Student Spotlight: Craig Waddell

In his final year at Edinburgh College of Art, photography student Craig Waddell has mainly focused on portraiture and street photography. In his project ‘A United State,’ Craig shot the streets of Boston, capturing the individuals he came across, and the dramatic light of the city. His portraiture work is captivating, with each photo feeling offering an insight into its subject, and featuring beautiful lighting, colours, and tones to enhance the image. Craig has also collaborated with the visual artist Shipei Wang, and has explored the images of ourselves we choose to present online in contrast to reality in his series ‘Profile.’ We caught up with Craig to discuss his course, what he wants to explore in his projects, and his aims for the future.

How did you get into photography?

It was something I was always very interested in when I was growing up and something I always did for enjoyment. I guess my first encounter with it as an art form was during my A-Levels. It was always a supporting element to the other work I was producing at the time, until I eventually realised what I was most interested in was the photography itself.

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What made you want to study Photography at Edinburgh College of Art?

I came to Edinburgh College of Art as part of the first year BA in Art, as at the time I was really unsure whether I wanted to commit to photography, as opposed to a more intermedia approach. Very quickly though, I realised photography was where I wanted to be. In terms of choosing ECA, the course structure was just what I was looking for, and the amount of resources available at the school is fantastic. Especially in the photo department – we have all the various kinds of cameras and lighting equipment you could ever need. The academic slant to the course also was something important to me, and I feel it has been extremely important to my development as an artist, as opposed to just concentrating on the technical side of photography. Furthermore, I immediately fell in love with Edinburgh as a city, and I couldn’t really imagine myself anywhere else!

How would you describe your work?

I’d say my practice is fairly varied. A unifying factor is I only really shoot colour across both film and digital media, and I’m always drawn to very vibrant scenes with strong contrasts and colour.

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You have captured a large variety of subject matter in your work. Do you have a favourite subject or form?

I would describe myself mainly as a portrait photographer. Photographing people is always most exciting to me, be it in the studio, on the street, or in their own environment. Having people in the frame always makes things so much more engaging for me, as both a creator and a viewer. But I think it pays to be versatile as an image-maker, and to apply different sets of skills and aesthetic considerations based on what you’re trying to engage in the project. I think if I only worked in one way for the rest of my career, it would drive me insane!

What projects have you completed on your course? Is there one you’re most proud of?

The course covers a wide range of projects, from street photography to studio based technical exercises, across film and digital. Also, in each year, we pursue a project of our own design, based around our interests and styles of photography we’re most invested in. I think the work I feel most proud of have been my medium format portraits – there is something about the feel of film, and the connection I have when photographing a person that makes them really special, which I hope is portrayed in the images. I’m still working on collating these into a body of work to show, which I’m quite excited about! In terms of a completed project, I was pretty happy with my ‘A United State’ collection of street photographs I produced in Boston whilst I was on an exchange – I couldn’t get enough of the contrasting shadows and the drama I could create from the spontaneity of shooting on the street.

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How has your photographic style and work developed while studying photography?

I guess as I’ve learned more and more technically and conceptually, my projects have taken on a much more focused remit. Currently, I’d say my main style has developed into fairly formal portraiture. I’ve tried to use the various projects across the course to hone my skills, so I’m best prepared for my final degree show work and life after graduation.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m working on a portraiture project based around queer culture in Edinburgh and challenges to heteronormativity. Identifying as a queer individual and through my experiences as a drag performer, I’ve always been interested in alternative ideas to established ideas of gender and breaking out of hegemonic stereotypes. In this project, I hope to portray my sitters with a sense of dignity and power as inspired by classical portraiture, whilst respecting their individual identities. Especially given the current social and political climate in the world at the moment, I feel it’s important to produce a project that states “We’re queer, we’re here to stay, and we’re proud of it.”

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Is there something you ultimately want to say with your photography?

I’ve always, across all of my work, been very interested in ideas of representation, and the relationship the portrait has to ideas of the self, especially in our image saturated society. I think there is something really special about viewing a portrait of someone in and of itself, especially in the printed form shown in a gallery space.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt on your degree?

I think the most important thing was something my documentary class tutor on my exchange at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, Mary Beth Meehan, taught me: you could be portraying the most emotional or exciting subject matter, but if the image just isn’t visually striking, it is so difficult to convey that to your audience. From the whole degree, I think something I’d take away is that you’ve just got to keep photographing and working on your stuff, even when it all seems to be going terribly. Everything always comes together eventually, even if it is years down the line.

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Do you have a dream project for the future?

I’d love to be able to travel in my photographic practice and really get into photographing a vibrant community, such as the queer performance scenes in New York. Ideally, I’d love to work as a commissioned portrait photographer – I would love to have the opportunity to meet exciting and varied people from all walks of life.

View more of Craig’s work at: craigwaddell.myportfolio.com.