Midlands-born Sara didn’t always want to be a photographer. But a degree change from fashion design to fashion art direction – and a year out in-between – made Sara realise her love of photography. She got her first  commission from Clash magazine in third year and has since become a frequent contributor to The Face. Sara became an accidental key worker during lockdown and is also the photographer behind Galchester’s Sofa Surfing series. Here, she explains how to work out freelance rates, why it’s important to look for inspiration outside your own field and praises the power of knowing your worth.



Why did you choose to come to Manchester for university?



My dad’s from Naples, Italy and my mum’s from London, so I have dual nationality and I grew up in the Midlands (Northampton) always feeling like I’m not  sure where I come from. I wanted to make a home for myself somewhere else in a northern city and Manchester just felt right. In London, everyone is so separate and I wanted more of a community.



Tell us about your fashion art direction course, you were part of the second ever year at Manchester School of Art.


Often people don’t realise that there’s so many different avenues you can get into fashion other than just being a fashion designer. I initially studied fashion design and then completely changed my mind half way through. I moved back home, worked for a year, then came back to my fashion course again but realised it was the course I wasn’t gelling with. It’s one of those subjects that seems really creative, but it’s very technical as well.



I’ve always been into photography, so thought I’d try the fashion art direction course, which is the equivalent to the well-known fashion communication course at Central Saint Martins. Our course leader Adam Murray was involved with both so it’s been interesting to see how both are growing, he’s now in London running the entire course at CSM. I went straight into second year and the course lets you experiment with so many different areas of fashion including styling, art direction, casting, photography, until you figure out which you want to specialise in. I chose film.


‘I’ve had to prove myself because I’m a woman. You end up trying harder and being better.’



What made you want to stay in Manchester after your degree?


When I first finished my degree a lot of my friends thought we needed to move to London straight away but I just really love Manchester and it’s community. There’s a really nice network of artists here. I can see myself moving to London in the future, but I like the idea of having the links here as well. People don’t realise that there’s lots going on in cities outside London, especially in Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds. We need to focus our attention more on them, because it’s not like people don’t exist here. There is a huge network of creatives and we need to just get involved with it. For example, Resident Advisor are based in Manchester so there’s a huge opportunity to get involved in the music scene.


Manchester has such a laddy identity, have you noticed any toxic lad culture in the creative industry?


Very much so. Manchester needs a lot more work because the lad culture is still so glorified. The city needs to be more accepting of female creatives. There needs to be more magazines centred around women, but not only feminist zines, there needs to be more magazines made by women in general. Especially in photography, I feel like I’ve had to prove myself because I’m a woman. You end up trying harder and being better because you’ve been told you can’t do it. Photography is viewed as a relatively masculine discipline because it’s so technical. I’ve always wanted to show that women don’t have to prove themselves to be successful, but you’re forced to feel that way.


‘I’ve become an accidental key worker in lockdown’

Tell us about your transition from university to freelance life.


I got my first freelance job in third year which was a commission with musician Phoebe Green. There’s a big concentration of musicians in Manchester and some really great music universities, so I ended up naturally meeting loads of musicians and it spiralled from there. I’ve worked with Julia Bardo, the band Meal Time who reached out to me on Instagram to shoot them. I’ve ended up meeting their management who now reach out to me directly for lots of their other musicians. It’s a lot of word of mouth because musicians want to trust you with their image.




I couldn’t go too mad on graduation night last year because the day after I was doing a shoot for The Face magazine in media city, shooting behind the scenes of some TV shows which was incredible. I’ve kept in contact ever since which is why I got asked to submit some images for their Clapping For Heroes series. It’s essential to make yourself very available online so people can see you’re in the area. You’ll get a lot more jobs that way.  



How did you work out your freelance rate?


People don’t like talking about money. I’ve noticed that in my friends who are starting out, they don’t know how to ask for money or an invoice that’s overdue, so I made sure I read up on it. I started asking people I knew had been freelancers for years, but it was frustrating comparing myself to graphic designers who get regular big clients and have a weekly rate. With photography jobs, it’s usually one offs per band or musician.

It’s about talking money at the start instead of the end so they know your terms and there’s no issues later on. You can charge people interest if they’ve not paid you on time and I don’t mind sending off angry emails if I have to. If you work with a big brand, they’ll respect you more if you know your worth. Obviously, in the beginning I put my rates up too high or low, but you work it out from experience. Having a rates card is really helpful, which I didn’t know about at first, but it’s all about Googling, finding a template, making it really quick, then saying, “Here’s my rates card”.



Does your rate change for different sized companies or photography styles?


With film cameras, you take into account your time but also the developing. I’ve always made sure clients know there’s an extra charge from the get-go if they like my style on film. You have to work out what your time is worth which can feel strange.

I once met a photographer at a Pride event and he talked me through his whole experience. He told me that if it’s a big company they have a big budget, so they’re expecting you to fill that. By charging a bigger amount they’ll probably be happy to pay it because it’s in their budget to pay you. But if it’s a smaller company, like one person asking for a music shoot who doesn’t have a huge management team, then you have to consider that too. It’s about using your common sense and also learning from people already in the industry. Always asking questions is key.



