Louisa Bailey is one name to watch. Do I say that all the time? It’s always true!
Louisa is a young Melbourne-based photographer… she studied at RMIT, and cut her teeth assisting some seriously big name photographers in New York for 2 years, before returning to Melbourne last year. Clearly, she’s supremely talented, and she’s amassed a incredible body of work in only a few years since graduating. I also have a lot of respect for her immense bravery in packing up and heading to NYC as soon as she finished uni! I imagine you’d need a pretty thick skin starting out as a young photographer in New York…
Louisa’s passion is photographing people – whether it be fashion models, bands, musicians, comedians or friends. I especially love her fashion shots above! Somehow Louisa’s models always look polished and stunning – but she also gives them real a sense of character and likeability too. I know who to ask next time I need a headshot!
It’s also really interesting to learn about the ups and downs of working as an emerging photographer… I can sympathise a lot with Louisa’s comments about the unreliability of freelance work – but I also share her enthusiasm for the variety and flexibility of working in a crazy creative field, where every job is new and different.
A big thanks to Louisa for her time and for sharing so many gorgeous pics!
(ps – if you work at a magazine/ad agency/graphic design firm – bookmark Louisa’s website and give her a job…. while you can still afford her!)
Tell me a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?
When I finished high school I did an arts degree majoring in cinema studies. After that I worked on a children’s television program and realised I didn’t enjoy being part of such a large crew, so I went back to uni (RMIT) and did another BA, this time in photography. I was reluctant to do 3 more years of uni but the course at RMIT was, to me, the best on offer. I liked that it had a commercial focus, and gave students a good technical grounding. I think having all the technical skills gives you the freedom to create anything you can dream up. In 3rd year at RMIT, students are encouraged to find a mentor. Mine was Sydney fashion photographer Steven Chee, and I travelled regularly up to Sydney to assist him. He is a patient and generous person, and one of the best fashion photographers in Australia to boot. He still gives me advice, encouragement and support, which helps me stay motivated.
After completing your studies in photography here at RMIT, you headed straight to the Big Apple! What prompted this courageous move and how did NYC treat you as an emerging photographer?
I’ve had an obsession with New York since I first went there on holiday in 2001. I knew that one day I’d be living there. And it just so happens that New York is home to most of the best fashion photographers, and almost all the big campaigns and editorial jobs are shot there. While at uni I’d planned on assisting for a few years after I graduated so it seemed like the obvious place to go! I was inspired by a good friend from Melbourne who was over there assisting Craig McDean. I figured if he could do it, so could I, so I really wasn’t afraid of making the move. Once I got there however, I realised it can be hard! There are a lot of other people wanting to assist the top photographers. But I got to assist some amazing ones, including Craig McDean, on some amazing jobs. Once I assisted him, it was easier to get work with other good photographers too.
How has the transition been from NYC back to Melbourne? How does photographic work here compare with the work you were doing in the US?
The transition has been interesting. On the one hand, I’ve grown up in Melbourne so it’s been easy coming back, and I was ready to come back. Returning as a professional photographer, not an assistant or student, has been a learning experience. It’s a much smaller industry here, but I think the work is there, if you look for it.
Working for yourself can be really difficult for creative people. What are the challenges you have faced working for yourself – do you struggle with the business side of things, for motivation to get started on a project, or networking etc? How do you tackle these parts of your job?
I’ve learned that being a commercial photographer is 10% shooting, 90% self-promotion! I think I do OK in the networking department. Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace have helped a lot, because I’ll do a shoot for say, a band or comedian, and every other creative person they’re friends with will see the shots and maybe think of using me to do their next lot of photos. It tends to snowball.
Which photographers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?
My ultimate, favourite fashion/portrait photographer is still Craig McDean (even after working for him!). He makes it look so easy, but his shoots never look formulaic. I recently read Annie Leibovitz’s new book “At Work”, and though her portraits don’t move me immensely, I am inspired by her journey from being a young, naïve music photographer in the 1970s, to the being one of the world’s biggest portrait photographers today. I also have an obsession with comedy, especially the work of female writers/performers like Tina Fey…I don’t know why but funny women really inspire me. I think I have a secret dream of becoming a TV comedy writer.
Where else do you find inspiration (books, particular magazines, the net, everyday life?)
Ooh, hard question. Music, video clips, magazines, TV, blogs! I get inspired by movies – at the moment I have a thing for late 1960s films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Graduate. My favourite fashion magazine is W – terrible articles about New York socialites, and too many diamond ads to flick through, but beautiful fashion stories by people like Steven Klein, Mert and Marcus and again, Craig McDean. I also love Another Magazine, Italian Vogue and French Vogue.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Everything I shoot involves people as the subject, so if I’m shooting, I don’t like to start too early. I figure people feel grumpy and look puffy in the morning (or at least I do!). If I’m not shooting I’m organising future shoots, or retouching previous jobs, so I try to stick to a routine and treat it like a job so I’m not working too late after hours. I find I get more done this way.
What are you most proud of professionally?
As a professional assistant, working in Paris on a Dior campaign just blew me away and I’m so proud of myself for getting to that point. As a photographer, that’s a very difficult question! I get excited when anything I shoot is published. I’m probably most proud of having work in Nylon magazine, because 10 years ago I would have never imagined I’d be working as a photographer, let alone working in New York, for a real magazine! But that excitement passes quickly and I focus on getting the next thing published. It’s nice to look back and think about my achievements. Thank you Design Files!*
(*ha ha! thankyou! you’re so welcome! – Lucy )
What’s the best thing about your job?
The interesting people I meet, the places it takes me, and the flexibility. I can’t wait til I get a puppy and can take it to work with me. That’s my definition of success!
And the worst?
The uncertainty of freelance work – not knowing if you’re going to have a great, busy month or a slow one.
What would be your dream project?
Shooting documentary stills on a movie set for Vanity Fair. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably say something else, like shooting a fashion story for Italian Vogue. There are so many dream projects! I need to make a list.
What are you looking forward to?
Working on more interesting projects, shooting interesting people whose own work inspires me, travelling, and visiting friends back in New York. And getting a puppy.
Melbourne Questions –
Where is the best gallery in Melbourne to see the work of emerging Australian photographers?
I need to know the answer to this question too! I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Checking out graduate exhibitions at universities is always a good start.
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
I rediscovered Sahara on Swanston Street last week. I used to go there 10 years ago and I forgot all about it. It’s more of a restaurant now and my meal was delicious. It was so lovely sitting by the window with the breeze, looking out at people rushing around on the street, below.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I developed a fondness for brunching while in New York so I love getting out of the house for breakfast. I’m quite fond of Lawson Grove Shop in South Yarra. The location makes me feel like I’m in the Hollywood Hills with the surrounding art deco flats and palm trees.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
I think I just gave it away (see above answer).