Welcome to another edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we delve into the stories and creative processes of some of the artists we're excited about. Today, we have an intriguing interview with Brynley Odu Davies, a photographer who took a unique approach to capturing the essence of artists through their portraits. This photographer's journey began with music photography but, in light of the impact of lockdowns on the music industry, evolved into a passion for photographing artists in their studios. Join us as we explore Brynley’s journey and the insights he has gained through his work.
How did your photography journey start?
As far back as I can remember, I was always good at talking to people. And, I think I have always been a very visual person as well; I used to look at magazines and books all the time, researching images of people from a young age. I remember being really interested in Jimmy Hendrix and looking at all the portraits that had ever been taken of him. I'm honestly surprised if I see a portrait of him that I haven’t previously come across.
I’m very intrigued by people and I’m an intrinsically visual person, I think these factors mean that I’m a natural portrait photographer. I was inclined towards photography from a young age and, even now, I can’t imagine having done anything else. It was my calling, I think.
Who were your inspirations at the start of your journey
I'm very lucky to have been supported by my family to pursue a creative career. My uncle, who recently passed away, got me into photography and inspired me so much from a young age. He used to do street photography in New York. He wasn't, like, a mad famous photographer, but he was mad about photography.
When I went to sixth form, I had a teacher who really praised me for my photography and encouraged me too. This was what inspired me to go to college and study it. My uncle was so happy for me, he sent me books on photography and we spoke about it all the time.
How did Artist Portaits come about?
I used to work at the Bussey Building photographing music events like Boiler Room. During lockdown, as you can imagine this came to a sudden stop and I needed to come up with a different angle. At the same time, I really wanted to improve my photography skills and get lots of practice but I felt I didn’t have a specific subject to work with. Then I bumped into this guy called Conor Murgatroyd in Peckham; immediately I noticed he had a great look - loads of tattoos and mad style. I quickly arranged to photograph him, and in the process, I inadvertently found my next focus – photographing artists in their studios.
When I posted the pictures of Conor, loads of artists started following me on Instagram and I felt really inspired to delve deeper into this new idea. I knew a bit about art from studying Art History at college and I was really into the idea of learning more about it too. I started photographing artists and thought, wow this is actually kind of great, I should keep doing this. It feels so natural and good.
Are there any big differences between photographing for music versus art?
Yeah, it's very different - different crowds, different types of people. Musicians are really cool people and very talented. I feel like it's probably a bit more competitive in the music world when compared with art, but then also, if you're talented, you kind of stand out in both fields. Photographing musicians is cool and I did it full time for a good few years.
When shooting musicians, you have a number of options – you can photograph them in the studio, while they’re performing, at home or out and about and living their normal life. I went for the latter; I would meet up with the musician and walk around taking casual pictures of them. I often wondered though, does this image encapsulate them as a person in the location I've chosen? It's kind of hard, it's hard to capture that.
Whereas with an artist, I go to the studio and find a whole world they have personally created, full of their work. The artists are always dressed in their studio clothes, covered in paint and causal. I think this kind of photography really encapsulates more of the person. Also, it makes more sense visually as a composition, showing the artist with their work and presenting many sides of their character all at once.
You travelled around the UK a lot while working on Artist Portaits. Where was the most underrated place you visited?
Maybe Wales. I feel like there are so many talented, incredible people from Wales. Being half Welsh myself, I'm maybe being a bit patriotic but I think Welsh artists deserve more recognition and to be spotlighted among the UK’s art community more. I've photographed some amazing Welsh artists in the valleys, like my mate Caitlin Flood-Molyneux, she's brilliant, and the wonderful Robert Leuan de Haan as well.
If you could be in any movie, which would you choose?
I feel like Lord of the Rings would be too scary. So maybe Harry Potter. It'd be quite good to be able to cast spells, you could pretty much do whatever you want and probably just get more done in general. I think it would be generally beneficial and make life easier overall.
Also, being in the world of Harry Potter wouldn’t be too different from being in this world – you could still be in London or wherever, continue living your life, still have the same friendship group and everything but you’ve also got magic. I feel like it would just make life a bit easier.
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