Foundation graduate profile Ben Benoliel
The Northern School of Art foundation diploma alumnus, Ben Benoliel is an industry renowned fashion photographer. Having worked with some of the top names in the business, Ben’s plethora of clients range from iD magazine, LOEWE, Wallpaper magazine, Bang and Olufsen to Billionaire Boys Club. He lived the London life for 10 years and now lives back in his hometown of Saltburn where his work continues, Abby Dennison, of Sunday Girl Magazine, managed to have a chat with Ben to find out what makes a successful career in photography beyond The Northern School of Art studies.
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- As a The Northern School of Art alumnus – how did the college set you up for your future career in fashion photography?
I had my heart set on the BA Fashion Photography course at London College of Fashion as soon as I knew I wanted to be a photographer. As the course at that time was notoriously difficult to get into, I was told a foundation diploma would increase my chances of acceptance. I didn’t really know what to expect from CCAD, but what I learnt during my time there has been extremely beneficial to my work. Until CCAD, education had been fairly black and white. You needed to produce a final product (A grade) and there seemed to be a generic path to getting there. It felt backward. With the Art foundation course I did, it was completely different. All the attention and focus was on the ‘creative process’. This was a whole new way of approaching things and being taught how to channel creativity into a process has been great for me.
- What advice would you give a current student looking to progress in fashion photography?
TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS. I give this advice a fair bit and people laugh. But I’m serious! Take pictures! In the studio, on location, of models, of buildings of anything you want, anything that interests you. ‘Doing’ is the best way of learning and improving, I didn’t ‘do it’ enough, especially when I was a student. I don’t know many photographers that wouldn’t love the chance to go back to college/uni and have the opportunity to be in the studio, have access to the equipment and have the chance to use the darkroom to experiment and produce anything that you want with no ‘real world pressure’. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Brilliant work doesn’t have to be for a big client or for a major publication. Great work exists in its own right and the years in study are a great time to try and produce this!
- What was your first practical experience in your field?
It seems so long ago…….my final major project (FMP) at university looked at young and vibrant golfers, showing the quirks and youthful side to the old fashioned and often stereotyped game. Golf Punk was a magazine out at a similar time and I got a few jobs with them, I assisted Steve Read one of their photographers on a shoot with a world famous golfer Ernie Els, it was so exciting! My mum drove me 300 miles to get there! Although it wasn’t the type of work I wanted to create, it was an insight into the working world and I knew that one day I wanted to be the guy behind the lens. It inspired me. At the same time, it is important to mention that I wasn’t really cut out to assist. I wasn’t technical enough. My skin wasn’t thick enough. If I could go back, I may have made more of this opportunity to gain more professional experience, whereas in reality I shied away.
- Have you always wanted to be a fashion photographer?
Yes. Ever since I was 16 and first began my photography course. I was, and still am, a huge David Beckham fan. It was at the beginning of his superstardom and I had all the books and magazines that he was in. I still have them in a box in my Mum and Dad’s attic ! When I started taking pictures, I began to realised how inspired I was by the photographs he was in. My early work was very much a rip-off of the photographs of Beckham around Manchester by Den Freeman, for his book ‘My World’, but it was almost instantaneous that I knew I wanted to take fashion pictures of people.
- What’s the one lesson you’ve learnt from going freelance?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The first few months I wouldn’t move from my desk, I felt if I went to the shop or for a coffee I was slacking and procrastinating. For the past 9 years I had been employed in a 9-6, so it took me a few months to learn that its ok to pop out for lunch, take a break or even go for a game of golf. If the work is getting done and your meeting your deadlines, that’s what counts. The 9-6 mentality took some shaking. It’s the beauty and curse of a freelance lifestyle.
- You now commute from your hometown in the north east, how is that?
I love it. I spent 10 years living in London, however Saltburn and Teesside has always been ‘home’ and I always maintained that, when I got the chance, I would come back.
My work is sporadic, so I never know where I’m going to be and when, but I have family and friends in London that are great and put up with me in their spare rooms, so that makes working in London much easier, thanks guys!
- How important is work experience/ assisting before you take the plunge into going solo?
Going solo is about contacts and previous work. If you have these and you haven’t assisted or worked then you are very lucky and go for it ! But for me, working, whether it be assisting or working at a webstore like I did, is crucial. Build experience, build contacts and build portfolio. I was showing my work to a new client last week and a few of the relevant shots that I still show were shot in my first few months with Oki-ni, when I had just started out. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t take a great client to create great work. That’s where my advice ‘TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS’ comes into play. If you have great work and know what you are doing technically, this will also improve your chances of getting work initially.