London-based Ian Cole works as a fashion and art photographer and magazine editor for publications that include Client Magazine, Carbon Copy, Supplementaire, and Beauty Rebel, among others. A self-taught photographer, Cole, who has gained quite a following over the past five years or so, has shot some of the world's best known faces, as well as some of the most promising breakthrough talents, and serves as a casting director and occasional model scout. In case that's not enough, Cole is the founder of PROJECT TEN. Easily one of the most respected (and most ethical) men in British fashion (and he's steadily becoming an international name), Cole talks to us about Photoshop, models who are not obsessed with modeling, the downsides of the business of fashion, and much more ...
The Fashion Law – How old are you and what’s your nationality?
Ian Cole – I am a hideously young 40 and I am British.
The Fashion Law – Tell me a little bit about your brand, since business is so focused on branding nowadays. What do you think makes you different from other photographers and editors?
Ian Cole – That's easy. What makes me different is that I am me and I've never tried to be anything else. When I create or develop a "brand," I don't seek out inspiration or try to conform, I follow my instincts and let my ideas take flight. As I've said previously, if you get it right, you will be found, or discovered rather.
Brands are visual representations of what you do. So, they're very important. Classic never dies in my eyes, and I think if you work hard and stay true to yourself and your ideas, then you won't need to over-compensate. Good quality product is enough. In publishing, I try to promote authentic photography as much as I can, not that I am opposed to Photoshop. It's necessary, but I think there is a great movement in photography and fashion that loves authenticity. The over-use of Photoshop in many leading magazines is quite alarming and I believe, unnecessary.
The Fashion Law – Tell me a bit about PROJECT TEN.
Ian Cole – PROJECT TEN acts as an umbrella for the various projects I run - like Client Magazine, Carbon Copy, Supplementaire, 62nd Floor Art-Zine, Beauty Rebel and the Zine Stand, etc. It also serves as a platform for collaborations between myself and others. It is different in that it is still independent and encompasses numerous digital/print media and its founding principles are based on true talent, hard work and integrity. I'm interested in seeking out true artists and dynamic creatives, who have a strong work ethic. Project Ten also allows me to expand into other areas. Being ethically and environmentally responsible is important to me, too.
The Fashion Law – You’ve said you are “VERY selective about who shoots for us when it comes to models.” So, when you are casting models, what do you look for generally?
Ian Cole – Actually when I said that in an interview with Dazed Digital, I was actually referring to photographers. There are a minority of sleazy photographers out there. So, I make it my business to know who they are and keep them away from the models we work with. But equally, there is a process when casting models. I prefer models who are not obsessed with modeling, but rather they have other talents and great personalities. The model industry is, in many ways a serious business, but the ones who don't take it TOO seriously, tend to be more interesting and do better.
In my experience, female models are usually very intelligent and studying subjects such as law, architecture, medicine or the arts. I very rarely come across dumb female models. Similarly with guys, most of them have other career paths and are pretty smart. But not all! lol. Like everything in life, I enjoy working with great people, who I can relate to and respect.
The Fashion Law – You’ve shot some really amazing covers for CLIENT (among other magazines, of course). Reece Sanders and Leebo Freeman, and Ash Stymest quite recently. And 100 Faces of 2011 was really nothing short of epic!
Ian Cole – Yes, it's great to have access to the best models, and each and everyone of them has been really cool with their own story to tell. 100 Faces of 2011 was a very interesting project to work on. I learnt a LOT. It was an ambitious project to cast and have 100 models shot in a number of cities around the world. The issue was a great seller and I was pleased about that because it was created to be a "sign of the times." So, we can look back and see who was doing well that year in modeling.
I used what I learnt when creating that book and applied it to the new book, which will be released in September - 100 Faces/100 Boys of 2014. This time it's 330 pages with a lot more info on the models and more images. I've also been more selective about who shoots for it.
The Fashion Law – That sounds so amazing. I cannot wait to see it! It sounds like things are going really well. What is one of the biggest professional struggles that you are dealing with right now?
Ian Cole – Lately, I have faced resistance when I have been outspoken about sexual predators operating in the industry, in particular in London. I've become aware of certain individuals who are taking advantage of "the system" and treating model agencies as pimp houses. When a model is sent on a "go see" or a shoot, it should be professional in every manner. They should not end up in a position where they feel compromised, violated or obliged to do anything.
I don't believe model agencies should wait for something "bad" or criminal to happen before action is taken. I believe a photographer/director should have to prove that they are safe to work with young people. Preventative steps do not come at a cost. Yet, damage caused by inaction is costly to many, including the psychological damage caused to young models.
I believe it comes down to integrity. You either have it or you don't, there is no in-between. I must point out that there are some amazing model agencies and agents who DO take this seriously and HAVE taken steps to protect their models. I also think that what Sara Ziff and the Model Alliance are doing in New York is amazing and courageous. I hope London and other major cities follow.
The Fashion Law – Diversity in the modeling industry is a big topic of discussion lately. What are your thoughts on this?
