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Creative Careers: Graham Diprose on supporting the future of the creative industries

A woman looks at a mirror over her shoulder.
A woman looks at a mirror over her shoulder.
Image taken from 'Tender Grounds', Zula Rabikowska.
Written by
Chloe Murphy
Published date
10 February 2021

At London College of Communication (LCC), we support our students to become the future of the creative industries. We're proud to give them the tools they need to develop key critical and technical skills, to build their confidence, and to grow their professional networks.

Our Industry Mentoring Programme matches postgraduate students with experienced mentors who can offer helpful tips, information and advice on ways to kick-start their career.

Throughout their connections, mentees gain the professional insight needed to develop their career plans and forge important professional relationships. In turn, mentors gain access to the latest College networks while supporting the next generation of thinkers, makers and communicators.

As part of our Creative Careers series, we're catching up with some of our current mentors to reflect on their experiences.

Graham Diprose

Graham Diprose is a photographer and former LCC academic who has supported a number of students through the Industry Mentoring Programme.

Most recently, he was connected to MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography student Zula Rabikowska, who was named winner of the inaugural Emerging Talent Gold Award by the Association of Photographers (AOP) in recognition of her work, Citizens of Nowhere. Their regular catch-ups helped Zula to develop her ideas, receive useful feedback on grant applications and portfolio submissions, and meet a range of colleagues in the field.

We chatted to Graham about the highlights of his time as an LCC mentor, as well as his incredible career journey.

A photograph of a book cover.
Image credit: Graham Diprose.

"It's nice to still be very busy with many projects"

Tell us about the different branches of your creative path so far.

I’ve worked as a Commercial Photographer for over 40 years. I think the nicest job was for Renault cars in Monte Carlo, and the worst was probably a food shot to make Findus Crispy Pancakes look yummy!

I began part-time teaching at LCC in the autumn after I left, when I was 21 years old (which is a long story for another day!) In 1984, I became a full-time lecturer at LCC, but also kept on with my studio and some commercial work. I became a research-based Senior Lecturer teaching photography to design students, and also produced 2 documentary photographic books and exhibitions both themed around the River Thames - Then and Now. These led to my ongoing research with Heritage England, Museum of London and University College, Oxford, which concerns a safe way to archive digital images 500 years into the future. I remain very concerned indeed that digital data is the most fragile form of photographic image storage ever invented.

I retired from LCC in 2011 to co-write an international textbook, Photography: The New Basics for Thames and Hudson, before helping Speos Institute Paris to set up a new MA-level Independent School of Photography in London. I’m now involved in the wider digital arts, and co-chair the EVA London Conference that’s held every July by the BCS (British Computer Society). Our 2020 event was run in November, but reached a worldwide audience thanks to Zoom. I’m also a member of the Photographers United Organising Committee.

It's nice to still be very busy with many projects as my 70th birthday is coming up in the Spring!

A photograph of a book cover.
Image credit: Graham Diprose.

"It's very important that we work harder on equal opportunities for all"

What have been some of your career highlights?

I’ve been very fortunate indeed throughout my career. Photographically, I would say the highlight was being part of early digital imaging in the late 1990s onwards. Our Design Photography area at LCC collaborated with many top manufacturers and software developers to beta-test their latest products on our fellow staff and students. Along the way, we ‘accidentally’ made the biggest digital photo in the world on a couple of occasions!

On the academic side, a further highlight has been being sitting on the validation panels of photographic courses for many UK universities, and helping them to get the best outcomes for both their staff and students.

Over the past 10 years, I've really enjoyed moving into the wider digital arts to work on projects with the likes of the Computer Arts Society, BCS, V&A, Art in Flux and RCA. It was also a real privilege to be asked to be a judge for The Lumen Prize Long List for Still Image in the summer of 2020.

Why is it important to support the next generation of creatives, and what should be a core area of focus for supporters moving forward?

It’s been very rewarding to work with students and graduates to help them over the first few tricky years. Any of us who have had a great life and really interesting careers should try to give something back to our creative industries, and it’s very important that we work harder on equal opportunities for all. Worldwide statistics - such as the fact 65% of students in art schools are female, but 2 years out, 65% of successful working graduates in the industry are male - show us how much we still have to do.

At EVA London, we began collaborating with the Art in Flux community about 3 years ago, which had already naturally attracted an incredibly diverse demographic of artists and academics. Working with organisations like this continues to be a massive win-win all round, and vitally enriches and refreshes any more established organisation.

A portrait of Zula.
Image credit: Zula Rabikowska

“I'm certainly learning as much from my mentee as any advice I may pass on”

Why did you decide to get involved with our Industry Mentor Programme?

After I retired from LCC, I gave myself many excuses that I was just too busy to get involved in case I let my allotted mentee down. While I had spent many years on 1:1 tutorials while teaching at the College, mentoring is quite different. The role is not to teach or even necessarily to find someone a job yourself, but is instead about making them more employable - most of that is just instilling a bit of self-confidence, self-belief, and perhaps some useful contacts from one’s Little Black Book!

Recently, you mentored documentary photographer Zula Rabikowska while she was at LCC. How have you been able to support her career so far?

I reckon that I am Zula’s cheerleader more than anything else. I’m certainly learning as much from her as any advice that I may pass on, and quite possibly far more.

She had numerous beautiful projects already before I met her, and these have brought her a number or exciting and prestigious awards over the past year. I can take little or no credit for any of them, other than to encourage her to really go for any opportunity or competition that came her way. The rest is all totally down to her talent and very hard work.

I’m really hoping that we can continue to work together for some time to come, even if I start with a new LCC Mentee in 2021.

What have been the highlights of your time as a mentor?

My highlights have been the times where I’ve been around on the end of an e-mail or Skype to share someone’s successes, or even to support if things haven’t gone so well.

Last year, I was LCC Mentor to Ruby Rossini who was an MA Design for Art Direction student. She finished her course with a superb final project that I felt was suitable for a Research Workshop Bursary, which enabled her to have publish her paper in our EVA London Conference Proceedings for 2020. Zula also had a brilliant Covid-related photographic project, and her paper has been accepted and published too.

While it was a shame that neither of them could present in person at our normal EVA London Conference in the summer, I’m hopeful that we can arrange something this year for them both.

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