Emily Wylde is a photographer and illustrator from Ayr, Scotland, working from Glasgow.
Hi Emily, thanks so much for meeting me to chat about your work! As this is our launch and an issue based on Beginnings, I would love to start with you telling us a bit about how you got into photography and illustration. What came first?
So, the artwork side of things came first, I was really into art at school. During Standard Grade art and design, I did a lot of portraiture work, mainly painting huge A1 size portraits. Even earlier on in school I was drawing cartoon characters, then scanning them and tracing them on Photoshop… I mean, I was probably doing them in a roundabout way that was long-winded, but nonetheless, I enjoyed it.
Which cartoons did you draw?
I guess I would draw my own cartoon characters, I just made them up. I would always draw cool looking girls. It was almost like I was pre-empting the fad of Instagram illustrators drawing cool looking gals these days (Tuesday Bassen, Gemma Correll, etc). That was during third year at school, and I remember my art teacher was a bit useless and didn’t tell us until about 3 weeks before the deadline that we were to submit a body of work to the SQA and I’d drawn all these weird alternative looking characters that didn’t really have any relevance… So, after that shambles I moved onto doing more realism style portraiture. I had a close group of friends and would take photos of them then paint from the photos.
What was your very first camera?
Well I had a little point and shoot camera just to document stuff, that I think I got when I was about fourteen. I remember going on a trip to London to see some family friends with my mum and they had a nice digital SLR camera. I was running around the garden shooting flowers and things and it got to the end of the holiday, Logan was like; here’s some photography magazines! So, with my little point and shoot camera I started taking portraits of people and then when I was a little older I got a DSLR camera. The big one. I think that’s when I realised I could make a hobby out of taking photos.
And when did you start shooting gigs?
I got into going to gigs around Ayrshire where I grew up. I started shooting photos at them as it was second nature to take my camera with me everywhere, so it came to the gigs with me. I made a few friends that were also aspiring photographers, and they kind of guided me through it.
Then Glasgow came into the picture, like it does for any West of Scotland creative-type who’s going to realise there’s more out there than their small town. It was like 2009 so I made some friends on MySpace, of course, they introduced me to the Glasgow music scene and we hung around Central station and at the back of Borders…
I’m sad I never made it to the MySpace hangouts at central and the back of borders. I fast-tracked straight to the catty overs.
Me too! I went straight to overs when I was 17. How cool were we?! So, I met some people, took photos of them, would go to every gig possible. Mainly smaller local gigs, like metal and alternative bands at Classic Grand and twee indie bands at The Captains Rest. I was so on it, I wish I still had that motivation and enthusiasm for live music. Train up after school, last train home. I was really in to going to gigs. And every time my camera came along with me.
Then I started doing more editorial style work. Just taking photos of my friends who were cool-looking, and starting to style them and design weird sets. And then I did a higher in photography in school. I knew you could push for them to adopt that, and they did it! It’s still going on to this day, so I feel that it was a real achievement.
Have you taken any courses or training for your creative interests? If so how did you find that learning environment?
In my final year at school I applied to college, got in, and moved to Glasgow to do a photography HND. I was living in Glasgow before the big gigs started coming up. Before I moved up, I put myself out there emailing promoters, magazines and publications. Not a lot came of the many emails that I sent, but I hooked up with some local blogs which led to getting more photo passes and meeting more people. I loved it as it was the first time I’d ever been purely studying something that I was interested in, surrounded by like-minded people.
I’m aware from being online pals that you have won some prolific competitions with your work! Tell us about those.
On the eve of my 17th birthday I won a competition to take photos of Biffy Clyro at the SECC. That one photo is still in my portfolio, and I think it’s kind of timeless for me now cause I’m a long-time Biffy fan. It’s not like I’ll ever be like ‘ah, I took that when I was really young’.
Yeah I know the exact photo you mean! That’s your legacy.
