Creative Lives — Creative Jamie A Waters on taking financial risks, learning on the job, and landing “dream work”

Posted 12 November 2020 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Siham Ali

From the very start, Jamie A Waters knew that life had something creative in store for him, but the exact nature of his practice was a little on the blurry side. A year into his architecture degree at Kingston University, Jamie soon realised that he was not destined to be an architect and instead became a self-taught photographer. Networking, learning on the job, and launching himself into uncomfortable situations are just some of the ways he entered the fast-paced creative industry. Alongside his freelance work, Jamie has set up his own brand, JAW, alongside visual artist Gabriel Monteregge, with the aim of producing “weird and wonderful work”. So far, the duo have built up a killer client list, including Superdry, Kappa, Adidas, and Converse. Here, we talk to Jamie about the importance of visibility and taking financial risks to bring your vision to life.

Jamie A Waters

Job Title

Multidisciplinary Creative

Based

London

Selected Clients

Paul Smith, Adidas, Valentino, Superdry, Kappa, Converse

Education

BA Architecture, Kingston University (2014–2017)

Website
Social Media

Jamie (left) and at work in the studio (right)

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
Currently, I work as a photographer collaborating with brands, designers and artists, however, the creative direction side is the real focus for me as the photography is a means to execute and develop ideas.

I started JAW as a brand of sorts with the ambition to produce weird and wonderful work, and to essentially carve out a new space within the fashion and music industries. Our clients range from big name brands to underground emerging talent – regardless of the project I’m always keen to generate concepts that complement yet simultaneously challenge the subject creatively.

If you could sum up your job in a gif, what would it be and why?
Here’s a gif (below) from a recent brand campaign with Gabriel Monteregge (part of JAW) falling from space with laser eyes. This pretty much sums up our lives. Are we spiralling out of control or just super stylish? I’ll let you be the judge.

“Are we spiralling out of control or just super stylish? I’ll let you be the judge.”

What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now?
A plastic Dennis The Menace toy! It’s actually quite ugly.

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
I’d probably have to say the JAW campaign for Superdry! We were given free rein to do what we liked, within budget of course. It was really liberating, and although it consisted of two weeks of sleepless nights, 4am shoots and a lot of sweat (we made it during the hottest part of the year), the end result was pure JAW.

“Stumbling along and learning processes first-hand gave me the confidence that I now need as a photographer.”


Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I’m mostly self-taught and I find I learn fastest by doing. If you want to learn more about lighting, directing, image making and so on, the best method is to simply create your own opportunities in order to practice those skills.

For example, when I started out I took on various lighting assistant roles, with no experience. The aim was to learn on the job – I rocked up to my first commercial campaign with a bunch of film cameras only to be handed professional digital equipment that I’d never even seen before! Stumbling along and learning the processes first-hand gave me the confidence that I now need as a photographer.

I also picked up a lot of tips at the start of my career by networking with more experienced creatives. I would often quiz them on technical subjects, financing, client related advice, and so on. Remember; there’s always someone better than you to learn from!

July Jones by Jamie

July Jones by Jamie

July Jones by Jamie

July Jones by Jamie

July Jones by Jamie

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How I got here

You graduated from Kingston’s Architecture course in 2017. What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
So after my first year at university, I realised that I would never become an architect and that life had other plans for me! I loved the course, but it didn’t satisfy my creative urges, so I ended up spending a lot of time in the printmaking studio, the dark rooms, and working with fashion students whilst networking in London as much as possible.

I don’t usually like to plan too far ahead (I love the unpredictable nature of the work), and I’ve always had a clear image in my mind of what I wanted to do with my career. Naturally, those ideas change and develop, but exploring new mediums and meeting likeminded creatives at university gave me direction. I realised I wanted to ditch the academic trajectory that I’d been on and start exploring the artist inside me that has wanted to break out since I was a kid. So by working hard and chasing people for opportunities to shoot, I began to find my feet in the industry. Nonetheless, as expected – it took a lot of work!

