Guest Interview with Allie Crewe

Nov 16, 2023 | Photographer Guest

“Show Notes”

Allie used to lecture and the decided to walk away when she had a photograph
hanging in a gallery alongside work by Martin Parr. Allie started photography when
she was 16 or 17 shooting black and white with film. But Allie had a difficult
childhood and so felt she had to get a “sensible” degree so she did a degree in
English literature. She then taught, until she felt she had been “bled dry”. When her
daughter was in her teens Allie Crewe went to night school to study photography. Allie had already studied film and Italian at night
school and loved learning.

Allie’s journey from night class to gallery was an interesting one. Her first tutor
thought an image (you can see it here), the

one hanging on Allie’s wall behind us as we record the podcast, had something
about it. So her tutor sent it to a curator. wasn’t sure about it being sent, but her
tutor sent it while Allie was taking a break in the loo. Her work was accepted and
ended up in a gallery amongst lots of photographs by high calibre male
photographers. She came home three mornings afterwards and decided that she
would leave the security of teaching and move to being a photographer.

It changed her life. From that initial success Allie has quickly enjoyed a lot of
success. She had an exhibition about domestic violence that was opened by Queen
Camilla. And that bought a lot of press and publicity.

Allie is unsure as to whether she could have managed this
work when she was younger. All the work has been about her in some way. She has
started her work thinking about herself and then connected to a group and the
work then becomes about the group. One example of this was her work with trans
women. Allie’s work has appeared in many national papers including the Guardian,
the Telegraph and the Sun. She enjoys the social conscience work and making

‘work that Is relevant to people who want change. And she enjoys being authentic
and becoming
part of the group she is working with.

Allie has won several awards including the BJP (British Journal of Photography) award.
she got this with an image of Grace, a doctor. Allie feels that the award was
away of validating herself. Allie explained that this is a male dominated industry
with a 40% pay gap. She felt this award made her feel validated and helped with
imposter syndrome. But as well as the positives awards add pressure including
pressure to get more. Allie also has an award from the RPS (Royal Photography
Society).

Allie is currently studying for her masters at Ulster and in her first year her tutor
was Ken Grant. He is now with Donovan Wylie. She was with ken at Martin Parr’s
studio for a few days. It was

there she got asked to enter the RPS award.

Sam and Allie discussed the idea that there are awards at every level that
photographers can go for and these wards are great for your marketing. But
equally this is not compulsory as a photographer. We can as photographers do
work just for ourselves.

Allies Instagram references Chris Killip who is a photographer she is drawn to. She
found his recent exhibition very emotional. Allie has been careful in her masters to
only reference female photographers, but personally she likes all sorts of
photographers.

Alessandra Sanguinetti has an amazing book called “Some say

Ice“. Alys Tomlinson is also an influence who Allie was looking at on the morning of
our conversation.

Allie still shots film, 35mm and medium format. She loves her Mimir camera.

Marcus asks Allie how people can get into shooting portraits for exhibitions
magazines and books. Allie explains that for her she chose something than was
personal and took it from there. She

worked as an artist in residency with the help of her connections (ones she had
worked hard to build). From that starting point she felt the artistic residency gave
her the legitimacy she needed when showing her work or entering it for
competitions.

“Show Transcription”

Marcus: Hello listeners and hello there Sam and welcome to shoot to the top.

Sam: Hi Marcus, how are you doing? You had a good week?

Marcus: Yeah, I’ve had a great week. Thank you Sam, very much. A very good week and this is going to be a great show for me because I’ve got one of my fellow portrait photographers on an award winner, no less a multi-award winner. We’ve got Allie Crewe who is in my opinion really one of the most up-and-coming portrait photographers in the UK at the moment. Let’s hear more about Allie crewe. Hand you over.

Allie: That’s a really lovely introduction. Thank you.

Marcus: My pleasure. Ali, tell us all about yourself.

