Class of 2013 graduate, Pezhman Zahed’s interview with me for the book 9213 – a celebration of 21 years of BA Photography at the University of Brighton.
Pezhman Zahed: If you could do your degree again are there things you would do differently?
Murray Ballard: Yes. I wish I hadn’t worried so much about a project failing. It’s a cliché, but you really do learn more from your failures. You can make mistakes as a student and it doesn’t matter. If I were to do my degree again I would definitely follow my curiosities without worrying where the work was going.
PZ: In retrospect, what was the best piece of advice you got from a tutor while on the course?
MB: That these days photography is primarily about ideas, and although it might be easy to take good individual pictures, it’s very difficult to make a series that sits cohesively together and says something interesting.
PZ: What did you do immediately after you graduated?
MB: I was lucky to get assisting work, which happened pretty quickly. When I wasn’t doing that I went back to my old job doing removals a couple of days a week. I also worked most weekends as a waiter at weddings. But I continued my major project too because I knew the work wasn’t finished. And I got together with a group of friends from the course and put on a couple of shows in London. They didn’t come to much, but it was fun and a good experience.
PZ: What was your first big break?
MB: I entered ‘Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed 2008’, the annual showcase for new and recent graduates organised by The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and was fortunate enough to have my work selected for the exhibition. Lauren Heinz from Foto8 saw my work, which led to it being published in ‘8’ magazine. This got the ball rolling. Ruth Eichhorn, the picture editor of ‘GEO’, saw the feature in ‘8’ and then commissioned me to photograph the German cryonics community. When that article came out it led to a run of features in other magazines and newspapers.
PZ: What are some of the key changes in the photography field since you graduated? How has this affected you and your practice?
MB: The growth of photography on-line. Just about every photographer now has their own website and their own blog and/or Tumblr. Websites like Flickr have a constant stream of new imagery to look at and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter provide an endless amount of things to look at. It can be overwhelming and being surrounded by so much photography was really intimidating; it made me question what I was doing. I started asking myself “what’s the point in adding to it all?” But now I’ve got used to it (I think we all have); you just have to block it out and carry on. Having said all that, in many ways not that much has changed, there is a lot of ‘noise’ out there, but a lot of it doesn’t sound that good – if you know what I mean. In the end people are still more interested in considered work about ideas and thought-provoking subjects. I think this is one of the reasons why photobooks have really taken off – people like to look away from the screen and take the time to really engage with the work.
PZ: What advice would you give to ambitious graduates?
MB: Enter competitions. Go to portfolio reviews. Show your work to anyone who is interested. But make sure you keep going and continue to develop your work, the chances are you haven’t reached your potential yet. Stay motivated, even if you don’t think you’re getting anywhere. If your work is good, you will find an audience, it just might take longer than you would like it too.
Copies of 9213 are available to buy here.