Idil Sukan is probably one of the most widely recognised photographers working in the world of comedy, which is no doubt down to her amazing work ethic and impressive back catalogue of portraits, having worked with Bridget Christie, Alan Davies and Katherine Ryan, as well as the likes of Terry Gilliam, Michael Gambon and Celia Imrie. Sukan’s latest exhibition project, This Comedian, was shown for the duration of this year’s Edinburgh Festival and she is also the creative mind behind many of the posters covering every surface imaginable at the Fringe each year.
To learn more about Idil’s artistic process, I asked her a few questions…
1) Why do you do what you do?
To show up how awful most photography and design is and what a detrimental affect that can have on culture and our industry. To show people how important photography is and how significant its influence can be, especially in this crazy, mixed-up Instagram world – how each and every one of us are cultural influencers every time we upload a shitty photo online. To demonstrate how far behind we are in photography and design in the UK comedy & theatre industry, compared to music, sport, film, beauty, fashion etc.
We’ve been so stagnant, it’s only finally in the last few years that we’re starting to take proper risks and think about interesting art direction and integrate with other industries like fashion. To show people photography and design with the comedy industry can be an exciting specialisation & to help carve a career path for new photographers entering it. To support, help and advise new photographers when I can – to not be secretive and competitive with other photographers like many were with me when I was first starting out. To show people that collaboration in photography e.g. with make-up artists and stylists is critical, and to show people that photography is at its very essence, multidisciplinary – it is not enough to just know how your camera works. To demonstrate that we have to be socially and culturally responsible with photography. To show people that greater investment in beautiful, strong, feminist photography translates to increased ticket sales, bigger fanbases but also a better fucking world.
Also to finance my underground bareknuckle fighting habit, expensive vegan protein sources and to get people to actually pay me to hang out with them.
2) Did you plan your career at all?
No. I wanted to be an astronaut. I have terrible eyesight so that cocked that plan up. Then I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Then an ER doctor. Then I realised that my career choices were based on my favourite TV shows: Star Trek, Frasier and Embarrassing Bodies.
3) What element of your job is the most stressful?
Diplomatically explaining to the occasional producer how they know nothing of life.
4) Who have you most enjoyed working with?
My collaborator and stylist Lex Wood. The PR Amanda Emery. Neil Hobbs (Technical Director) & Stephen Greer (associate producer, performance academic) The British Independent Film Award directors Johanna and Theresa. The Royal & Derngate Theatre. Some actors I’ve photographed: Tara Fitzgerald, Peter Capaldi, Michael Gambon, Michael Fassbender. As for the comedians: Elis James. Isy Suttie. Brett Goldstein. David Trent. Bridget Christie. Sara Pascoe. Michael Legge. The Muppets. Katherine Ryan and her stylist and make up artist team. The sketch troupes: The Penny Dreadfuls, Harvey, Garvey & The Kane and Shirley & Shirley. There are many, many more. They’ve all realised how important photography is and they’ve all really appreciated how I work and why – but mostly because they all made me laugh so hard which makes work worthwhile. Laugh during the photoshoots I mean. They all may well be totally useless on stage.
5) What are you the most proud of?
My right shoulder muscles and right hand grip strength. I am an animal. You should feel my cross punch. Dolph Lundgren died and was reincarnated as my right fist. This Right Hand of Doom only comes from years of tightly gripping a 10 pound camera at crazy angles day in, day out, plus hauling around at least 50 pounds of camera equipment up and down tube staircases, on and off trains, through rainy forests, up onto rooftops, into basement rehearsal rooms. There’s so much strapped around your body, you look like a Buckaroo. A sexy Buckaroo.
This is what I have. You see, easily 90% of the work I do is digital – digital raw files, digital delivery, ending up digitally shared online – these days magazines and newspapers put more content online than in print, plus most stuff is shared on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Sure there are some prints, book covers, and I am very proud of my exhibition, but 99% of my work is stored in hard drives. There’s no physicality. So really, my right arm is the most tangible evidence I have to show for the years of work. I don’t swan in, wrapped in a pashmina, click the shutter and laugh alone into a salad afterward. To do it well, you have to give everything to photography, it’s not just about mastering Photoshop shortcut keys. As I’ve said before, photography is a multidisciplinary physical job, you give your body to it. You have to eat a lot and you have to lift a lot. Do you fucking see this incredible deltoid? It shows I did the goddamn work.