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Craig Oldham, Designer: Idea, Intention, and Image

This post is part of a series called Conversations With Creative Collaborators.
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As photographers, our focus is on the practice of taking and producing images, but in most cases, that’s not the end of the process. If we want to succeed in this commercial industry, we need to consider how others will engage with our photography and what the end use for our imagery might be. 

So, aside from taking great photos that have impact and depth, it's good to start seeing your images from the perspective of other creative people who make the decisions about how your images will be shared, printed, posted and incorporated into larger bodies of work. In this series of Interviews, we talk with photography's creative collaborators to give you an insight into how they engage with photography.

We chatted with Manchester based designer, Craig Oldham, whose work is extremely highly regarded within the design industry, and has been recognised accordingly by the likes of Art Directors Club, D&AD, Design Week Awards, Creative Review, New York Festivals and Type Directors Club, as well as receiving national and international press coverage and exhibitions. Last year, a book he wrote and designed titled ‘The Democratic Lecture’, was included in the 50 best in the world of 2013. We caught up with Craig to ask him about how he incorporates photography within his work.

The Office of Craig Oldham
The Office of Craig Oldham

Hey Craig, could you briefly explain what you do?

I'm the Creative Director of my eponymous practice (like first-album syndrome) and operate in the creative industries as an agency and consultant. We do commissioned work for clients big and small but are also an original content studio generating our own work. We do a lot of teaching and writing too and run an independent publishing house alongside.

How does your work incorporate photography? 

This all depends. Generally it's relative to the project at hand, which further abstracts in terms of the type of photography involved. We've employed photography as the lead solution in our work and sometimes just a basic articulation on projects. So it's a bit of a sliding scale

The harder you work the harder it is to surrender
By Craig Oldham at Music Agency

What do you look for when deciding what imagery to use? 

Again, it's relative. I cut my teeth under the education of creative problem solving: find the correct solution to the problem and the visual form given to that will present itself. In other words, the visual nature of the imagery is dictated by the idea. So the decision making will come once we know what we want and what we think it should look like. Then it's about finding the right person for the right job, a photographer who has an interest (professionally or personally) in the direction, or equally an interesting way of looking at the world.

Pasion poster
By Craig Oldham at Music Agency

How do you judge which images work and which images don’t work? 

From the idea and from the intention of what you're trying to achieve. You have to be open minded, in my experience, to the chance virtue of the process. Sometimes you know what you need and make decisions based on that yardstick, other times you may have to re-evaluate what you are doing if the images dictate more care or focus in the bigger scheme. With both these in mind though, I'd often leave the designing and major design decisions until the images have been collected to make sure you can gain the most from the process. Photography, like design and all creative endeavours, is a specialism and so you have to create some sort of a platform on which the specialists can work. Once that has been established, the imagery generated should almost choose itself.

By Craig Oldham at Music Agency

How do you go about finding and commissioning work, do you prefer to collaborate with a small selection of photographers, or is it a case of finding the right image?

As I think I've mentioned it's about finding the right person for the right job as the idea dictates, as well as the practical working relationship—it's always better to actually get on with the person you're collaborating with. More often than not it's an informed decision based on past work and a discussion about the potential of the images. Also, if I've used a lot of a person's work as reference in the creative proposal, it's only fair to have a discussion with the owner of that work about maybe having a go.

If I can run I can play
By Craig Oldham at Music Agency

From a designers perspective, what elements should photographers be considering when taking images as part of a larger design project? 

I'd never really want a photographer to be that concerned with this unless there's an integral requirement of the design (i.e. a treatment etc.) as often when using photography it is to be an integral part, and so the design can be secondary to that. I think it's more important to get the idea right in the first place and then have photography add something to that or bring something new to the table. Ultimately the photography and design are trying to do the same thing… get the idea across as creatively as possible.

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