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Editorial
 

ASSORTED NUTS

Issue 26 | March 2013

Agency

JULIAN HANFORD

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the UK was the creative epicentre of the advertising world. Agencies like CDP, BMP and Saatchi & Saatchi startled and inspired in equal measure, dominating the awards festivals.  

It really was a golden age with a number of genuinely remarkable people changing how advertising looked and worked.

Julian Hanford was an observer of those halcyon days, cutting his own teeth as an art director and creative director in adland.

As a creative person himself, he is an inspiration to the rest of us in that he has never allowed himself to become trapped in any one niche. He has moved effortlessly from art director to creative director to commercials director and to photographer.

And what he really likes is painting.

The truth is, he’s a person who needs to make things. And right now, what he is making is a book, which will also be an exhibition, scheduled for the back end of 2013.

“Assorted Nuts” is a collection of portraits of the people who made Britain great (in advertising terms, anyway).

Great work needs to start with a great idea. Then it needs great craft skills to make sure it gets noticed. A great idea can become instantly mediocre in the hands of a jobbing director or snapper. But whatever Julian is, ‘jobbing’ is not one of them.

He is every bit as talented as the people he has chosen to photograph and Directory was delighted to be able to ask Julian a few questions about his work and his philosophy.

Directory:

Julian, you had an exhibition at D&AD’s 50th anniversary show of some of your portraits of the great and the good in advertising.

Obviously you need to suck up to top creative directors because they are the people who can give you work. But, actually, there is real warmth for your subjects in all your shots.

Julian:

I should say, firstly, that whilst part of the original reason for the genesis of this project was indeed to market my skills to the ad industry, very quickly it took on a life of its own and spun me off on a journey of discovery that I feel very privileged to have made. My main aim was to celebrate and promote a unique moment in our recent social history, when a number of circumstances came together to make us one of the most original and creative nations on earth. Yet, outside the ivory towers of advertising, nobody knows anything about the creators of this period, or anything of the bizarre alchemical process of creating ground-breaking creative advertising and how it revolutionised our culture. The humanity that permeates these images, therefore, is a result of me approaching the subjects with a genuine reverence and awe for their achievements. I also ended up really liking the people themselves.

Directory:

I’m interested to hear you say you think we are one of the most original and creative nations on earth. In advertising terms we certainly were the cock of the roost in the late 1970’s and throughout the 80’s, but not any longer. Some of the people you celebrate in your portraits date back to that ‘golden age’. Was this deliberate?

Julian:

That's the period I'm referring to and it was extraordinary. Overt the last few years, many commentators have attempted to define quite why this country produced so much enviable creative work then. Personally I think that the circumstances were just right – the post-war social revolution, the rise of television, the innocence and enthusiasm of the new age combined with a witty self-deprecating British slant on life.

Actually, I want more of those early heroes for the project, but it's getting ever trickier. I'm going to shoot David Abbott and Neil Godfrey for instance but I'm having to do posthumous ones of Ron Collins and John Webster because they are sadly no longer with us. And yes, there will be a Smash Martian in John's!

Directory:

And have you met any young tyros in the business, who you have felt worthy of a portrait?

Julian:

I've had to make a conscious effort to keep the balance right with more contemporary ad folk to keep the project relevant to today's audience. I don't think anyone would be interested purely in the past. So I've included Flo Heiss, Nick Roope, Simon Waterfall and Lee Tan amongst others. The trouble is, the perspective of time is the creator of legend, so the younger members of this pantheon have to be seen to go the distance to be recognised as icons. It's the same with fine art – you really have to die first to be properly appreciated!!!

Directory:

What is it about people in the advertising business that you like or dislike?

Julian:

Mmm, an interesting question. Basically there are two drivers to creative people, not just in advertising but in all artistic/communicative fields. The first is the money/power/ambition paradigm. This is the type of persona which has become synonymous particularly with the advertising industry - tantrums, excess and ego. A lot of this seems to be fuelled by insecurity – the mentality that success and failure go hand in hand and that you are only as good as your last great idea. 

Then there is a strata of truly creative people in the industry, those who transcend these attributes with quiet good grace and understatement. They are the ones who produce consistently high standards of work and subtly progress the cause of creativity for themselves and their clients.

