Creating Contemporary Portraiture Through Analog and Digital With Jonnie Turpie

Screen Bed by Jonnie Turpie

Jonnie Turpie makes a range of art from a shared studio in Birmingham, UK. His current calling? A deep dive into contemporary portraiture by mixing digital and traditional media to dramatic effect.

As a teenager, Turpie drew, painted and experimented with photography. Contemporary art was new to him as he entered Art College, but he learned with “great students and teachers that encouraged innovation.”

Following a career in film and television, these days he’s going back to his conceptual roots and working on multiple projects that explore the relationship between digital and analog in a modern world.

Explore Jonnie Turpie’s Art Galleries.

If you want to get a sense of how Turpie challenges the norm by curating his galleries, experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

New Powder Drops / Powder Drop / Screen Bed / Art Viewers

What’s your story and how did you get to where you are today?

I was enthused by the introduction of portable video and video art. So I started a career in the media where I directed, produced and collaborated on film and TV for 35 years.

It was a rewarding time to embrace digital media — it was during the rise of the internet and social media — and apply the principles to mainstream television.

But recently I realized that if I did not return to the challenges of individual artwork and how drawing, printmaking and smartphone photography mix together as mediums, I would miss the opportunity to investigate, experiment and learn.

From your galleries on D Emptyspace and your website, it looks like you experiment… A LOT. What drives you to keep trying new things?

I enjoy the feedback that comes from trying new approaches to image making in analog and digital environments. Feedback comes from the making and materials themselves: material encounters.

More feedback comes from in the sharing of completed works with subjects and audiences.

‘Artist, Kevin Atherton by Jonnie Turpie. A1 drawn and printed silk screen 2019

I keep reminding and challenging myself to think out of my conceptual artistic box. What I think, or thought was art may not be the case. Through my practice-led research, I am digging deeper to understand what is both artistically possible and rewarding.

I’ve added a ‘New Powder Drop’ Gallery on D Emptyspace that is based on another experimentation with print and powder on paper. When I uploaded them to D Emptyspace, I was inspired to see my A4-sized artwork scaled up to wall size. The effect was astounding. By using a digital space, print media can be transformed beyond logical belief.

A virtual gallery space is a way to extend the work from paper to a virtual space, analog to digital.

New Powder Drop Gallery by Jonnie Turpie

I see from your website that you’ve suffered with numb hands? What’s the story behind that and how has it impacted your art?

A couple of years ago both of my hands became numb with pins and needles. This did not stop my drawing, but it made it more difficult to focus for any length of time. Not good!

Following a number of hand nerve tests and finally an MRI Scan at QUEB the problem was pinpointed in my neck. Two vertebrae were compressed and impinging on my spinal cord. With the expert surgery team, I am now much less numb and enjoying my drawing and printmaking.

To engage with the procedure I made three large scale silkscreen prints from my MRI digital scans: ‘interior self-portraits’. I’m thinking of interpreting them in the virtual wave gallery.

Self portrait triptych silk screen A1 by Jonnie Turpie

You’re doing a PhD titled “A journey between analog and digital”. Can you unpack that for us?

The PhD is a large tripartite theoretical and practical research project into smartphone photography, drawing, and printmaking within the context of the making of contemporary portraiture. It’s about investigating the balance between the immediacy of smartphone digital portraiture. And it considers drawn and printed processes of final large scale portraits on paper for sharing with the subjects and wider audiences.

I haven’t exhibited this work on D Emptyspace yet as the research is still fluid. If you’d like to find out more, you can on my research website.

I have created a darkened gallery of ‘Art Viewers’ which is not a part of the research but is a gallery of digital drawings made with iPad, apple pencil and procrea from a wide range of real world gallery visitors reading information placed next to visual artworks. They are not portraits, but they do capture and reflect viewers in the act of looking and learning about artworks.

Art Viewers by Jonnie

Why do you think it’s important to discuss how art is moving between digital and traditional today, and in the future?

Digital drawing in progress on the app “Procreate” by Jonnie Turpie and Mohammed Ali

Living in the 21st Century makes us ‘analog hands-on’ and ‘digital native’ human beings. Like with all new technologies, artists will seek ways to express themselves and engage audiences.

