Brynley Odu Davies Talking About His Book “Artists” – How it Came About and What He’s up to Currently in Life

by Rubén Palma
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The last time I interviewed Brynley, was back in September of 2023. It was an in depth piece where we talked about how he got introduced to photography, his life, and him documenting the UK art scene, which has resulted in an unmatched archive of photographs starring the who’s who of UK artists and creatives. It’s a fire interview, which you can read here! Since then we’ve stayed in touch, so I know he’s been a busy lad. He published a book, traveled, curated shows etc… so we decided to sit down once more, and talk about what he’s been up to lately.

Hi Brynley! It’s a pleasure to sit down with you again. The last time we talked was back in September of 2023, what have you been up to since then?

Heya Rubén, I’ve been busy since this September. 

I moved out of the flat I had been living in for many years in Peckham and moved back to Bath for a while. I then moved back to London, to a house in Brixton, and most recently I left that Brixton house and London altogether to spend some time in Vienna. I wanted to try something new and experience life outside of the UK, at least for a while. 

I also released a photobook with Trolley Books and co-curated some shows at Guts Gallery in East London. It’s been a busy 6 months! 

My book, ‘Artists’, is the culmination of a years-long photography project. It features portraits of emerging artists in their studios, spanning the entire UK. I released the book to coincide with a set of exhibitions I curated at Guts Gallery in December 2023 and January 2024, featuring pieces by many of the artists who appear in the book. We called the shows ‘NEW NOW’ capturing the energy of the amazing young talents working today, all over the UK. 

Anna Choutova, Jamiu Agboke and Callum Eaton photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

Yeah NEW NOW, what was that experience like? and how did you meet Ell Pennick? 

Curating the shows was really fun.

The photography project began in 2020, at the time I didn’t know very much about contemporary art but I learned so much over the years and built relationships with so many artists.

I previously organised my archive and built a database of the artists featured in the project for my show at STUDIO WEST in May 2023, so when Ell Pennick and I decided to make the shows happen, we had a long list of artists to speak to and involve.

Elsa Rouy photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

So what made you want to publish a book? And what were you hoping to convey?

I have always wanted to publish a photobook. I think intentionally or not, the photos I have taken of artists over the past few years have captured an important moment in the UK art scene; a time when emerging artists are gaining huge amounts of interest and success, and doing really amazing things in their work. I wanted to offer a more personal view, showing the individuals behind these practices rather than just their work. In time, I think this might be something really interesting to look back on – we will be able to trace the growth of these artists and see where they have all ended up. I guess, it also feels like a bit of a reflection of myself too – I am the same age as many of those I photographed and I wonder where we might all be in ten years or so. It’s a bit like an expansive year book…

I think, even when I started this project, my dream was to turn it into a book so it’s kind of incredible to me that this has really happened. To me, a book allows photographs to be appreciated in a way that differs from online platforms or press articles. The book is quite expansive, and I feel like it really encapsulates the diversity and range of the project in a way that’s important. 

On a personal level, it was also a great opportunity to take a pause from shooting and reflect on the work I have made up to this point in time. 

Mattia Guarnera photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

Were there any books or magazines you looked at for inspiration for the book?

I have been collecting magazines and photography books since I was young, and they were formative throughout the project. Before a shoot, I would pick a book from my shelf and put it in my bag; on route I would study it and it would inform what kind of images I took that day. Sometimes it would be a book by Helmut Newton or Diane Arbus or other times, Robert Mapplethorpe or Annie Leibovitz. 

I also did a lot of mood boarding at the start of the project, during lockdown. I made them on Pinterest and kept them with me on my ipad, until I left it on the train. Luckily, by that point, I pretty much knew what I wanted from my images for this project.

Clara Chu and Benjamin Murphy photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

Can you tell me about the process of sourcing printers and publishers?

Turns out, it’s not that easy to get a book published – there were a lot of steps involved. First, I spent two and half years shooting every day. 

Following this, I was fortunate enough to present a solo show of my artist portraits at STUDIO WEST gallery in West London. The team at the gallery, in particular Bella Bonner-Evans really helped me archive and organise my images. Together, over many hours, we looked through to identify the best ones for the show and catalogue everything. It was a huge amount of work and I was very grateful to have had the STUDIO WEST team’s support in making this happen – both the show and the organisation! Until the show with them, I had just been shooting and hoping an opportunity to exhibit the series might pop up – it came at the perfect time. 

Months later, Ell Pennick from Guts Gallery reached out to me and had a proposal: let’s do a show! Let’s make a book! And I was like: Fuck yeah! 

Still I had no idea how it all works. The next step was to find which publisher would like to release such a book. This job was given to Mai Harris – they contacted Hannah Watson from  Trolley Books, a publisher that specialises in photography. Ell and Mai did the selection for the book, picked the cover, Mai Harris then did all of the design work for the book, Hannah did the rest of the organisational moments- like getting it printed in Italy, where the team and I flew in November.

As you see, I did not really participate in making the book. It’s not my book as much as it is a book about the project that I’ve made. Releasing the book was never a goal of mine at the , I didn’t even think about it in the beginning. I just like taking photographs, that’s all. I had a passion that kept me going. I think I just got lucky to have met all these people on my way who share that passion with me. 

I am very grateful to them all for their support and hard work. 

Arang Choi photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

What have been some of the biggest obstacles with the project?

We had always intended the book to come out at the same time as the exhibitions at Guts Gallery, but this timeline became increasingly dubious as we struggled to find a publisher initially. 