Ian Cole – Firstly, I think a lot of the coverage I've read lately is nothing more than media propaganda, but I am glad it is making the headlines. On the ground level, I think there should be a lot more diversity. I've always championed diversity. Yet, I feel I've not done enough. But nobody should ever book a model BECAUSE they are black, or BECAUSE they are Asian, or BECAUSE they are a plus size. Neither should somebody book a job just to make up numbers because there's not ENOUGH ethnic models on the list. I've featured many ethnic models but I've never booked any BECAUSE of the colour of their skin or the country they were born.
I put Rob Evans on a cover last year but I didn't book him because he was black. I booked him because he deserved it and was a great model. I totally understand why people get wound up about these issues, but I also think they need to be realistic. Isn't racism more about hatred? I don't see hatred towards ethnic minorities in fashion. In my experience, I've never seen any racism in fashion, but I don't doubt that it does exist, because it exists in humanity. People are racist, not "industries."
Would I like to see more models of ethic origin fronting campaigns and magazine covers? And models that aren't all super-skinny? I certainly would. But let's remember, runway shows are more about the collections than the models and in many cases, clothes look great hanging off girls with a certain figure. The girls might not look like everybody else, but the clothes look good. Let's not put 5 foot tall, size-12 girls on the runway just to satisfy our insecurities.
The Fashion Law – How do you think the British fashion scene is different from the U.S.?
Ian Cole – I think the U.S. is a HUGE place. So, for example, New York is different to LA. Personally, I prefer London's fashion. I think people don't take themselves as seriously. They're more relaxed about fashion and about how they look. Just from experience, the U.S. seems a lot more mainstream than the UK, but New York is a little more hipster and influenced by Europe. That's just in my experience. I wear jeans, t-shirts and hoodies though! lol.
The Fashion Law – What have you learned about the business of fashion from your work thus far?
Ian Cole – I think it needs a hell of a lot more infrastructure and I think it needs to open its doors to more talented people BECAUSE they are talented not because they "fit in." I also think that a lot of people who work in fashion should have a greater understanding of the industry. There are some model agents who know nothing about photography, modeling, fashion or anything relating to image. So, why are they in the job?
There are people working in PR who are clueless. One of the most important aspects of PR is to be informed and knowledgeable about what's happening both in the mainstream and with subculture publications. Occasionally, I come across PR's that either don't know my magazines or say it's not right for their clients. So, I go straight to their clients, because they are paying the PR to get them coverage. If they've not heard of my magazine then they need to do their homework. These are the same kind of PR that are fooled by fake publishers - gullible, stupid, yet they love to go clubbing and think they're cool. You know the type.
There are "art directors" who make me cringe with their behaviour. Many do not have an understanding of enough disciplines. Yet, they have a website where they call themselves "art directors" or "creative directors." An art director should conceive an idea and see it through from conception to completion. WAY too many people turn up on shoots, tell the models what to do (which is a joke in itself) and then they credit themselves as Art Directors.
I also find it comical that a team of people - photographer, fashion stylist, hair/makeup and models can shoot an editorial for free then a retoucher sat in front of a screen can ask for hundreds/thousands of pounds/dollars to "finish the images off." I think this whole situation is completely out of hand and that many editors are blind. So many photographers' work looks the same because the same retouchers are behind it. I believe the photographers should undertake the post-production themselves. There are many exceptions where the retouch team are part of the creative process, which I respect.
Lastly, i think the big corporate fashion brands should update their policies when it comes to interns and creative freelancers. When there are big profits involved, expecting people to work for free is past a joke now. I know that certain brands spend vast amounts on hospitality to impress VIP's. Yet, interns and others get zero.
I don't want to sound totally negative on all these points. I speak out because this is a GREAT industry with amazing people and it's frustrating to watch the bad stuff happen and to see fools talking their way into a job. I've noticed a lot of industry veterans recently speaking out and I hope more continue to speak up.
The Fashion Law – What are you working on now?
Ian Cole – At the moment I am working on many, many projects! Issue #10 of CLIENT, Issue #18 of Carbon Copy and Issue #12 of Supplementaire. I am in the process of signing a number of zines and and books including the 100 Faces/100 Boys 330-page book I mentioned earlier, shooting my own book (which I've been working on for two years), releasing a Controversial Zine, focusing a lot on analogue photography.
I have a project in the pipeline with director/photographer Matt Lambert for a special Berlin zine and print projects for f-journals and an annual called Teen Propaganda. One of the exciting jobs I am working on at the moment is Client Travel Journals, where we are producing books and digital media on great design and boutique hotels across the world, according to destination, with original photography and honest positive commentary. This is launching later this year. I am looking forward to traveling, meeting new people and taking lots of breathtaking pictures.
The Fashion Law – Oh my god, you are busy! Aside from your many projects, what are you obsessed with right now?
Ian Cole – Without a doubt, my current obsession is integrity. It's seems hard to find these days. So, it's an immense pleasure to find truly great people.
all images courtesy of ian cole