Digital media is now ubiquitous and all-encompassing and will continue to be so. It is important for us to embrace known and unknown capabilities.

Digital media also supports analog projects and ambitions. I am working with spray painting artist Mohammed Ali to make single collaborative images through simultaneous drawings on twin iPads using an app called Procreate to create a composite image, which is then drawn, painted and printed. We are on a digital and analog journey together.

Jacket Man by Jonnie Turpie and Mohammed Ali. Digital and Multimedia

How does technology alter the meaning of an image for you?

By how images are created, delivered, received and shared. There are many examples of how technology can alter the meaning of an image and the manner in which it is distributed from the printing press to TV to smartphone.

For example, within D Emptyspace, the Powder Drop galleries (click here to view) are completely transforming the experience and perception of very delicate material substances on paper, into large scale digital images on virtual walls. This is an exciting example of how technology can offer meaning, material and perceptual changes to images.

Powder Drop by Jonnie Turpie

Over the past 30 years, technology has changed a lot. Some people are scared, others are excited. Do you personally think technology is adding to our lives and creative capacity as humans?

I do! And it certainly hasn’t reached its peak. AI and VR are in their infancy and will be added as artistic arrows in an artist’s quivers. Like how photography that brought new ways of seeing, recording and painting, new technologies will be embraced, adopted and applied — or not applied — as we reflect our worlds.

As with most art forms, there are digital perils and possibilities to embrace and be challenged by.

Babs. Barbara Walker in the Round room by Jonnie Turpie. A1 Silkscreen 2018 from the series: “People in the Arts”

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Bringing Life to a Level of Fiction with Street Photographer Daniel Huete

Bringing Life to a Level of Fiction with Street Photographer Daniel Huete

Self portrait by Daniel Huete in Hong Kong (

What does your photography say about you? This may not be a big concern for most of us, as we upload our most impactful shot(s of the day) to Instagram, but some artists take this question very seriously.

I recently spoke with Daniel Huete, a Spanish born photographer currently based in Bangkok and Seoul, and who is known for highly technical, multi-layered street photography. But as I learned during our interview, Daniel sees photographic style as a “constant search”, rather than something he’s arrived at.

You’re a relatively well known photographer on Instagram and in Bangkok. Why haven’t you put together an exhibition of your work yet?

I’ve probably got enough work to do several exhibitions, but the work I’m currently doing is completely different than the work I’ve done up to now. I think your first exhibition says a lot about who you are as an artist — your style and your intentions. I don’t want people to know me just because of those types of pictures.

My past work was very technical. It was all about composition and making the greatest candid shots of people. It’s very clean and visually interesting, but right now I’m taking a completely different approach.

“I think your first exhibition says a lot about who you are as an artist — your style and your intentions.”

Democracy Monument, Bangkok Thailand by Daniel Huete (

What led to your shift in approach?

I attended several photo workshops. When I started photography it was all self taught, but I thought why not try this out and see where it takes me.

The first workshop I ever took was with Indian street photographers Vineet and Rohit Vohra, and Singaporean photographer Aik Beng Chia. During that workshop in Singapore, Aik Beng Chia showed us his multimedia pieces, which inspired me to add multimedia in future work.

Following Singapore, I attended a couple of workshops in India with Vineet and Rohit. They were great.

Over the course of time, I started to look at my work and I noticed it was very, very technical. I felt like something was missing. The photos can be very good, very clean, great layers and subjects — but what’s the meaning behind them? For me it’s not just about coming up with a story. It’s about your photographs having a connection to you, the pictures have to resonate with you, with who you are.

“For me it’s not just about coming up with a story. It’s about your photographs having a connection to you, the pictures have to resonate with you, with who you are.”

Holi. Nandgaon, India. by Daniel Huete (

Where did that lead you?

After seeing that my work had become very technical I wanted to break apart from it, so I attended a documentary workshop with Chien-Chi [Chang] in Hong Kong. The workshop was intensive and great, but at the end of the workshop I felt I needed more.

