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Photographer Frankie Turner sitting in her studio.

Exploring the work of Frankie Turner

Words by Harry Davenport
Photos by Frankie Turner


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A section of the illustrated cover of the fifth issue of One Piece of Advice, the Alumni Magazine from AUB. The cover features a selection of motivational quotes and cute Y2K-inspired illustrations

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Since graduating from BA (Hons) Commercial Photography at AUB, Frankie Turner has become an Association of Photographers (AOP) Gold award winner in the Food and Drink category, working with the likes of Disney+, Greggs, Heinz, Just Eat, Lidl, McDonalds, Sainsbury’s, Starbucks, Uber Eats, Whole Earth, Waitrose and more. I met Frankie and her blue whippet Fig in her studio, a converted perfume factory in Peckham.

Tell us a bit about yourself

Day to day I work closely with advertising agencies most of the time, working with their creative teams to fulfil what they’ve promised clients. Broadly I suppose I work under the spectrum of food photographer but with that comes beverages, products, even people. I think there are certain food photographers who very much focus on plated food, but I’ve tried to expand what I do to be about the way we interact with food as well. I don’t always believe in the perfect serve either, things are a bit messy with what I do sometimes.

How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?

I always hate the cliché of being the one with the camera growing up, but that really is how it started. I’m not part of the gorgeous storytelling side of finding an old film camera and discovering photography – I was a digital girlie taking pictures of my friends and that’s really where it started. It was about recording stuff.

The final goal wasn’t Photographer, it was to not have a desk job. Now I’d probably let younger me know that photographers do actually spend a lot of time at their desks retouching – I probably would’ve saved myself a lot of backache!

I knew photography existed as a career, but only around weddings and sports. We all have to choose these options at such a young age, but broadly speaking it really was about how I could end up not stuck at a desk. It was also about finding out what else is out there, not just going for the obvious choice. When you’re at school and you’re studying Maths, English and Science the world feels quite limited. I knew there had to be something else. After my GCSEs was the first time I’d seen other subjects. I remember seeing A Level Photography and thinking. ‘Wow, I get to study something practical’.

What were you doing before AUB?

I was at college doing a BTEC in Photography. I was amazed that a course existed where I could just study photography. Moving to college was my first big step away from everything I knew, like my school and my friends. It’s something I’ve done a few times now, the jump to university, the jump to London. The decision to go to college without my support network was fundamental to becoming who I am.

How did you realise you wanted to work with food?

I knew I wanted to work with photos and at some point, I realised I wanted to work in advertising. It wasn’t something in my world, but it’s something we’re all so used to seeing. When we look back and think about the photos that inspired us, so much of it is in magazines, it’s things you see in the supermarket, it’s a billboard down the street. It was all there, I just hadn’t really pieced it together yet.

I’d been running a fairly successful blog on the side. I used to bake monstrous cakes for my housemates on special occasions and built a following on Tumblr. It was actually the rest of my course who were saying, “Frankie, submit some food pictures!” I rehashed my coursework to lean more towards food and still life and I submitted my first food piece. It was the first time I was actually hooked on a project. I think most people have that moment with photography where their hobby becomes their job, I hadn’t had that yet. Taking food and making it my job was the joy moment.

What’s the benefit of a creative education?

Time. It was less about honing a skill and more about the gift of time. Creativity is intuitive. People often message me asking about the creative side of my work, the business side you can always find other people for, but creativity really is personal – it’s yours. I came out of university with my voice.

What did you think you’d be doing after graduation?

I’d been working at a coffee shop in Sandbanks alongside my course and loved it. I had plans in place to move to Brighton and run a coffee shop over there. By chance a food photographer came into the shop one day. I never understood the phrase it’s who you know until it happened to me. I just didn’t feel like I knew anyone. My manager pointed him in my direction, and I got to see a London studio. That was it. I moved up to London with no job and no plan four weeks later.

Tell us about the time between graduation and where you are now

It’s quite blurry, what sticks out is a lot of assisting, and a pandemic. Fundamentally, it was a period of time where I just said yes to things. I wanted to know everything. Part of that is knowing the bad side so you know the best side. I’ve been on shoots that overran until 11 at night, so now that’s something I don’t allow to happen in my business. I took on uncomfortable assisting jobs and took advantage of everything that came my way. That time helped me to understand the world I’m in and my position in it. No one had taught me advertising, so I did a lot of learning through doing. Joining as an assistant for a shoot meant becoming part of the same team for the day – it was such an opportunity for learning. I didn’t know what a producer was or what an account manager does. Mad Men was an educator at that time in my life – I’m happy to report there’s been a lot of change since the ‘60s, especially for women. There’s still room for more though.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced?

