The CreativeLive community is full of incredibly talented individuals, with inspirational stories of how they started doing what they’re doing – one of them is Adrian Farr, a UK-based fashion and portrait photographer.
Adrian is such a compelling, inspirational person, so we decided to ask him some questions about who he is, how he got to where he is — and what advice he’d give to others. Here’s our interview.
Tell us your story in five sentences or less.
Photography did not come to me out of inspiration, or as a hobby or interest like it does for many other photographers. It came to me as a young child, out of necessity; as a way for me to survive and escape the harsh reality I was living in at that time. Photography was a way for me to imagine and conjure up a different reality to live in. Today, my photography is a vivid interpretation of my life and an alternative version of the world as I choose to see it. It is an opportunity for me to stand on the edge of reality and peak over into a fantasy realm, to discover the new in the world outside and recreate it from the world within. The purpose of my photography is to explore the boundaries between our waking and dreaming lives, to create new worlds we will never live in, and to tell the stories of characters we shall never meet, using conceptual fashion and fine art storytelling.
What do you do for a living?
I am self-employed and fully invested in my two new photography businesses, Adrian Farr Photography, which is primarily focused on creating conceptual fashion stories and fine art imagery, and AFashion Portrait, which offers women the incredible experience of being pampered like a celebrity and the opportunity to be photographed like a top supermodel on a high-end fashion campaign.
When did your passion become your day job?
In June 2012, I was made redundant from my much-hated corporate desk job. After 10 years of being chained to a security blanket, bouncing from corporate job to corporate job, climbing a ladder I did not wish to climb and chasing after money that never came, and wandering alone in the great dark abyss, wishing to be something more, trying to find my artistic voice, figuring out how I could take my passion for photography and go with it full time; I decided that redundancy was the kick I needed to finally make the leap of faith and just dive head first into the deepest ocean, in order to start pursuing my dream career as a professional photographer.
It was at this time where I also discovered CreativeLive and realized that I did have potential and that my work was actually worth something. I took a year out to study business and started building my fashion portfolio in February 2013; I went self-employed in October that year. I have also recently launched my portrait business in May 2014.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
I have come to terms with the fact that you just cannot please everyone, no matter how much you want to and no matter how hard you try. I used to beat myself up badly when I couldn’t meet everyone’s exact expectations and unreasonable demands. I would be stretched in every direction and it still wasn’t good enough. For some people, you can go to the ends of the Earth to try and please them, but they would still never be satisfied, they would still find something to nit-pick and complain about. It has taken me many years to realize that I am not the photographer for everyone. My work is different. It is a little bit out there and is most definitely quite niche. My work is not traditional in any sense of the word.
There will always be haters. There will always be people who try to put you down and say your work is not good enough. There will be people who complain about absolutely everything. There will always be people who are jealous, or try to copy you or even go to the lengths of saying bad things about you, because you didn’t give them absolutely everything they wanted, for almost nothing. Those kinds of people zap the life out of you. I have come to learn not to waste my precious time worrying about the opinions of those types of people and instead, I prefer to focus all of my undivided attention on the people who truly value and appreciate what I am giving them. As long as those people are happy, then I am happy.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Someone once told me “if you give up too easily on your dreams, you will always live in a nightmare.” I know this to be so perfectly true. I have spent my entire life chasing after money and have never come close to getting any of it. I have worked with a lot of people over the years that have been stuck in dead-end jobs, which they absolutely hated because they gave up so easily on their dreams, when things got too tough for them. It took me a long time to realise that if you have enough enthusiasm and determination, and are prepared to work exceptionally hard at the one thing you love most and are good at, and do nothing but chase after your dreams, eventually the money will come.
I sincerely believe in this now because I have also met so many people who never gave up on their dreams, who battled through their struggles, never quit when quitting would have been the easiest route to take, and who are today enjoying part of the good life that they have worked so incredibly hard for. I know that I have a very long and bumpy road ahead of me, and that the winds will be blowing against me at full force, but where other people see the horizon as their end goal, I know that horizon is only the beginning of my journey.
What project are you most proud of?
Last year I decided to take a risk and shot a Halloween fashion project, where I told the story of a Doll Maker who was obsessed about perfection and a cursed living Doll, who wanted nothing but revenge on her tormented maker.
This was the very first project where I stopped doing what everyone else expected me to do and started doing what I wanted to do; telling stories using fashion and fine art. I chose to stop listening to all the negativity that had surrounded me for so long.