He told me if I wanted to go deeper the only workshop he would recommend would be with French photographer Antoine d’Agata. I did a workshop with him in November 2017 and it made me question my photography to such an extent that I wasn’t able to shoot for almost a year.

Wait. What? You didn’t shoot for a year after the workshop?

Many of us either got inspired or broken after that workshop, especially. Throughout the workshop he requires you to get physically and mentally involved in the projects. It’s not just going outside, seeing something and taking a picture. You have to bring your life to a certain level of fiction. You have to document what you actually live.

It was a five day workshop and during that workshop you have to discover who you are, what your life is like. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s self discovery.

I remember something that Antoine said: “You don’t leave a trace behind by making good photos. You leave a trace by saying ‘I was this person at this time.’”

It’s a different way of doing things than just picking up a camera and taking pictures. Because when I showed him my pictures he was like, “You’re a good photographer, but why are you taking these photos? Why makes you go there? What are you trying to communicate?”

So, the fact that I’m seeing well doesn’t mean I connect with my work, it doesn’t say who I am as an individual, or where I’m standing politically, or mentally. It just says “look at this good picture.” That’s it.

“You have to bring your life to a certain level of fiction. You have to document what you actually live.”

But this is what most people do. What are you taking a different approach?

Photography itself right now is at a stage where people scratch the surface and they’re happy with it. Think of it this way, most people who do photography are just swimming and trying to find something on the surface of the water that’s interesting. Then suddenly one day you start to snorkel and see there are fish below the surface. And then one day you go deep diving and snorkeling is no longer enough.

But the workshop with Antoine was like taking a submarine to the bottom of the ocean. He takes you down and when he brings you back up it leaves you in a state of mind where you’re like “what’s next?” What do I do.

What’s that like? Can you give me a clearer idea of how this has changed you?

I was used to just going out there and finding images — good pictures . That was it. But with Antoine, he doesn’t want just good pictures. You shoot as you go, as you live. How far can you go within your life?

When I look back at the work I did in the past, it feels as if it’s not me. People might see my past work as my signature style, but I think to have a signature style is very difficult and it’s a constant search as an artist. Some people don’t even reach that level. It’s very hard to be truly yourself and not be a copy of a copy of a copy.

People look at photo books or watch YouTube videos to see how other people do it, and they try to copy the same images over and over. That constant search for identity and who I am as an artist is what keeps me going.

“People might see my past work as my signature style, but I think to have a signature style is very difficult and it’s a constant search as an artist.”

Chinatown, Bangkok. by Daniel Huete (

So are you shooting again now? What’s next for you?

After I thought for almost a year that I wasn’t ready… I’m going back to do my Home project in Spain, to shoot my family. I’m going back to where my mother passed away when I was a kid, to photograph that place and that town.

It’s where I spent five years of my life when I was growing up. A lot of interesting things happened there. I want to do a project where I face my deepest fears. I always try to avoid going back because it brings a lot of sad memories. Confronting that sadness or that fear will push me to have a better understanding of who I am.

That’s the reason I don’t do exhibitions with my past work. I want my first exhibition to be Home. My first photo book. The sadness and the fears that I went through; other people can relate to that.

You’ve been working with us on D Emptyspace, which is an app all about creating and sharing galleries. What intrigues you about the app?

Using D Emptyspace is a different experience. It’s putting your work together as one, not so much thinking about single images. I mean you can upload single images and make them look good. But with D Emptyspace you can put pictures together in a group.

People can learn how to sequence. They can learn how to curate their own pictures. Right now when you have an exhibition, unless you do the show by yourself, you have a curator who selects your best work and puts it up there.

D Emptyspace gallery of Holi Festival in India. Images and curation by Daniel Huete.

Are you a good curator?

It’s still a work in progress. I mean, if we gave the same project to a couple of friends, all of us would edit in a different way. I believe it’s the same with curators putting together a gallery.

I think photographers will be able to use D Emptyspace to learn how to sequence and edit your own exhibitions as well as seeing their work on a “wall” before they print them.

Do you have any closing thoughts for this interview?

“Search for your true self within your work.”

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Android version coming soon!

