You know the drill by now… The last Tuesday of every month only means one thing: Nicer Tuesdays. As the Netherlands took on Japan last night in an attempt to secure their place in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup (congratulations to the Orange Lionesses), we were treated to back-to-back brilliance in the form of four creative talks.
Taking to the stage in East London’s Oval Space first was Ellen Evans, a documentary filmmaker, who was then followed by photographer and director Olivia Rose, artist Tishk Barzanji and finally graphic designer Marina Willer. Their talks covered everything from finding the right character to understanding how, as a designer, your job is not to show off your work, but the work of others. For more titbits of inspiration and insight, check out everything that happened at June’s Nicer Tuesdays below.
Find the right character, not just the strangest
“I make short character documentaries about people that I find interesting,” said London-based documentary filmmaker Ellen Evans who was first up in front of the Nicer Tuesdays audience. She began by showing the film she was there to talk about: Life in Miniature. Focussing on Kath Holden (and her mum), an “artist of the every day”, the short zooms into the fascinating, and tiny, world of miniaturists.
Ellen, who graduated from an MA in 2016 and has been working on her own stuff ever since, produced the short as part of a scheme she was involved with. She had, she explained, six weeks and £5,000 to create a three-minute film for the Sheffield Documentary Festival. “Because I had this really constrained brief, I thought I’d make a short film about small things and that’s where I got the idea from,” she told us. Having settled on an idea, she met loads of potential subjects but none were quite right, none except Kath.
The bulk of Ellen’s wisdom honed in on what made Kath – and subjects in general – _right_. “I think I spoke to a lot of hobbyists, but Kath’s an obsessive and that’s what made her stand out to me,” Ellen explained, adding that it was her deadpan humour (something which very much comes through in the short) as well as her openness and willingness to be honest about what she does that made her special. And that’s the clincher, Ellen continued. Good characters don’t just tell you what they do, but why they do it. Importantly, these people are generally not the ones doing the weirdest, most outlandish or strange thing; they often hide in plain sight.
Constantly question yourself, and others
Delivering a condensed (but nonetheless fascinating) timeline of her career to date, director and photographer Olivia Rose was next up. Her first statement was about why she shoots solely on film: “I am an analogue-only photographer,” she said. “I am staunchly in love with, and will never give up on, film photography.” This, she continued, is because “film is the actual fight, whereas digital is like playing Street Fighter.”
Olivia then proceeded to run through how taking photos of a local drug dealer (with whom she later visited Jamaica, a trip which introduced her to “delving into cultures that aren’t [her] own and doing that sensitively”) led to her recent video for Skepta’s Pure Water. A real turning point, she recalled, was when she was asked to go and shoot Wireless Festival. “My career kind of started from there and then kept growing and growing in the music industry,” she told us, as other magazines commissioned her to shoot grime stars and rappers. It was in this time that she realised much of her work was concerned with “race and masculinity”. As a “traditional portrait photographer at heart”, her job became about examining the way we represent things – or people – and re-contextualising them.
It was after producing This is Grime in collaboration with Hattie Collins (a writer who’s been covering grime since grime began) – a book which documents over 170 grime artists in a definitive compendium of the UK scene – that Olivia had a bit of a crisis. She told us: “I was so consumed with what my place was in coming into this scene and shooting these people and ultimately putting something together that we could profit from (although we didn’t make a single penny from the book),” and it led her to ask the question: “Am I problematic?” Ultimately, what she realised was that all she can do is be aware and constantly question. When a brief comes in, she’ll ask herself if she’s the right person for it, or she can pass it on to someone more suitable. “Ultimately,” she concluded, “you need to know where you come from. That’s why I’ve presented to you where I come from.”
When it comes to creativity, age is but a number!
Another equally honest and eye-opening talk followed Olivia’s after the break in the form of Tishk Barzanji’s recollection of his path from physicist to artist. Having come to London as a child refugee from Kurdistan, Tishk told us: “I’m going to talk about this journey I’ve had which is unusual and unpredictable.”
He actually began by studying physics (“I was adamant that I wanted to work at Nasa”), but his pathway changed drastically when, in 2014, he was diagnosed with migraine vertigo and had to spend eight months indoors. Suddenly, he recalled, “it narrowed my pathway of what I wanted to do in life.” Tishk was advised by a doctor to find an activity he enjoys and run with it and so, having explored creative avenues as a child, he took to the streets and started photographing Brutalist architecture, a subject which intrigued him having grown up on an estate in Dalston. When he ran out of places to photograph, he turned to paint, first acrylics and later oil paints, to explore colour and form. “For me, this was still a therapeutic process and it was just for myself and nothing serious. But from then on, I started looking at colour theory in an in-depth way.”
Everything changed for Tishk when It’s Nice That wrote about the work he’d been creating as part of his recovery. “I had this article come out and suddenly had hundreds of emails asking me to collaborate with them or to represent me. Eventually,” he continued, “I decided to take this on as a career.” Tishk then talked us through his recent work produced since signing for Jelly London, including his first piece of commercial work for Somerset House and, most recently, an animation for Jorja Smith, which will be played during her performance at Glastonbury this Friday. As someone who’s done an incredible 180, Tishk finished with some words of wisdom for the audience: “I only started this journey when I was 27 – I’m 29 now. So I wanted to say that you can make a change at any age – you never know where it will take you.”
As designers, we have to create frameworks to show others’ work, not our own
A talk that was well worth the wait, Marina Willer was up last in front of the Nicer Tuesdays audience last night. Starting off by letting us know that none of her work is produced alone, but as part of her team at Pentagram, she talked us through their recent design of the Design Museum’s Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition.
“What a dream it was to be invited to do the exhibition design for Kubrick,” she exclaimed. “It has been a real dream to get so close to that subject and have the opportunity to dive into the work of someone you admire so much.” Marina and her team worked closely with Deyan Sudjic, the exhibition’s curator, firstly collating everything they thought was relevant and interesting about Kubrick before pulling out highlights. From this, they identified a few themes, including chess (Kubrick was a huge chess player) and one-point perspective, around which they could design holistic visual systems.
Marina proceeded to show us some of the work that didn’t make it, explaining that, while they loved these routes, they perhaps represented the team getting carried away and “you have to remember when we do a design, we are really there to create a framework, we are there to show Kubrick’s work, not our own.” Nevertheless, these explorations very much informed the final outcome.
Marina then took us through the particularities of their final design, which includes a cut of Kubrick’s scenes featuring a one-point perspective which is being played on a loop on screens at the entrance of the exhibition. These screens themselves mimic the perspective and drive visitors into the exhibition, in the same way the filmmaker would drive viewers into his films. When you get beyond this, behind the screens, you get to see behind the scenes, literally. The rest of the space is then divided into sections, with each section embodying the world of one film, jam-packed with original scripts, costumes, cameras and other ephemera.
Another reason Kubrick is such an inspiring filmmaker to design an exhibition around, Marina continued, is because he himself was obsessed with design. This gave her and her team a reason to go full-out, paying absolute attention to every detail in a way that usually would seem OTT. As Marina herself put it, “We really tried to give as much attention to detail as he would have done.”