Toby Mitchell (Freelance Photographer)
Attended St Brendan's 2012 - 2014
Subjects studied: English Language, Graphic Communication, Music Technology
Previous School: Beechen Cliff
After I left St Brendan’s I quit 4 part time jobs and went full time into freelancing as a photographer & graphic designer. I make it sound like I just snapped straight into it, but during my 2 years at college I did a whole bunch of stuff for free and eventually, small fees which meant by the time I came around to leaving, there was enough momentum (and work) to start my freelancing career properly. I’ve never looked back!
I chose not to go to University simply because I felt quite strongly that you can teach someone to use a camera, but you can’t teach someone to take a photo. Photography, or any medium or art is always so personal. What you make is a representation of who you are so I struggled with the concept of spending 3 years (and £27k) trying to prove my photography is good to another human, when art is always based on a personal opinion. I think there are loads of incredible degrees which are worth spending the money for. However I’ve never felt that a photography degree was right for me to do.
After working as a freelancer for 2 years now, I know first-hand that experience and portfolio will always trump a piece of paper with a degree result written on it. The creative industry is different to others as in people want art work/videos/photos/design quickly. You are judged within a few seconds once someone gets on your website so make your portfolio look incredible and show people what you have done.
I make it sound like uni is an awful idea. It’s really not. It’s a personal decision that everyone has to consider for themselves. Its a lot of money to go and you need to go for the right reasons. Photography degree’s for some may be a really good idea to get a great foundational grip on the technicalities of photography and an open field to experiment with lots of ideas. Just give it proper thought before making a decision.
I work full time as a freelancer from my studio at home and work for a number of differentclients. However I do have one client that I consistently work for 1 day a week in the centreof Bath, which for someone who's income is unpredictable, is a great balance.The beauty of freelancing is you can wake up every day and make your own decisions about everything; when you work, when you rest, when you take holiday, when you see friends, the list goes on. The only thing that is different to contractual employment is you have to keep on top of things like accounting, tax returns etc. etc. But that’s all part of the fun if you’re self-motivated. (or if you’re rich, you can employ people to do that for you). Also because you’re your own boss, you have to constantly be self-motivating yourself to create, stay inspired and keep moving forward. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. It’s taken me 2 years to feel comfortable in my lifestyle as a freelancer.
St Brendans was such a positive experience for me. I had recently dropped out of my first sixth form as I failed the first year. (I took the wrong subjects). I felt freshly inspired from the word go, made lots of few friends, my tutors were outstanding and I really got pushed into my potential. What I loved most, especially in the art department, was that I was never hugely praised. This meant I was constantly in this zone of pushing myself to create better things, learn the process of refinement and have a wider understanding of creative processes in general. Which is SUCH a valuable skill for going into a professional creative career. I always felt supported by tutors whilst being at St Brendans and since leaving. There is a real hopeful atmosphere in the college which was always such an encouragement to me.
My advice to current students would be to work hard and pursue what you love to do. You actually can do anything you want if you make the decision to work hard at it. Don’t try and be someone else (iv’e done that so many times, it’s just more painful than rewarding) and be nice to people. It’s all well and good being good at a craft or skill, but in the current state the worlds in, people are looking for kindness. Be a nice person, who is exceptional at what they do but also can hold themselves well in every situation - professionally and personally. If you work with people, your personality is honestly what sells you most. That’s what I feel I’ve learnt so far.
I don’t really know where I want to be in 10 years’ time! I hope I have children & a dog. I’m getting married this October so I’m looking forward to looking back over the past 10 years in 10 years time and being amazed at what a journey it’s been. Career wise (which for me, is always second to family) - I would like to have a creative agency where the terms of employment and culture of working are so attractive and different to the normal way people do things. I want to become an employer who uplifts, encourages and supports my employees in a way so far past the necessary mark that my agency is known for that as well as the world class work pumping out of it. I would hope that I am better at my craft then I am now, still loving photography for the reason I started and hopefully have a few other new hobbies in the bag to make life richer.