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What You Need to Tell Models to Get Better Photos

What You Need to Tell Models to Get Better Photos

Whether you’ve worked with models for years, or are absolutely an absolute beginner when it comes to model shoots, you can learn something from long-time expert Andrew McMeekin.

Character portrait shot by Andrew McMeekin

As a photographer or artist, working with models can be nerve wracking. (As we’ll soon learn, it’s just as nerve wracking for the models too!) How do you get the right pose to complete the image in your mind’s eye, or even more importantly, in your client’s brief?

Andrew McMeekin makes cinematic photographs with dramatic lighting reminiscent of works by Carravagio or Rembrandt. While he isn’t an “old master” per se, he has been shooting professionally for 12 years, specializing in fashion photography and portraiture, and keeping himself entertained with several series of historical photos.

I drilled down for a behind the scenes look at how McMeekin executes his artistic vision, respects the client brief, and keeps his feet on the ground in an industry that’s known to be a bit… dramatic.

Explore Andrew McMeekin’s Art Galleries.

If you want to get a sense of how McMeekin curates his galleries, you can now experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

Fashion Photography: Ocean Ambassadors / Cinematic

Historic: The House of Desmond / Dark Side of Desmond / Traveling Vintage

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

Let’s talk about models — how do you handle them? Do you know what poses you want to get in advance?

Most models you work with will be terrified unless this is their full-time job and they’re doing it every day for big magazines. A mistake a lot of photographers make on shoots is saying “Well you’re the model, pose.” And that’s really not what a nervous person wants to hear.

A model needs to know what you want them to do. If you don’t know what kind of poses you want, it means you haven’t done your research for the shoot. If you want to work on commercial shoots, you are responsible for providing the end-product. You have to have the direction and knowledge to say, “This is what they’re paying me to get, so this is how we’re going to get it.”

Green Cadillac by Andrew McMeekin

What are the differences between working with professional models and amateurs?

There are five different categories of professional model. High-end models are in category one, and a category five would be someone with no experience at all.

With a high-end model you have to handle their temperament and showmanship. Like photographers, professional models have a front to play to keep up appearances. But if you cut the crap, you can get the job done quickly with minimal drama. If you’re calm, quiet without spouting the stereotypical “Oh darling, it’s gorgeous, it’s wonderful,” et cetera, then they’re good to work with.

If you go down the scale to an inexperienced category five, it’s totally different. They’re generally shy and have no idea what to do. You have to remember, this person was chosen simply because they are attractive, not because they are experienced. But if you’re nice and have a calm environment, and provide some direction, the model will respond well and you get better pictures for it.

The House of Desmond by Andrew McMeekin

Directing models seems to require a lot of confidence. Can beginning photographers pull that off?

It’s all about how you handle a model. I find younger photographers have technical ability, but no confidence when directing. You need to cultivate the confidence to say, “Well, hang on a second, let’s do this and cover that another time.”

Get that right and you’ll immediately get better pictures.

When celebrities or people in the public eye come in for photoshoots, they have a perceived idea of what they want to look like — and it’s normally wrong. You have to work to represent them with more authenticity.

You also do studio shoots for private clients. What’s the biggest difference between fashion shoots and portraiture for you?

Portrait Headshot by Andrew McMeekin

The style of lighting is the most important. For portrait shots, you need to bring in a more rounded style of lighting that doesn’t have any dark shadows. The last thing you want on a headshot is a shadow. You need to light everything very evenly.

Fashion shoots require more dramatic lighting because the brand wants the clothes to look sharp — it’s all about what the models are wearing and not the models themselves. When you do portraiture, it’s all about the person. Different situations, different lighting.

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t be in a hurry. I’m definitely not one of these photographers who takes thousands of pictures. Snapping every half-second puts people off. You need to get it right and take one picture. Models are more encouraged by that.

Do you find ways to express yourself creatively while working on commercial shoots?

At the end of the day, you’re doing work for a client. You always have to think “What do they want to achieve from this?” and then keep the answer in your mind’s eye. You need to deliver what the brand wants and needs. That’s what you’re being paid for.

