Brendan Freeman is the London-based photographer, art director, and publisher exploring the infinitely unique narratives of humankind through a transnational lens. His pictures are at once hazy, fashionable and explicitly real, as he navigates the intersections of commercial fashion photos and documentary-style imagery. With an innate curiosity for everyday life, Freeman finds inspiration in ongoing events, art and the allure of strangers. He subsequently actualizes the pastel visual renderings that make him such a Promethean creative. He speaks about his pre-lockdown documentary project, shot in Elista, Russia, which ngages with Europe’s largest Buddhist community and the especially rich culture which has emerged from it’s expansive array of ethnicities.
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Can you tell us a bit about your childhood, how you got into photography and how it has influenced your work today?
I was born in Hong Kong then moved to Germany (my mum is German) then settled in Winchester in the South of England. I was interested in music and film mainly when I was younger, and my school friends and I used to make films – one was called ‘Bizarre Trek’, a comedy Si-Fi. It was really bad but it was so much fun to do; my friends and I still talk about it now. After college I did my art foundation course focusing on graphic design – part of one project was photography based. Then my tutor basically told me I was a much better photographer than graphic designer. So, I went into photography, enrolling at Brighton University.
What inspires you most?
Without sounding cliche, my inspiration comes from everywhere; films, tv, art, radio, people watching on the street, the news, history, music. Everywhere! Sometimes I have an idea which has been sitting in my head for years, then I see something that digs that idea out and turns it into a project. I love meeting people and get a lot of inspiration from the interactions with the subjects I photograph. I think that’s why I have started going down a more documentary approach. People are interesting.
Your documentary project in Russia looks really interesting - why was it the Buddhist community you particularly wanted to photograph?
My friend and stylist Tess is Russian and from Moscow. Her dad had worked in that part of Southern Russia and she showed me the pictures. The crossover of Buddhism, Communism with the history of Genghis Khan, and the flat lands is fascinating. I suppose you get attached to shooting things that interest you. The people we met were so kind and welcoming, we had such a great trip.
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There is an interesting history of religion from Communist prohibition of religion to Putin’s, arguably violent, re-introduction of Christianity into Russia. Is religion or spirituality something that interests you?
I don't tend to shoot many themes around religion, but I do find religion iconography interesting. Going to different countries, meeting different people with different religions and ideas, you come to realise we all are not that different
Do you approach documentary style work differently to fashion photography?
I love the reactionary way of photographing documentary imagery. Fashion, you need to be a little more organised as you need to have certain clothing changes. I quite like blurring the line, so it is difficult to spot what is documentary and what is fashion.
What are you searching for in your pictures?
I don't really know to be honest. Maybe something interesting but beautiful?
I noticed that much of your work shares a muted pastel palette; I was wondering if anything in particular draws you to these shades?
I think the images you shoot, the colours and the grade, come to you over time – its a trial and error process. I love more ‘poppy’ colours in other people's work, such as Elaine Constatine, but it doesn’t really work with my images.
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Can you describe your creative process?
I work quite fast. I’m sadly quite an impatient person and I have a limited concentration span. I think that’s why I ended up being a photographer. I generally plan out some shots and have a lot of references. Once you have a couple of images shot you end up moving in a tangent and the shoot takes a life of its own, reacting to the subject and surroundings.
What is your favourite project you have done so far and why?
I don't have a favourite as I have really enjoyed each project for different reasons. I really enjoyed Russia, shooting in Sicily with Clara La Rosas family, shooting in Mississippi for Family Portrait and a family in East London for D la Repubblica to name a few.
Since you’ve begun working on Family Portrait Magazine, have your family views and your feelings towards the project changed at all in light of the last year of lockdown? Maybe they have become less idealistic?
I started Family Portrait Magazine as I was just about to become a father. I thought the idea of family was so interesting. Family can mean such different things to different people – it can be your partner, your friends, your pets or your football team. I think the lockdown has made us realise who is important to us.
What’s next for Brendan Freeman?
I have a few projects I am working on, as well as the coming issue of Family Portrait which is really exciting because we have some great artists onboard!
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