Allie:  I used to lecture in SE film and media and about six years ago I walked out of my job because I had a piece hang in the Getter gallery in London with Martin Parr and Uly Weber and I just thought what am I doing with my life? So I took a leap of faith and decided I’d have an adventure and see if there’s any work in know. I honestly had no idea whether there was something there that had to come out or anything I had to say and I didn’t have a voice so I’m quite new even though I’m old.

Marcus: Yeah. When did you start photography then Allie?

Allie: When I was about 1617. I used to shoot film black and white and serve my own but I had a really awful childhood really abusive family and I needed to go and do a sensible degree so that I could be financially independent and art was forbidden so I didn’t do art or anything and I actually went and did a degree in Englet and then taught until I felt like it had bled me dry and it was time you give all the creativity to students. For me it was just especially as my daughter, she’s 23 now so when she was in her teens I went back to night school and I wanted to see Did I like it? Was it fun? Did I enjoy photography instead of just teaching other people? Did I want to make my own work? Really?

Marcus:  Wow. You went to night school to go and find I did night school. That’s how I started as well in my early thirties a great place to study I think and learn.

Allie:  It’s adults returning to education isn’t it? I love learning so it wasn’t the first time I’d been in night school. I’d been in night school a lot studying film because I had to convert from an English lit degree over to a more visual filmic language to go and teach media. And so I’ve always tried to be learning. I even learn Italian. It’s just like learning is a joy, really. Yeah.

Marcus:  I do agree. Yes. It’s a gift to yourself, isn’t it, learning? But there’s a big step here that I wouldn’t dig in a bit deeper. We went from doing an evening course to getting your work hung in a major gallery. How did that come about then?

Allie:  my first tutor, and he saw, it’s the image on the wall behind me. It’s the one of Olivia standing in front of that Pontiac GTA. And he thought there was just something there. He said, I’ll send this to a curator. And I didn’t know what a curator was. I did not understand the art world and the significance of that. And I was saying, no, I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re doing. How do I know that’s good enough? And I went to the loo and he sent it whilst I was on the toilet. And it was selected. So there were two women hanging on the wall, and I was one of them. And all the other work was pretty high caliber guys. And I came home and it was literally three mornings afterwards. I just woke up and I thought, I don’t care what anyone says. Everyone said, don’t leave teaching. You’ve got a salary, you’ve got a pension, you’ve got sick pay. And I thought, and I am dying here now and I need to go. And I phoned my boss and I was still wet. I just climbed out of the shower and I said, I’m leaving. And he said, could you just come in? We just come in and we’ll talk about it. So it happened really quickly and it changed my life because it just made me wonder what might be inside of me.

Sam: Wow. And then that initial start has led to having your own exhibitions and all sorts of further work, awards and all.

Allie: Yeah, it’s fast. Isn’t know what’s happened to me. Last year, Queen Camilla opened my exhibition that was about domestic violence. And she brought the national media. And that part of me thinks, maybe I had to wait until I was 50 to do that, to handle that. Maybe I couldn’t have made this work in my 20s or thirtiess. And part of me thinks, oh, what if I wasted 20 years teaching when I should have been out making work instead?

Marcus:  Photography is a long route, isn’t it, Allie? It annoys me. I see it so often these days, people, you know, you can just learn photography really quickly and you can just get on and get a camera and start making money or whatever out of it or getting your work published. It’s not the case. It’s a long journey, isn’t it? And you mentioned there about the maturity that you were able to bring to your work because you were getting older and you had more of a life experiences. That is so important.

Allie:  I think all the work I’ve made that’s been personal projects has been about me. So everything has kind of had an almost phototherapy aspect to it. And it starts with me, but then I connect with tribes of other people, largely women. It was transwomen at first because I was working for the National Transgender Charity. But then there’s that sense of it starts with me and then it becomes about them. And the way I work is quite different to the way a lot of men work, in that there’s a very collaborative, slow process. And I embed myself in groups rather than kind of parachute in, shoot and go. And that’s the maturity.

