How this self-taught photographer became a content creator for brands like Puma
A former D&AD Shifter tells us how he transitioned from a PR job to becoming a self-taught photographer and videographer
Raymond Ukwenya is a 30-year-old Nigerian creative from South East London who got his start in the creative industry doing influencer marketing for a PR company. Here, the former Shifter tells us how a chance encounter led to him creating content for Puma, how he taught himself photography and videography, and why knowing yourself is the secret to learning your USP.
What was your route into the industry?
I had joined a 12-week employability course called The Prince’s Trust, and was on a bus to Wales where the programme is based, when I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to work at the PR company he was working for. He thought of me because I used to always see this friend attending events, and I’d be like, “Brother, what is this? What are you?” I didn’t really know what the creative world was at the time, and I didn’t know creative jobs existed outside of marketing. When I was back in London after the programme, I started interning at this fashion PR company he worked at, and that was when I really started to flourish. All of a sudden I was in a place built for the type of person I was.
I’ve always had a natural curiosity, and always wanted to learn. At the PR company, my job was to get brands on bodies and get people's names into publications. I think it was my natural curiosity that made me good at hitting up people that others couldn’t reach for whatever reason. I would always say, “Why are you going through their management, have you tried tweeting them?” That was how I started building my network really. I would just meet celebrities, stylists and influencers.
How did you become a photographer?
I transitioned from blogging to freelance photography. I had started a blog documenting creative culture and these parties I was going to when I worked in PR, and I taught myself photography because I couldn’t find a photographer and was doing it myself. I had my own style that I developed just through taking images at the events I was going to, and I got known for my style and got recognised by brands like Puma.
What was your biggest break?
There was this guy I used to always see at events. I didn’t know who he was but we would always have a drink and chat. One day I was like, “So what do you do?” Turned out he was the Head of Marketing at Puma. I was already taking photos and making content with Puma products, so it became a business partnership and I started to get paid for that content creation.
I had taught myself how to make videos when I was 14 and I’ve always had an interest in blending styles, so I started shooting fashion videos while I was doing photography. That transitioned into a freelance videography career, and for the next maybe 5 - 6 years I did photography and video.
You were part of D&AD’s Shift Program, can you tell us a bit about your experience?
Shift came at the perfect time because I had just moved out of my parents’ house and didn’t have the freedom to be broke. I realised I needed something stable and that I needed to put a name to what I was doing. I needed a mentor, I needed some kind of structure, I needed some kind of routine, I needed to organise my skills. I was regretting not going to uni at the time, and Shift was promising to teach you how to structure your ideas, and how to write and think in a structured way — the things that uni teaches. Shift helped me understand the mindset of project work and working towards a concept with an angle. The programme also highlighted a lot of the areas that I needed to work on, because I think as a self-made creative, it's very easy to just kind of sit back and pat yourself on the back.
Has anyone helped you on your career journey so far, if so who?
There are too many to count if I’m being honest. I'm a good listener, so I take stuff from everybody. It’s a two-way street, because you have to almost show somebody what they can mould in you. There were people who guided me and said, “Don't do this, you should do this, because this is what I see in you.” Technically, I’m self-taught but it would be arrogant to say that no one helped me. Other people are the mirror to your soul because they’re not blinded by your ego, so they see you for who you are. You have to listen to what other people’s perceptions of you are, and you can take it with a grain of salt, but that’s what makes you better.
What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the creative industry?
Creatives should have some awareness of what they have to offer. It doesn’t even have to be huge, but you should ask yourself, “Can I offer a different perspective? Can I offer a technical skill?” Put some time into learning who you are because that will show you what you have to offer. Also, keep learning; think of yourself like a video game character, like you’re levelling up and adding attributes to yourself — whether that’s problem solving attributes, technical attributes or emotional attributes. Just keep adding attributes, because they're gonna be useful for your work.
You can reach out to Raymond Ukwenya about working together on content creation on LinkedIn and Instagram.
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D&AD Shift with Google is a free, industry-led night school programme for new creatives. If you are over 18 and don't have a degree-level qualification, Shift is for you.