Creative Lives — Photographer and director Leonn Ward: “Have a strong vision in mind, and just don’t stop until you’ve done it”

Posted 25 April 2017 Interview by Indi Davies

It would almost be an understatement to say that Leonn Ward hit the ground running after graduation. She was fresh out of Camberwell College of Art when she landed her first major job, shooting a worldwide print campaign for Adidas Originals. Sought after for her ability to capture a vibrant intimacy that puts individual style and character at the heart of fashion imagery, she has since worked for the iconic likes of Vogue, Isabel Marant and Stella McCartney. Now represented by Ridley Scott’s RSA Photographic, Leonn is growing her portfolio of moving image work, having created an eight-part documentary series for ASOS and a film for Nowness. Leonn spoke to us about learning the ropes with an early assisting job, the dedication and clarity of vision that has set her apart, and creating work to make her dad proud.

Leonn Ward

Job Title

Freelance Photographer and Director

Location

London

Clients

Vogue, Stella McCartney, Topshop, Nowness, Converse, ASOS, Adidas Originals

Previous Employment

Photographer’s Assistant to Timur Celikdag (2010)

Education

BA photography, Camberwell College of Arts (2012–2015)

Website
Social Media

Leonn

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do? 
I create imagery and moving image. I’ll work on this from start to finish; a client comes to me with something they want to do, then I’ll have a think, put a concept together, pitch it to them, and if they like it, we do it. This part is actually the longest process out of everything, especially now I’ve moved into moving image – the treatments are a lot of work, and I’m quite dyslexic, so I’m still getting my head around writing about how I would make it look. I could draw you a detailed doodle of everything, but not so much with words.

What does a typical working day look like? 
A lot of my time is spent in front of the computer, but a lot of days are spent with my crew on set when I’m shooting. That’s definitely when I’m the happiest and have that feeling like, ‘Yeah, this is where I should be.’ I have a studio just behind London Fields in Hackney, which is quite a pain in the arse during the summer – knowing your friends are around the corner having a nice time. But it’s cosy and lovely.

“Treatments are a lot of work, and I’m quite dyslexic, so I’m still getting my head around writing about how I would make it look.”

As for working hours, I’m not sure at this point. The weekend of St. Paddy’s Day was pretty much the first weekend I’ve had off in a long time. I like being busy, I get a buzz from it, but sometimes it goes too far. Recently I’ve been working on different projects at the same time which has been quite difficult, but I feel like I’m getting better at that.

How do projects usually come about?  I always wonder how clients find me; I should probably start asking them, but it seems to be word of mouth, and my Instagram I think. Ever since I’ve joined Ridley Scott Associates, I’ve had the chance to pitch on some insanely big jobs which I am so grateful for. I’m sick to death of brands trying to do a ‘young’ take on an advert or campaign, when you clearly know it’s some 50-year-old male director putting a young twist on it. It actually pains me. So I’m really happy to have the chance to pitch against these bad boys, and present an idea that is genuine.

ASOS, ‘Anything Goes’

Shortlist, ‘Summer Style’

Work for Law magazine

Work for Law magazine

For Huck magazine, 2017

For Thread magazine, 2015

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How collaborative is your work? 
In terms of other creatives, the only creative I’ve really collaborated with was my angel Lotte Andersen, she art directed my films for Nowness series The Way We Dress, and the ASOS Christmas campaign. It was truly a dream to work with someone who I gelled with so well.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The best part is seeing my vision coming to life, there is literally no better feeling. Im quite a visual person, I know what I want it to look like down to the smallest frame in a film. I get these ideas in my head that could be the simplest thing, write it down, obsess over it for a couple of days, and work on building it more. Then when Im on set and Im seeing it in front of my eyes, it’s absolute heaven. As for the least enjoyable part – I’m not going to complain, yes it’s exhausting but I feel so lucky that I am where I am today. I would not for a second take it for granted.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
It would have to be the film I just shot for Stella McCartney. I’ve never loved a piece of work I’ve made myself so much in my life. And that’s good for me, as I am very much my worst critic. I was also just commissioned for a personal film I’ll be making this summer back in Ireland, and I’m in the middle of creating my first photo book.  

What skills are essential to your job? 
Patience, and my god you gotta work hard. All day, all night. Have a strong vision of where you want to go with your work, keep it in your mind, and just don’t stop until you’ve done it. 

What tools do you use most for your work? 
I shoot on my Mamiya camera usually, but also shoot with digital if it’s required for the client. In terms of moving image, I prefer to shoot on 16mm.

“The most important skill I’ve learnt is to care less of what people think.”

Leonn’s work for High Snobiety

Leonn’s work for High Snobiety

Leonn’s work for High Snobiety

For i-D magazine, 2014

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
A scientist, a vet, a dog walker (dogs calm me down in every sense). 

What were your first jobs? 
I assisted photographer Timur Celikdag for a couple of months when I first moved to London seven years ago. I did all of his admin, which has helped me loads throughout the years. My very first job was a waitress though, in a pub in Dublin back home, but I got ‘let go’ after two months.

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
My mother! When my mum passed away, it changed things in my head. I went from thinking, ‘No that’s stupid not going to do [photography],’ to ‘Ok, I’ve got to do it for her’. So when I was getting started I just kept thinking that I had to do it for her. I have to make it to the top for her!

Was there an early project you worked on that helped your development?
I can’t remember one project in particular, but genuinely every time I shoot, I get better. I can feel it. Practice does actually make perfect. 

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
I do not take any of this adapting around me into thought. I do my thing, and that’s what I do. It’s hard not to compare yourself to people, but I just think why would you? So my biggest skill I’ve learnt is to care less of what people think. 

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
Getting the time to get back to Dublin to see my family. 

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
Yes.

Leonn’s film for the Nowness series ‘The Way We Dress’, 2016

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I’d like to make a music video for Sampha and Kendrick Lamar. Other than that, just keep making work that makes people smile, and makes my dad proud! When my dad likes it, I know I’ve done a bloody good job. 

Could you do this job forever? 
Yes.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a photographer? 
Treat the caretaker with the same amount of respect as the CEO of the places you go, you work, anywhere.


Posted 25 April 2017 Interview by Indi Davies
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Photography, Fashion, Film
Mentions: Leonn Ward, RSA Films
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