I always tell the story about how I was in the pit as the house lights went down and it was pitch black darkness, and I was anxious and excited at the same time. Then all of a sudden, the music starts thumping, the lights go up and Simon Neil is right there in front of me totally going for it with thousands of people screaming and cheering behind me. It took me about 30 seconds to start shooting because I was just losing it.
I think I was at that exact gig! White jeans, taps aff?
YEAH! Taps aff from the start. (Both laugh). I just sent them some of my live, local gig photography. Their brief was ‘We’re looking to find young, amateur, up-and-coming photographers to shoot our tour gigs’. I’d never done anything that big before. I always thought I wanted to be a music photographer, and obviously, I did it for a while. It’s not much of a career, it’s more of a hobby. You’ll rarely find people to pay you to take live gig photos unless it’s an event and they need coverage for it. Unless you get super lucky and a mega-star picks you up and takes you out on tour.
Ahem, try work that with Simon?
(Laughs) my mum actually met him in a Tesco car park and she was like ‘my daughter took photos of you!’. And he was really sweet and he remembered! But yeah, it was a totally one-off thing that I found out about it on the day of the gig. I remember being in R.E. class when I got the news!
Maybe the best thing to have ever happened in an R.E. class….
Yeah! Live music is so debatable. I love it, but I have such a strange relationship with it now. My college lecturers really tried to discourage me from it, probably because of how unpredictable it is. Nothing is under your creative control at a gig; the lights, the environment, the shots you might get. Unless you get asked to tour with a band and take photos of their daily life or whatever, which I’ve done. When I was younger I always thought it’d be really cool to have a photo in NME, and that would be your career defining moment. But now I know that they wouldn’t pay you for it. You can’t build a career on that.
Were you working on art and photography alongside each other back then?
Art took a big back seat for a long time while I was figuring all that out, though I always had a knack for it. I started doing more of fashion photo shoots in college and I really liked the creative freedom you had with it. I had no idea what I was doing.
Eventually I found a Facebook group where you put out casting calls for people; make-up artists, models, clothing etc. I posted, ‘I want to do this, and I’d love to meet some people to work with’.
I have a feeling you made a friend out of this.
I did! I got so lucky with the team that I assembled. I continued to work with the hairstylist from that shoot and she still does my hair now! She’s called Anna Wade and she’s a creative genius. She’s one of my closest friends. So, I had people up to my flat for the shoot prep and once the models were all made up we went to some cool locations that I’d scouted. I remember being on the shoot and being like ‘this is really fun’, I loved the creative control of it. And I’d never had that feeling before. Then everyone went crazy for it when I put it out online so it motivated me to do more.
Which photographers or artists have inspired you?
My favourite ever photographer is Tim Walker. He’s a fashion photographer who works for a lot of big magazines and designer brands. All of his shoots feature these ethereal pastel dreamscapes, most of the time with big props. There’s no doubt he has a huge team behind him, but they’re so impressive. There’s a photo of this woman that’s always been my favourite; she’s standing in a black dress next to a massive, prop camera. It’s always so theatrical and dreamy. His work has probably inspired me most to dream big, as clichéd as that sounds.
You actually won a pretty amazing competition last year that we haven’t spoken about yet that led to a trip to Mexico. What happened?
I did! It was a weird one. My friend Amy follows Jonathan Ross, on twitter, as in actual Jonathan Ross. He had tweeted something like ‘Photographers! My friend Bran Symondson is looking to take a bunch of photographers to Mexico!’. It’s one of these things like, okay, it’s not going to happen but whatever! Worth a shot.
I sent an email to Bran and was like ‘I don’t really get opportunities like this, to travel and take photos, and that’s the one thing I really want to do in my life’. The trip was to go cover the day of the dead celebrations which I’ve always been so fascinated by. I remember my mum being like ‘why do you think you won’t get it!?’. But I was very doubtful of myself, as I always am.
The week I found out, I remember feeling super positive for no particular reason. One night I was in the cinema and when I came out, took my phone off airplane mode, the first email came through.
What did it say?