Marcus:  Yeah, you’re comparing it there to the classic documentary style or whatever. Interesting. So let’s dive into the work itself. And obviously we’re going to put your links in so our listeners can see it and hopefully look at it when we’re talking about it. I would sort of describe your work as editorial photography. Is that fair to say that?

Allie:  It’s good for me? I don’t know what it is. Does it feel more editorial than portraits?

Marcus: Well, I think when we look at the editorial world, we compare it to the commercial world, which is maybe, even though my background was editorial photography, I’m a commercial photographer, so maybe it’s worth just breaking down that term. And what is editorial photography? It’s really the kind of photography that you’re going to see more in magazines and books as opposed to, say, on LinkedIn or on branding or on websites. Is that fair to say that?

Allie: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had work in the Guardian, the Observer, the Telegraph, and also the Sun. It was syndicated. I didn’t work for the sun and I don’t work for the Daily Mail either. So biased. Honestly, doing that kind of social conscience work, I do really enjoy that. It’s nice to be part of a team and to feel that the work I’m making might be relevant to people, especially people who want change.

Sam:  Cool. Okay. And so do you think it kind of helps? Almost you’re working with groups of people, but almost you’re part of those groups. Like you’re saying, it’s coming from yourself. So you’re not coming as a complete outsider to a group of people, but you’re coming almost as one of them.

Allie: Yeah. Because people need authenticity, and I think it’s really important that I am one of the group. Yeah. I think it’s very important in terms of establishing trust.

Sam:  Which is very different from kind of parachuting in as the outsider to stand at the edge and get the pictures and shoot off.

Allie: Yeah. If I’m commissioned to make work. So I was working for the Telegraph over the summer, and that’s not personal work, it’s just. What’s the word that they use? I got the job because I’m good with sensitive material.

Sam:  Okay.

Allie: Yeah. There’s a new term for it. I can’t remember.

Marcus: We got a light touch, if I may say. And obviously you mentioned earlier in the program about the fact that you come from an abusive background, and obviously this is stuff that is very personal to you and that’s the way it should be, of course, when you’re dealing with these subjects.

Allie: Yeah. And I think I don’t go into shoots and share all of that with other people. I think it’s enough to say I have lived experience and there’s a connection there. I often think of my work as very portrait based, and the connection is so important to me, the camera is just a tool, but the connection, when I’m actually focusing on someone’s eye and kind of pressing the shutter, they give me a jolt, literally right straight in my solar plexus. There’s a kind of an energy whoosh. And that’s always an amazing thing to have. Isn’t that?

Marcus:  The power of photography? Exactly. And you’re in a very privileged position there in front of these people, and they’re talking about themselves and you’re choosing a moment to capture their portrait. It’s a real exchange.

Allie:  Domestic violence, which is called I am. And there are women there who talk a great deal about the impact that had on their life, to be given the opportunity to be visible and to finally put shame and guilt on one side. And if my work is helping other people to transform and to grow, and that’s not an easy Instagram, I go to yoga kind of thing. Transform because you have to face your own demons and shadows. But then when someone says, I had a hand in that and they’ve come out and they feel more healed, they feel happier, then I feel like I’ve done something great that day.

Marcus: Fantastic. Tell us more about the award that you’ve won in particular. Maybe the beach.

Allie: I’d only been out there working for two years. So it was a bit of a shock. But I won it with Grace, who is a doctor and she gave me this perfect image and for me that was a way of validating myself. I don’t know what it’s like when you’re a guy, but as a woman I definitely had impostor syndrome and this industry is 80% male and 85% male and the gender pay gap is 40%. So as a woman winning an award, I started to say I am a photographer instead of. I didn’t have words to describe what I was doing beforehand. That was a really personal thing, a great boost to my self-esteem. And now I’d say that awards are marketing. Definitely. That’s one way I’m differentiating myself from my peers. The more I win, the more I get shortlisted for. It makes me feel as if people believe there’s an audience out there for my work and it’s pressure as well because you’re only as good as your last win. And there’s something I really wanted to win this year and I shortlisted and I know I’ve not won and you have to have a thick skin that you just have to say, well, never mind. Next year. Next year I’ll try again.