It would be unprofessional to give examples of the former category, but the latter was populated by people like John Webster, David Abbott, Tony Brignull and Jeff Stark.

Funnily enough, and luckily for me, the majority of sitters that I have chosen to shoot for this project have been from the latter.

Directory:

What is it about advertising that you like and/or dislike?

I worked in advertising for many years, both in agencies and then for an extended period client-side, in a unique role. When I was in London agencies, the frustrations of politics and internal frictions very nearly made me pack it in. Then I was invited to set up an internal brand advertising unit by Specsavers, the high street optical chain, and for six years I helped take their brand from bargain basement image to trusted market leader. The dynamics of thinking like an entrepreneur, dealing with real-world issues and working shoulder to shoulder with the other management members was so powerful and energising compared with the methodology of ad agencies, that I know which one I prefer by far...

Directory:

So you never set out to be a photographer? You have had quite a journey, haven’t you? Have your experiences as Salaryman helped make you the creative person you are today? And do you think your story gives hope to those who may feel trapped in their jobs and their creativity stifled?

Julian:

Oh yes, most definitely. I am only the creative person I am today as a direct result of all I've experienced. It’s the same for all of us, really. The good times and the bad are equally important in adding human depth and relevance to our work. I wouldn't change a thing about the life experiences I've had, because even the silly mistakes I've made (and there have been many!) subtly colour the nuances of my work, and bring for me a truth to it that is fundamentally important. And for all those sitting unhappily in offices reading this – you are personally responsible for the quality of your life. So if you are not happy, ditch all your excuses and go out and find your muse right now. Undoubtedly it will be hard, but it is the only way of being truly alive.

Directory:

Do you prefer working for magazines/publications as opposed to advertising agencies?

Julian:

It's an entirely different dynamic – in the editorial world, you are expected to go and fulfil a brief pretty much yourself. Of course, if it's a big job the magazine art director will expect to participate in the conceptual stage, and may have some good strong ideas already, but mostly you get a fairly free hand, particularly if they trust your conceptual abilities.

In advertising, of course, you are much more led by what has already been agreed with the client and, in particular these days, what has already been signed off by so many layers of hierarchy that there is a lot less freedom. That's not to say that this approach isn't effective – it can be highly so – but it does depend on a strong relationship between the creative team and the photographer. There needs to be a mutual commitment to try and push the envelope as far as it can be pushed within the existing parameters.

Directory:

Some of your shots must have taken a lot of time and effort to set up. Did any of them go wrong? Any stories to tell us about how your sitters dealt with being photographed?

Julian:

Yes, some of them do take quite a bit of effort, particularly when you are working around other commercial projects. With the portrait of Gerard Stamp, for instance, because of logistics, there was a 12 month gap between me shooting him with his D&AD awards and shooting his image in a newspaper on Brighton beach. But as for failures, no – because each image is very well planned in advance. Of course even with the best planning in the world, there are variables, but I think that the skills and experience that one builds up over the years enables one to turn potential variables into 'happy' accidents, which make the work stronger.

Directory:

Of all your advertising portraits, which are your favourite three – and why?

Dave Trott, because his was the first and it set the tone for the direction the project took. Before I shot Dave, it was a scary blank canvas. I had no idea if the approach was going to work or not. I also love the simplicity of it – the huge spanner and the Soviet/Riefenstahl heroic style of the image spoke so much to me about the practical application of creativity that solves client's problems. And it is very Trotty.

Gerard Stamp's portrait I like very much too. It is such a wistful image. For all the effort and sweat we put into our work, its ultimate use is as chip paper. This image will have a special place in the book as the very last spread.

The other shot I would choose is of Julian Vizard and Al Young from St. Lukes, who have been working together for years. I think this image sums up the excitement and frisson of the creative team in ideas mode. When you talk to these guys, apart from laughing a lot, you can see their thought processes working in harmony, even to the point at which they sometimes finish each other's sentences. A marriage made in creative heaven.

Directory:

What's the best shot you have ever taken?

Phew, that's impossible to say because every photograph you take has its own unique intentions – and I haven't taken my best shot yet.

The shots I took last year are part of an ongoing journey and seem funny to me now, which is the way it should be. But out of this particular phase in my career, one of my particular favourites has to be the wonderful Mr. Tony Brignull.

