The Part-Time Hustle with Neal Gruer (Photographer & Writer)

The Part-Time hustle is a platform set to explore people’s interests/hobbies outside of their 9-5. Just as we share ours, we want to share yours and create a community fuelled by your passions.

Name: Neal Gruer (@Scotch.Bonnet)

Full Time Job: Now, photographer & writer.

Part-Time Hustle: Used to be a City lawyer.

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1. How did you get into photography?

The simplistic answer is that I have always had cameras. Around age 8, I got my first one. From then, I kept getting newer and more versatile cameras, for birthdays mostly. When I hit 25, I took a round the world trip and bought a digital SLR. That’s when I really started to learn photography. I had the time to commit to practicing, the motivation to document the amazing places and people I was meeting, and diverse subjects to evolve my style and skills.

I have recently been contemplating a further limb to this question – “Why photography?”. I instinctively enjoy it, and maybe that is reason enough. But I also know that that enjoyment must have been sparked somewhere, and fuelled by something else for me to keep going. That is a question that I am only beginning to answer, but it is an answer that I think is important.

2. You ended up a quarter finalist on the show Masters of Photography, how was the experience and did it fuel your ambitions even further?

My experience on Master of Photography was extremely challenging – not just because of the photographic challenges we faced as contestants, but also being on a TV show. That said, it is during those extreme challenges that you are forced to learn, and push to new heights. I learnt a huge amount. Going into the show, I had a solid photographic foundation, but doing the tasks, facing the judges, facing the viewing public, meeting world-famous photographers and meeting other contestants – it was like giving my photography a steroid injection. I gained as much confidence from my failings on the show as my successes and it showed me that photography was something I could be success in, as long as I wanted it enough.

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3. Obviously a big part of the show, and art in general, is feedback. Is that a factor you consider when taking shots or is it personal satisfaction above all?

I think art should communicate something. If people don’t understand or appreciate what I’m trying to communicate, I need to decide whether I am communicating in the right way (or to the right people!). On the other hand, being appreciated and understood is beside the point. To me, it is more important to be honest about what I create. Whether people understand or appreciate it is many ways, irrelevant. Of course, I hope people are moved by what I do, but if I thought about their feedback too much, I think I would endanger that honesty. The way I see it, feedback is a relevant and essential part of challenging my work. It is influential, but it should neither lead my direction nor hold me back.

4. Photography is split into many sub-section, portrait, street, studio to name a few, do you specialise in any of these field and what is it that attracts you to it?

I am mostly a documentary photographer of people and streets. I like catching things candidly; exploring and revealing who people really are, both as individuals and as a species. As part of documenting, I also lean towards portraiture, again for that feeling of exploring the human condition.

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5. Previously, you mentioned you studied law (If I remember correctly) what made you make the dramatic change in career?

I studied law for seven years, including a Masters, and then worked as a lawyer for four years, qualifying as a Solicitor. The change in career was driven by a feeling that I could do something more. That, yes, I could work as a lawyer for the next 40 years, doing a job that someone else with a law degree could also do. Or, I could leave, and see what all those skills I gained from becoming a lawyer could do when combined with the creative skills and passions I had. I chose the latter, and have rarely looked back – basically only when my bank balance is looking a little light!

6. Where do you plan to take you skill/ plans for the future?

I tend to focus on the present. I feed the important relationships in my life and try to be honest with myself and others. I make decisive choices based on those two things and the future, generally, takes care of itself. My photography will be led by wherever those principles take me: hopefully to some heartfelt and meaningful projects that help people in some way.

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7. Any other Part-Time hustles?

When I left my job as a lawyer, I intended to primarily be a writer. Then photography took over. So I am writing more and more as the photography settles – articles for magazines and self-publication, as well as a novel. I write and perform poetry so am trying to expand that. I am also quietly developing an idea for a cross-cultural fashion clothing line. We’ll see what happens!

Quick Fire Round

1. Favourite shot you have taken? Probably “Mother & Bride”: nealgruerphotography.com/lives#1. It was recently selected to be in the final exhibition of the National Open Art Competition (NOA) in London’s OXO Wharf, in November 2017.

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2. Biggest inspiration? There is a life-sized oil painting of a horse standing on its hind legs in the National Gallery in London. It was painted around 350 years ago, but it is still a moving depiction of a horse. It reminds me that meaningful work survives, so I should make meaningful work.

3. Preferred Camera & Lens? At the moment, I am shooting mostly on film with mechanical cameras. I am very fond of my 1970s Canon QL GIII rangefinder, which has a fixed 40mm / f1.7 lens.

4. Most difficult challenge on Masters of photography? The studio task. I am more used to using natural surroundings in my shots, so the artificiality of the studio environment threw me.

5. Favourite shot from another photographer? Butterfly Boy (1949) by Jerome Leibling…as well as many others by many others.

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