Waiting… for that damned phone to ring

We all know what it’s like.
Sitting in the newly tidied and painted but sadly empty studio.
Waiting for that damned phone to ring . . . .

One guy who has put this situation behind him is Seamus Ryan one of this year’s SUN Awards judges.
Of course in the distant past Seamus has suffered from this lack of momentum but he has never been happy just waiting for work to come in he says “I need to keep busy and prefer to have some level of control over what’s going on”.

As of late, apart from the advertising work he is renowned for, he has, as the saying goes, got “ other irons in the fire”.

We have heard what has been advised about how good diversification is for our businesses. Some of us have tried out a few ideas but no one has succeeded in this quite as successfully as Seamus Ryan.

Seamus left Dublin in 1986 and moved to London, where he spent 4 years working as an assistant with photographer Alasdair Ogilvie before he took the plunge and set up a studio in Islington shooting mostly still lifes for advertising campaigns. Over the years his commercial work has become more portrait based, which suits Seamus just fine because, as he says, a conversation is a bit one sided with most still life subjects.

The first departure was to set up the Lupe Gallery. Seamus takes up the story “I gave Lupe Gallery three years of my life. It was an amazing experience and we sold many wonderful fine art photographs from some of the best photographers in the UK. However, the venture became all consuming, taking up all my time and leaving virtually no room for my own photography. This eventually forced me to decide between the two and getting back to taking photographs won out.”

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His love of photography, and particularly portrait photography, has been the starting point for Seamus’s new business ventures.
His studio is now based in an old warehouse close to Columbia Road, home to the famous street market that every Sunday morning attracts hundreds of visitors. This is the key to at least one of Seamus’s business diversions namely Sunday Shoots, where members of the public are welcomed into the studio to take part in a diversity of themed series of portrait shoots.

From this inspiration blossomed another great idea involving the old favorite, the Photo Booth. Not your normal railway station photo booth though. These examples are your “designer” variety and have been hired for a great diversity of occasions including the BAFTAs, Glastonbury and even a royal wedding. There are now 10 booths in circulation representing various design themes. They are individually prepared for each client with changes to the lighting and backgrounds to suit the event. Each one comes with an onboard wind machine. ‘Boothnation’ now employs 6 people full time and up to 18 free-lancers who work at the various events.

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‘Sunday Shoots’ also lead to ‘Pop Up Shoots’. This is a themed shoot at a clients event, using the trappings of a full scale professional studio shoot, often involving a set with props and the services of stylists with hairdressers and make up artists. The shoot is a great insight for the participants as previously they have no idea how much work and effort goes into producing a high quality image.

Seamus sums up the story so far:
“My first ten years as a photographer were spent shooting only still life, a noble pursuit but one that nearly drove me mad. Nowadays I relish the fact that every day is different and brings fresh challeng- es. I work on advertising, editorial and theatre commissions during the week. ‘Sunday Shoots’ allows me to engage with real people and to experiment with portraiture. ‘Boothnation’ was my attempt at creating the best lighting in a photo booth and has developed into an exciting and growing business. ‘Pop Up Shoots’ brings the ‘Sunday Shoots’ concept out to events and parties and is about as much fun as one could have with a camera.”

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This is just as well as Seamus works on average 6 days a week; he sums up life with the family:
“I have a very understanding family, all of whom get involved in my Sunday Shoots. They seem to get my obsession with photography. My wife was my first agent so is directly responsible for getting me into this mess in the first place. As a family we enjoy our holidays together. Surfing is my family’s passion. We’ve been taking lessons on the west coast of Portugal for a number of years and like to think we are pretty good. There’s nothing quite like the whole family riding the same wave to shore”.

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When asked what the future might bring for the profession his views are typically honest and energetic:

“The digital revolution has changed both photography and advertising in a profound way and I think most photographers have had to adapt to survive. My philosophy is to just keep challenging myself and to continue to explore the possibilities of photography. It’s a real privilege to be involved in such a stimulating and rewarding profession.

As photographers, in a fast changing world, we have to consistently innovate and surprise. The democra- tisation of photography has brought with it a new appreciation of good photography. Professional photographers have a real opportunity to shine”. “If photography is anything like fashion then we’ll be wearing flares and shooting Ektachrome on plate cameras again. Technically, I have no doubt that still cameras will be a thing of the past as single frames from digital video cameras will be hi res enough for any use. Although technology will no doubt improve, artistic input can only ever be a human endeavour. There will always be a need for photographers whatever kit they might use”.

So time will tell.

I don’t really fancy a return to the flares or Ektachrome for that matter.

Perhaps Seamus has a plan in mind….


Written by: Doug Currie

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