This particular project also has a great personal symbolism for me because it is about a puppet Doll, who escapes the restraints of her puppeteer and maker, who is obsessed about everything being perfect. It was almost harmonious because it felt like I was breaking free at the same time from all the people telling me that things had to be perfect, before I could stand on my own two feet and think for myself.
I have never enjoyed myself at work as much as I did that day. It was a complete change of direction for my photography and me. My vision literally changed overnight.
And where I was previously told by people that I couldn’t do that, and it was wrong to do that, and that was not accepted and it would lead me nowhere, and that the project was a completely bad idea, waste of time and money; that very same project got the main feature in a very well known international fashion magazine. It was my first publication in a real magazine. After that, I went on to create another very visual fashion story, which also won me loads of attention. And so now, I am ready for my next big fantastical project. I am ready for sharing my stories with the world.
What is your biggest professional challenge?
Being quite new to the industry and especially new to business, even though I am not a new photographer, one of the most difficult things at the moment is finding people who see the real value in what you do and who are willing to pay a premium for it, or even contribute something towards it, so that you can continue to grow.
Because what I do is so niche, people do not quite yet understand it. They are wowed by it and love the impact of it, but they do not know whether or not they want to pay for it. It takes a long time to get anywhere in the fashion or fine art industry, and an even longer time to get paid properly for it. So my goal at the moment is to continue creating stunning images that have a wow factor and to just keep putting my work out there until the right person comes across it. I have to just keep trying to everything in my power to stand out and get noticed.
However despite that, the biggest challenge I am actually having at the moment, is being able to get my hands on the right kind of styling, which best match the mesmerizing ideas I have in my head. Because I do not yet have a vast network of stylists and designers, I can’t really make anything special myself, and because I live 3 hours away from London, I am stuck in a chicken and egg kind of paradox at the moment.
In that, because I do not yet have the money to hire extravagant dresses and outfits, I am therefore unable to create the amazing visual stories that I know the world will love. So if there are any talented designers or stylists out there reading this, who can get hold of some really special couture dresses and Avant Garde pieces, and would love to work with me, I would especially love to hear from you! LOL. I am sure a little bit of shameless self-promotion will do no harm.
When do you feel most creative?
Creativity comes to me at any given time. Often completely out of the blue, often when it is least expected. I could go days, weeks, even months without feeling even the slightest bit creative, wondering if I have lost my passion and edge, or if I have come to the end of myself and will never create anything good again. And then I could be doing absolutely anything, and like a fierce lightning bolt cast from the dark and monstrous skies above, I could be struck in the back with it in a second and from that small spark of inspiration, I am ignited into a ravaging flame of creativity.
When that happens, it truly is an amazing experience, nothing else matters. All the things that were once before important and all the stresses and worries become obsolete. I have tunnel vision at that point. When my creativity is there, I grab it with both hands and try to make something truly remarkable from it. Whether it is to draw, to write, or to take my next best photograph, I try to make the most of it and savour every moment because you never know, it might be your last blast of real passion and creative flair.
As an artist, as well as a short attention span, and a real problem with insomnia and sleep deprivation, I also have a heightened sense of things. When I do sleep, I have vivid dreams almost all the time and my mind is often alive with weird and wonderful and crazy things, I sometimes feel like it is not blood running through my veins, but electricity. I find that I am at my most creative when my mind is challenged, or when I am filled with adrenaline. I love the feeling of fear, for some reason it drives me. When I am low on adrenaline, I am low of creativity.
I love snowboarding, and find that when I am standing on the edge of a mountain at the top of the world, with my heart beating at the pace of 50 horses galloping at full speed, I can do absolutely anything, I can create absolutely anything.
Unfortunately, I do not get to do things like snowboarding everyday, so I have to find other ways to keep my mind active. I have to try things I never tried before, I have to challenge myself constantly, I have to push beyond my own comfort zone all the time and put myself in situations that really push the boundaries, in order to have that constant grip of fear and as a result, creativity. It is quite strange really, unlike many people I know, I run towards the fire of fear, it is when I am at my absolute best.
Who are your mentors?
I am so grateful to have been fortunate enough to have world class photographers mentor me who have been kind enough to offer me help and advice frequently, and to have also been lucky enough to be able to assist a handful of incredibly talented photographers from around the world. I try to put myself out there as much as I can and do my very best to make a good impression. I try to connect with well-known photographers and show a genuine interest in their lives and in their work, because I am hungry for this and have absolutely nothing to lose.
Last year I was proud to assist Kirsty Mitchell on one of her epic Wonderland shoots and Miss Aniela on one of her incredible fashion experiences. Miss Aniela and her partner Matt are never shy to tell me what is what and when I need to take my head out of the clouds, which is great. I also attended one of Lara Jade‘s workshops and she has continued to be an invaluable resource of knowledge and expertise, as well as Felix Kunze.