I massively struggled with imposter syndrome, especially as a woman. Like I said, it’s not the ‘60s anymore, but advertising is still cut-throat – even if food tends to be the lovelier side of it. Being an assistant means acting as a technician a lot of the time, and I felt like the men were being relied on more heavily for the techy side. I could feel myself being pushed down, I didn’t feel ready because of this perceived idea that I couldn’t do it.

When I started assisting, I was always seen as this young, small thing. I’m not the biggest person in stature, I’m 5’3” and I’m often the smallest person on set. I was always the youngest in my year and the baby of the group. There was something in the air that was telling me, ‘probably not’. When it comes to imposter syndrome, there’s always something in the system that’s making you feel that way. You have to find what that is and make yourself realise if it’s truly happening or not. You deserve to be there.

These things follow you around. I believed I was too young to be doing what I am. I thought no one wants a 20-something shooting their ad campaign. I wanted to be older so I was deemed old enough. Now I feel like I wished away most of my 20s.

The only time I haven’t felt like a student was the other week in Sainsbury’s. There was a bunch of Goldsmiths students doing a big shop with no plan and no shopping list, baskets overflowing, cans of beer under their arms. I wanted to tell them, “get Google calendar, it’ll change your life!”

What do you love about what you do?

People always assume it would be the food, but when you’re in the middle of it you can’t even think about eating. When I’m staring at food all day it’s almost feeding me. You’re using all of your senses to make a good picture. You’re thinking about how the audience will consume the image and you end up doing that yourself. It gets to lunchtime and I can’t think of anything worse. There’s always a half-eaten croissant on the side from breakfast.

What I love is the process. I work with amazing people and I’m happiest when everyone’s in the room. Everything good comes from the team working together and nothing is ever solely anyone’s idea. There are all these little conversations going on about the tiniest of details. Taking pictures is just a really small element of it.

So is the food real?

I think I always say that it’s food at its best – why would you take a picture of it if it wasn’t? We’re never out to mis-sell or trick anyone. We sell them the happiest version. Often that involves pulling something apart and rebuilding it again, but it’s never as cynical as the stuff you see online. The internet is obsessed with food secrets and they’ve really taken it to the extreme. The biggest secret is that there isn’t just one person. People think these things happen in a vacuum but it’s only possible with all of these specialists commenting and collaborating.

What does success look like for you?

Success is longevity for me. I think last year I would’ve been happy just to call myself a food photographer, but it’s so much bigger than that. I’m the director of a company, it’s my business and that’s really weird. I get to work creatively every day and that’s the most fulfilling thing you could do. I went from thinking I have this degree, but I’ll work in a coffee shop and maybe I’ll take some pictures for some local brands, and now I’m registered on Companies House, I pay people and I have a really lovely team I get to work with every day. It’s very strange – it’s not quite a flat white!

What would you tell your younger self if you could?

Don’t give up your hobbies because they’ll be the things at work that connect you to people the most. I started pottery when I moved to London and met my two best friends in the basement of a pottery studio. One’s an art director and the other taught me to play drums. Hobbies keep you connected to people and remind you you’re a person, not a photographer churning out work for companies. I had to stop doing pottery when I got a dog, but my dog became my hobby. Hobbies are promises to yourself that you’re going to do something. Learning that kind of time management and delegation is so important for people in a professional setting too.

What’s your one piece of advice for creatives unsure where to go?

The one piece of advice that changed my direction was from one of the lecturers on my course, Martin Coyne. It was a tiny conversation we had outside the Photography building, almost just in passing. At the time I wasn’t sure about moving to London and he told me London’s a big place but it’s full of small villages. You’ll go and you’ll build your village. So I moved to London. Everyone you talk to; you’re talking to everyone they know. You’re never just talking to one person at a time. It’s all a network and it’s all people-based.

The piece of advice I give to people now is to get the damn dog. It sums up my general attitude to being in the industry. Before I got Fig, I’d been wanting a dog for years. Everyone told me I was crazy to get a dog so young, crazy to get a dog so early in my career, crazy to get a dog when I work with food – you can’t bring a mischievous little whippet on set with you. One day I think I must’ve just been feeling extra stubborn. I’d had enough of being told no and I just did it. I got the dog. It doesn’t haunt me, if anything I think, why didn’t I do this sooner?

There’s always something telling me now’s the right time to cause a problem, and to go with it – I don’t care what you’re saying, I’m getting the dog and 21-year-old me would be very happy. I think you can apply that to anything in your life.

Visit Frankie's website for more information.

A section of the illustrated cover of the fifth issue of One Piece of Advice, the Alumni Magazine from AUB. The cover features a selection of motivational quotes and cute Y2K-inspired illustrations

Want to read more?

Get your digital copy

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