Having graduated from NTU almost three years ago with a degree in BA (Hons) Photography and still shuddering at the thought of ever having to write a dissertation, I can now look back on how far I have come and my path I went on to find myself working in a position I could only have dreamt of. Only a year ago when friends and family would ask what I really wanted to do, I would answer modestly “Definitely something creative, but if I could be really picky – I’d love to get into food photography” it was usually met with unconvinced looks on their face. Understandably, it’s pretty niche.
It wasn’t until the end of second year when I realised what area of Photography I was particularly interested in. I remember complaining to a friend that everyone had seemed to have found their ‘thing’, but after a short conversation she highlighted to me that a lot of my work always featured connotations with food. Although all my work was about consumerism and featured food, it was never about the food itself– It was a real turning point in my direction.
As I entered my third year, I wrote my dissertation with the title ‘The Politics of the Avocado: How representations of class and culture are formed through the medium of food in photography using elements of need and desire’. After months of researching I came up with my final degree show piece where I photographed food puns – for example, a washing up sponge dressed up as a sponge cake. This is when my passions really sparked.
How I secured my role after graduation
After graduating I really wanted a break before attempting to get onto the career ladder, so I went back to my old job in retail to save up for travelling. I remember a guest lecturer coming in and telling us to take any opportunity to travel, but he said to use it as a photo trip. He funded a whole 3-month trip just by selling one of his images to a photo library – I found that quite inspiring and didn’t make me feel so guilty! So I headed solo and did Southern Africa, covering South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It was coming back after travelling that was the hardest part, I went back to retail and moved back in with my parents. It was particularly tough when it felt like you constantly had to answer questions about your next steps, of course whoever was asking always had your best interests at heart. Having a dream and feeling like it’s almost impossible to achieve was frustrating. It was especially hard coming from a tiny seaside town on the East coast, every internship I was looking at was unpaid so it would have been impossible to afford London rent on my own – other than what felt like applying to a million job applications on my days off and no reply, or worse, not having 2yrs+ experience for junior roles having only just graduated.
After much despair, I finally came across Me:Mo, a restaurant PR agency. It was for an internship opportunity, with travel and expenses covered – they were after someone who had photography experience as well as someone who could help out with social media jobs. In my interview I poached the idea about coming in for two days a week on my days off from my retail job –and luckily this worked in my favour! So, for three months I would get up at 5am to catch a train into London on Wednesday, and I would stay with friends for the night, but if I couldn’t be accommodated then I would stay in hostels and then back to Suffolk on Thursday night ready for work again on Friday. After my three months was over, I was finally offered a full-time position to carry on what I was doing during my internship! My official role is Junior Account Executive, but I work across all accounts creatively while also doing Photography for my set accounts.
What a typical working week looks like for me
A typical week for
When on shoots it’s important to have an understanding of the food or drink and what’s going to look it’s best – a bit like cooking, it’s all about timing. If you’ve got beer and pizza on the shot list, you don’t want the piping hot pizza to come out while someone has just poured a fresh head of beer. Otherwise that means no stringy cheese shot or a rather unphotogenic looking pint. Liaising with the General Manager and chefs is the key to a smooth shoot. Then I need to decide where in the restaurant I’m going to want to shoot, taking into consideration the lighting and backgrounds that might feature. With a general rule that beige is bad, you need to think a lot about colours and contrasts to save any dish from looking dull. This could be through the use of props, garnishes, crockery and different table surfaces to make the food look the best that it possibly can.
Apart from playing with different angles, we also love to get some of our lovely colleagues along to shoots to hand model! For some clients it’s important to make the cuisine look relatable and not intimidating, so incorporating people and hands helps break the barrier. This is essential as more people look to platforms such as Instagram to make their menu choices before ordering or visiting restaurants, you want people to know it’s delicious before they’ve even tasted it.
Interested in a similar career?
University isn’t vital to do what I do and there are many photographers out there who have succeeded on their own. But you have to assess what doing a course would help you with. For me it was confidence by learning more in-depth about the subject, having access to equipment and a studio to explore ideas in. As well as making important contacts, this may be during university or after with your own peers! I needed it to give me clarity and to believe in myself and my capabilities. Above anything, and as cheesy as it sounds, take any opportunity you know you won’t have after university. Listening to guest lectures, getting involved in societies and meeting people other than on your course and getting involved in things that will be CV worthy. I volunteered at Nottingham City’s food bank and was on my degree show committee on the PR/marketing side. Life after university is daunting and no one can prepare you for it. If you’re truly passionate and enjoy something, which is something you can’t fake plus determination, eventually you will get to that place. The hardest part I think is not having a goal but once you know it, aiming towards it becomes half as hard.
You can find out more about Me:Mo and their impressive clientele here.
Follow Pattie: https://www.patriciatobinphoto.com
Patricia Toban is an Alumni Fellow.You can find out more about how to get involved with the Alumni Fellowship Programme here