Emmanuel Cole is a photographer from the UK. Ten years ago, he stumbled upon a collection of photography magazines in WHSmith, and was immediately engrossed by the content. Taking his first camera to the streets of East London, Cole set about showcasing his surroundings through new and unique perspectives. Here, in this exclusive interview for FIPP, he talks to us about taking his first tentative steps into the industry, refining his craft, and what it’s like to work for brands and publishers today…
“I’ve been taking pictures for roughly ten years,” Cole tells us. “Photography was something that came out of nowhere for me when I hit my early twenties. It quickly absorbed me and has been all I think about since then.”
“I spent my early years living in Hackney and Chingford on council estates. I was rarely exposed to art, but was obsessed with sports and had ambitions of making it in either athletics or basketball. In my late teens I lost focus and spent the next couple of years quite lost. My Uncle, who used to support me a lot, recognised this and asked what I might want for my birthday. I asked for a camera as I’d come across some photography magazines in WHSmith that had interested me.”
Interestingly, while the camera itself provided a catalyst for Cole’s visual ambitions, it was the more immediate lens of the iPhone that initially coaxed him out of his creative shell.
“The camera was great, it gave me a different perspective of the street and I took pictures of anything and everything. But I found the settings on the camera quite daunting, so I started shooting with my iPhone instead. I discovered Instagram, which had just launched, and in those early years I went on Photowalks with other Instagrammers, who gave me little snippets of information about how to use my camera and that gave me confidence to pick up my DSLR again.”
It’s an audio-visual journey not completely unfamiliar to FIPP. Around the same time, I can remember picking up an iPhone myself, and randomly starting to film interviews at one of our events. The low barrier to entry, coupled with a freedom from the high creative expectations that cutting-edge tech can often bring, provided a tangible starting point for content creation. It also undoubtedly put some of our interviewees more at ease as well!
Over time, we added a tripod, lavalier mics, lighting, editing, graphics… but the core concept of the content remained: we’re just having a quick catch-up over a coffee here, so don’t worry about the lens.
“For my personal work, I gravitate to the street side of things in terms of subject matter,” says Cole. “I love taking street portraits and also chasing the fleeting moments. My main objective when photographing is to make my pictures feel like they have multiple layers to them. Whether that’s through emotion the image releases, depth or composition.”
“I have been blessed to work with some great brands and I like to think that I bring that raw, authentic human element that I refined on the streets through to my commercial work. Even though it is a different process, I love working with brands and publishers, it’s taken me to places I wouldn’t have been and met people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I feel lucky that I am given the freedom to bring my own style to their campaigns or their editorial.”
Creative endeavour with commercial viability
And worked with some great brands he has. Cole’s website showcases work on campaigns from everyone from Adidas and Converse, to Ford and Samsung.
The photographer now finds himself part of new creative studio, Antonia and Louise. Set-up by indie mag Royalty, Cathy Olmedillas, Founder of Anarok magazine and previously of publications like Face and Sleazenation, the collective focusses not only on delivering creative work, but also nurturing creative talent and ‘spotting and amplifying creative joy’.
Clearly Cole has thusfar walked fairly seamlessly into the niche between creative endeavour and commercial viability that remains crucial for content creators working in the industry today. So what’s next?
“I’m obviously very happy to be a part of the new Antonia and Louise collective and am also working on putting together my debut book which will be focused solely on my take on London. Hopefully that will be out early next year.”
“Also, I’ve been going to Notting Hill Carnival religiously for the last seven years and always take my camera, so I am super excited to cover it again. A good friend pointed out to me that seven years is a project in itself, so I decided to take my time spent at carnival more seriously and I’ve now built up a strong body of work from Notting Hill. I have ambitions to make a photo book of this work one day, but as I’m enjoying it so much I’m not gonna rush the process.”
And finally, I had to ask, as a photographer working in the industry today: NFTs, yay or nay!?
[Actual lolling, if that’s any indication…] “I have been hesitant to jump on the NFT bandwagon until I fully understand them…. Which might never happen! One thing I would say about NFTs is that I like how they have given power to the artist in a way that’s never been done before and I look forward to seeing how they develop in the future.”
So in other words, re our recent podcast interview with Condé Nast’s Vice President of New Business Innovation, Ciara Byrne on Web3, “never judge a technology by its first generation!”