Clayton started his working career with the intention of becoming a graphic designer or typographer but after a stint working in book shops, he took a leap to follow the passion for photography heíd had since his teens and decided to make it his full-time job. The time in the book stores provided the inspiration to become a specialist book cover photographer and now there are over 600 books in 35 countries that feature Claytonís work on the cover. His images have won a number of awards and in 2012 he was B+W Photography Magazineís Black and White Photographer of the Year.
You didnít have a formal photography education, why and when did you first pick up a camera?
I started using 35mm cameras and developing black and white films when I was 16. One of our art teachers had a keen interest in photography and although he never put us in for any tests he taught us the basics Ė how to load and develop film, take pictures and make prints in the darkroom. I felt a strong affinity with the medium but at that age I believed I was going to be a graphic designer or typographer when I grew up. After school I gained a foundation in general art and design and then a degree in graphic design. I chose colleges with good darkroom facilities and ended up spending most of my time in them completing projects with cameras or darkroom printing techniques. Digital photography was only just starting to emerge at this time, so all my digital post-production methods were self-taught, some years after leaving education.
What did you do before becoming a full-time pro?
I floundered a bit after college, taking up jobs that were not art related and practising my photography as and when I could at an enthusiastic amateur level. Apart from positions in sales and admin, I spent five years working in various book stores.
Why did you decide to make photography your career?
I received positive comments from competitions I had entered work and started wondering whether or not I could do more with my photography. Could I earn a living from it? I hadnít long become a father and my attitude to life was changing. I thought you couldnít tell your child they could be anything they wished if you werenít prepared to try yourself. I arranged to speak with Michael Trevillion and Sharon-Therese Horlor at Trevillion Images and got myself some expert advice on how I could achieve this. Shortly after our meeting I took the plunge.
What lead you to stock photography and book covers especially?
I had managed to get a handful of photographs accepted at Trevillion Images whilst I was an amateur photographer so when I decided to turn professional it felt natural to concentrate my efforts on supplying more images for stock. Iíve always had a keen interest in books. Working at the book stores had felt like working in a gallery - I would spend a lot of time looking at the covers and if a customer approached you they would expect you to be an expert on every subject known to man, therefore I gained an understanding of how imagery can be used on different genres and through my education in graphic design I understood the importance of words as well as pictures to illustrate a book. The composition of my pictures often takes into account that a designer will insert text over it. My work is now held at Trevillion Images and Arcangel Images. Both specialise in supplying imagery to the book trade and allow for personal creativity which suits my approach to photography.
What have been the highs and lows of being a full-time photographer?
The only lows I can mention are probably those associated with many types of self-employment. You need to be disciplined and keep working, especially if working at home with all its distractions. You need to like your own company as thereís a lot of time invested in editing and post production. You need to learn how to budget without the safety net of a regular, predictable income. The highs definitely outweigh the lows though. Photography is an obsessive passion and I get to indulge in it every day. I can go out to take pictures at any time and in any weather without the need to ask my boss. I now have more time to work on my pictures rather than being constrained by the limits of free time. The job is incredibly varied which suits my eclectic interests. I can shoot for crime, romance, fiction, horror, religion, historyÖ The choice of subject matter and ideas are almost limitless. Itís a wonderful feeling finding out that your work is being used to illustrate stories worldwide.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Itís hard to define one particular origin of inspiration. Stock photographers need to build up large collections of work. Itís important to be inspired by as much as possible. I try to approach the world with a child-like wonder as ideas can come from the strangest of places. My family have grown accustomed to my strange, distracted behaviour when Iím thinking about pictures.
You make very dramatic, moody and creative images. How has your style come about?
Even in the days of the darkroom I enjoyed playing with my pictures, Iíve never found it easy to leave them Ďas isí. Once I started working digitally I began incorporating textures into my images and started learning how to cut bits out and build composites. I try and push my skills whenever possible and learn new ways to take or make photographs. Iíve always enjoyed fantasy, science-fiction and gothic horror and can see the influence of these interests in many of my pictures.
Do you evolve or reinvent your style and look?
I think my style is constantly evolving. It changes as I change and Iím hoping to continue moving my work forward as I get older. My stock collection covers many years of work and presents a spectrum of what types of pictures I was making at what stage of my life. Part of the enjoyment for me is learning new ways to approach photography and I donít think this will stop any time soon. Stock photography needs to constantly change and adapt itself to modern and future trends and therefore those contributing need to move forward too and we need to look for new ways to approach familiar subjects.
Do you ever have a creative block? If so how do you clear that?
Often. In the beginning this would cause me much heartache, but Iíve found ways to deal with it. I keep sketchbooks lying around the house to jot down ideas if they pop into my head so I can work on them at a later date.
Has any work historically influenced your style?
Iíve got a long list of photographers whose work I admire. They cover all avenues of photography but tend to be those whose work could be considered creative or experimental. Photographers such as Man Ray, Duane Michals, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, and Arthur Tress to name but a few. Although I love modern photography too I seem particularly drawn to earlier works in the medium.
I admire your philosophy of working with minimum equipment, whatís your reasoning behind that approach?
If Iím out and about taking pictures I simply donít want to miss a shot by worrying about a mountain of equipment that needs to be set up. I donít have an assistant and tend to look like a pack horse when Iím out anyway, I donít have the arms spare to carry any extra equipment that may not be used at the time of shooting. Iím not a street photographer, but Iíve always assumed my ethos is similar. Thereís the shot, now work out the light, composition, aperture etcÖ and take the shot.
Part of the creative process comes about in post-processing. Do you enjoy this as much as the photography?
Through post-processing I get the chance to put my stamp on my pictures, turning them into something more personal and to my liking. I like to practise my post-production skills whenever possible and have only scratched the surface with Photoshop. I have folders of pictures taken with the intention of including them in composite work and I smile to myself if anyone ever mistakes a composite piece for a real image. My one issue with the composite work is time. Iím much quicker than I was, but I find I need to prioritise my time well whenever I decide to do them.
Stock photography is ever changing, What do you think the future holds for the stock world?
I think the photographic world as a whole has become much larger and more competitive as digital equipment has improved and become more accessible. When I started there were no such things as digital books and now a percentage of sales will be for this market. In the main I try not to worry and hope there will always be a demand for my photography and I can continue doing what I do.
Amongst your thousands of creative images, do you have a favourite?
I have a few. They tend to represent key moments in my photographic development.
What was the best business advice you were ever given?
To keep taking pictures and to keep sending them in.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start shooting stock photography?
Find a library that fits your interests and the type of work you produce. Once accepted, consistency, quality and regular submission is the best advice I can give.
All images are © Clayton Bastiani and used with permisson. Book cover designs are © of their respective owners.
See more of Claytonís work on his website: www.claytonbastiani.com
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