‘Hey Emily, do you want to come to Mexico in 2 weeks?’. There wasn’t much information and I questioned if it was real. The week went on and I got filled in, it was an opportunity from Virgin Atlantic for Bran to take some like-minded photographers on a holiday to Mexico and take photos during the Day of the Dead celebrations. And it happened! It was me. I had been chosen.
2 weeks passed, I sent all my documents. I’d taken it off work though and three days before, I got the email with the flight confirmation. I met another girl from Bran’s Instagram announcement of the winners, also called Emily, and I was just like ‘is this actually happening?!’. The whole week before we were back and forth, ‘what are you taking? What do we expect!?’ We got really chatty and then when we met, we were instantly friends for life. We were the only girls so obviously became glued to each other, we had loads in common. We met a Mexican guy called Jesus in a Graveyard, yeah, really, and he titled us ‘Dos Amelias!’ So that stuck for the entire trip.
That’s amazing. How was the trip?
Well from the beginning, we were fast-track everything at the airport. And then in to the VIP lounge there were free cocktails (perfect excuse for Champagne cocktails first thing in the morning). You could get your shoes polished, there was a beauty salon… I had free eggs Benedict! I could have stayed in there for a long time.
We were staying in a big swanky beach resort and I was like why is this happening to me? A total ‘pinch me’ moment. There was a lot of those, seeing baby turtles get released in to the sea, swimming in hot water caves, drinking beers in a treehouse at the beach, eating Tacos!! And of course, seeing the real culture of Mexico, especially during such an important holiday for them. I was just like, ‘I don’t get this! Things like this don’t happen to me’.
Being mentored by Bran was amazing too. To top it off, we got to come back via Havana in Cuba which was an insane experience in itself.
Mental Health + Mantras
Is there a key bit of advice/mantra/routine that works for you in regards to staying motivated and keep pushing to be busy in the creative industry?
Until that trip happened, the entirety of last year I was super unmotivated, though I always knew that I had to hit a point where I’d become motivated. You know those days where you stay in bed and you just can’t drag yourself to do anything? And I knew I was so capable of so much, why wasn’t I doing anything? And then when Mexico happened, it just sort of came to me without realising it, I’d floated along for like a year and a half. Personal stuff happened, I finished uni, the usual. You feel like your life is falling apart right in front of you.
So I gave myself until new year to get motivated and maintain that level of motivation. Not exactly ‘new year, new me’ but definitely aiming for the best form of myself. I wrote down a list of plans, thoughts and ideas, which I always do now on my low days. Just write down what is bad, what is good, what you need to change, what you need to remove from your life. It really helps. I always get a big notebook and write it all down. Seeing it all physically in front of you really helps you to take it all in.
That is such excellent advice and I am going to do that now!
Yeah, it’s always really helped me to achieve something. My new year’s resolution this year was to create something every day, or make something happen. Whether it be a drawing or illustration, taking a photo, applying for a job, doing a commission for someone, or replying to an email that came in about a commission. Even just putting myself out there to publications to do things so that there’s always content coming out. Keeping motivated to create just one thing every day. You can see that it pays off and it’s helped me mentally as well.
I’m so glad we’ve spoken about mental health as that was something I wanted to ask you about. You seem to achieve so much and mental health is something we all undeniably have to keep in check, so it’s great to know your coping strategies.
Absolutely. I’m not afraid to be like, oh I’ve been super depressed. It’s when you’re at your lowest point you realise how much you’re going to appreciate everything when you’re better. And you know you can’t just slump around every day. Feeling like ‘I can’t get out of bed, and I really don’t want to get out of bed today’, there’s certain people that would say stuff like ‘just get up and go do something!’. And you would think ‘I really don’t want to’, but actually, now I’ve learned that if you just pick yourself up and go and do something, you can only feel better. It is easier said than done. But you can always fight it.
