Interview: Rebecca Naen & Hayley McCarthy

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Words: Alex Synamatix

We’re big fans of the work produced by Rebecca Naen and Hayley McCarthy. In fact we’ve been fortunate enough to exclusively publish all 4 parts of their first collaborative venture “Girls in…“. We sat down with the duo to discuss how they first teamed up and the challenges of going freelance.

Every now and then, the creative world showcases a strong example that power is (or can be) in numbers. Rebecca and Hayley are one of those examples. Individually, they are both huge talents in their own rights, but collectively they click into place like Power Rangers and become something unstoppable. We’ve showcased their work proudly throughout 2013 and so it only made sense to speak with the duo while they finished off their latest body of work titled “Future Faces“.

Firstly, can you tell us how and when you both met?

Rebecca: I think it was when we went for dinner in Chelsea with Yanni and we went to The Big Easy and Hayley came from when she was working at Penfield. You were going to Leeds or something the next day?

Hayley: Yeah! Yeah I was going to a wool factory for a Penfield video.

Rebecca: So that’s when we first met. We had lobster and cocktails [laughs].

And when did you first become aware of each other’s work?

R: Hayley worked around the corner from where I lived, so we started saying we’d go for drinks one night and then we started going to Thursday [industry] nights together ‘cos we both were South West and just kind of got talking about work and what we liked from that really. Eventually we were talking one day about some shoots we wanted to do and we both knew we wanted to do the same thing and that was it.

Rebecca, you’ve been doing photography for quite a while longer than Hayley has been styling. When did you first start?

R: Yes, 10 years. I was about 15 when I started photography as a hobby. I was just a kid and I had a camera and liked taking pictures. Then I moved to Dublin to go to University and I started taking pictures of agency models then and then decided over 3 years ago that I was going to move to London and make a proper go of it. But I didn’t study photography, it was just something I always really loved and then decided that once I’d graduated from my degree I’d give it a go.

And how about yourself with styling Hayley?

H: Well I did Fashion Marketing at university. I’d never actually planned to do styling. I was just working in PR with fashion brands, doing the lookbooks and it kind of developed into styling.

The last year has been very good for you both and part of that is down to you two teaming up. Did you ever predict the success when you teamed up for the first time?

H: Not at all.

R: Definitely not. We were meant to be doing another shoot, which unfortunately or fortunately fell through quite last minute. Me and Hayley were meeting up to talk about this other shoot and I found out just before the meeting that it was going to be postponed. We met up anyway and said “Well, we’ve got this date free, we were gonna shoot, let’s do something else but let’s definitely shoot this weekend and get it done”. So there and then we came up with a concept and that was the first “Girls in…” project, Girls in Print. And yeah [laughs] there you go!

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What is it about your individual styles that work so well together?

R: I guess we just have the same vision, fashion wise.

H:The same creative process and the same influences.

R:We both want the same thing when it comes to a photo shoot and we’re developing at the same pace. We’re developing together because we’re friends and we get along on that side of things. It’s just naturally developing and we’re going in the same direction together.

H: And we trust each other creatively, which is good. It gives us both freedom to come up with ideas and be creative without getting boxed in. It’s great.

Where do you get your influences from?

R: Well obviously as a photographer I’m always looking at photography references and new photo shoots, both big and small. I get a lot of influence from that and I’m always gathering new references and mood boards. If I see something I like I’ll put it to one side. It’s always taking pieces of different things and then adding our own vision on it I guess. Also, I might be walking down the road and see an amazing location and be like “I want to do a shoot around that!”.

H: It’s the same for me really. Dragging images off the internet and little bits, snippets. It can be fashion or art or even interior design; different colours together, textures. Even walls, if there’s different coloured tiles and things like that.

Creatively, what were you aiming to achieve with your “Girls in…” series?

H: I think kind of like a point of difference because within our industry women are very sexualised, so it was nice to do something how women would wear menswear rather than women in just their pants.

R:Yeah, because our section of the fashion industry, the more streetwear section, was very sexualised. It was girls in not many clothes and a hat kind of thing.

H: Yeah, nice trainers but no pants [laughs].

Do you think that the social commentary that’s at the core of that series is something that you’ll continue in your work moving forwards?

R: Not necessarily, we work with men and women. For me, it wasn’t a major element of the project, it was just how we like to be portrayed. It’s not like all women should be like this. There was no big thing behind it, it was just how we wanted it to be.

H: I don’t think intentionally I mean to do it, but quite a lot of my shoots are styled the same way. But that’s just taste and style, so it’s not something like pro-feminism.

Your work has it’s own style that’s quite strong an unique. Is that an important element to breaking through as a young name?

R: We’re both young and it’s a massive industry. I wouldn’t say it’s competitive, but there’s a lot of us, there’s a lot of creatives, there’s a lot of photographers and stylists. I think we’ve been very fortunate that what we’re doing hasn’t necessarily been done on a broader scale and we’ve been noticed for that. And that’s what you need, to have something that sets you apart.So that people will remember THAT shoot and it’s very obviously THAT shoot. You want to be people’s point of reference. People going to a meeting and they’re using your images as mood boards and references. You want to be the start of it, you don’t want to be the middle of it or the end of it.

