We are truly honoured to have Ross Harvey be the first interview live on ARC. Winning ‘The Best Wedding Photographer in England’ award for two years in a row, Ross Harvey has also won 13 Fearless Awards making him #1 in the UK and has spoken around the globe. Ross is also a passionate street photographer, entrepreneur, public speaker and professional daydreamer. He met us over Skype to talk about his inspirations, creativity and how that links with his scientific, spiritual and philosophical beliefs.
Interview by Sachin Khona // September 2015
Photography Work & Practices
Hi Ross! So, to kick things off WHERE IS HOME FOR YOU AND WHERE DO YOU WORK?
I live and work at home in the UK, in Norwich; a fine city of cobbled streets which hosts a beautiful meandering river.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS LIVED THERE OR WAS THERE A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO MOVE TO NORWICH?
I moved from my hometown of Lowestoft when I joined a start-up company as a graphic designer and web developer, after completing my Masters degree in Advanced Computer Science at the UEA (Norwich university).
IN WHAT WAY, IF ANY, DOES LOCATION INFLUENCE YOUR WORK?
It doesn’t affect my work, but it effects my lifestyle. It’s only a short drive to some nature spots where I can chill out, meditate, and be inspired by nature.
I used to contract in London, but I never liked the speed or the impersonality there. It never gave me enough time to digest and contemplate, which I find very important. I enjoy a relaxed and smooth lifestyle. Living in Norwich is perfect for that.
Do you have a designated workspace or office?
Yes. It’s quite compact but it’s only for me and it’s all I need. It’s got as much audio equipment in it as computers!
SO MUSIC IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Absolutely. I spend a lot of my time in this study and most of that time I’m listening to music. Good equipment makes a big difference to the listening experience.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER?
It was never a conscious decision. In 2006 I was browsing eBay and I saw a little 350D Canon camera, and while not knowing anything about photography, I bought it on an impulse. I fell in love with photography instantly. That was my first toe in the water, as such. I had no intention, or end goal. It was just something that I enjoyed doing. From 2006 to 2009, while photography was a hobby, I was a graphic designer working for corporate banks as a usability and design consultant. I learned a lot about psychology and how it links up with creativity. Those years formalised my thinking about applying creativity in the field.
When I first became a wedding photographer, in 2010, I was shooting very traditionally – similar to those who had inspired me – because that’s what is generally expected of wedding photography. It didn’t actually click for a couple of years then I thought to myself, “Why aren’t I using the principles that I learned in graphic design in my photography?” That catalyst changed how I composed and approached my work.
Seeing Jonas Peterson‘s work was a revelation, it taught me that you can be successful and shoot however you want. It inspired me to shoot my own way, merging all of the design and psychological principles into it. That’s when I started to express and showcase my true self through wedding photography.
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that BROUGHT you to where you are now?
There are two events actually. One relates to business and the other is philosophical.
The business event(s) was connected with my reputation, when I won the Wedding Industry Awards’ Best Photographer of the Year in England. That credibility offers a great platform to work from and helps spread your name among the industry. Winning the award twice, along with the Fearless Awards, did wonders for my business globally.
However, the biggest turning point was a philosophical and spiritual one, which for me is much, much more important. It’s the realisation that when you align yourself with what you are doing, you have a much deeper resource of creativity, energy and inspiration than you’d find if you were just doing it to earn a living.
Inspiration keeps you up all night with a yearning to learn and grow. Without that drive you can hit a plateau quite quickly, so it’s not about becoming the best at something, it’s about finding something you’re passionate about. As the wonderful Alan Watts often said, it makes no sense to do something you dislike simply to earn money in which to pay for your own existence, in which you do something you dislike. It’s a perpetual cycle. However, if you do whatever it is you love you’ll eventually master it. And once a master, many will want to either learn from you or employ your services.
When you offer something for other people out of passion, you’re not driven by selfishness or greed; you’re driven by channelling the creative process itself. You offer a service to the world with deep intrinsic value.
