Read Time 11 minutes
Photographer Pip on NFT’s & embracing a digital future
This piece has been a long time coming. After reconnecting with Pip on Instagram [we were in touch many years ago from our days in ad-land], we found ourselves totally captivated on a call with him. He recounted his story: from how he first got into photography, to working with some of the world’s most famous actors & musicians on set, to his current creative iteration: as a renowned NFT artist. We wanted to share his beautiful work with you, AND delve a little deeper into his journey AND his extremely successful first foray into NFT’s.
We’ve had a similar journey, in that we started out working in commercial photography and then made the transition to art. Tell us about how you first got started as a photographer.
Music was my gateway. As a teenager a lot of my friends were musicians, so I cut my teeth shooting gigs and promo pictures for them. Most of them––both the bands and my photographs––were terrible, but I learnt so much about portraiture in those early days. As I learnt my craft and my portfolio developed, I started to get commissioned by magazines and then major record labels to shoot more established artists and it all grew from there.
You’ve shot a lot of famous faces. Any particular stories/shoot memories that stand out?
When I was 21, I was commissioned by a small independent magazine to photograph Sir Ian McKellen. I’d largely only worked with up-and-coming musicians at this point, so he was by the far the most famous person I’d ever worked with. He’d had a long day of film promo including several shoots and interviews for different, much larger publications, and I was the very last slot of the day. His publicist warned me I’d probably only get 10 minutes with him in total. I met him and we went on to spend an hour talking about everything from Lord of The Rings and activism to how we’d both grown up in working-class communities in the North of England. That conversation turned into an incredible two-hour shoot into which he put his heart and soul. I think he knew it was a big opportunity for me as young photographer, so he went above and beyond to ensure I got everything I needed. That shoot became a bit of a catalyst for my evolution into celebrity and commercial portraiture. I’ve worked with Ian several more times over the years, but those first portraits transport me back to a very special day and a pivotal moment in my career.
A more recent highlight was when John Cooper Clarke, iconic performance poet and boyhood hero of mine, asked me to photograph him for the cover of his autobiography. That shoot was genuinely one of the best days of my life.
What role did the pandemic play in your transitioning to fine art?
Like nearly everyone, it made me revaluate my life both personally and professionally. I’d always wanted to pursue fine art and personal work, so when commissioned shoots temporarily halted I was suddenly presented with the perfect opportunity to delve into projects I’d never previously had time for. My studio became a haven during a very turbulent year, and I felt an incredible sense of freedom not being tied to any form of brief. That kind of creative control is addictive and now I’m committing more and more time to conceiving and shooting my own collections. With things now largely back to normal in the commercial shoot world, I’m attempting to strike a balance between working on commission photographing interesting people – which I still love – and crafting personal art that collectors can own.
How are you at compartmentalising work/home life? Do you find it hard just to switch off?
The honest answer is, I don’t enjoy switching off. As I’ve got older, I’ve come to accept that’s simply the way I’m wired. This has never felt like a career to me, and even referring to it as my passion seems reductive to some extent. Photography is now just a part of who I am – it’s how I see and communicate with the world. The depth of that connection is actually most apparent when I’m not creating. Whenever I’m away from my camera, studio or computer, I find myself constantly analysing the way light falls in the space around me; I imagine portraits of strangers I see on the tube, and I’ll regularly be scribbling notes or making sketches at ungodly hours. When you’re really in that place, creativity is all-consuming. It might not be too healthy but, in my experience, that’s just the condition of being artist.
What music do you listen to in the studio?
Music has always played a huge part in all my shoots. Whether it’s an intricate fine art project or a hectic editorial story with a big personality, I’m a firm believer in setting the tone of the day with a soundtrack. I’ve got countless different playlists that I deploy to keep everyone involved motivated. Interestingly, it often has no correlation with the look or feel of the images I’m creating – it’s all about the on-set experience. When my subjects and crew feel comfortable and energised in their environment, they give so much more of themselves to what we’re doing. Many of my images have a quiet, intimate feel to them; but in a lot of those moments, I was yelling directions over an absolute banger.
The last 10 tracks on I played on today’s shoot…
Instantané – Paradis
Me And The Devil – Gil Scot-Heron
Get To Know Me – Reave
Heartbreaker – Crazy P
Follow God – Kanye West
Nami – Frameworks
Seventeen – Sjowgren
Manila – Maribou State
Free at Dawn – Small Black
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
What, or who is the biggest influence on your work to-date?
The life and work of Irving Penn.
