There is something special
about a photographer with integrity and vision that commands at least
respect and ultimately thorough investigation, says John Chillingworth.
Riding the waves of change and emerging with a digital imaging philosophy
can be something of a challenge. He has found the reason why Steve Bicknell
is hell-bent on meeting it!
With every twist and turn in the road to the digital future,
independent-minded photographers, have a problem. Retaining one’s creative
integrity and make a profit at the end of the year are imperatives, which do
not always sit comfortably at the same table.
For most of us, there have to be workable compromises. A few, after decades
at the cutting edge of their particular photographic specialisation, do
Steve Bicknell, a highly regarded industrial and corporate photographer, has
adhered to one firm principle. He wants to work for clients who commission
him for his creative input, not for his competitive ‘day-rate’.
A spiky, articulate, highly independent individual, West Sussex based
Bicknell learned the foundations of his craft with a high-flying commercial
studio, Walter Gardiner Photography, before walking away to start in
business on his own account.
Years later, wary of being stung, he carefully grasped the stem of the
digital ‘nettle’ as soon as he saw its potential in both business and
Before he did so, Steve Bicknell Photography, operating from Billingshurst,
West Sussex, was a thriving commercial studio. It incorporated a full colour
processing facility, serving corporate clients as well as those into graphic
design, commerce and advertising.
In his time, he has picked up numerous awards for his commercial and
industrial work, including Ilford Commercial Photographer of the Year,
numerous BIPP awards and last year the ‘Best Print in Show’ award at the AoP
organised IDEA Awards.
Operating with Paul Cocken, first as his assistant and later as his highly
creative working partner, his search for satisfaction in both commercial and
artistic terms has often given him a bumpy ride!
A role change
Now, his partner works from their London-based studio and Bicknell works
mainly from his home in Pulborough. The partnership with Paul Cocken goes
from strength to strength although, interestingly, their roles have
experienced a sea-change.
Cocken services the creative demands of a healthy mix of advertising and
commercial clients, some of which were originally Bicknell’s. For the
majority of his still-life work Cocken uses a US manufactured Betterlight
6000 scanning back, both in the studio and on location. Live action is still
captured on film, but is also manipulated and enhanced before delivery as a
Meanwhile, Bicknell administers the business and works only on the corporate
assignments he really wants to do. His images, shot on film and also
delivered as digital files, are usually for clients commissioning direct, or
from advertising agencies and design groups, familiar with the way he works.
No working photographers need to be told that in this day and age,
commercial budgets are tight and competition for commissioned photography,
Aware that earlier top-flight corporate and industrial photographers like
Len Dance and the late Don Fraser had chosen to develop alternative
applications for their creative drive Bicknell, too, has reviewed his
He had sensed a dip in appreciation of creativity and realising that
‘corporates’ live in a different world when it comes to paying for it, so at
the ripe young age of fifty, he thought long and hard about alternative
outlets for his creative drive.
Buoyed up by justifiable self-belief, Bicknell says, “I am not prepared to
be ground down by clients who want to hire a camera operator, rather than
harness a creative force!”
Tempered with an acute business sense and an instinct for survival, a
changing creative environment can give a photographer great creative
satisfaction. That, perhaps, is why Bicknell now holds a digitally driven
enterprise dear to his heart.
Art on the Web
Having established a web site to promote his commissioned work, he
created another to help market his stock images. The more he became engaged
in web marketing, the more he saw its long-term possibilities.
Working with Brighton-based ‘image-access.net, a lively web-server company
headed by Mike Laye, a founding member of the UK Association of
Photographers' Digital Imaging Group he now has interconnected sites, which
in theory will draw a wide cross-section of image users and the image buying
public into his orbit.
His personal aim is to build a library of images to a point where it earns
enough to contribute to the funding of his eventual retirement.
Having started his project, he appreciates the fact that in the UK, with
interest in photographic art in an embryo state, simply renting web space
and waiting for somebody to notice it is not an option.
As it evolved, the Bicknell enterprise became something from which every
professional, with a feel for digital imaging as art, can benefit.
By seeking out art photographers’ personal web sites, through personal
contact and chance meetings, he continues to build a collection of personal
work from top advertising and commercial photographers from around the
The public, looking for art images on the web are told: ‘Everything in your
home reflects your individual personality and taste. If you see an image you
like, imagine how much pleasure it will bring hanging in your home.’
‘Collecting Fine Art is becoming more and more popular. Many artists now
sell for hundreds and in some cases thousands of pounds or dollars…… Who
knows amongst our artists there easily could be the next Lucas, Godwin or
The digitally printed, signed images are supplied with numbered and dated
certificates of authentication along with the history of the ‘artist’.
“So what?” I hear you say. Well, slowly – very slowly, they are beginning to
sell. But Bicknell is not just sitting back and waiting for enquiries.
He generates and distributes CD’s of the images and exhibits at every
opportunity. At a recent one-day art show, he had a full house of invited
guests at the Nick Carman Hire Studio in London, where he displayed some 120
images on the walls, on easels and on benches for his guests to handle.
Ask him, “Why do it?” and he will tell you that he needs to communicate with
other creative people, if he is to sustain his development as a photographic
artist, as well as being a corporate photographer.
For a photographer who has been commissioned by major organisations
world-wide, to shoot pictures in locations as diverse as Australia,
Malaysia, India, Russia and Europe, some would feel he is putting on an act!
Others will think more deeply and consider marketing their own experimental
work through his ‘art-shop’. His enthusiasm for all things digital and his
unbounded energy are infectious. He is hell-bent on taking the risk and he
has nothing to lose, but his money!