Lara often critiques my images and gives awesome feedback and advice. She is brutally honest but I really admire and appreciate it because she doesn’t have to give up her time doing that and besides, it helps me grow as an artist. This year I have assisted Sal Cincotta on one of his workshops and got to learn from him first hand. He has also continued to be a great mentor and is always happy to answer the many questions I have. I have also been lucky enough to get direct feedback and advice from other photographers like Lindsay Adler and Matthew Jordan Smith.
I also belong to many groups on Facebook, which provide me with incredible source of help and support. I am most active in one Sue Bryce‘s groups. That is a great community with so many people who have tremendous amounts of knowledge to share.
However, I would love to find a world class fashion/conceptual photographer who would be willing to give me a chance and to take me under their wing for a couple of years, so that I could really learn how to get to that next level.
How do you learn?
I am a very visual person. I do not tend to read books that have loads of text because I get bored too easily when reading, which is really funny and ironic because I love to write and always probably write way too much. I learn through looking at other peoples’ pictures, breaking them down to try and work out how they did certain things. How they created the light, what location they were using, how they created the mood and atmosphere, how they incorporated a story, how they got the model to pose a certain way, or even how they toned and styled their images in post production. It’s kind of like a game, sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong, but it is a great way to learn.
I also learn most things through video. I watch a lot of videos. I have a ton of CreativeLive videos, however I have a short attention span, so I tend to only watch short snippets at any one time.
However, I find the best way to learn is by watching someone else doing it in the flesh, and then practicing it over and over again yourself until you can do it confidently. That is why I think assisting is so valuable. I always tell my own assistants that they can learn so much from just assisting and watching other people. However some people think they are too good for assisting.
What do you want to learn next?
My work is headed in the direction of fantasy and couture fashion with a strong element of storytelling. So naturally, I would want to learn how to do that better and how to be able to make a successful career out of doing it. I would love to learn how to get in front of the right people and how to get hold of those amazing outfits that would really make my ideas come to life and my images jump off the screen.
I would also love to learn how to make those spectacular ideas you have in your head become a reality and then how to sell those glorious images so you can live the lifestyle you want. I am always trying to learn new things. The great thing about photography is that you are always learning and you will know everything.
What inspires you?
Most of my inspiration comes from film and music. I love how they can transport you to a different reality and make you forget about the world outside. That is the driving force behind my own work. I want viewers to be immersed into an alternative reality, where if even for a second, they believe in that fantasy realm that I have created for them. Film is so incredibly powerful for being able to do that and also for creating raw emotion. I try to learn from each incredible film I watch, so that I may too be able to replicate that same sensation. At the moment, I am fixated by TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
I am also inspired by comics, particularly the best Batman comics. I am so immersed in that fictional world right now. I love how multi-layered and emotionally deep each of those characters are and I especially love the visuals, all the drama, rich colours, contrast and vibrancy. That is definitely something I find coming through in my own images, often without even realizing it.
I am also very inspired by many photographers and their incredible works of art; I have much appreciation for it. But at the same time, I can get very envious of it too because of how spectacular some pieces are and how very far away it feels from where my own work is right now. I try not to be influenced by other photographers and try to do things in my own way but it is very hard not to be influenced to some degree, when great photography is everywhere.
What’s your dream?
My dream is to leave behind a legacy, to leave my mark on this world. To create something that defines my very existence in this life. I want to be known for creating breathtaking images and captivating stories, using fashion mixed in with a subtle hint of fine art. I am often told that my head is in the clouds and that I am too much of a dreamer, but my head is in the clouds because I choose to aim so high and because I have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.
The world is a much better view from up there in the clouds, much better than the dirty gritty streets down below, where I come from. And when I eventually fall from that cloud, I imagine the journey back down to Earth to be an even more exhilarating one, much better than what the treacherous and unpredictable climb was to get there in the first place.
For me it is not even about becoming a famous photographer, that the world loves and is inspired by, for me it is about doing the one thing that I love most and the only thing that I am good at, whilst being able to live a full and prosperous life, in order to do and see the things that I am most passionate about. Because we only get one chance and anything can happen at any time, so why the hell would you not put yourself all the way out there and aim high?
My dream is to be remembered by my future children and grandchildren as someone who was not afraid to take life by the horns and run with it, no matter what obstacles stood in the way. I want them to be inspired and to have that same drive and ambition with their own lives and believe that they too can achieve great things. I want them to be proud of all my achievements, because after all is said and done, there is no one else that will be.