Debut Girls in Presence by Rebecca Naen & Hayley McCarthy for The Daily Street 02

Thinking back, especially over the last year, is there any advice that you’ve been given that has really stuck with you?

R: I’ve been doing photography for 10 years now. Some of it no where near the scale I’m doing now, but I started interning nearly 5 years ago. I did my first internship in a major publication in January 2009 and I will always aways remember that. The Art Co-ordinator had faith in me but was very honest with me and I always remember one piece of advice that you will always be judged on your worst picture, not your best picture and that’s stuck with me. I think there’s a lot of young photographers that publicise every single shot they’ve ever taken and I don’t think that’s the way to do it. You want to show your best all the time and you want to strive to be your best all the time. It also takes time, and there’s a lot of people who think they can have it now and that’s not the way either, so it’s about having a lot of patience. Know what’s good and take your time.

H:I started interning within PR agencies, that’s how I built up contacts, so I haven’t come in cold. And then I worked in an actual fashion brand, so it’s quite good being a stylist now because you kind of know what each person in the industry wants. What the PR needs from the image, what the brand wants and then what I want. So I can provide a rounded product rather than just what I want to do.

R: With the internships I’ve done as well, I’ve worked on the picture desk of magazines and I’ve assisted on shoots and you see what’s expected of you as well. I think a lot of people have this idea of “Let’s just go and take some pictures! That’s all you need to do.”, but you’ve got to know what everyone’s expecting from you; the client and the audience and technically what you’re expected to do. There’s so many elements to one job and it’s always different and I think interning is one of the most important things you can do, and do it broadly as well. If you’d said to me 5 years ago that I’d be doing a lot of Menswear fashion – that’s not what I thought I’d be doing right now. Well, 5 years ago I wouldn’t of thought I’d be doing what I’m doing right now [laughs], but you know, at the early stages it’s definitely good to learn and not to be ashamed to learn and to graft.

I think that’s always something that’s struck me as a key part to you both together and individually; you’ve got a strong business sense. Do you ever find it hard to balance the business side and the creative side?

H: I think because my degree was quite business focused, I’ve got that background. I’ve got my business side and my creative side. It is hard to balance because obviously you want to do what you enjoy. It’s kind of doing everything; you’re marketing yourself, doing your own PR…

R: That kind of ties in with what I was saying early about only promoting what you love. There’s going to be years of doing money jobs and the stuff that you love. Most of the shoots that we do for free are our favourite shoots and that’s because we’ve got complete creative control, but you do that and you work for free to get the bigger jobs and then you get booked for the kind of jobs that you really want to do. But I think there’s a new generation going about it completely differently. I’ve never even properly assisted. I have assisted, but I’ve not assisted for 5 years for a massive photographer and gone in that way, which is kind of the typical route, well it used to be the typical route. It’s balancing being ridiculously broke for a while [laughs], but you do it for the love and you do the shoots that you really wanna do and you pay out of your pocket for all the things you want to do, but you do that and what we’ve done this year has literally been off the back of working for free. We’ve done our “Girls in…” series and everything came off of that and from that we’ve worked with some of our favourite brands ever and that’s what it’s all about really. You can’t just expect that straight away – you’d be very lucky.

When was one moment you had to pinch yourself?

R: Walking into the studio in Munich for adidas Originals.

H: Yeah. We’d got loads of assistants and we went in and all the product was steamed and there was 10 people like “Do you want anything?” [laughs]. That was amazing.

R: I got to work with literally the Porsche of cameras and I had a digi tech and a light technician. I was holding £30,000 in my hand [laughs] in the form of a camera. We were there for 3 days and every day I was like “I can’t believe…”. This year has been a dream come true.

Future Faces by Rebecca Naen Hayley McCarthy for The Daily Street 007

Moving on to your most recent shoot. Can you talk to us about the inspirations and story behind “Future Faces“?

R: For our most recent shoot we wanted to focus on CAT Footwear because they’re doing a campaign at the moment called Fashion Your Future that we felt really embodied what we do and where we come from and how we’re doing it. At the moment they’re really supporting the up and comers and the future of the fashion world, so off the back of our “Girls in…” series we wanted to do another one that focused on that.

H:Also, I’ve been in contact with some really exciting new brands from all over the world, so it was a good excuse to put them in a shoot together. For example we’ve got Shoop Clothing and Man Up Girl and it’s just exciting to use up and coming brands.

R: We’ve been very fortunate in the platforms that we’ve been showcased on this year and we wanted to pass that on while tying it in to the idea of the CAT campaign. We thought this would be a good opportunity to showcase other up and coming brands, models and our team as well. Working with new faces. Our awesome Hair & Make Up artist Theresa Davis, our beautiful models Kit at Models 1 and Rebecca Arnold at NEVS.

What are your plans moving into 2014 to make that year bigger and better than this seminal year for you?

R: We’re both always pushing ourselves. Being freelance, especially in the early stages, is very up and down. Any freelancer will tell you that. Especially in the creative industry. I think what we both do is make sure that during the quiet times we’re constantly doing something – always producing new shoots. In 2014 we just want to keep going at the pace that we’re going and keep doing more of our own shoots and approaching other brands.

H: Well I never dreamed to be where I am now. To be freelance is amazing. I’ve only been doing this 4 months and I’ve managed to work with some incredible brands!