Rekha Garton has a confession to make: when she was a school student, she hated photography. It’s an unusual confession, not least, because Rekha is only in her mid-20s, yet her images have graced more than 50 book covers, and her clients have included major publishing houses like Penguin, Random House and Harper Collins; publications like Cosmo, Elle and Vogue, and brands such as Ray-Ban and L'Oréal.
Rekha was born in London, but when she was around 13, her family moved to Norfolk, where she has lived ever since. When it came to choosing her A-levels, photography seemed like the least worst option, “I wanted to do art and film studies, and the only course that worked around those areas was photography,” says Rekha, “and I hated it! I’m not sure why now, but I know that I didn’t get on with film – which I now love.”
What motivated Rekha to stick with photography was her competitive spirit, “My best friend loved photography and I was always trying to do as well she did.” In her last year of A-levels, Rekha got her first camera (“A cheap compact.”) and taught herself how to use Photoshop. Both Rekha and her friend got good A-level results, and Rekha went onto Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) to do a photography degree. “As soon as I got a place at university, I spent a summer doing photography and I worked really hard,” recalls Rekha, “after my first year, I thought ‘this is something I want to do.’”
Rekha began posting some of her photography online and this resulted in her getting a contract with a photo agency in her second year of university. She submitted various stock shots to the agency, including self-portraits. After graduating, Rekha went to Canada for a break, and was amazed to walk into a library, pick up a book and find her face on the cover. “It was a surreal moment. I hadn’t seen my latest statement from the agency, so I knew nothing about it! I think this is what drew me to focus on book covers. I devour books and I love being part of that world.”
At the time, Rekha had planned to take up a job in Seattle, but she was struck down with coeliac disease, which took more than two years to recover from. “When I was able to work again, I decided to concentrate on what I really enjoy doing, which is book covers,” she says. Book cover photography is the core of Rekha’s work, but she also does some food and fashion photography, “Food is more of a hobby. I use the images on a gluten-free
blog I write.”
The UK publishing world is very London-centric, but Rekha doesn’t feel disadvantaged by living in Norfolk, in fact, she thinks it’s a plus, “A lot of people tell me I should move to London, because I’d get more work, but I wouldn’t be happy. At the end of the day, I want to still love my job. If I lived in London, I’d be constantly chasing clients in order to pay the extortionate rents. Here. I can find time to relax - and I have my own house and garden.”
Rekha uses minimal equipment. She works with one camera (a Canon EOS 5D Mark III), and two lenses, an L-series 100mm macro (which is used for most of her work) and a Tamron 24-70mm. Another surprise is where most of her shoots take place. “My models are often asked by other photographers what studio I hired for a shoot, and they’re baffled when they’re told it was in my living room or kitchen,” notes Rekha, “Around 90 percent of my work is done in my home or close to it, such as the local park. I use natural light as well.”
Does she ever hanker for a world where she jets around the globe, shooting in glamorous locations, with numerous assistants and masses of equipment? “I don’t think I have the right personality for that type of shooting,” she says, “I prefer the intimacy of my shoots. There’s usually a maximum of three people in the room when I’m shooting. As a result, a lot of my models have become close friends.”
She cites the example of a model she started working with several years ago, “Initially, she was very shy in front of the camera, but we recently did a lingerie shoot. She told me, ‘I wouldn’t have done this a few years ago; you’ve really helped me become much more confident.’ I wouldn’t have been able to form that sort of relationship in a massive studio with 30 assistants.”
Rekha works with a regular pool of models and a make-up artist, although she is constantly scouting for new models – one model was found when she having a family meal in the same restaurant as Rekha, while another was studying at a college Rekha was visiting. “I have a close knot of people I work with, but I sometimes think I should network a little more!” says Rekha.
Rekha is very generous in dispensing advice to would-be photographers (she has lots of great tips on her website blog) and also runs workshops. “When you’re shooting book covers, you’ve got to think more like a graphic designer than a photographer.”
She strongly believes that professional photographers shouldn’t sell themselves short. “It happens all too often, and I’ve seen talented, young photographers doing work for free. People say things like, ‘it will be really great for your portfolio.’ Yes, but it won’t pay the bills. I’ve found the best thing to do when someone says they like your work, is to instantly give them your day rate. If you were doing a 9-to-5 office job, you’d be raging if you didn’t get paid, so why shouldn’t a photographer?
Photographers also need to be bold, “I think young photographers are often scared of asking models to do things, whether it’s a pose or an activity. But if you don’t ask, you’re never going to get to where you want to go. I once asked a model to jump into the sea on a cold, February day - she was fine about doing it, and I got the shot I wanted.”
With physical book sales undergoing something of a renaissance in terms of sales, the future looks promising, but Rekha notes, “Publishing is subject to fashion and trends, which can change, and then your work could become obsolete.” Rekha is exploring the idea of working with video, but notes that, “Book covers will remain central to what I do.” At the time of writing, Rekha was eagerly awaiting the publication of See Me, a book by the best-selling author Nicholas Spark, which uses her cover shot.
Rekha’s attitude to photography today is a million miles from that young student studying for her A-levels, “Life as a photographer is great. It’s hard work, but great to do something you love and are passionate about. Every month, you never know how much you’re going to get paid, and that’s a bit scary. But I got over that after two years. It’s rare that people love their job and I’m so lucky that I do.”www.ru-photography.co.uk