“If you want to work with an artist or a brand, there’s always a way to contact them and pitch your ideas.”


How did you go about landing your first clients?
As I was growing up, I picked up some useful skills that weren’t directly related to my typical daily workflow. For example, coding, which I began practicing when I was 17. Unbeknown to me, this led to some of my first freelance opportunities in fashion and music. I built a website for a fashion graduate at uni, which resulted in a web design project with artist Mura Masa, which in turn led to shooting my first live show at the O2 Academy Brixton.

I’ve always believed that if you want to work with an artist or a brand, then there’s always a way to contact them and pitch your ideas. If your work is relevant it’s just a matter of timing and being savvy with how you approach them.

Paul Smith for Paul Smith’s Foundation, photographed by Jamie

Work for Paul Smith’s Foundation, photographed by Jamie

Paul Smith for Paul Smith’s Foundation, photographed by Jamie

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What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I think anyone transitioning from university to freelance life can find the whole process quite challenging. I took a big risk by moving to east London without a job (and a flat I really couldn’t afford) but I took on several side jobs, pushed my work and networked like mad! It took me a year before I could switch to freelancing full-time, but it was worth the struggle for sure.

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
I would say that social media is a double-edged sword. In my opinion, it’s essential to self-promote and get your work out there and seen by potential clients. But I appreciate that it’s time consuming.

“Personality is key when using social media...use your platform to let people know who you are and what your brand represents.”


Aside from plugging your work, I would say that personality is key when using social media. If you use your platform to let people know who you are and what your brand represents, you’re so much more likely to land your dream work because clients can see straight away why you’re the perfect fit for the job. Do this and you’ll see that social media will start working for you; people will start to talk about you, work will gravitate your way and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

What have been your greatest learnings with money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I have a bit of a track record with taking financial risks…My first DSLR (which I still use) was bought with my second student overdraft whilst at university. I’ve since paid those off with the work I produced with said DSLR. If you believe in your work and you’re prepared to work hard, you should be investing in your practice!

I haven’t had to take on any supplementary work for a while now, but I’m realising how important it is to have multiple streams of income to support yourself. You could sell prints, or request usage rights [licensing your images to people for a fee] – something I’ve overlooked until now.

Work for Danny Seth, by JAW

Work for Danny Seth, by JAW

Work for Danny Seth, by JAW

If you could pick three things that you’ve found inspiring to your career, what would they be and why?
1. The first Marvel comic I bought aged 14 led to an endless road of inspiration! I feed on comics to unlock parts of my mind I didn’t even know existed.

2. Then I’d say the first pocket radio my dad gave me which blew my mind as a kid. I couldn’t believe that I could tune into shows even at 3am and discover new artists to listen to, only to miss their names and lose them forever! There was something really special about that.

3. Lastly I would say my grandfather’s collection of analogue camera equipment, which he brought down from the attic and asked me to sell on eBay – of course I refused and took the whole lot instead. This most definitely ignited my passion for photography and I will always be indebted to him for that.

Work for Duse, by JAW

Work for Duse, by JAW

Work for Duse, by JAW

Work for Duse, by JAW

Work for Duse, by JAW

Work for Duse, by JAW

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My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
My grandfather didn’t go into school on results day to collect his certificates because his teacher told him that he was a failure, and that there was no point. Needless to say, his teacher was very wrong! After that day he never let anyone tell him he was a failure. He told me all kinds of stories like this as I was growing up, which is why I’ve always pursued my goals and refused to accept anything less than what I set out to achieve.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
To become a confident photographer I had to throw myself into uncomfortable situations… Explore London (as much as you physically can) and approach strangers, request to take a photo of them. This will help you improve your communication skills as well as testing your creative eye. It’s a surprisingly unnerving challenge when you’re just starting, but it makes a difference.

Posted 12 November 2020 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Siham Ali
Introduction: Siham Ali
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Photography
Mentions: Jamie A Waters

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