A songwriter can create a beautiful piece of music which is enjoyed for generations, played all over the world by millions of people. Each time uplifting and inspiring the listener. A photographer can capture a moment in time, creatively and emotively, that achieves exactly the same thing. A timeless and positive legacy.
Artistic creations, albeit a photograph, movie, painting or song, are born into the world and continue to inspire people. They open the hearts of those they resonate with. That, to me, is an incredible gift and service to offer. Many people define success as earning money while you’re not actually working, but I think success is when you invoke positive emotions in people when you’re not working.
I worked on my own belief system, ironing out the creases and distortions, until I fully believed that wedding photography could provide the life I dreamed of. And it has. I would always think “What excites me? How can I grow? Where can I go?” That is the beauty of it – the dream evolves over time.
If you’re on the combined path of self development and helping other people, the only result is a positive effect in the world. If you live a whole life like that then, goodness me, when you’re on your deathbed you’re going to look back with humility and think, “I made the most of it. I made a difference”. Being able to achieve that through an art form – photography in my case – is something to always be grateful for.
What excites you, as a person and as an artist?
That’s a very good question, but I’d not separate the two. Artistry is the expression of one’s self. The degree and manner in which we’re able to express ourselves is determined by our emotional and mental state of being; our belief systems. My daily inspiration is to maintain a stable and positive state of being no matter the circumstances. Life then becomes incredibly fulfilling and creativity flows naturally.
Helping other people understand the mechanics of the mind, and offering tools and techniques in which they can optimise it is another passion of mine, one which features in my workshops and training.
The mind can be your worst enemy or greatest supporter. Consciously optimise the mind and everything else falls into place.
Wedding wise, my aspiration is to showcase a couple’s wedding emotively, beautifully and artistically. My inspiration no longer comes from other photographers, it has evolved into a more altruistic form. Excitement is a kind of frequency you tune into, leading you in certain directions, and can only be found when you’re in a positive state.
Following a tiny little thread of excitement can explode into a life changing career.
how then does this excitement influence your work, and do you still experience fears?
My belief system and the principles that I live by have empowered how I approach wedding photography and all areas of my life. I’ve discovered that creative self-expression is linked to your state of being. So the more I focus on expressing myself as honestly as I can, with integrity, the greater my creativity. How you shoot a wedding, how you make a decision, or in fact how you do anything is all related to your state of being. This is also true for creativity and again is something I discuss extensively in my workshops.
When you merge creativity with your mindset, you can completely liberate yourself in a professional environment, without any pressure whatsoever. You never feel like you have to perform, or need to say, “Right! Now I’m going to be creative.” You don’t ever force it; you allow it through certain techniques. That’s been paramount in my own career.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
Along with offering life coaching to various businesses and individuals (away from photography) I’m also the Creative Director of a data based business.
I used to work in usability consultancy and brand design. They say it’s good to have two hobbies or passions as you can jump between them and keep inspiration fresh. I really enjoy getting my hands dirty in web and graphic design now and then. I built two sites for the aforementioned data business, a public front end and private/secure online system for members. I’m a geek at heart, and if you ever see me, mention an internet meme and you’ll see how true that statement is :¬)
I’m also (slowly, as time permits) building an altruistic website, related to the nature of reality (referencing classical and quantum physics), meditation and peace. Namaste!
What do you feel differentiates you from other photographers?
I’ve spent 20+ years researching the nature of consciousness, reality, quantum physics, physics, neurology, psychology and biology. I’ve started to build a comprehensive picture of what it means to be alive, what it means to be creative, who we are and what we’re doing here. That scientific and spiritual background has gifted me strong self-assurance and confidence in my ability to be who I want to be. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way; rather a peaceful and creative way. It has enabled me to act on my excitement and to trust that process implicitly. Faith in life might be a concise way of describing it.
