Humanity and how we connect with and represent each other was the topic on everyone’s minds last night at Nicer Tuesdays. After gathering in our usual spot in east London’s Oval Space, we followed our usual format – four different talks on four different disciplines from four different creatives (well, technically five this time). Despite representing myriad areas of the creatives industries, our speakers – Alex Ostrowski from Lovers, Deepa Keshvala, Alice Mann and Cabeza Patata – touched on similar ideas, with the biggest takeaway being that creativity is a way for us all to connect, whether it’s through how you structure your company, who you make a film about, allowing your subjects to take their own photos, or attempting to illustrate all people.
Here’s a run-down of everything we learned at July’s Nicer Tuesdays.
How we work together is changing and we need to adapt to that
Alex Ostrowski founded Lovers, a creative agency, in 2015 after realising that the usual agency model didn’t fit today’s creative industry. “We can all feel that the shape of work is changing,” he proclaimed, “there’s a shift towards individual choice, away from rigid structures.” Today, relationships matter a lot, your reputation has to be real and collaboration can’t be cruel. Lovers is a new model created in this context, set up as a flexible team with a core in London and more members in New York. In total, they now have 111 team members – or “friends” as Alex likes to call them.
Day-to-day, this means a small group who works full time with a wider group from who creatives are cherry-picked according to who would be best for each project. Lovers knows who is right for a project thanks to its own tool, Tell. When people first join, they are asked seven questions related to what’s important to them, or companies they’d love to work with, which helps guide the teams every time a new brief comes in. For one member of the team, Paul, this meant that when Greenpeace reached out to Lovers to work on an identity for a new campaign, he got to work with one of his dream clients.
Lovers was asked by Greenpeace to produce a distinctive look for a campaign against ocean waste. Paul was sent to a beach where he collected discarded plastic to bring back to the studio in London. From these cast-offs, a typeface was developed which formed the backbone of the campaign. In this instance, Alex explained, what the team did was the opposite of the usual role of a graphic designer – instead of making things look slick and clean, they channelled the monstrosity of the issue. They went all out with the project and as a result, Greenpeace has asked Lovers to work on a new campaign creating a toolkit which will be used in 39 countries.
Alex finished his talk by concluding: “Notice what you care about and factor that into how you work… We all need to choose how we want to collaborate with and respect people.”
Always question what the most honest way to tell a story is
Deepa Keshvala, a DOP and filmmaker based in London, has always been fascinated by the human condition she told the Nicer Tuesdays audience last night. But it was on a trip to India ten years ago to visit family that she realised her way to connect with this fascination was through photography and filmmaking, describing the mediums as her “calling”. A direct result of her fascination with people, there’s an anthropological angle to all of her work: “Why do people do what they do?” she asked.
While studying at London College of Communication, Deepa was given a brief – explore the word “destroy” in whatever medium you see fit. Deepa used the opportunity to make a film about one particularly burning question of hers: Why would her dad, who was her “partner in crime”, disappear after her parents divorced? “I knew he was an alcoholic, and had destroyed everything around him,” she explained. In turn, Deepa met her dad for the first time in 13 years over one weekend, where she made a short documentary about his life. She left, he tried to stay in contact but Deepa “wasn’t having any of it,” she told us.
Years later, Deepa found out that her dad had passed away and so she went to go and pick up his things from his flat. What she found – three books, a cassette player and cassettes, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey – really resonated with her and she realised “I didn’t have any closure over what happened.” As someone for who “truth and emotion are the two reference points” of her work, Deepa used the opportunity to make a short film which tells the story of a girl who goes to make a documentary about her dad she hasn’t seen for years, as a process of catharsis for herself. Kara, the final result, is a tender and moving film which turns the real-world objects that Deepa’s father owned into a piece representative of how the most powerful stories to tell can often be the ones closest to us. Deepa concluded: “I really enjoyed using what I found at his flat as a way to get to know him again – even though he wasn’t alive, it was the closest I could get back to putting him into the story.”
As a photographer, you can work with subjects to create images they want to see
“I’ve always been interested in the role of images in how we shape the world,” photographer Alice Mann opened with last night in Oval Space, adding that her understanding “of images has been particularly shaped by growing up in South Africa.” Now based in London, Alice creates series that are “people-oriented”, looking at how images can play a role in reinforcing stereotypes but also, and most importantly for her work, breaking them down.
The series Alice focussed on was Drummies, which began in early 2017, and which focussed on all-female majorettes in her hometown of Cape Town and, more recently, in Johannesburg. The work began with one specific school in Cape Town but, Alice explained, “I just felt like that I hadn’t quite done the girls justice and sometimes it feels like you haven’t got it.” As a result, she returned to the school in September 2017 to work with the girls and the coach, a visit which acted as a springboard to what is now an ongoing project. “For me, in terms of the photography that I’m doing, having time to reflect and think does really help,” she explained.
The September visit was a real turning point for Alice, both in terms of the project and her wider practice as she began to really work with the girls. “What really started this for me was that I was very struck by how these very strong women were very self-assured… I started to create images that the girls and the teams wanted to see.” Using a process that was “fun and playful”, Alice tried to make each shoot day as fun and as exciting as possible, allowing the girls to form compositions, direct each other and even get behind the camera to press the shutter. The result is a series that investigates how the sport is visibly empowering and uplifting the girls taking part in it. “Being a Drummie is seen as a privilege and an achievement,” Alice explained, “it shows you’re hard-working and dedicated, often and is seen as an indication that you will go on to be quite successful.” However, it also demonstrates the power of creating long-term relationships with subjects and the honest images that this can produce.
All we can do is try to represent as many people in our work as possible
As people always ask them, Katie and Abel who comprise Cabeza Patata opened by letting us know that their name doesn’t mean anything, “we just like how it sounds”. Having only started their studio just over a year ago, the duo has had a monumental start to their joint career, but it was their recent work for Spotify that took centre stage last night.
The tech company reached out to Katie and Abel and asked them to produce 12 videos and 25 images that each visualise a mood you might feel when listening to music. The challenge, however, was that Spotify wanted to create a gender-neutral character. This obviously threw up all sorts of questions – language and culture is heavily gendered and so visual representation of certain qualities, be it clothing, a hairstyle or even a posture can instantly create connotations in the mind of a viewer. To combat this, the pair decided on three starting points for defining their characters’ looks: short hair, skinny frame, no dresses. However, the by-product of these decisions is that in order to create a gender-neutral character, you must eradicate all-female characterises. This led the pair to ask: “Have we solved the problem or are we just furthering the stereotype?”
Katie and Abel then proceeded to talk us through the many iterations of their gender-neutral characters with issues arising when creating the angry character, for example. “Everyone could see a man, no matter how they changed,” they added. And ultimately, the duo doesn’t feel they succeeded in truly creating a gender-neutral character. But what they can take away from it is that “It’s amazing we’re having these conversations with big tech companies.” While some people are very cynical about it, they can only see it as a good thing. However, perhaps trying to represent all people in one character isn’t actually the answer anyway, and that we should instead look to represent all different kinds of people in different characters. “We’re not saying we shouldn’t make gender-neutral characters – we think this character is underrepresented,” they said. “But we think that for us our solution to the challenge is, in order to represent the people we see everywhere, to create a huge variety of people. Have we achieved this? Well, probably not – but we are trying in every conversation with the clients we have.”