be organised and keep track of everything I have going on, but also it helps keep me motivated and inspired. I like to see each illustration every month, and to be surrounded by creativity whilst thinking about all the possibilities.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
At the moment it is the representation of Blackness and trying to depict Black people in ways that are not often seen.
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
It’s been a personal project about my family called Can you sit for me? It is important to me because I feel like it’s the first project I’ve done that has made me feel like I am a practising artist. The themes of Blackness and family are also hugely important to me.
“I feel like [this is] the first project I’ve done that has made me feel like I am a practising artist.”
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Yes and no! In this day and age, you can thrive as a self-taught photographer. I started to learn about photography after I left uni when I began to teach myself how to use a camera. However, being an artist is different; you can be a self-taught artist, yes, but I think studying an art-based course is very beneficial.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you graduated?
I started photography when I graduated with my BA in fine art. The journey was fun and exciting at first, learning a whole new medium kept me interested in trying to be creative after studying art for three years prior. I wouldn’t say I found my feet quickly though but I was in no rush as I was enjoying it so much.
What have you found useful or inspiring to your work or career so far?
I used to collect the free fashion magazine Stylist and I would tear out the editorial pages and front covers. They were a big source of inspiration for me when I first started.
At the moment I am inspired by photography podcasts, I listen to Ben Smith’s A Small Voice podcast about documentary photographers. Listening to how other people have got to where they are is so inspiring, and I think it’s important to help keep me grounded. I would recommend looking up podcasts in your chosen field, there are so many out there.
I also use YouTube for pretty much everything. If you’re trying to learn something the chances are someone has already posted a tutorial on YouTube!
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge along the way is feeling like I’m good enough and battling imposter syndrome.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work and career?
I do believe social media is important when it comes to self-promotion. However, it is not the be-all and end-all. I find word of mouth and doing good work more powerful. I would say be friendly and reach out to people whose work you like or you may want to work with, it helps to be remembered beyond just posting on your feed.
“[Social media] is not the be-all and end-all. I find word of mouth and doing good work more powerful.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a creative is that it’s okay to hustle on the side to fuel your passion. Also, it’s okay to ask to be paid for your creative services, I know it can be difficult out there and you may not feel like you’re good enough to charge, but asking about pay and even turning down work is okay.
How did you go about landing your first clients?
Being friendly and being recommended. I was also in the right place at the right time with my camera. One of the earlier jobs I received was because I was taking pictures of an art exhibition private view and I was contacted and hired to do more work because they liked the images I took that night.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
You have to be obsessed with what you’re doing, and you can’t turn off wanting to be creative – healthy obsession is good.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
Do things because you enjoy them. Enjoying what you do should be more important than anything else. Things like money and exposure will come as long as you keep going, and even if they don’t come, at least you’re happy because you are working for yourself.
Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali
Mention Ryan Prince