Add to that the years of effort in which to transmute any negative belief systems that may be lurking in the shadows of my subconscious into positive belief systems, and I’ve found myself in a very empowering state of mind.
I can’t stress enough how important honest self reflection and the will to change for the better is for your happiness and creative output, whatever your chosen field.
What creative training do you do outside of your work?
Everything I’ve learnt, even from my graphic design days, has been self-taught. The path is self-actualisation. It’s a very big subject, but it’s about actualising your true potential. Along with that approach, and past inspiration from other photographers, I’ve been inspired by many spiritual teachers of Eastern traditions; I’ve read a lot from yogis and Zen masters.
In terms of creative inspiration specifically for photography, it would be the film industry. I learnt a great deal from the best cinematographers. I recommend looking at the works of Wes Anderson, Roger Deakins and Stanley Kubrick as a start.
Just Google “top ten cinematographers” and knock yourself out! Watch the films with the sound muted otherwise you’ll get carried away by the story. Without the sound you can see how a cinematographer has framed and composed the actors in each scene and the way scenes flow to portray emotional states.
For example, if a character holds power/status over another they will often compose said person bigger in the frame, looking down at those ‘below’ them. That kind of composition has an effect in photography, and it helps to understand such visual relationships and to employ them for your own benefit.
what is the best piece of career advice you were ever given, or are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share?
At the risk of sounding like an audio pull string toy (think Woody – Toy Story), be passionate about your passion. When it comes to creativity, follow your passion without fear. Fear will only hold you back from achieving your potential. If you’re excited about something it’s for a reason. So when you follow that excitement and put your time and your skills and your love into it, you will find the place that you need to be.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
I take a step back and reflect upon my state of being to determine why I’m not feeling 100%, as creative blocks are connected to imbalances elsewhere in our personal lives and hence emotional state. As mentioned before, efforts are then taken to analyse and tweak my mindset.
Can you tell us about any current projects you’re working on?
Myself and nine other good friends are in a globe trotting group called The 8 Street. We travel the world shooting street photography. Street photography is organic and honest; it’s visceral. Being able to incorporate composition, light and emotional elements in such an environment is a huge challenge, but one with incredible artistic rewards.
When you consistently capture creative street work, you’re training your mind to spot mystery, juxtaposition, patterns and relationships. This can prove invaluable for weddings, as per the below photograph, a favourite of mine!
I recently visited Myanmar (click for the full blog post) with Kristian Leven, Sachin Khona and Matt Tyler. It was a wonderful life experience not only for the travel, but for the flourishing friendships. Photography opens doors of opportunity.
Do you have a photograph burned into your memory that you never took?
Yeah, I have a lot of those. And actually it was you (Sachin), who said, “If I haven’t got a camera I still take it in my head.” You may be on a train, whizzing past a busy junction when you spot a split second, beautiful composition. You couldn’t possibly pull a camera to your eye in time, so I just appreciate it in that moment.
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
Trust your ability. Don’t be afraid to experiment, or you’ll never learn anything.
If you try something and it doesn’t work, it won’t see the light of day. If you try something and it works, it could be something that defines you in the whole industry; it could be a game changer.
You will fail – we all fail. Anthony Robbins, a fantastic motivational speaker, said, and I think he was paraphrasing, “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” It’s something that has stuck with me. If you’re fearless about trying things, you’ll grow. But you have to trust yourself to be able to do what you do.
Maintaining a positive state of being, moment by moment, is also incredibly important.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Many mantras have helped me over the years.
Life is a string of ‘now’ moments. You can not experience the past or the future; you can only experience the moment. Right now. We look at the time and see a fixed number, but it is actually now. If you look at your watch two minutes later it’ll show a different time, but it’s the same now. It’s always now.
Every single decision you make is in the now, and each decision is a reflection of your state of being – either from a positive place or a negative place. The world can be quite difficult sometimes, but if you let that get on top of you all of your decisions will be influenced by that focus, and that will prove destructive in the long term. Conversely, if you make efforts to be positive your decisions and actions will mirror that.
