Originally from Stockport, Lauren moved to London after university to work as assistant to seminal Magnum photographer Martin Parr, and now balances her time between well paid commercial work and ‘passion projects.

Fashion photography is a profession still largely dominated by men, what are your experiences as one of the few females?

I feel like it’s only been in the last year really that women are starting to get noticed. There are some female photographers that are doing really well and will get massive jobs, but a lot of the time you can only get so far, you can shoot a big editorial, but a campaign is still a little bit far away. Hopefully this will start to change, and I do think people are finally getting bored of the male gaze. Particularly in test shoots with models, if a man doesn’t know how to style a girl then they just get her naked and are like, ‘Oh, if you just wear your bra and show loads of leg then it’s really sexy’.

Is there a noticeable photography style difference between the genders?

Sometimes when you look at a campaign that’s been shot by a male photographer - not all the time, but sometimes - you can just sense the power imbalance. Generally speaking, the way men shoot women is just very different to how women shoot women. I think women shooting women can be empowered and can feel safe and really comfortable. I know loads of male photographers who are amazing and do make women feel like that, but I just think female photographers are really having their moment right now and they deserve to - so many of them are better than loads of really successful male photographers anyway!

You shoot almost solely women and girls, was this a conscious decision?

I think through photographing my sister growing up, I have always felt incredibly comfortable photographing women. I’ve never really tried to photograph men much, there is just something about that connection with women. I recently did a series about sisters and I didn’t know a lot of them beforehand but every group of sisters were so supportive of each other and aware that they were in this patriarchal society and it came through in the photographs, it was really empowering.

Who are some of your other favourite female photographers?

Maisie Cousins was in the year above me at Brighton and I think her work is so aesthetically amazing. I love photographers that are crossing the boundaries between fashion and fine art a bit more, I’ve got a friend called Jaqueline Harriet who does this beautifully, I think that balance is really important.

Did your course at Brighton prepare you well for life as a freelancer, do you think?

Brighton was quite old fashioned and rigid in many ways, I really enjoyed my course but it was so Fine Art focused, and everyone made work that was supposed to be in galleries. When I graduated I felt like I needed to go into that, but there’s no money in it. It was frustrating because there was so little help with knowing what to do after you graduate, I absolutely loved Brighton, but I just think that in order to have students that are going to go on and have successful careers and earn a living, there needs to be another element somehow.

Tell me about life straight out of university

It was quite overwhelming and I felt very underprepared. I went back to Manchester briefly, then moved to London when I got the internship at Martin Parr (unpaid), but the only way I could afford it was by staying with my uncle and I had no money. You have to build your portfolio up over such a long period of time, so it was vital (and quite rare) that the team supported me taking the day off when I got a paid job and this was the only way it was going to be possible for me to make a career out of it. I ended up juggling the internship alongside regular freelance work and then I got a paid role as an assistant at Martin Parr’s studio for a year, which involved a few days a week. I stopped working there and moved to Bristol and I was fulltime freelance.

How did you figure out rates you should charge freelance?

When you start out, you never get told how much you should charge, or how it works in terms of tax or even what a day rate is, it’s so strange to me! My day rate varies totally depending on what it is. If it’s a magazine then it’s probably for free or for £50 or £100, and if it’s for a big commercial client it can be anything between £1000 and £5000 a day, which can be confusing. You need to remember to ask for ‘usage’, which I never realised at first, and depending on what that is you can charge up to about £2,500 a day, but it really is a stab in the dark at first. Try to compare with photographer friends and maybe find a good mentor.

There is a lot of snobbery surrounding commercial work, in any almost creative field, despite it being where the most money can be made. Do you ever feel the pressure to disassociate yourself?

Yeah totally, I actually met someone the other day who said, ‘Oh so you’re a commercial photographer…” so condescendingly and you know what, I just don’t really care. You can still make great work and be a commercial photographer. It’s the only way you can stay afloat in London anyway and I think that the people who are really snobby about commercial work have either never tried to do it, or have got so much money that they don’t need to. Nowadays, the more that I’m doing commercial jobs that aren’t necessarily my style, but where the bigger day rates are, I just don’t put my name to it. That way the rest of the time I do work that I want, often for free.

What advice would you give for young women thinking about a freelance career in photography?

You have to be prepared to do a lot of stuff for free, which is something that angers me and I definitely don’t agree with when coming from big magazines and publications. Then, you also need to have as many experiences as
possible, when I was at uni I did some pretty awful jobs for bloggers and events, but I just did it to try and meet more interesting people. Using the internet as a platform is essential and I know that obviously we are inundated with social media all the time, but I get most of my work through Instagram and through friends. Finally, you also have to be really confident in yourself and your work. As a photographer, if you’re working with stylists, hair and makeup and clients, often you’re the one they are coming to with questions, so even if you don’t feel confident try and put it on a little bit - and remember you can blag it! I predominantly use natural light and reflectors, so don’t assume you have to have a big studio and the best camera to make beautiful photographs.

Have you ever noticed Manchester’s extremely male identity before?

I’d never actually thought about the fact that there are so few women that are iconised at the same level as the men. Even listening to Radio 6 the other day, they were playing just male after male. I feel like Manchester is just so associated with music from the Hacienda which is amazing but also, to escape that and move forward, it needs to actively promote something else. It was so long ago and it’s kind of outdated, Manchester needs to open up to new things.

There is a great deal of investment into the city’s creative scene and identity at the minute, would you consider returning?

I think that it is only just happening that businesses are moving there and more people are realising that you don’t have to outgrow Manchester and move to London, you can outgrow anywhere and move to Manchester. If I hadn’t lived there, I would have gone there for uni. I’d like there to be enough of a creative pull to return to Manchester but maybe I also have to be the driving force – it’s also so much more affordable for things like studio space. It is definitely building creatively and I could probably move to Manchester and still get work, it would just be finding that new network, I’m settled in London for now but I don’t think it’s forever.