We’ve long championed young photographer Francesca Jane Allen. As one of our 2014 Graduates, her work caught our eye for its “lucid, candid photography depicting youth, friendship and true love,” as Liv Siddall put it. Since graduating, Francesca has worked for brands including Topshop and Kickers, and secured commissions for mags like i-D. Sounds like a success story to us, but the reality of life as a freshly-graduated freelancer is one of fear, very hard work and never feeling satisfied.
Liv spoke to Francesca around the time we published her brilliant series of images of porn actress, jewellery designer, DJ and all round cool lady Jessie Andrews, and we gleaned a lot of insights from her on the realities of making ends meet and being creatively satisfied as a young photographer. Here she is.
On making enough money to survive…
Working yourself to the bone is totally a thing. I’ll have weeks where I only sleep for four hours a night and consequently make myself ill and then weeks where I’m wondering if anybody’s ever going to call me for work again. I’m happiest when busy but I tire myself out and hit a wall quickly. I feel like there is little balance in my life. Thankfully, ends are meeting.
A lot of people don’t have budget for having film processed as it’s not something they expect to have to budget in. I don’t know why though, shooting on film is pretty common and a lot of clients like the way it looks. It’s not a problem for me as it’s the way I like to work. I make less money than people who use digital but this has been a decision I made myself. If I was doing this for the money I wouldn’t be using film.
"Working yourself to the bone is totally a thing. I’ll have weeks where I only sleep for four hours a night and consequently make myself ill and then weeks where I’m wondering if anybody’s ever going to call me for work again."Francesca Jane Allen
On dream commissions and the shoots that excite her….
I want to be working for clients who trust my judgement and have a similar vision to me, and are of course a pleasure to work with. Vague, I know. I get excited on editorial shoots and charmed by designer clothes and beautiful models but I can never feel as excited as when I’m taking photos of my friends. I guess I was pretty excited when I was in LA. It was my last week there and two of my best friends had broken up. We did a series of ‘break up photos’; they realised they had never been photographed together and wanted to document it before the end. Does that make any sense? Anyway, I photographed them being pretty intimate with each other and that was exciting. I felt like Nan Goldin.
On how to make a model feel at ease…
I really truly think that a huge factor in this is that I’m not a super cool and scary person. I’m clumsy and a bit nervous and I mumble a lot when I’m on a shoot. I just don’t believe I’m an intimidating presence. I treat shoots like hangouts and a conversational interaction between two people; the camera is merely incidental. Obviously I would love to sit down and get coffee and extract life secrets from someone before I take their photograph, but a lot of the time I’m given 15 minutes to an hour to play with and it feels like a whirlwind romance.
"I’m clumsy and a bit nervous and I mumble a lot when I’m on a shoot. I just don’t believe I’m an intimidating presence."Francesca Jane Allen
On why anything’s possible…
Sounds cheesy, but if you work hard enough you can do anything. Perhaps it’s naïve to say this as I’m obviously in a fortunate position (I have a degree, I was introduced to making art from a young age, my parents have always encouraged me), but I think that’s just the way the western world is engineered now. If you want something, you can get it, whatever “it” may be. Theoretically, anything is possible. Look at all of the amazing people making things happen for themselves. The internet has given everyone a voice. I’m going to make a GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! book in the next five years, a huge hardback collection of work I started making when I was 17. I want it to be perfect so I’m waiting. Satisfaction is hard to come by though, so who knows if I will ever feel ready.
On not getting complacent
I’m scared of people getting bored of me; I feel like a lot of work, especially made by women, can be seen as a trend and I would hate to be viewed in that way. Most of all I’m scared of boring myself, scared of making work that is only just OK. I don’t see myself as a creative person, rather as someone who creates. Sometimes I see myself becoming complacent and that is the scariest thing of them all, falling into a rut and struggling to surface.