Another mantra is to choose love. I don’t mean the cupid, sappy stuff you see in films and television. I mean love as the encompassing definition of positive emotion, such as compassion, patience, kindness and generosity. When you operate at that level you’ll make choices that are beneficial to yourself and others. You’ll find yourself becoming happier and happier. You’ll be proactive rather than reactive, finding yourself able to point your life in certain directions.
Can you share an image that you are particularly proud of and the story behind it?
This image was taken on a trip with The 8 Street to Paris a couple of years ago. It’s my favourite street photograph due to the combination of abstract design and multiple levels of juxtaposition. It creates a mysterious atmosphere that engages the viewer and invites them to think deeper about the photograph.
One of my favorite quotes…
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein
As Alex Webb asks, “Does [the photograph] make you ask a deeper question, or give you a simple answer?”
An example of a simple answer being a street shot in which a poster seemingly interacts with someone in the foreground. That’s fine for a quick giggle, but it doesn’t have lasting depth and intrigue. A mysterious shot has invisible content and invites the viewer to wonder. The latter kind of images are those I strive for.
can you describe a bit more about working as a street photographer and waiting for that moment in the image above and other moments in your work?
Follow your excitement and trust the small intuitive impulses. Most people assume that the little ‘nudge’ they get intuitively should point them to a ready and waiting masterpiece, but that’s (usually) not the case. That little nudge might point you over to a seemingly mundane looking doorway or building, but when you follow that path you stumble upon a scenario or place you’d never have expected.
Follow seemingly ‘insignificant’ threads of excitement/intuition, they can lead to incredible surprises.
Be patient too. You may find a great environment (as I did with the photo above), but have to wait some time before the right subjects fill the frame. I waited 40 minutes for the perfect foreground silhouette in ‘Mysterions’ combined with the background subjects offering juxtaposition in both context and lighting. Thanks to Koci for inspiring me to keep an eye out for hats. Great for silhouettes!
What else inspires and motivates you?
It sounds quite random but I also get inspiration from anyone who is world class at what they do. If you haven’t seen it, watch John Butler perform Ocean. It’s a twelve-minute guitar solo. Turn the lights off and put it on full screen and watch the whole thing from your heart. You’ll see that he channels his full self in this performance, holding nothing back. It’s such a tuned, personal and emotional piece. The guitar becomes an extension of himself. A means to express himself. That’s what a camera is to a photographer, or a brush to a painter.
Or take a look at Lionel Messi. He was told as a kid that he would never play football because of a birth defect, but he refused to believe it and said, “No, I’m going to be the best in the world.” He attained that even with a disadvantage. In fact, he turned it into an advantage. He proactively chose a positive belief system (I can do it), rather than be forced to accept a negative one (you can’t do it).
That inspired me in the context of photography. People with an empowered belief system excel at what they love to do.
What do you hope to be doing in five, ten or fifteen years from now?
Honestly, I want to by flying around in a spaceship. Give it 20 years :¬)
Until then I’ll expand teaching and workshops regarding an empowered creative mindset. Seeing people suddenly grasp the power they never knew they had is a truly magical experience.
I never plan for the future though, as my goals can and will change as life progresses. We’re dynamic, fluid beings. If you hinder that fluidity by setting yourself a goal and following it rigidly simply to follow and achieve the goal, you may lose your passion. Dreams evolve. Evolve with them.
can you share a bit about your daily schedule? and what within that do you not like to do and why?
For a while I kept to a daily schedule from Chase Jarvis, which worked wonders until I lost the rhythm due to a busy spell of weddings. It was hard to maintain for me. So I work when I feel like it, which has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re producing the desired quality of work and you’re finding time for yourself it doesn’t really matter how you manage it. There is no right or wrong approach.
What I don’t like to do is any kind of housework or admin, but that’s not unusual!
