“Sadly it’s not a cliché of being given my first camera at the age of four, but I think I’ve done ok,” says the photographer Neil Bedford.
Instead, he moved from his native Yorkshire to London to study photography and styling at London College of Fashion, as Clash hears: “I was leaning more towards styling, but after the first year I’d kinda worked out that styling wasn’t something you could really teach so thought I’d be better paying to learn to take pictures.”
Since finishing his Masters in 2010 – when as he puts it, he “finally felt like I was ready” – he’s shot for a range of titles such as The Green Soccer Journal, GQ Style and, of course, Clash, plus worked with brands like adidas, Paul Smith and Visa; sitters include Pharrell Williams, Liam Gallagher and Ray Winstone, the latter he names his favourite Clash portrait.
“He was great, exactly what you’d expect. I would have said Liam, as I grew up with his images all over my walls, friends walls, sixth form walls, but I spent the day trying to act all cool rather than just relaxing and enjoying getting to that point in my career where I was shooting a genuine idol of mine. You know,” he softens, “I also loved shooting a lot of the Next Wave acts…”
Said series saw Bedford photograph a year’s worth of new talent, experimenting as much with his portrait style – printing, cutting and sticking together Brit winner Tom Odell, asking Nadine Shah to comb her hair (in shot) and using Doldrums as an (admittedly unforeseen) pre-Liam test run – as providing strong imagery for both the title and artists.
On set he is assertive, making those in front of his camera feel comfortable, simultaneously doing everything he can to get the picture he wants; if an artist’s hat doesn’t suit the aesthetic, off the hat comes.
This approach he learnt – or realised – while on the aforementioned MA, when he says his passion for the platform properly developed. “I started to really learn about lighting, about people and how I interacted with them and an idea of what I liked as a photographer.”
In 2013 Neil signed with the agency Six Seven (Bella Howard’s also on the books), something Kasabian’s official tour photographer (ahem), had been interested in achieving for a while.
“It felt really great,” he gushes, “it gives you a feeling of belonging and like I’d really started something. I enjoyed my time prior to an agent, I spent three years trying to perfect something that I could sell and added some great clients and jobs along the way, but I knew I wanted to take a step further. You can only really get so far on your own, or I could as I’m not the best business man.”
While he might not regard it as his forte, a lack of the skills accustomed to business didn’t stop him partnering with his brother and opening The Chimp Store, admittedly in a role closer to his craft.
“Mark does all the day to day stuff, I just give myself the fancy title of being the Creative Director (whatever one of those is). What I can bring is things I learn from working with brands and hoping the knowledge I’ve gained can help us,” he asserts, concluding: “It’s one of the highlights of all the things I’ve achieved so far.”
The store takes its cue – and much of its stock – from the brands the Bedford’s grew up on, (now) big name American and Japanese streetwear labels that introduced a different way of shopping and a new cool appeal.
Of his introduction to the arena, the Bradford City supporter tells Clash: “Late 90’s, like the day before the year 2000, late 90’s. I think it was the purchase of the first pair of adidas Micropacers since the 80’s that started it all. I then went on to find labels such as Stussy and maharishi which eventually led to me finding A Bathing Ape in 2002. That’s when things really changed for me in a big way and I dedicated a lot of time to clothing, especially ‘streetwear’.”
“At the time,” he continues, “you could only find BAPE in Busy Work Shop and the numbers were really small. Queues started forming overnight for certain items and I made sure I was always close to the front. Kids outside Supreme don’t really get it these days, they are queuing for an item that there is hundreds of, where as we were waiting for something there would be 10-20 of max. But I could talk for hours about that and it would all get boring…”
Instead his time away from the studio is spent sharing the fruits of the studio, with 5,000 plus Instagrammers making the acquaintance of his work via iPhone screens.
“I’ve actually started to consider my posts now which is annoying, as I used to share anything, but I find it a bit odd that I only know about 100 people in ‘real life’ and I don’t want to show people I don’t know everything about me. I really use it as much as possible to share work or being in the studio,” he decides, later conceding, “basically I have one follower who I’m determined to show I’m doing well, cos she’s a dickhead.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Portrait: Samuel John Butt
Photography: Neil Bedford