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Interview: James Day, Photographer

Former D&AD Next Photographer Award Judge, James Day, is an internationally renowned photographer working in the advertising and editorial fields. He shoots editorially for The New York Times, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Wired on a regular basis.

Over the years his images have been used in many award-winning advertising campaigns, for clients such as British Airways, Harvey Nichols, Sony, Audi, and Heineken, to name just a few.

Here, James explains how he broke into the world of advertising, why good communication skills are just as important as a strong portfolio, and the importance of hands-on experience.

Geisha
In Book / Photography and Image Manipulation / Photography and Image Manipulation for Advertising - Individual / 2003 / Guardian Newspapers

How did you break into the industry?
I was very lucky to become first assistant to a very well-known still life photographer. He was a great mentor and very generous with his advice and skills. He was also very helpful with introductions to creatives when I finally made the leap to working for myself. That being said, it was a hard six years before I felt that I had truly broken into the world of advertising.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers looking to break into the industry today?
I would say that the best advice would be to assist as many people as possible. Find photographers whose work you find inspiring and try to work for them. The more you experience and see first-hand the better your own work will become. 

Dolls - Blonde / Man / Redhead
In Book / Photography / Press Advertising / 2010 / Harvey Nichols

What tools or kit are invaluable to the modern day photographer?
It goes without saying that you should have a portfolio of fantastic images but I think that having very good communication skills is extremely important. The market place is extremely crowded these days and being able to sell yourself on a phone call is an invaluable tool. 

Beard 1 / Beard 2 / Beard 3
In Book / Photography and Image Manipulation / Photography and Image Manipulation for Self-Promotion - Campaign, Series or Sequence / 2004 / James Day

What are your external influences, and where do you find your inspiration?
I try to take in as many gallery shows as possible of both contemporary and classic photography. Generally immersing yourself in as much visual stimulation as you can will always help the creative process. Film, photography art and sculpture all help me to find the inspiration to try and keep my work fresh and interesting.

Is a photography course essential to a successful career?
Personally I would say no. I think that hands-on-experience is a far better way to learn both the technical and creative sides of the business today. I didn't go to college but assisted very good photographers and learnt my craft that way. I found it far more beneficial to be working on the kind of assignments that I wanted to shoot for myself, and it also meant that I came into contact with the people who actually commission the work.

The D&AD Next Photographer Award aims to discover and showcase the next generation of talented photographers from around the world. If you have less than three years professional experience, why not enter the D&AD Next Photographer Award now.

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