This week theprintspace’s Ameena Rojee speaks to fashion photographer Sarah Brimley who, until recently, was assisting the legend David Bailey. Read on to find out what the experience was like, how Sarah got the job, and what it was like to meet the Queen!
Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Let’s start at the beginning - please introduce yourself
Hello. I’m from Woking, lived in Bournemouth during my degree and now live and work in London. I’m a fashion photographer but only recently left my job as David Bailey’s assistant. I’ve been slowly getting back into a working week and routine after being away in New Zealand for a month; easing myself into 2016! I’ve been shooting a couple of editorial portraits, but also been doing lovely things like catching up on exhibitions (I saw the Julia Margaret Cameron show at V&A today).
What’s your story?
I have been into photography for as long as I can remember but I never really thought about it being an actual job that adults do and make money from. Some days I still wonder about this. When I started collecting Vogue and Dazed and Confused and all those mainstream fashion magazines, I guess I became interested in who was actually taking the photos that I was so in awe of. I think that was what drove me to look at studying photography at college, and I knew quite quickly that it was for me.
My burning questions are about your assisting work for David Bailey - what an amazing experience! Can you tell us how you got the job?
Actually it was almost completely being in the right place at the right time. Chris Floyd, who I had been assisting for several years and has become a friend and mentor, was asked to photograph Bailey for the Telegraph. As you can imagine, we were nervous and excited to meet Bailey and go to his studio. I can’t remember the exact conversation, but I got talking to Bailey’s first assistant Mark, and commented on how they must be in need of interns due to the epic archive. Next thing I knew, we were organising a day for me to go in to have a trial, and then I got offered the job as second assistant.
It sounds scary to assist such a big name like David Bailey, what were the first few jobs like?
Very scary but amazing. I had to learn to multi-task and predict the unpredictable.
What do you think made you stand out as an assistant, to get the position with Bailey?
Probably my patience. There’s a change going on regarding the traditional assisting route, where many emerging or young photographers reject this way of getting into the industry.
What were some of the benefits that you got out your experience?
I think if you can come straight out of University, or not even study photography and have the connections to enter the industry straight away as a photographer, then great! But I wouldn’t swap my experience and journey for a quicker, more direct route. There’s stuff they can’t teach you at art school, or read in a book, but spending a couple of years as a quiet observer on big shoots will help you absorb so many practical skills and gain a better understanding of how the industry works.
You must have some great stories from your time with him. Is there one job or experience that stands out for you?
Oh well, obviously most things I’m taking to the grave with me (NDAs and all that), but one shoot in particular was a total ‘pinch me’ moment, and that was photographing the Queen inside Buckingham Palace. Having David Bailey introduce me to the Queen as ‘Bones’ (his nickname for me) is a moment that will stay with me forever. I don’t know how I didn’t giggle.
On a more personal note, what are you currently working on?
I just want to shoot loads of lovely fashion editorials this year. I’m in no rush to get to where I want to end up, I just love the process of having an idea for a concept, and working with talented fun people to produce stories that has been a true collaboration. So to answer your question, I’m constantly putting mood boards together and meeting up with stylists, makeup artists et cetera, and generally being a big fat day-dreamer. It’s nice to have the time since leaving my job, which had been quite full-on. I’m also wanting to relaunch my online magazine ‘AppleJuice’.
Finally, what inspires you?
Literally anything and everything inspires me. I’m a serial people-watcher. I don’t listen to music when I’m travelling on the underground, I just observe all the busy people. I’m so fascinated by human interaction and body language, and the way people show their emotions. Even though I generally opt for a less is more approach to my photography, the subtle clues in the model’s pose is what I often use to tell a narrative.
As for aesthetics, I try and go to as many shows and exhibitions of classic artists and photographers as I can. Nothing wets my appetite more than a beautiful renaissance painting in a darkened room.