Photographer Sara Carpentieri on industry inclusivity and the rawness of film photography
After graduating from an art direction degree at Manchester Met in 2019, Sara Carpentieri has since focused her film camera on the city’s vibrant LGBTQIA+ scene, and its resulting fashions. Through her photography, Sara sets out to create photos that inspire emotional reaction, something which started after she read a book by autobiographical photographer Richard Billingham. As well as being a photographer, she’s also worked as a barmaid and in an e-commerce fashion studio, and has recently become a partnering model scout for Contact Models. Here, we chat to Sara about telling stories, funding freelance projects and highlighting the perspectives of underrepresented groups.
Photographer, Image Researcher and Model Scout
Dazed, The Face, Pitchfork, Galchester, HOME Gallery, Albert Kennedy Trust
Place of Study
BA Fashion Art Direction, Manchester Metropolitan University (2016–2019)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
Being a photographer is often half taking the photos and half planning the photos.
When I work with clients, they’ll know what they want out of the images, so making sure all those elements are carefully thought about before going into a studio setting is a great way to start the process. I also really enjoy the research side of it – it allows you to branch off into some really exciting places. I feel like inspiration for imagery can be found absolutely anywhere you look.
Doing what I do can be very varied; you can end up taking on more than one role, which I think is what a lot of young creatives are doing now as they head into the industry. You end up being a photographer, retoucher, researcher, talent scout and so on.
The skills I work with in my practice all centre around the people within my images. I love finding people who wholly represent themselves and what they stand for. Coming from a community of people who differ from the norm allows you to have this unique perspective on beauty, and the boundaries you can break open and portray within an image.
I think you need to be a storyteller to create beautiful photos, and I always want my photos to tell a story in some way; to connect to an array of people and to inform others who come across them unintentionally.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
The first time I ever really fell in love with photography was when I was 17 and found a Richard Billingham photo book. I was completely blown away by the intimate, but often harsh, imagery that he takes and from then on wanted to do the same. Work that makes me have a huge emotional reaction can really trigger a passion and drive in me to move others in that way.
“I always want my photos to tell a story in some way; to connect to an array of people and to inform others who come across them unintentionally.”
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I think you need to have a real passion for what you do, skills can always come later. As long as you have a real love and desire for imagery and working with people, that’s what really matters.
I recently became a partnering agent with Contact Models, where I scout my own models and work on managing a platform. Having a love for photographing interesting people can lead onto more of a casting role, which is exciting. I feel like I’m always on the look out for someone new to work with and include in my work, and being involved in a platform elevates that process.
If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
(Below) Film makes you spend money like it’s water. I think it’s also a pretty common joke about the reality that film photographers hardly get paid. I can’t really talk – I’m part of it all, a film snob.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
The first paid job I ever got was for Phoebe Green, who is a local musician in Manchester, I was still in my third year at the time and it felt surreal making the transition from creating work for myself to paid work for a client.
With musicians and artists especially, it is all about the image you want to project to the world. So the colour, composition and light are huge elements to take into account – these are things I naturally work closely with in my personal work. It felt like a really smooth transition and it was nice to be recognised for my style of work, which lands me jobs.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Listening to other professionals in different fields of work really inspires and motivates me, as well as helping to change my perspective on things. I especially love listening to athletes and people working in wellbeing and science. As a creative, structure and direction isn’t always prevalent; listening to people who work towards clear goals aids you in your own practice, letting you place these habits into your everyday life.
An incredible book I started reading at the start of the first lockdown is a book called Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It exposes all the data bias women are placed under and explores all the hidden ways women are ignored, from medical data and being prescribed the wrong drugs, to airbags not being tested on female dummies. Having my eyes opened to this kind of information reminds me there’s such a long way to go concerning inclusivity in the world, and how I can be part of communicating the ideas of underrepresented individuals and groups.
A platform that’s really helped me create my brand and connect with some amazing creatives is The Dots. Straight after graduating I applied for a place at one of the portfolio reviews which they were hosting at Burberry HQ in London. I managed to secure a place and it was one of the most useful events I’ve ever been to. It was a bit like speed dating but with creative professionals from Vogue to the head of photography at Burberry. You’d go in with your physical portfolio and get really valuable, honest advice.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
The biggest challenge for me has always been supporting my creative work financially. I think I’ve always been very aware that, to make it, you need to keep resources flowing, and financial aid is a must.
Creative work doesn’t pay, but it’s the most rewarding and feels very pure. It’s worth finding that income to support yourself and, in turn, grow your portfolio and skills.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Incredibly important; it’s often, “I saw your profile and wanted talk further about a possible project.” Social media shows people a tailored, curated version of your work and who you are as a creative – if your work is visual, it’s perfect for it. It’s also a very personal way of being in contact with clients. It’s a far less intimidating way to get to know someone and can ease people into working with you.
“Social media shows people a tailored, curated version of your work and who you are as a creative – if your work is visual, it’s perfect for it.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
My greatest learnings with making money is really learning how to become your own business. Organising your finances isn’t always something that you think about when you’re first starting up. Being freelance means doing everything yourself – you have to become self-sufficient in every way.
I’ve always taken on supplementary work to support my practice, from working bar and café jobs, to now working in an e-commerce fashion studio. Often, commercial work pays far better and the sooner you realise that, the more you can support your creative work.
How did you go about landing your first clients?
It came about because of the work I was doing at the time. When you consistently create work that is uniquely your own, people will want to be involved and work with you; it gives them something that will make them unique and exciting as well.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t ever consider yourself an expert. If you want to keep learning and growing in your work, you can’t believe you’ve already learnt it all – you’re always a beginner.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
My advice would be to explore different ways of getting into that role. Assisting is a great way to learn from people already in the industry; you can quickly understand how collaborative work actually is, and how everybody has a different but important role to play in making a great project.
I’ve always been very eager to ask people if I can get involved. You just need to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to show that you’re willing and available to learn and jump onboard. Being a photographer does require people skills, and being able to jump in head-first will help build your confidence in those professional, creative environments.
Mention Sara Carpentieri
Interview by Lyla Johnston