So having gone through that, and then making my mantra work for me clearly paid off. Every day now I see different aspects improving in my work, or I see where I want to go, but even then, every so often I decide I want to do something new with my future. Still a bit all over the place, but I let myself feel that and just accept this is the year I’m to invest in my future and push myself forward. I gave myself last year to get over the slump of being a student, having some downtime, and that’s me had that. Time to work hard, push myself, and amazing opportunities will hopefully arise. I’m so much happier too, that’s the most important thing!
Exactly. I like the idea ‘you should aim for 100 rejections a year’. I think it was an article giving advice to writers on Literary Hub, but basically, you should aim to send your work out so widely that you get 100 rejections. But you maybe get 5 acceptances. It’s a numbers game and you have to just keep doing it. Anyway! I wanted to ask you; has being based in Glasgow affected your work in anyway?
I moved to Glasgow about 6 years ago and at the start of last year I moved back to my family home in Ayr. Glasgow inspired me for a long time, it’s such an amazing creative hub of people. But sometimes that becomes a bit intermingled and a bit inter-webbed. You get close with people and it can become poisonous.
I moved back to Ayr to get a bit of alone time and some headspace. I was still working in Glasgow, so I was basically just sleeping in Ayr and keeping a low profile. Even just having the brain time on the train commute was quite therapeutic. Having a bit of perspective.
Sometimes when things aren’t great you have to admit that they’re going to get a lot worse before they get better, and now I’ve got to the stage where things are so much better, which makes it easy to reflect on that time. Glasgow seems like a different place now that I’ve had that clarity. It’s inspiring again and a positive place for me to be. The family support whilst being at home was great too, and good friends will always stay close no matter where you are.
I think moves like that can really ‘weed out’ who cares and who doesn’t. Incidentally, I lived in Fife for a few months last year and it definitely challenges who is still in touch in your life when all of a sudden you live a train ride away. Even though you know it’s not that big a deal!
Exactly! You see who is genuine, who truly cares about you and wants you to be the best you. In turn with that, I became the version of myself and developed a core bunch of friends who are super invested in me, they care so much and I know they won’t go anywhere.
I began to meet a lot of new people as well. Like Rachel who I do Ghost Girls with. I think we followed each other on Instagram, and I know Rachel’s boyfriend from years ago because he’s was in a band that I did a music video for back in the day. And Ross, her boyfriend was just like ‘you guys, meet! Be friends, because you should be friends’. And god, he was so right, because she’s one of the best people I’ve ever met.
What compelled you to start Ghost Girls? Can you tell anyone who isn’t aware about this unstoppable feminist duo you are part of?
We were like let’s do a thing, we don’t have a thing. We met each other out one night when Ross forced us together, then we were messaging and she was like ‘Let’s go for dinner! Let’s go on a lady-date!’ it was lovely chat and then we started talking about seriously making something together one day. We spent lots of nights in the pub chatting and planning, and we were running through names and ideas. Should we make designs? Maybe start a clothing company? Ghost Girls was originally a stem of illustrations that we considered making into a product and we were asking, can we sell something? But we had no idea what it was going to become, it kind of reflects back into what Ghost Girls is. How you can’t really define what it is.
I think we came up with Ghost Girls Society first, we started doing drawings and putting them on our Instagram. Over time people started coming to us and asking us to do commissions. We really liked that it was more of an artistic project in the end rather than just trying to sell something.
How do you feel about collaboration with other artists?
Through Rachel I’ve met so many people, and the whole thing has offered me so much confidence as well. I think it makes you a much better person. A lot of people are out there to just do it for themselves.
One of the first collaborative projects I did was called ‘Our Founding Daughters’ back in 2013. It was Nuala Swan, Levi McDonald and myself in a photography exhibition. It was in this cool city centre space and through a lottery-funded charity and we showcased our portfolios of fashion photography. That was when I met a lot of people involved in the Glasgow fashion scene, and we totally packed it out that weekend. I was 20 and hadn’t met many people that were super like-minded to me.
