OPEN CONVERSATIONS: Meet photographer Oli Sansom of Briars Atlas. We first met Oli six years ago when he was out in New Zealand at a glorious South Island workshop. Since then Oli and the work of Briars Atlas have been featured regularly upon the pages of Together Journal including taking the cover spot for issue 17. Oli is one of the most fun and contagiously positive people we know. We look forward to his words gracing our inbox just as much as his photography (do your self a favour and visit his website – it will make you smile). Oli we thank you immensely for always sharing your ‘recklessly optimistic’ outlook on life, regardless of the situation but of course, even more so right now.
How has the recent landscape changed for you over the past two weeks?
I’d say “turned upside down and then sprinkled with soggy bread and a dash of bin-juice” probably covers it. But anyone who knows me knows I’ll dance in the rain, even if it is raining bin juice.
What pro-active things are you doing at this time business-wise?
I’m extremely present to the privileged position I’m in. I mean, folks out there with kids, mortgages, health-issues or facing redundancies are experiencing this completely different to myself, as a sole-trader without those added dependancies. Yes – all the hard work I’ve done over the last 12 months to revive my business in a highly competitive industry – has just been undone in the space of one week – but without those dependancies, it’s actually very easy for me to look at this with my usual reckless optimism. So while all the work has disappeared and I’m staring down the barrel of 6-9 months of complete and utter job-insecurity, it’s extra important that I am able to be grateful in this time, and just put on the “get on with it” hat, and serve the folks that need serving. Switching into that mindset changes everything. Due to differing circumstance, some people aren’t able to switch into that mindset quite as easily – since I can, I think I have an obligation to. And that means not moaning about it, because the sky hasn’t fallen in. It means being thrifty, being gracious, being able to pivot, but most of all, it means giving. I’m making an extra effort to upskill in marketing in what has recently been a highly competitive industry, hone my craft, and most importantly, offer as much free teaching material as I can to other photographers now out of work for the same period of time. I’ve been fortunate to deliver talks on nearly every continent (got to Antarctica, but missed South America), and so I’ve been condensing that into a 100-day insta-stories series. For all the negative things associated with this, it’s proven an ideal time to take-stock of all of the education material I’ve developed and shared around the world, and work out how it can be useful to as many people as possible. (editors note: You can link to Oli’s project here)
Personally, what pro-active things are you doing at this time to stay happy?
If I look at what makes me content though, it’s just staying busy, feeling useful. I’m not much for sitting still, and I’m fine with that. There’s plenty of images to edit, there’s plenty of photographers with downtime, so if I can marry those two things together and serve those folks out there also navigating job-insecurity, then that feels good. Add to that a few too many dashes of red wine.
How are your wedding couples feeling and what are they saying to you?
My couples are using a bunch of adjectives that fall under the banner of “well, this kinda blows”, but the one consistent theme through them all has been empathy and a proactive spirit. I feel extremely fortunate that all the human joy that I’ve focused on in building my brand as a wedding photographer has translated to working with such wonderful pragmatic folks. Everyone is gutted – but everyone is getting on with it, and I’m using this as an opportunity to run my brand experience, which is anchored in optimism and problem-solving, through a new gauntlet: a pandemic.
Do you have any ideas for the industry in the short term to help cope with this current scenario?
For our couples: continuing to offer our counsel, and not forgetting just how much experience we actually have – which is easily forgotten, when we’re in the day-to-day just doing it. We’ve been there, we know a lot, and we have advice and ideas that can help them, often in the simplest ways (for example, using Doodle to collectively work out reschedule dates between vendors – and just being a shoulder). For industry: you know, I reckon the idea of “boredom” has a branding problem, and that’s always gonna come with the whole capitalism/economy-first thing. This is a time to, on one hand, focus on upskilling and surviving, but on the other hand – to let boredom and wonder take hold, and use that to move into slower projects and collaborations that tap into the future of all the work we’re doing. We have a unique opportunity to not be slave to reactionary thinking and production that comes with being busy, and instead see where wonder takes us, in building what all of this is going to look like on the other side: for us, and for the people that will hire us.