Alanna Clarke talks to Nur Tucker about her career and life shift from investment banker and guilt ridden mum to a new challenge as a fine art photographer specialising in horses and underwater photography…
What or who first inspired you to start taking photographs, how did it all begin?
I was given a proper camera when I was 10 years old. That was the first time I learnt about the concepts of aperture, and shutter speed. Even as a child, I liked taking exotic photos such as peasant women and their children. I still remember the photo I took of a small child with a face full of mud and dirt, with disheveled hair, she was holding some wild flowers, and wearing a colorful outfit. I loved it and took her photos. One day the PM of Turkey visited the factory where my father was working, I found myself right at the front taking his photos. I made fame as a child photographer then.
You spent 20 years as an investment banker in London, what finally made you realize that photography was your true passion and led to you changing direction?
I worked as an investment banker for more than 20 years; my life was spent on trading floors and airports. I raised two kids and a family at this time. My job required a lot of sacrifices. This included not being able to see my kids as much as wanted to, not being there when they needed me after school. I felt terrible leaving them at home with a nanny when they were ill. I always felt bad as a mother. But I had to as I had a very demanding job. Also I had hobbies such as diving and photography but I did not have any time for these. The banking sector has not been attractive for a while now. It is just not the same as it has been decades ago. There is always a constant fear of losing your job; and the stress of markets. Being sucked into office politics as I got more and more senior, did not help either. So one day I said that enough was enough, I will spend more time with my family; I will have more time for my hobbies.
How challenging was it to become recognized as a professional photographer?
As a banker I was a Global Equity Sales person. I loved my job and I could do it with my eyes closed. As a photographer, all of a sudden I found myself a novice trying to find a way in a newly found land in the dark. I felt like an old dog and this was a new trick. Not only I had to be good at what I was doing technically, but marketing in the digital age was something I had to learn fast. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter these were all very new to me, and learning to launch myself as an artist using these platforms is the biggest challenge at the moment. Whoever sees my photos loves them; the problem is to find the relevant people who would appreciate my horse photos. I had to start somewhere with courage, so I did my first solo fine art equine photography exhibition called “The Majesty of the Horse” in London in September 2016 and the result was positively surprising. I sold more photos than I imagined, and the feedback was very good. Then I started getting offers to work with some Galleries and exhibiting in some private clubs. I have only launched myself as a fine art photographer at the beginning of this year and so far I am happy with what I have achieved.
What pulls you towards underwater photography? What makes it so special to you?
I really do not know where this very strong pull factor is coming from. As a child I grew up in Turkey – a Mediterranean country. During summer time on average we as children spent eight hours in the water swimming and playing. Naturally, I am a water person. But when I dive, I find the tranquility and the silence and the slow motion of the underwater world mesmerizing. If you add the bright colors you see underwater and all the creatures that you can not see on land underwater world quickly becomes irresistible. I always say that people should not die without seeing this world. I got my PADI license in 1998 and my instructor then in Maldives, brought a small point and shoot camera with him. That was the first time I saw an underwater camera. I took a few photos with it then. Those days we used slide films. When the photos were developed, I could not believe my eyes. They were proper photos of fish, in focus and with lots of color. I loved it. I decided right away to start doing underwater photography. I found Martin Edge who was organizing underwater workshops. Initially I did some classroom sessions with him, then a pool session where I worked with silk flowers underwater. But it took me years to turn the captures of what I saw into more artistic and more creative images. When I Joined Alex Mustard on a trip to Indonesia my learning curve steepened a lot. He is a master of underwater photography and I will join him soon again in many expeditions.
Can you tell us the story behind your love of horses and what got you into taking pictures of them?
The slow progress in underwater photography was frustrating. I was was working full time, I had two kids, I had a lot of business travels. I would go to a dive destination such as the Maldives or the Caribbean once a year, learn a lot about my camera and the housing in that week and as soon as I came back I had to drop all my camera gear to one corner and catch up with the busy London life and work. Therefore, I would forget everything I learnt on the previous week to rel-earn the following year. So I decided to do some land photography, which I could do on the weekends. One of my friends mentioned these workshops in Camargue taking photos of wild horses. I enrolled myself in one of these in the South of France and it very quickly turned into a love affair. I ride horses but it was not until then I appreciated the power and the beauty of horses. I cannot have enough of them now. I find the strong bond between horses and humans very enigmatic. Horses have always been right next to humans for thousands of years. Lusitanos for example, can be found in a wide range of literature from Greek Poet Homer’s stories to Warrior Hannibal’s wars. There are so many things to appreciate on horses: their beauty, their intelligence, their power, their muscular body, mane, tail, hind legs, chest. I find horses amazing.
It looks like you’ve traveled far and wide to get so many gorgeous shots, where stands out as the perfect location for you?