On smaller shoots with a tight budget, you have to find the balance between the brief and creatives for yourself. But if they’ve employed an art director, you can push for what you want a little more. The art director’s job is to make sure that they deliver what the brand wants, so they’ll pull you back or push you further to serve the desired outcome.

Ocean Ambassadors by Andrew McMeekin

I’ve just done a shoot for the Ocean Ambassadors that comes to mind. The topic was centered around marine life eating and dying from plastic. The brief was to make it dark and deep with a very strong meaning. They wanted it to be hard-hitting, with mermaids, and on the beach.

So we had these mermaids and merboys all done up on the beach and a whole team of people — prosthetics, makeup, and lighting all set up on the sand — it was quite a production! And we were all there to execute the vision we’d been working on. The photos came out striking and impactful. Needless to say, the client was thrilled.

How does your experience working with models translate into your personal passion of historic portraiture?

I have a very good model for these shoots, his name is Desmond (pictured above). He’s not a pro model, but he’s an absolute master at playing the part. He turns up with all these costumes, goes into our props room, and comes out as a completely different character. It’s amazing to work with him and he makes my job a lot easier.

One photoshoot I did with Desmond was almost a disaster (Dark Side of Desmond). We were shooting historic portraiture in the old underground tunnels of the Ministry of Defense Radar system. It’s miles and miles of pitch black tunnels underground the East Coast of England. It’s really atmospheric down there… it’s so dark and full of history.

Dark Side of Desmond by Andrew McMeekin

So I was down there with Desmond in full costume, a bunch of heavy equipment and assistants. We walked quite deep into these tunnels to get to a good spot. And then suddenly, the [radio] triggers on the camera don’t fire! Turns out there’s something in the walls that blocks the electronic signal. It was a really tense moment — to click the camera and have nothing happen. It’s not what you’d call a ‘regular’ problem.

Desmond got claustrophobic and panicked a bit. So he went outside for a breather while we figured out the signal problem. We literally had to go nearer to the entrance and open a door to get the camera to work.

Photography wasn’t your first career. How did you come into it?

I started out as a hairdresser and did a lot of work preparing models for fashion shoots. When I finally decided to get photos taken to promote my salon, I couldn’t find photographers who did anything the way I wanted. Then I thought, Andrew, why don’t you just do it yourself?

Traveling Vintage by Andrew McMeekin

I went on a very expensive whirlwind of a learning curve. I got the top people on the net and the top private photographers in my area to teach me how to use a camera. I was in the fast lane — it was all very quick. I knew the hair side, the makeup side, and the fashion side — in a way I was already half-way there. There are more parallels than you think.

“Hairdressing and photography are very similar in the way you see face shapes, you learn how to look at people and their aesthetics in a different way.”

I found that the top guys were extremely good at photography, but fell apart when trying to handle a model on set. If you’re not in the fashion industry, it’s like learning another language — and I already knew the language from hairdressing.

When people come in for a photo shoot, they have much the same psychology as someone coming into the salon for a hair consultation. There’s this hidden body language and psyche that you learn as a hairdresser.

If you’re quiet and listen then people relax and that’s good for getting repeat business.

Thanks to the hairdressing salon I started out with a big client base. In the beginning, I did lots of free photo shoots with competitions and things like that — and we just progressed from there. Now I have a big five-story building that’s a one-stop-shop.

Do you have any advice when it comes to creating an effective portfolio to show off your work with models?

Keep it simple. Don’t go on about yourself and about how you were a photographer when you were four and your grandma bought you your first camera. No one is vaguely interested in that story.

“People want to know what you can deliver for them. They don’t care if you’re clever. They just think, what can you do for me?”

If you check some statistics on websites, you’ve only got about 3 lines before someone gets bored and switches the page. So make sure your vision and portfolio is very easy to navigate.

If I employ you as a photographer, what can you do? For me? That’s the crunch line.

Andrew McMeekin pictured at the Salt Flats in Bolivia

Get in Touch with Andrew McMeekin

Website | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

Download D Emptyspace for iOS:

Android version coming soon!

Follow D Emptyspace for more company updates and art-curated content!

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Download