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Up and coming - The world of freelance photography is one of the most competitive to break into, so what inspires young photographers to persevere for a career of this nature? James Sharp spoke to freelance photographer and artist Marisa Potter to find out how she broke into this area of the profession and what advice she would offer aspiring photographers.
Marisa was born in Johannesburg in 1984. She came to the UK with her family and settled in Brighton, where she later left high school with 11 GCSE's including Graphic Design and Art. She belonged to the school's photography club then went on to study photography at college. In 2005 her photo, Tarring High Street was awarded the best black and white image in a competition hosted by PlanIT3D.com. In the same year her photo, Down by the pond, was short-listed in the BBC South East region, Picture of Britain competition.
I began the interview by asking her how she got into photography and whether it's always been her dream to be a photographer. She replied, "My father had always had a Canon SLR camera and so obviously I was interested in what he did with it. When I got my first 35mm point and click camera, it was great because I used to love taking photos when we were on holiday. I thought I was pretty good."
Marisa rattled off her reply with enthusiasm, I could see how passionate she was about what she does.
She added: "When I was young I was very interested in wildlife and I used to admire all the beautiful images in the books I read. When I was asked by my teachers at the age of 12 what I wanted to be, I decided I wanted to be a wildlife photographer."
Since leaving college, Marisa has pursued photography in her spare time, undertaking promotional photography for various bands and musicians, photographing weddings and family portraits, as well as a corporate and promotional shoot for child care agency Tinies, promoting their Brighton branch. She also covered an event in London for Illustration Agency Plum Pudding.
In light of the variety of work she had been involved with I asked Marisa what she enjoys most about being a photographer. "I think it's great being able to photograph something and make it look beautiful and interesting, something which most people would normally dismiss or not notice. Also, being able to capture special moments like a wedding, or the first few months of a child's life in an artistic way is fantastic as well."
As well as this variety of work, Marisa's website showcases her portraits. I could tell it was something she had invested a lot of time and commitment in, but was interested to discover what it was about shooting portraits that she liked so much. "I think photographs are wonderful; they are a long lasting memory," pausing slightly she continued, "They capture something that you could forget. I don't like formal looking portraits; I like them to look natural and fun. Capturing people at a specific moment in their life, and giving them something, which they can keep forever and look back on fondly." But where does the inspiration and motivation to make photography natural and fun come from?
"I've always been inspired by various photographers and images that I like, but when it comes to a shoot or a project, I normally just go with the vibe I get from the people I work with, and just try to keep things relaxed and natural, because I find the best shots come from that sort of environment. It also helps to have a good idea of what you want to achieve from the shoot and the type of look you are going for."
It was clear from the interview so far that Marisa saw photography as an art form and from a young child she aspired to be a photographer, but who did she feel were her greatest photographic influences?
Without hesitation she reeled off a list of well-known photographers, "Cindy Sherman, because I think her portraits are dark and edgy and really make you think about the character she is representing in each shot. Man Ray, as his work was quite experimental for his time and the shot of the Glass Tears is just a classic. Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams for their black and white work. Cunningham's images of plants and flowers are just beautiful especially her lilies and her Unmade bed was a huge inspiration to me in a project about fabric when I was at college, and Adam's mono landscapes... well what more can I say? They are immense and stunning." She thought for a moment then, "I try to take the things I like about their images and put it into my own work, but not in an obvious way. You have to take your inspirations and use them in a way to try and create something unique, to develop your own style. I think at this time my style could be described as contemporary and fresh."
By now I had a fairly comprehensive understanding of the artist behind the photographs and turned my interest to the advice she would give to young people looking for a career of this kind. Would Marisa recommend it?
"I would recommend it, but it's hard work. There is just so much competition, and with the availability of cheap, but quality digital cameras, lots of people are buying them and automatically think that they are photographers, and it's difficult to get paid work when these guys are out there doing it for free. Also, for example, in Sussex there are about 10,000 photography students graduating every year and they all want to be full time professional photographers - it's tough to shine out amongst the competition and get your foot firmly in the door. I would say that anyone looking to create a career in photography should get a website though. If it wasn't for my website, I do not believe I would have got as much work as I have. My website is used as an online portfolio, and a way to get my name known. I would not be without it. It is very easy to network on the Internet and get yourself known."
Marisa had clearly given this some thought, so I asked what skills or traits she felt were needed? "You need to have a creative eye. You may be very technically skilled, and have great equipment, but that doesn't mean you can actually take a decent image. You have to be able to present a subject in way that is refreshing and different, a way that will make people actually want to look at it. You also need excellent people skills and to be a bit business savvy."
Marisa is honest, open and clearly passionate about what she does. However to end on a light-hearted note I asked if she had any embarrassing encounters whilst on a photo shoot. Her reply was an example of the realistic understanding she already has of the photographic industry and the thoughtfulness she had shown throughout the interview. "Luckily none yet... but my career is still young, so there's plenty of time for that I'm sure."