Marcus: Well, that’s about putting yourself out there. I should just point out, actually, just for our listeners, when I say BJP, it’s a British Journal of Photography. But you have also won or been part of the RPS, which is.

Allie: Yeah, which is in Bristol with you, isn’t it?

Marcus:  Exactly right, yes. In fact, just a quick mention, if I may. We do have an interview with the Royal Photographic Society coming up and we’re hoping to get that in the pipeline. Maybe towards the end of the year or maybe the beginning of next year. Yeah. So tell us about the Royal Photographic Society and your involvement with them.

Allie: So I’m doing a master’s, an MFA at the moment at Ulster. And in my first year my tutor was Ken Grant and I was down at know. He’s the nicest first year tutor. I’m with Donovan Wiley now.

Marcus:  Donovan, whoa.

Allie:  A lot more complicated, but yeah. So I was with Ken and we were down at Martin Par Studio for a few days and Ken introduced me to Billy J Stoneman, who said, have you entered the RPS International? And no, I don’t think I have. So I had a. So I got shortlisted this year.

Sam: Wow, that’s amazing. And that’s lots of something photographers can do every level, isn’t it? Almost. There’s lots of different levels award. Obviously the awards you’re going for are very prestigious. But for photographers everywhere, those starting up, there are all sorts of levels of award, aren’t they? And they can really give you that bit of a boost, can’t they? And a bit of extra credibility.

Allie: Yeah. So there are great student awards as well. And a lot of the major awards have a student category or with the association of Photographers. I was one of the three photographers who got the emerging talent anymore because that’s years one to three. It’s quite a. I gave a lecture at a camera club recently and someone like, do we have to be out there trying to win awards? And absolutely not. Because all human beings need creativity.  Most people have a day job. Work is not the thing that we should look to in our lives to fulfill think, you know, our relationships, our connections to our community and our creativity. My friend Gelda, she photographs flowers and she does macro stuff, and she’s very, very wise, by the way. And she would say, well, I don’t need to enter awards. I don’t even need my photographs to say something. I’m photographing things that are beautiful so that I can then look at them and appreciate beauty. And we mustn’t forget that it’s not all about awards. There’s that sense of making something beautiful for ourselves or capturing a moment. Yeah.

Marcus:  Exactly. That was a quote by Gary Winogrand, actually, wasn’t it? He said, people ask him, why do you photograph us? He said, I photographed so I can see things, how to photograph, talking about names. I did look for your Instagram feed, and I see you put a reference up there to one of my favorite photographers, Chris Killup. Again, we’ll put some notes, we’ll put a link in the notes. Tell me more about your pre-show Chris Kilip and maybe any other photographers that you’re really drawn to.

Allie: So pretty much on my masters, I very consciously decided that all my referencing will be women photographers. And I’m not quite sure yet if Professor Wiley’s figured that one out yet, or whether he just thinks that I’m just blind to the guys. But when it comes to pleasure, it’s a different matter, isn’t it? So Ken Grant and Tracy Marshall Grant, they curated the Chris Killup exhibition. And I wanted to go to London to see know, because you get an invite to a party, but the trains were on, was just, I couldn’t get to London. I’m in Manchester, and we would go on train line and it would say, no trains available every single day. So there was no way I could get down to London. So when the exhibition went to Newcastle. just not London. And I went to go and see it, and I wasn’t a fan of chris killup, you know, I had fairly neutral feelings about. And then I saw it in the Baltic. It made me just. I completely lost it. No idea how utterly wonderful and powerful workers. And so much of it was shot in Newcastle as well. So because I was crying and it was just a bit much, I went out, went for a walk around, and thought, this is where he knows, walking and photographing. And then I went back in thinking, I’ll be fine. But I wasn’t. I cried again. I spent about 4 hours there and then went home. So really amazing work and great to see a retrospective like that as well.