Once we spoke to Trolley Books, and Hannah Watson got involved, we didn’t have much time to design and print the book ahead of the show. With this in mind, the most stressful part was finishing the book within a small time window; I found it hard to make design choices and remember all of the dates and locations of the shoots and spell everyone’s names right so quickly. 

The rest of it…the shoots, the collaborations with others, the many trips around the UK were all really fun, so overall it was such a great experience. 

Rachel Hobkirk photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

Out of your huge catalogue of artists you’ve already worked with, how did you pick who to shoot for this project? What were you looking for?

At first, I was just looking for artists. I didn’t know many so it was a bit of a shot in the dark. As the project went on, I began to target people around the same age as me so that we could all grow together. I like the idea of shooting the same people again, 30 years on. 

I was also looking to represent a diverse view of the entire UK, showcasing the artistic talent in many different regions. As a result, I travelled a lot for the project, shooting across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I found amazing young talents in all of these places, and met lots of very interesting and lovely people along the way.

Olivia Sterling photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

Alright, so now in the months after its release, can you tell me about what post release emotions you have?

It has been really fun, but like anyone who does something I sometimes worry it could have been better. Overall though, I do feel very relieved and happy. 

For so long, I just had thousands of photos sitting on hard drives. It felt like all this precious cargo was just hidden away. Now that the images are out in the world, in a book I’m really proud of, it feels like a release. They aren’t going to disappear anytime soon and I have finally been relieved of my intense fear of losing or breaking my hard drives and memory cards. I used to ban people from putting drinks on my desk, or even getting too close to it. I felt like everything I had achieved was so vulnerable. Now I can probably let people get a bit closer to my work computer. 

Looking back, one of the best things was the chance to collaborate with such talented and wonderful people. I did most of the shooting and editing alone, so it was so nice to have the shared experiences of the exhibition and the book at the end. I got to work with people I truly respect, and loved having a mutual goal and a shared celebration with all of them once it was all done. 

Anna Choutova, Rafael Zajko and Daisy Parris photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

With that in mind, do you wanna make another book? Or what’s next, do you have anything in mind?

I would love to make another book, but not right away. The first book was born during lockdown – I was young and very determined to be a photographer. I am more skilled now, having had lots of experience, but I want to take a little break to gain some more inspiration before going full steam again for years. This is one of the reasons why I’m currently in Vienna, Austria. Experiencing something new outside of the UK feels enlightening and is allowing me to daydream and plan new ventures away from busy, all consuming but amazing London. 

Louise Giovanelli photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

What’s it feel like having an unmatched archive of photographs starring the who’s who of UK artists?

It’s a good feeling! I dedicated a lot of time to shooting these artists as I believed in them. I keep track of what they’re up to, and it’s always a great feeling to see them go on to do amazing things. I have the same experience with musicians – people who I did the first press shoots for have gone on to be played on the radio or perform on big stages and at festivals. It’s great to have played a small part early on in these people’s journeys. 

In general, taking pictures is very rewarding; documenting somebody at any point in time can be a powerful thing as it preserves a certain moment in time forever. It’s always there to look back on, it reminds you how far you’ve come and helps lead you onto the next thing in life. 

Shadi Al-Atallah photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

I know that your girlfriend is another successful artist, Yuma Radné. How how did you two meet? And what’s it like being two artists under the same roof?

She is indeed! Yuma is incredibly talented and has been from a young age. She is doing amazing work and shining a light on her Buryat heritage. She’s a special person and artist. We met at a show opening at STUDIO WEST gallery – Bella Bonner-Evans from the gallery team introduced us. 

It’s a beautiful thing to share in art with another person. We understand each other’s approaches to life so organically. She often gets inspired by her dreams so she’ll tell me about them in the morning whereas I don’t tend to dream and all of my inspiration seems to come from real life. We both spend a lot of time working too, we sit next to each other as she paints and I edit pictures. It’s really very nice. 

Yuma Radné photographed by Brynley Odu Davies

I gotta ask. What’s the best and the worst thing about being two artists in a relationship with another artist?

The best thing is that there is a mutual understanding – we both know why we do what we do. As creative people, we share an inner drive and endless desire to express ourselves. If we aren’t making, we both feel similarly unsatisfied which means we both work a lot and have a shared commitment to what we do. 

Spending time with Yuma in Vienna has also been really lovely – observing her and her studio mate Arang Choi as they paint and make artwork has been a real treat for me recently. 

Before I met Yuma Radne I would just visit artists in their studios and take photographs and leave. Since meeting Yuma, I have been lucky enough to actually  witness the process of painting. Seeing the process from start to finish, observing her and Arang as they have been painting towards upcoming shows like Spark Art Fair in Vienna and Yuma’s upcoming solo show in Alice Folker gallery in Copenhagen. 

The worst thing, haha, I’m not too sure. I think some couples might be competitive in these circumstances, but Yuma and I have such different inspirations so there isn’t really much crossover. We just tend to support and encourage each other. 

So no bad things, just the good in this case so far…haha.

Alright Brynley, as you know I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

A film I have always enjoyed, but is probably a bit tacky and bad, is Alfie with Jude law. When I was growing up I had an Xbox 360 and a few dvd’s – Alfie was one of them. I watched it so many times and I think I just like it because I’ve been familiar with it from a young age. You know how they say that you always return to the music you listened to as a teenager, well maybe Alfie is that for me – it just happens to be a bit bad. 

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?

You know what – I’ve been listening to this YouTube channel for ages called theendofbebop – it’s all remixes of soul music and hip hop. It’s a good time. It puts me in an energetic mood and I can go about my daily tasks listening to it and not taking it all that seriously. Sometimes that’s all you need – just background music to bop along to in life. 

Profile picture by Tim Cavadani

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