Tony is a gentleman and (literally) a scholar, having gone to Oxford University in his 70's to study for a degree. He was honoured last year at D&AD as the most awarded copywriter of the last 50 years and was an absolute pleasure to shoot. The look of childlike wonder he managed to summon up for that shot was perfect.

Directory:

Who have you not photographed but really, really want to? And why?

Julian:

I've got a few more luminaries to shoot for Assorted Nuts before we crack on with the book and I am really keen on nailing Tony Kaye, who I met briefly at D&AD's 50th. I've got a great idea lined up for him if I can get him to play ball.

Out in the real world, I would really like to have shot Gerry Anderson before he departed recently for that big back-lot in the sky.

Now here’s a little secret. When I was directing commercials at Specsavers, before I left in 1999, I'd just done two very successful brand commercials featuring David Shepherd, the Artist, and Stephen Hawking. The next on the list would quite possibly have been Stanley Kubrick. I'd been speaking to his people and we were making good headway when, sadly, he passed away(which was a tad selfish I thought). That would certainly have been a nice addition to the CV!

Directory:

What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you on a job?

Julian:

Sitting on a camera crane over a 50 foot cliff face in the pouring rain trying to direct a rock climbing sequence came pretty close although I'm still here to tell the tale. And being left on my own at three in the morning in the middle of Monument Valley while my crew went off to set up another camera was interesting. The mind can play funny tricks in the pitch dark when you think you're surrounded by coyotes, rattle-snakes and the ghosts of long-lost Navaho. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, though.

Directory:

Did you always want to be a photographer? When did you get your first camera and what sort of things were you snapping back then?

Julian:

I didn't really know what I wanted to do until I was in my twenties. I left school with a passion for music (I was a guitarist) and just enough ‘O’ levels to get an engineering apprenticeship, which I grew to loathe. Luckily for me I could always draw fairly well so fate eventually guided me towards design and then advertising. I was a very hands-on art director, mainly because I was far, far, more ambitious than the budgets I was working with would allow, so I used to do everything myself – I think I had serious control issues!

I'm entirely self- taught and I like it that way. What seems to obsess a lot of photographers, like having all the latest kit and extremes of technicality does nothing at all for me. I work in a very intuitive and tactile way, feeling my way around a project, and then narrowing in for the kill.

Directory:

Susan Sontag wrote that photography “appeals to those with a ruthless work ethic”. Is this true?

Yes, I know that quote, although in its entirety the emphasis is on something different: "Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by ruthless work ethic - Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to have fun."

What she is saying, which is particularly true now, being surrounded by so many devices that can take acceptable photos, we feel we have to take pictures of absolutely everything, almost as a way of justifying our existence – particularly those of us who normally have a ruthless work ethic in our day-to day-lives. Actually, I'm the opposite. I struggle to justify picking up a camera unless my specific intention is engaged. In other words, I don't feel the need to take photographs for the sake of taking photographs.

Directory:

Who are the photographers who have shaped your approach? Are there any shots in particular that inspired you?

Julian:

There are so many but, specifically, Yousef Karsh for his humanity, humility and breathtaking technique, Brian Griffin for his extraordinary creativity and surrealism, Angus McBean for his beautiful, lustrous vision and self-deprecating humour and Irving Penn for just being the ultimate master.

However, I'm just as influenced by painting and sculpture, and can still quite happily while away an afternoon soaking in the beauty of the V&A, the National and the Tates. The Saatchi Gallery is a big favourite as well.

Directory:

The digital camera has ‘democratised’ photography and so the trade has gone through huge upheaval with many professionals giving up. Is there still a living to be made? What is the future for your business, do you think?

Julian:

To be honest, I'm not thinking too much about the commercial aspects of my own work right now but have a huge list of fine art projects that I can't put off any longer (in fact I've just finished my first 3D piece!).

None the less, the contemporary paradigm shift in photography is interesting. People get hung up on the film vs digital thing as though it matters, which it doesn't. The real point here is that photography is no longer what we have taken it to be for the last 120 years – a technical, realist recording medium. It is most definitely not that now. Increasingly it shares the same platform as painting and other media – that of an endless canvas for the human imagination. In fact as Nick Knight has said, we really need to find a new name for it. The word photography carries too much old baggage.

Directory:

Thank you. 

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