What are your other side hustles to supplement your income as photographer?


My course asked me to come back and to be one of the teaching assistants, so I do a lot of photography and portfolio workshops with the students. In lockdown, I’ve been doing online tutorials and it’s been hard to see this strange end to their degree. Graduate Fashion Week was such an amazing opportunity for me last year to meet professionals, designers and get collaborations going. It’s not going to be the same with a digital experience.

I also do inhouse photography for a coworking space called Colony which has three locations in Manchester currently that I can move around. I just do lots of photos of the new faces of the businesses. It’s a great place to meet new people and brands.

I also have a part time job as a shop assistant at a bougie corner shop in Ancoats so have become an accidental key worker in lockdown. I’ve actually really enjoyed it because it’s been nice being out the house, I need to be out there experiencing what’s going on in the world myself.

         


What was your typical week before lockdown?


I used to do around four shoots a month, then I’d work at uni once a week, also Colony, then part time at the corner shop three times a week. I’d work my shoots around the free time. A lot of the time I’d go in the studio for a day and make sure I have a day after to develop the film and look over it all. It’s about managing your time and seeing what’s important. I do really enjoy editing photos, so it didn’t really feel like work when I’d spend a few hours in the evening doing that. I like doing lots of different things, I couldn’t do the same 9-5 every week.



Tell us about Manchester’s queer music scene.


I go to a lot of queer nights in Manchester and have been supporting the brilliant Homoelectric in quarantine by buying tickets to their live streams. There’s such a big queer community here which you don’t realise unless you go to events like that and Homobloc. You feel so at home and are making your own family in a sense. You end up having these really important conversations where you learn about people’s identities and that really informs my work. Even though I’m enjoying myself on a night out, I’m learning. It helps me be more sensitive with certain people’s environments. A lot of my work is about vocalising the experiences of others, rather than just my own and expressing my own sexuality through my friends and through people I’ve met. You learn a lot about yourself doing that as well.

 
                
                 


At university, I started an ongoing project called The Queer Spaces We Create to get to know the spaces the queer community have curated and felt comfortable in. I met some amazing people who have become really good friends and it made me realise there’s not enough spaces for us. Gay Village is actually very exclusive, for a very specific type of the gay community, which is a shame.



‘People don’t like talking about money’












Do you prefer working in film or digital?


I work with both but I like the process of film a lot, that’s what my work is known for. Kodak Portra 400 is the best film and I’ve just started using medium format which I love. I love using natural light, which is why my light metre is my most valued piece of equipment, I never leave the house without it. With digital cameras you can get bogged down in the technical, but film strips it back to the basics. There’s also the thrill of the risk. When I first started out, there were times my film came back blank from the developers (I hadn’t loaded it correctly) or with huge lines all over from scratches. You have to learn on the job.



Any tips on developing your photography style?


Don’t just limit yourself to finding inspiration from other photographers, learn from different fields. I recently got the book Make it Now by Antony Burrel, he’s a graphic designer and he goes through the process of being a creative, getting into the freelance world, how he got certain commissions and why you should make sure you create work for yourself, not just clients. I’ve read it five times and have written notes in it too. It encourages you to question yourself as an artist, e.g When you’re starting out think about: What do I have to say? How do I fit into the world? How do I want to change the world around me?’ Graphic design isn’t directly linked to my work but if you only take inspiration from other photographers you’ll end up copying them.







QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS







Three words that define your aesthetic.


  • Colourful, intimate, thought-provoking.



Three words you want your work to make people feel.


  • Inspired, motivated, involved.



What music do you blast for max creativity?


  • I’ve been listening to a lot of Boiler Rooms recently and there’s this one by Folamour, he does a lot of disco, it’s an hour long and I put it on repeat. It was made in isolation.



What’s your perfect midnight snack?


  • An excessively buttery crumpet.



What’s the weirdest thing in your bag at all times?


  • Orange blossom spray to refresh my face.



How do you tackle a creative block?


  • Clean the whole flat so my mind feels clean too.

Strangest work habit?

  • I put a fake time limit on my work for when I need to do it so I then get so much more done.



Who should we be following on Instagram?

  • West Weaves is an amazing designer and Fern Cooke is an artist who projects messages about body positivity and current affairs onto her body with light.



Who should we be following for lols?

  • Bob Mortimer the comedian, he’s been getting me through the day during lockdown with his ‘train guy’ impressions.

Favourite place to go out in Manchester?

  • White Hotel in Salford, its kept itself quite small and they book amazing people. The crowd go there for the music.



Tell us one positive to come out of lockdown for you.

  • We’ve been forced to have this time to think and reassess what I want to do with my work. I’m always usually running around everywhere, but I’ve had time to read andlearn about other crafts to inform my work. There’s lot more time to research.



What are five words that sum up your Quarantine life?

  • Cooking, dancing, plants (I’ve been buying more and actually keeping them alive), collecting (my friend’s art) and baths.




@sara_carpentieri_






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