Ahead of her debut at our Battersea Spring fair, we had the privilege of meeting this year’s Bridgeman Studio Award winner Imogen Forte. We chatted all things commissions and Cuba with Imogen, so read on to find out why this Magnum-tipped rising star is definitely one to watch.
Congratulations on the Bridgeman Studio Award grand prize! What inspired you to enter the competition, and how do you feel it will impact you moving forward?
When I found out about the Bridgeman Studio Award I knew I had to enter. It was such a great opportunity to get my work in front of such an esteemed panel of judges. I’m also really keen to develop more as an artist, both personally and professionally, and so the chance to showcase my work at the Affordable Art Fair and the opportunity to work on a commission with complete creative freedom seemed too good to pass up.
We know you love to travel, and recently returned from a trip to Cuba. Could you tell us the story behind the image for the commission?
The brief for the commission was to investigate mental health through photography, which I was really keen to explore. Fittingly, shooting has always been great for my mental health. I first got into it when I was working long hours in a stressful job, with limited breaks and high mental pressure. I wasn’t particularly good at switching off and would find my mind whirring constantly, something which contributed to quite severe insomnia. When I started taking pictures it was a way of switching off my brain, staying away from my phone and paying attention to what was going on around me. It was accidentally practicing mindfulness.
I took this shot in Cuba, on the beach quite soon after we’d arrived. My brain was fuzzy with jet lag and I hadn’t quite unwound from a busy month and a long journey. I’d tried meditation but got bored and so picked up my camera and thought I’d try practicing mindfulness my favourite way – by taking pictures. The birds had filled the sky, surrounding a young boy’s chips and the shot required me to really zone in on what was going on. You have to be so focused when you’re shooting things that are moving so quickly and become hyper aware of what’s filling a frame to choose the right moment to click. It’s such a great way of shutting out any other distraction. I took two shots and this one was my favourite!
You started your career in the advertising industry. Has this impacted how you view the world through your camera?
I don’t think my job in advertising impacted the shots that I take personally. I’m very much driven by shooting the things I find interesting without considering how they may work commercially (unless I’m working for a client of course!). What did have a huge impact on me was all the time I spent looking for inspiration. I never studied photography – or any creative subject beyond GCSE – but my role as an art director and copywriter really encouraged me to indulge my creative curiosity. I think back to all the time I spent pouring over art books, watching films and going to exhibitions as my visual education.
Was there a turning point that made you take the plunge in pursuing your art full-time?
As soon as I picked up a camera I was hooked. I spent all my free time with a camera around my neck but I was nervous about quitting my job to become a photographer. It’s such a competitive industry and I’d already progressed quite far in my previous job. I was nervous about starting all over again in my late twenties. Then I won the LPA Futures Award, which looks to recognise and reward emerging photographic talent. Part of the prize was professional representation, something which gave me the confidence and the support to quit my job and focus on photography full time.
Your work varies from urban landscapes to portraiture, do you have a favourite subject to photograph?
I love working intuitively, responding to what’s going on around me. As I mentioned, what I love about photography is how much it makes me engage with what’s going on around me. For that reason I’m not really interested in still lives or contrived set ups. I like shooting real people and real places and searching out interesting things and moving moments that are hidden in plain sight. I try and visit places I’ve never been to before and capture things I’ve never come across before as well.
If you could describe your practice in three words, what would they be?
Curious, optimistic, responsive.
Can you tell us about any exciting projects that you have planned in 2019?
Work-wise I’ve got some lovely projects lined up but unfortunately I’m under NDA so I can’t talk about those yet… watch this space! Personally, I just want to shoot as much as possible and keep exploring new places and new ways of shooting. I only bought my first camera about three and a half years ago so there’s still so much I want to learn and try.
As part of the Bridgeman Studio Award grand prize, Imogen was commissioned to create a selection of bespoke tote bags featuring her beautiful shot of the birds in Cuba (pictured). Join us in Battersea Park, 7 – 10 March, to pick up one for yourself!
© Imogen Forte. Untitled. Digital prints. All Rights Reserved 2019/ Bridgeman Images.