I am very lucky that I am travelling to different countries and witnessing different cultures to do my photography. People often ask me what my preferred dive site is or which location I would recommend. I really can not answer this question. They are all different and I enjoy all the locations I visit. Depending on what my aim is, locations change. For instance, if I am doing underwater photography, then I have to decide first if it is going to be wide angle or macro photography that I will do, then depending on the answer, I chose a location. Caribbean for example has crystal clear blue waters, not much current, beautiful sponges, great visibility so it is perfect for wide-angle shots. Maldives is home to millions of schooling fish but the current is terrible and the visibility is very low. Last week I was in Lembeh, Indonesia where we did muck diving: diving there is not very scenic, black volcanic ash basically, but the biodiversity there is so amazing that you see the tiny creatures that you can not see anywhere else. So they are all different and I enjoy them all. As far as the horses are concerned, I like to shoot a breed at a time. So far I have shot the Camargue horses in the South of France, and also the Lusitanos and the Royal Horses in Portugal. I loved every minute of horse photography.
Can you imagine the scene, where a herd of wild Camargue horses are running in salt waters against a sunset?, Feeling the energy of two stallions playing with each other with sheer force.
Do you have a secret top tip for an amazing photo?
Taking great photos is never about pointing and shooting. You have to plan ahead. It is like planning a choreography on your mind before hand. You have to approach your subject with an aim and with a result on your mind. How would you like the object to be lit?, where would you like the shadows?, what would you like to emphasise?. Also do not just take one photo of the subject. Do it again and again. Take the shot under different apertures, different shutter speeds, different ISOs, during different times of the day, from a different angle, just experiment. Also trust your eye behind the lens. You can actually see the light and the image.
What was the most difficult picture you’ve taken so far?
There is a challenge in every single photo I take. Challenges range from speed to light, from danger to exhaustion. My subject matter is never still whether it is a horse or a fish. Horses are fast moving animals and there is always current, buoyancy problems or air finishing in the tank underwater. You can not tell a fish to stand still. Specific problem with horses indoors is the light. Normally I like dark, moody photos of horses in their pens. You can not turn the lights on, this would have horrible results. You have to rely on natural light coming from a tiny dirty window which can be harsh or quite directional. When the horse moves, all the values on the camera want to change: ISO, Shutter speed, aperture depending on where the horse is when you press the shutter. So seeing the appropriate light behind the lens is paramount. It happens with experience. I also found taking photos of two stallions playing aggressively with each other life threatening. I had to lie down just in front of them to take the photos, any moment they could have stampeded on me. Equally being head on in front of galloping wild horses sometimes needs bravery.
I notice looking at your website that you have a passion for grey horses. Do they make the best subjects?
I take photos of horses of any color. But sometimes it is easier to show the details of a horse’s muscular body on a lighter color horse. Grey horses in particular are very photogenic. But I must admit a chestnut or black horse can be equally beautiful. I do not use artificial light when I photograph horses. All depend on the availability and the quality of the ambient light available at the time.
You recently had your first ever equine photography show, what was involved in that?
I found ‘The Show Room Presents” a pop up Gallery at Fulham Broadway in London. It had an excellent location, 30 second walk from the tube station. It is a perfect gallery; modern, spacious, white walls and grey floors. They provided an excellent service hanging my photos perfectly, this is not an easy task. The event was in the form of a cocktail reception with some 100 guests; food, drinks and service was amazing. I am very happy with them. I had 45 pieces to display in a variety of formats. Some had frames, some of them were direct prints on aluminium and some were print on acrylic. I worked large sizes they were around 1 metre wide. Transporting the images without any damage and hanging was not an easy process.
We imagine that art shows are very stylish events, how did you choose what to wear?
Finding what to wear was not easy. I am very happy to put on my wellies and get muddy for shooting my favourite animals, but on a regular day, I like to dress up so I had to think about what to wear. I do not dress like an artist in a very flamboyant way either so I decided to be me and chose to wear a feminine dress. The process of deciding which dress was a funny event. I put one of my favourite shots in the background in my bedroom and took some selfies in front of it to see which dress would suit that horse hah hah. But this is exactly how I decided. Since most of the photos were dark and earthy colours, I quickly discarded, blues or greens. Black would be too dark, I wanted to stand out, so an orangey red dress was my choice and I am glad I chose that one. A number of people commented on the choice of the colour of my dress.
Last but not least, can you tell us about your favourite shot? What’s the story behind it?
It is so difficult to choose a shot as my favourite one. Somehow I have a strong connection with each and every one of them. I have lots of memories but I can share one of them here. We were in Portugal shooting Lusitanos and the owners kept bringing one beautiful horse after the other one for a performance. One stunning white Lusitano stallion came in and he was an absolute nut case. It started right away making a huge display of every move in the catalogue. It was rising, kicking and thumping its hooves on the floor. It was a mesmerising moment – a godsend moment for a photographer – and my camera froze!!! I was in horror, the horse was displaying an impossible to repeat show and my camera simply froze. After about 10 minutes, it decided to work and I managed to get a few shots but essentially missed 99% of the show. This is one of those shots that I managed to capture. Better than nothing.
See more of Nur’s beautiful work at: www.nurtucker.com
Video from Nur’s recent exhibition, ”The Majesty of the Horse’ at The Show Room Presents, London
Subscribe to Style Reins, 'The Magazine Focused on Equestrian Style'...