Celine Marchbank is a photographer based in London who works in documentary, commercial, and editorial. By looking at her work, you can see that she's fascinated by the small details. Looking and seeing are truly her strengths. Marchbank tends to carry on this theme throughout all of her work. Besides working as a professional photographer, she also regularly gives lectures to the BA (Hons) students in Photography at Ravensbourne University in London.
She has a documentary style, even with her commercial work. It’s a balancing act. She used to be a graphic designer as she did her BA in Graphic Design for undergrad. That’s how she got into photography in the end. She loved books. She ended up doing picture research, then decided to go to London College for a MA in photography.
Her work is often exhibited and shortlisted for many awards, such as The European Publishers Award for Photography, The Deutsche Ban Photography Award, The Lucie Foundation, The Emergentes DST International Photography Award, and more. You can see an extensive record of her awards and exhibitions on her website here.
Marchbank began photographing her mom during the end of her life and battle with cancer for her most notable and personal project, Tulip. Tulip began in 2009 (during her MA), when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and brain tumor. She decided at the time that she would document it. She thought of the documentary process more as a celebratory and light hearted idea to be able to look back at the (hopefully successful) battle. With positive intentions only.
Marchbank then found out that there was a second tumor in her mother’s brain. She happened to be taking photographs when they found out. The project kept going, but made a turn into creating a still positive outlook, but celebratory of her mother’s life. Looking at her mom’s personality and preserving her mother in photographs in a positive way, the way she wants to remember her mom. She took the opposing viewpoint into progression of the documentation. The photos get lighter and happier looking at the end of her mom’s life, rather than dark, cold, and depressing as she eventually died.
Flowers became really symbolic to Celine’s project. Her mother always had flowers around the house, and they were symbolic of her mom’s beautiful personality and life. They sprout and open, symbolizing the birth and life, and they too die off. Just as humans have to. The project was about capturing the moods. Flowers within space, life within space.
The photographs of her mom in the hospital are gentle, not harsh or brutal. They are light and airy.
Throughout the project, Celine realized that it’s also about herself as well, and dealing with the progression of her mother’s cancer. Recording this part of her life helped her cope with the situation she was in. If she hadn’t it would have all gone by in a blur. She also ended up blogging about it too. She didn’t find comfort at the time while photographing, but the writing did. Things never really sunk in until later.
There were also other quirky elements to the project, including the cats her mother loved. You’ll notice them in some of the details, along with another one of her mother’s obsessions, stripes. Even the cat had stripes.
Celine saw that her mother would constantly be making list during the last stage of her life. The lists would be of the places she’d been, things she’d done, etc. It’s almost as if her mom was trying to take account for all that she had done in her lifetime.
Her mother also began to teach her how to cook. At the end of her life, she taught Celine her recipes, so that she could recreate them after she passed. Celine tells us that she was really thankful for this, and that she is considering making her next project on the food her mother made, and learning how to make it as a form of grieving.
Marchbank was selected for the Open Here Award and commissioned by the Hereford Photography Festival to create this body of work. The theme was the water. Specifically the Hereford's waterway the "Wye". Done over a month during the wettest month on record, Marchbank walked and documented the whole length of it. This project acts as a record of the emotions she was experiencing after her Tulip project. In other words, this was the next step in her grieving.
The Wye is also a very detail oriented piece. Over the course of the project, Marchbank tells us she met some really interesting people. She met a woman who swims the river in the night. She ended up doing a lot of environmental portraits of them. The man in the hat, Redge the Fisherman, lived in a hut alongside the river. Marchbank created relationships with these people, so that she could eventually document the inside of his hut (fish memorabilia photo). She spent a couple days with him and the rest of the fishermen. Marchbank kept reflecting on something photographers appreciate deeply, that photographers get the chance to meet interesting people. It’s amazing, especially when it’s your career path.
The project received a lot of great feedback, including being shortlisted for the Magenta Flash Forward Award.
Notes From a (Very) Small Island
Celine Marchbank was intrigued by the Isle of May since the day she first so it. She asked locals from the mainland what happened on the island. And locals said “they’re all weirdos” who did bird research during the summer months. That’s it. Maybe 5 people reside there total. Marchbank said the Nature Reserve guy did have an interest in art and the island as a creative space. But everything there is mostly bird related. They were bird fanatics.
But none of them wanted their photo taken, even months after she’d been shooting there. No loosening up whatsoever. But the project did well without portraits, the details mattered and pulled the weight of the project. Noticing things you never noticed before. One of the guys from the island followed her around a lot and replicated pictures she took for their own little blog. It pissed her off, she wasn’t happy about that.
Marchbank does detail oriented stuff even in her commercial work, including food, interiors, editorial stuff, etc. Occasionally she'll do documentary style work. Hiring-wise, people are more interested in personal work and your blog. What do you photograph, why, and what matters to you will direct people into hiring you for the same concerns and interests.
Celine did lots of work for start ups- which is nice. It gives you a lot of creative direction on location, but they were typically low budget and had little gear. She's also done cookbook photography, portraits for a housing company, food photography for The Independent. She stresses that you will never know what you are going to be working with when it comes to these kinds of editorial assignments. For the Independent comission (below), she brought her own props willingly but actually ended up having to use them because there wasn't much to work with when she showed up.
Celine is also commissioned every year to do the Christmas Card for Barclays. The assignment brief always asks for it to be festive—but not too festive, no religious references could be used. Essentially she invited friends over for a holiday party and she took detail oriented shots herself for the final shot.
Another piece she was commissioned to do for the Independent abstract shots for a fashion shoot, so detail oriented, not with the model or products, but in line with the theme of the shoot and line.
In terms of her interior photography work, they are mostly pretty big shots, but she does involve close up photos as well. Her style is detail oriented, so she tends to bring that with her in even the slightest of representations.
Regarding magazine work, she says it's pretty brief. You show up, send 20 pics back. It's very systematic and they always end up picking the least favorable or creative shots.
Commercial stuff is very last minute, it’s fast paced, and the deadlines are really short.
- Keep updating your portfolio, even if it’s ongoing work, or work in progress.
- Join NUJ
- Don’t work for free. Always. Don’t take any “exposure” crap. You should always be charging for your work. If all grads worked for free, they would ruin it for everyone else in the photography work force. Start with your highest pricing rate, repeat clients expect that same rate for the 2nd and 3rd time around when working with you.
Questions from the Audience
Q: What lenses do you use?
A: 50 mm for personal work, 24-70mm for commercial, and 70-200mm for event.
Q: When to stop a project?
A: When it’s done— and projects can often times spur on new project ideas. It’s a chain of events. For Celine, she knew when to stop her project when she was ready to move on from grief/loneliness. She wanted to move onto something more up lifting. Look at your work too, is it going the way you want it to?
Q: How much did it cost to publish your book?
A: For her book, she raised £7,000 from kickstarter to publish it.