The Core // Foundation
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
That is a deep question! I would give as much as I could to people. I’d give all my possessions away, obviously, but I’d also give as much of my emotional self away; I’d ring people that I haven’t spoken to in a long time; go round and see my parents for a nice long chat; walk around in nature and observe humanity; absorb and appreciate what life is without any preconceptions.
I’d soak it all up with a smile and prepare myself (relax) for whatever comes next.
If you could change one aspect of our society, what would it be?
There are two ways to see the world. The first is that nothing is a miracle and the second is that everything is a miracle.
Far too many people have stopped believing there is any magic in the world. They lack inspiration and think of everything as a nothing-of-value labels, “Person. Tree. Car. Cat. Seen it all before – yawn.” They carry old and often bitter belief systems that have been forced into them since they were children, usually by authority figures; “The universe is vast, and you’re insignificant. Life is unfair – deal with it. Your dreams are childish, get with the real world.”
These inherited beliefs suck out desire for life. They make people feel powerless. They’re also outdated, stemming from an older understanding of science. If you know anything about quantum physics, or even just particles, you’ll know that the mechanics of the material world are exceedingly mysterious, with the observer (you) playing a rather important role.
Which is why I cover these topics in workshops, to do the opposite of these negative beliefs systems, to offer a perspective of the world that is empowering. When you discover something that works for you, you can’t help but want to share it!
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how would you express your creativity?
Firstly, through teaching. I would pass on whatever has helped me to help other people. Secondly, through writing. I’m in the early stages of authoring two books, one to do with creativity/fulfilment and the other a science fiction novel.
Have you ever doubted your talent? And if so, how did you work through your doubt?
Any doubt or fear is founded in a negative belief system, and once identified, I employ certain techniques to get to the source of it and transform it for the better. It’s a constant process, one in which you have to spend the time to analyse your choices and emotional reactions.
I believe that understanding the nature of the mind, and how to optimise it, is the most invaluable thing you can learn. It opens your mind, heart and creativity.
so that self-trust helped you when you initially doubted your talent?
It wasn’t so much doubting the talent; it was more about my approach. I had a restricted mindset that said, “You must shoot like this!” That was seat of the doubt. Talent-wise, I’ve always believed I could achieve what anyone else could. We all can.
And in closing, is there anything else you’d like to share with otherS?
A few do’s and don’ts…
Lighten up, have fun with it – don’t take yourself too seriously. If you take everything seriously, there will be no room or time in your life for fun. Which is far more important. Don’t take on other people’s negative beliefs systems. For some bizarre reason, people seem to like passing on their fears to other people. The mind is very powerful, more so than most believe, so use it wisely.
Be yourself to the fullest of your ability. Don’t focus on what you shouldn’t do because if you try and avoid things you risk being driven by fear. Make positive decisions about what you can do, about what you feel like doing, and what excites you.
Smile, life is beautiful :¬)
Quick Fire Questions
Film / Documentary that is a must watch
Music // Share a Spotify playlist
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading
Series: His Dark Materials, Imhotep, Dark Space, Dune, Culture (Banks)
A website you regularly follow?
Last place you travelled?
Myanmar & NYC for street photography, Switzerland for workshops.
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Alex Webb (street photographer)
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein
Coconut milk out of a freshly opened coconut. Oh yeah!
Also hot chocolate :¬)
Favourite (photography related) Ted talk:
Last gallery / exhibit you visited:
Ancient Egypt – Madrid, Spain
Your favourite photography book:
The Suffering of Light // Alex Webb
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past or can you create on that you feel can help those reading this interview?
Use a 35mm prime lens for an entire shoot. Use at all distances, especially very close. Learn to control composition and framing and see the differences in what you can achieve at these differing distances.
Links to your personal work // projects:
Street photography // http://street.rossharvey.com
Thank you so much for your time Ross!
You can see more of Ross’ work here // Web
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with Philadelphia based film photographer, MICHAEL ASH.
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