Before that I remember thinking, ‘you’re a female photographer, you can’t work alongside other female photographers’ and that you were all pitted against each other. But after that working so well, I’ve had this mentality that you should always work together. I’m not going to not share my secrets with you, I’m not going to not show you how to do a thing and not be able to further yourself because it’s just bad karma.
In the past year, the girl power in my life has excelled. I’m so lucky to have the solid girl power fuelled relationships that I do now!
This sort of happened with us too! And here we are.
Exactly! It’s like we’re all drawn to each other. All just oozing creativity and inspiration. Nobody should ever be so protective over their creative skills or knowledge because no one is going to get anywhere unless we share and help each other out.
Yeah, like putting yourself out there allows people to come up to you and say, ‘oh, what are you doing?’ and creates more opportunities to work together.
Absolutely yeah. And it honestly feels better than when you’re doing it as an individual. When you’re promoting yourself as an individual it can come across as quite egotistical at times I think. Like there’s a lot of people out there who come across as massively egotistical and talk about themselves and it’s like, come on, get over yourself a bit! Even if they’re the nicest person, on social media they can come across totally different.
Having someone else to bounce off with, be super down-to-earth with and have fun with really means more to me. It’s never been about being successful it’s just for fun. It’s opened a lot of doors. I don’t know how it really happened but we have a club night in Bloc. One night we were sitting making a playlist just for fun, and the discussion began about starting a club night. We have friends at Bloc, I used to work at Bloc, so we pitched it. And they were like, ‘yeah, we’re super into that, we’d love to have a new female-led thing here’.
I’m so glad clubs and bars seem to recognize more and more in Glasgow that holding a night led by women really opens up the environment to everyone feeling a bit freed from gender, it changes the vibe.
A lot of people are mistaken that we’re like a female focused collective, because of the name. We don’t want to be like, women only! We’re not aiming to be politically charged in any way. And singling out genders just isn’t us. We just want to express what we like and what we’re feeling.
When we were brainstorming what Ghost Girls was going to be it was all about like nostalgic music, pop culture, being with your pals and having fun. We never said it was exclusively a girl’s night and to be honest, more guys come and have a great time! It’s been packed out by the first hour every night that we’ve done so far. We’re just doing it for fun!
What does being creative mean to you?
So, there’s the mental side and the physical side; the actually achieving something. I was lazy, but now, seeing a final result of something is so motivating for me. I think in the bigger picture I’d like to see my work bigger and bigger. Walking along this road once (Argyle Street) I saw a poster for a band called Shredd that I’d designed and drawn up. I could imagine one day walking and seeing a photo I’d taken on a billboard or something!
And it’s all about helping other people, like with Shredd, who came to us and asked us to design their artwork. They were really open with what they wanted us to do. It progressed from all original artwork and a while later one of the guys came to see me with a care package of all the merch with my designs on it. Like the physical CD, a t-shirt, badges and stickers! Seeing that in front of me I was like, I made this! I felt super proud making the whole visual side of someone’s band and that then going on to shape their branding in the future. The guys love it and were so kind and thankful which makes it even more fulfilling. Having the creative freedom with something where they completely trust you to work on it, that’s amazing.
There’s that, and most importantly it means to inspire others. I wouldn’t have a clue what I was doing unless I had such amazing sources of inspiration around me, be it visually or with a supportive relationship. When I put my work out I love to think that it’s inspired someone to go and draw, make something, or say something that will have an impact on their day or their future.
What would your goal be now, in 2017?
I’ve just taken on an amazing job that will support me in so many ways, it will especially encourage me to keep creating, so I’m excited for that. If I maintain the level of motivation I have now and keep doing what I’m doing I’ll stay happy, which is the most important thing for me!
Emily, you’ve been great, thank you so much!
You can see more of Emily’s creative work at emilywylde.co.uk, or on Instagram @emilywylde. Keep up with Ghost Girls on Facebook, Instagram @ghostgirlssociety, Twitter @ghostgirlsclub, or IRL on the first Friday of every month at Bloc+ Glasgow.