Amanda Eatwell: “While Instagram is great, you don’t get the same softness that you do with film”

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Islington-based photographer Amanda Eatwell has a clear vision for her latest body of work; a project she is calling Downtime.

Inspired by the ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ philosophy, Amanda’s latest series of photos explores the differences between what people do as a profession and what they do in their spare time.

Amanda is determined that Downtime will secure her work a new level of appreciation from critics.

“My life is my work, and I’m now pushing for recognition for it,” she tells me.

Amanda’s new frame of mind is due, in part, to an offhand comment from an industry contact, who said her photographs were “good” but had “something missing”.

“That really resonated with me. It really hit a nerve because I then felt like I had held back for years and didn’t push myself,” she sighs.

It’s easy to feel that Amanda, who has been a photographer for over 15 years,  is being overly hard on herself. She is a member of the Islington Arts Society (IAS) and regularly exhibits in the borough. Her photographs are vibrant and characterful, but also insightful, capturing her subject’s unique personality with a playful twist.  

But rather than being defeated by criticism, Amanda decided to embrace a new outlook and adapt her approach to the art form.

“It made me become more analytical and critical of every photo I take. I’m now worrying less about the subject when I’m shooting and thinking more about what I want to get out it.”

That was two and a half years ago. Now Amanda is progressing toward releasing her first book, composed of photos from Downtime.

“Over the last two or three years I have been constantly assessing what I’m doing, shifting and testing myself.

“I’ve developed a new critical eye which is important.” She now doesn’t hesitate to throw out photos she deems under par, even if a shoot has taken hours. Amanda radiates a crackling energy. It’s clear that she thrives off the challenge to create the perfect image.

And her professionalism is evident. Amanda has been in the business her entire working life, dividing her time between commercial freelance work and her own projects. When the conversation moves to the beginning of her career, Amanda adopts a wistful tone.

“When I first started there were film labs everywhere – all over London,” she muses. This is such an alien notion to me, I tell her, as a millennial who has only ever known print photography as something retro and specialist.

“It’s a shame that digital is now more popular than film”, she tells me. “The best bit is the process you go through, from taking the photos to developing them. Nowadays, apps just don’t give the same result and while Instagram is great, you don’t get the same softness that you do with film.”

Her wistfulness for print photography makes me jealous to have missed this this glorious heyday, when getting photographs printed was easy and didn’t cost the earth. But I wonder, did the digital boom hurt her career?  

“It was a bit worrying five years ago,” she admits. “If you were to ask people in the business they will admit they were worried too.

“It made things harder and easier. There are thousands of rubbish images out there and everything is just so immediate which can make things harder for professional photographers. I find it tiresome sometimes, how immediate it is.

“But I have discovered that people still recognise and appreciate the difference between professional and nonprofessional photos. As a professional there is a certain standard I aim for, and my clients still want images that are individual and have a clear vision.”

While her clients usually insist on digital photos (she uses a Nikon D700), Amanda has been indulging her love of film with another project entitled ‘Analogue.’

“The process is what I’m attracted to,” she gushes. Amanda uses 35mm film and cross processing – an “unpredictable and risky” method where the wrong chemicals are used to develop the film – to create images with vibrant colours and a vintage feel.

When I ask what her favourite photo is, she responds rapidly with ‘Plastic People’, an image featuring two old men surrounded by high rise buildings. “The age of the men and the buildings, combined with the colours (heightened by the cross processing) just works so well together,” she smiles.

With her long dark hair and neat appearance, Amanda comes across as a consummate professional. But underneath this facade lurks an experienced artist with a committed vision and aspirations to push the boundaries of photography and identity.