Interview with Rachel Stewart – The Winner of Monthly Contest CPC Portrait Awards, November 2018
Q: First of all, we want to congratulate you on winning our Monthly Contest CPC Portrait Awards! How does it feel to be a winner?
A: If you could explode from excitement – I would have. Sheer happiness!
Q: Can you introduce us to Rachel Stewart-Illingworth? What is your background? Where do you live? How old are you? Do you do photography as a full-time job?
A: I am 33 and live in a small village near Leeds, West Yorkshire. I live with my daughter, husband, and naughty dogs. I am a qualified social worker however when I finished university with the full support of my husband and dad, I decided to go with my heart and dive into photography full time.
Q: We cannot wait to hear more about the winning photograph and entire series you did with the animals. Were you working on some particular project with them? How did you come up with the idea to photograph them in such a way?
A: It all happened very quickly with my animal series. It began where I randomly came across two ravens on a day out, who are cared for by a woman who dedicates her life to them. They’re huge up close and so regal looking. I then set myself a challenge to find one as the ravens I had seen weren’t able to travel. I finally found one, called Vinnie! After asking model Aaliyah if she would like to work together, she agreed and the shoot was bonkers! Aaliyah and I work together a lot. She is a natural beauty and very striking. For this reason, she’s had some problems at her old school but has moved and is happy. She gets a real boost from modeling and we click when we work together. She and Vinnie were a match made in heaven for the winning image!
During the shoot itself, I just let Vinnie fly where he wanted to and basically if he landed on a chair then I would grab that image. This then gave me the bug for more animals. I wanted something different, a raccoon meercat and skunk are ….. different! After sourcing them from Oreo and Friends where they take in rescue animals, I then found 5 models, planned, hired their outfits from my nearest theatre in Leeds, set a time – and the rest is history. I have a real sentimental feeling for them, particularly as my daughter is in one (reading with Crear the raccoon). It was complete chaos but as a huge animal lover, this was so much fun. It’s not every day you get to cuddle a meercat!
My goal was exactly this for these images from the start, so I am thrilled that after all my efforts they paid off and I achieved Image of the month!
Q: Your other submissions to this contest got really noticed by the judges. Can you tell us how did you develop your style and how long you are into the photography?
A: I have been into photography for 6 years. The first 3 were a hobby, full time 2, then this year I began to enter into the competition. For the past 6 months, I have made sure that between clients I have shot for me at least once a month. I now have a way I light, then edit, which in turn has given me more of a set style. I am not technical and I will forever be learning!
Q: Do you have an official education in photography?
A: No, I am self-taught
Q: Where and how do you learn photography?
A: At first I would just practice all the time. Watch tutorials and read. I then had some training which really helped me turn a corner. I am forever reading blocks, feedback and I like the history of old paintings – they inspire me. It’s a very eclectic mix.
Q: How did you get your start in photography? What were some of the most important things you found along the way in relation to the development of your photography?
A: At the very beginning it was continually taking pictures of my darling girl, Marcy. People would ask me to take photos of their kids so it was like the universe was swaying me that way. Very quickly I came up with the name Evelyn and her Sweet Peas Photography, which is named after my wonderful mum and her favorite flower. She very sadly passed away 8 years ago, so it’s a comfort to hear her name most days.
My photography really changed and developed following some health problems. I have written this, then deleted it several times as it is so very personal, however, I do feel it has played a big part in where I am today. Over the last 8 years, I have had 3 battles with cancer. When you hear people say you see and feel things differently its true.
I would see colors brighter, smells sweeter and I would see the emotion in people more. Facial features began to stand out to me where I would think “oh I would love to photograph you”. The numerous hospital visits and chemotherapy, treatments, and scans are hard, and photography was kind of my get out. Following my third remission I promised myself that if my health stayed good, I would give this my absolute everything, and so far so good! Without a doubt, it gave me an immense determination and I never take my health for granted. I know first hand how quickly things can change. So, each day as cliché as it sounds I wake up with a glad heart, I enjoy the little things in life with my family and friends and huge achievements such as this are almost indescribable for me.
Q: How would you define your photography in a few words?
A: Quirky, random, fun. Sometimes emotive
Q: Who are your favorite photographers?
A: I could go on here as I admire so many for so many different reasons! If I had to choose my top 2 in child portraiture they would be Gemmy Woud Binnendijk and her faultless creativity and the untouchable Lisa Visser.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Day to day life. I sometimes love nothing more than getting in my car, putting the music on super loud and driving. For some random reason, this is when ideas just spring into my mind which may come from something someone had said or maybe something I’ve seen. My mum used to, and dad and husband still do call me ‘butterfly brain’. They say I flip from one thing very quickly to the next!
Q: What is in your camera bag? What camera body and lenses do you use?
A: I have a ratty old camera bag I seem to have become quite attached to haha. It contains my Canon 5D, my 24 – 105mm lens and my 50 mm at the moment. I also have the 85mm and 70-200mm. My next buy is the 35mm sigma art.
Q: What about lightning?
A: I mostly use one lite. My D-lite one with 135 softbox. Sometimes depending on the shoot Ill use a fill light too.
Q: Do you edit photographs in Lightroom or Photoshop? Do you have some favorite actions/presets that you are using for edits?
A: I always start in Lightroom then go over to Photoshop. Lauren Bennets LSP actions are great and I use them a fair bit.
Q: What is your proudest moment as a photographer/artist?
A: Ooo I have a few this year. THIS!!!! Getting 2nd in the teenage category, 3 silver distinctions and 1 silver with the WPPI, my 3 golds and 10 highly commended with the SWPP and 2 merits with the MPA (too hard to choose just the one). These are the moments I have physically jumped up and down with joy!
Q: Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers and artists about photography?
A: I think to just keep at it, write ideas down, try them. Don’t let the setbacks make you stop, we all have them. Ask for help if you need it. We are all in the same boat.
Q: Can you share some of your favorite photographs from November’s Monthly Photo Contest at CPC Portrait Awards?
A: Again a tricky one as I feel like every image is compelling in its own way. I adore ‘on the bus’ by Olga Polo and ‘Bakery’ by Iwona Podlasinska, ‘ Lil Ganster’ by Marcus Anthony and ‘Serina’ by Kaat Stieber.