It’s interesting seeing your progression to still life photography after years of shooting mainly portraiture. Going from having a matter of minutes with a musician/actor to being alone in the studio shooting flowers for days. How are you finding this new pace of work?
It’s both a blessing and a curse. There’s a serenity and freedom to working alone shooting still life – I love being able to indulge in the process, especially when shooting on film, and having no one to answer to. The flip side to that is all the pressure is on you. With portraits your subject is doing half the work for you -–you’ve got to know your lighting and provide direction, but the soul of the shot will naturally come from them. I think I’ve always approached my portraiture with a fine art sensibility, so it hasn’t felt like a massive leap in general. I still love the collaboration of shooting and working alongside talented people, so I’m hoping to maintain a balance between these two worlds going forwards.
There’s a serenity and a freedom to working alone shooting still life
Tell us about your first NFT collection, ANTHOS. How did you end up on the homepage of OpenSea?
Flowers have always held a special significance amongst artists – I think there’s something in their fragility and ephemeral beauty that mirrors the human experience. Many legendary photographers, including some of my heroes––Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton and Man Ray––obsessed over their form. ANTHOS [‘flower’ in Ancient Greek] is my own study of floral anatomy and a love letter to those analogue masters who paved the way. Shot entirely on black and white medium format film, the collection consists of 75 unique fine art pieces including one motion element.
With it being such a large collection––as well as having a natively digital component––I felt the NFT space was the perfect arena for its release. Before diving into it all, I spent a long time learning about the technology and culture behind NFTs – I went to a lot of events, made connections and sought the advice from fellow artists already selling work within the space. Whilst at Art Basel Miami, I was introduced to the OpenSea curation team. They’re such a brilliant, forward-thinking group of people. They hadn’t really backed a project that was stylistically like ANTHOS and were really excited about me dropping on their platform.
What’s it like being a part of the NFT community? Who are some of your favourite artists working in the space?
It’s a remarkably positive and supportive place – artists really uplift each other and it’s great for building personal relationships with collectors. I think a lot of people don’t really understand it how it works though, I see loads of NFT newcomers promoting their work on social media adding #NFTcommunity to posts, assuming that makes them part of it. It’s an entirely inclusive community but you do have to participate and engage if you want to benefit from it. The most successful artists in the space not only produce great work, but also spend their time and resources reinvesting back into the community. The only real downside is everything moves so rapidly – it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on all the latest developments and drops if you’re not online 24/7.
You can’t really talk about NFT photography without paying respect to Justin Aversano – his ‘Twin Flames’ project really made photography an accepted art form within the space. A few personal favourites of mine are Amy Woodard, Lily Callisto and Lena Aires. There’s an incredible sensitivity to their work – with all the experience and technical know-how in the world, you simply couldn’t reproduce what those women do. They’re all really wonderful people too – I’m a proud collector of theirs.
NFTs have also really broadened my appreciation artists of completely different styles. My friend Bill Elis is a phenomenally talented digital artist with such a distinctive voice and vision – he weaves poignant narratives through epic gold-plated three- dimensional mythological imagery. I also love Glam Beckett – she creates darkly funny graphic art that explores femininity, mental health and her love of cats.
What do you think is the main distinction between buying physical art and NFTs?
NFTs represent different things to different people – own-able art, financial investment, a stake in a new technology or even membership to a club – so the distinctions really vary because every artist, project and collector has a different take on them. For me, beyond verifiably owning the work, NFTs are about investing in the artist themselves – buying a visual share in their future and becoming part of their community. NFTs generally have more utility than physical work, but everyone knows that art doesn’t have to be useful; it just needs to speak to you. For that reason, I believe physical art will never be replaced by any new technology. I love prints, and for photography at least, I don’t think a still image on a screen could ever match a considered framed print in a real-life environment. Because ANTHOS was such a success, I surprised my collectors by sending them each a print of their piece as a thank you for their support. Even though I love this new technology and the digital culture that surrounds it, I still always want my work to be created, displayed and experienced physically. Going forwards, I’ll be continuing to embrace the future whilst staying rooted in the real world.
What’s next for Pip?
I’ve just finished shooting a new fine art collection which will be my next NFT drop in the next couple of months. I can’t reveal much more than it is completely different to ANTHOS. I’m also currently planning a third, much more expansive project that will hopefully span both the digital and physical world. On top of that, I’m continuing to work on commission for brands and publications with all kinds of amazing people. I know that is all very vague, but if you follow my Instagram you’ll see all these projects unfold across the year!
Dark or light?
Everything looks better in the dark.