I wasn’t meant to be a photographer, I think the intention was that I would become a mad scientist, or an academic of some kind. I studied Zoology and Botany at University and embarked upon a postgraduate degree. I could tell you all about the pyruvic acid cycle, exoskeletons or cladistics, but I’m way out of date, and you probably don’t want to hear about all that.
I had an Instamatic when I was 12 but then it got sand all over it. After that I didn’t take any photos for a long time. Until my final year at university when, for no explicable reason, I bought a 35mm camera and photographed abstracts of oil slicks on the River Irwell using Kodachrome.
Back in London, I was asked to take pictures of a fringe theatre production, the pictures were printed by The Times and I got a cheque. I cold-called several London studios offering to help out for free. Most said, ‘Yes, but don’t break anything or say anything stupid to the client’.
The whole thing was a hectic mix of very hard work and amazing accidents. Visiting a model-making studio who were crafting golden cigarette packs and giant Kit-Kat bars, and a couple of phone calls later found myself sitting-in on a Benson & Hedges advertising campaign photoshoot. Sometimes in a studio complex like Holborn Studios (then located at Back Hill) or North Audley Street, I could migrate to other photoshoots; Tessa Traeger on a Liberty shoot, Paolo Roversi doing Polaroids for Vogue. It was an intense period, freelance assisting with the likes of John Crane, James Stewart, Tim Hill and plenty more, working on Smash Hits in the morning and a corporate identity in the afternoon.
Lessons learned: Quality work lasts longer. Attention to detail and intelligent planning pays dividends. Improvisational skills are essential. Understanding people will get you a long way. You need to be weird sometimes. Should have done a business course.
I set up as a freelance photographer working with designers, advertisers and magazines. Clients include: IPC/Southbank Media, Emap, The Guardian, Bennison Fabrics, H. Bauer, La Redoute, to name just a few. The jobs involved anything from detailed product shots to large room-sets with models running around in them, from portraits to Scottish castles. The intention was always to make iconic images that worked brilliantly with the brief.
After becoming more involved with directing as well as shooting, I co-founded and published Spaces, a glossy architecture, design and interiors magazine launched in 2003. Until we sold it in 2007 I was responsible for photography, creative direction, design and production. I also did a lot of the editorial planning, writing, features and subbing.
Philosophy: Start with a deep understanding of what is needed, mix it up with skill and magic, see it through to the end.
In addition to photography, I develop websites, marketing and brand strategy, and I’m currently involved with several online projects, including posh London rental agency AccommodateLondon. London is my home and I’m open to engaging projects. You can phone me on +44 (0)7956 483 899 or use the contact form.
— Ken Sparkes