Marcus: Yes, about time too. And any other photographers that you could maybe enlighten us towards, or people we may already know?

Allie: This morning I was looking at Alessandra Sanguinetti’s work. She’s got this amazing book called Some say Ice, and I was just looking through that work again. And Alice Tomlinson is pretty amazing as well. I’ve been in her book this morning. There are just tons and tons now. when you’re studying,

Marcus:  Of course. Well, there’s a lot of books out there as well. We are in the era of the rise of photography, self published books as well, which is a fantastic getting towards. We’ve got a few more minutes there, but we are getting towards the end of the show, and I just have to sneak this one in before Sam cuts me off. And I just want to quickly talk about equipment. We very, very rarely talk about equipment on this show, but I did notice. I just want to clarify, are you still shooting on film?

Allie: Yeah, I still shoot film. I shoot 35 mil and I shoot medium format. And I’m probably in love with my Mamir camera, but commercial, I have a six six and a six four five. I don’t have the seven because they’re really expensive.

Marcus:  Smell. When you open that, especially that 120 film, there’s a little smell, isn’t there?

Allie:  They are. But, you know, commercially, I use canon five Ds, and I’m just experimenting with using them for my masters instead of film, because in a way, I can get very nostalgic about film. I love the wrappers. They’re in my pot, every pocket. Yeah, the 120. And I love that slow process. But actually working digitally is giving me a bit more flexibility at the moment, especially in terms of light.

Marcus: Yes. And I think you can hear you. Okay, look, that’s enough technical. I’m sorry about that, Sam. I can see the look of disgust on his face. Oh, no, he’s just frozen. Okay, that’s not disgust. He’s just frozen in time. Okay, so, Allie, let’s just wrap it up here. Obviously, your niche is shooting portraits. And it’s for magazines, it’s for exhibitions, it’s for books. Maybe just for our listeners out there, you can give us a couple of tips how people might get into that type of photography. And I say into in brackets, really .

Allie: Well, what I did was I chose something that was personal, that began with me, and then I’m a really good networker. So I stalked on LinkedIn groups until I found the people who seemed to have a similar agenda and then build a relationship with them. And then you don’t get paid at this point. So I volunteered to kind of form a partnership and they would give me their name and some training and kind of take me into their organization and I would work as an artist in residence and produce work. And so it’s by having that residency and the legitimacy of the organization that I then felt I had some work that I could enter into a competition. And that’s how I did it. But you don’t have to have the organization. You could simply decide to make personal work. But I see a lot of people make work that I don’t think is very sincere. So someone recently said they were just out in Manchester photographing people in doorways, I think without their consent. And there are massive ethical issues about working with vulnerable groups of people. So that’s why the organization helps, because someone is there helping to guide you. Really?

Sam:  Yeah. Amazing. It’s been such an interesting conversation. We’ve gone here, there and everywhere and yeah, it’s been really fascinating. A really interesting world. Yeah. And thank you so much for your time and talking to us.

Allie: It’s been a pleasure, actually, I love listening to the podcast, so I’m really happy to take part, too.

Sam: Thank you. Gone. And if you want to hear more of Ali, we also have our newsletter and we’re going to have a little bonus extra content in the newsletter. If you want to subscribe to the newsletter, nice and easy, go to our new website  shoottothetop.com. Nice and simple. Shoottoth.com. You can subscribe there and then each week we’ll send you the latest episode, send you some extra bits and pieces, and you get the extra bonus audio contents, like a little bit of extra stuff on top of the normal podcast. So, Marcus, thank you so much. Allie and Marcus, I will see you next week.

Marcus:  See you next week. Thank you very much, Allie.