His photography expresses intimacy and complex emotional experience as a way to connect with the world around him in ways that words cannot describe.
British photographer Daniel Regan became passionate about photography when he was only 12, after his grandfather gifted him with a camera. Such a strong passion led Daniel to achieve a BA in Photography at the University of Brighton and, successively, an MA in the same subject at London College of Communication. Daniel has been based at Hotel Elephant since April 2017, where he works as a freelance photographer on both personal projects and commissioned work, as well as charity Director for the Free Space Project.
Daniel’s work explores complex emotional experiences, the human condition, and how we process events in our lives. The theme of intimacy and the desire to connect with both other people and himself spreads across his overall practice. His work has been commissioned by important clients such as Time to Change, Huffington Post and Universal Music, and it has been showcased across galleries such as Bethlem Gallery, at Tate Modern OFFPrint festival and the Institute of Mental Health. Daniel also runs workshops and talks, curates the arts website Fragmentary.org, and he is the director of the Free Space Project, an arts & wellbeing charity delivering arts projects across two NHS sites in north London to over 26,000 patients.
We met Daniel in his studio at Hotel Elephant, Spare Street to find out more about his practice, his studio at Hotel Elephant and to get his advice for those starting out on a creative career in photography.
Hi Daniel! It looks like you have a very strong connection to photography, especially regarding its power to express deep intimate feelings and experiences that it’s sometimes hard to voice. When did you start to be interested in photography?
I discovered photography when I received a camera as a gift from my grandfather, more or less when I was 12. Around the same age I started to suffer from mental health problems and photography quickly became a means of expressing myself, my thoughts, and everything that was hard for me to express with words. It was a sort of ‘happy accident’.
How much would you say such a life event has been influential to your overall professional practice?
It has definitely been influential. There are two main strands in my work as a photographer. The first is personal, as I still use photography to overcome personal difficulties, and as a means to keep me connected to the world and understand what’s going on around me. The second strand is working with other people and using photography to help them express what they can’t with words, or work through particularly traumatic times.
Looks like the project you’re currently working on falls more into this second strand of your professional practice. What is it about?
I am currently working with a suicide prevention charity called Maytree, where I also volunteer. It’s a house in Finsbury Park, a non-clinical space for people feeling suicidal can receive telephone and email support, as well as a one-off stay at the house to talk about their suicidal feelings. It’s a safe space for people to talk about what’s going on in their lives without judgement, ridicule or shame. The project ‘Maytree’ is inspired by the conversations I have had with both guests and volunteers. It consists of portraits of volunteers, some of which also were guests of the house in the past, and interviews with them exploring their own experiences with mental health and how they came to be at Maytree. Some pictures also depict the house itself, showing the traces left by its guests. We just received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund to continue working on it. There’ll be an exhibition of the work at the Free Space Project in the summer of 2018. During that period I’ll also be running a series of arts workshops for the general public focusing on suicide, bereavement and mental health.
What can you tell us about the responses to your work, considering that you showcase very delicate topics?
Responses are very positive, as I use photography to open up dialogues around particularly difficult issues that people may find hard to talk about. It’s a type of work that in a way educates people, as photos can change the way certain issues are perceived or experienced. For instance, the photos of my project ‘Alopecia Uncovered’ turned out to be a more human way to show people affected by a pathology that goes beyond a mere clinical picture. It educated viewers and helped the subjects to surpass feelings of shame around their condition. It also created a community of people with a shared experience and a platform for open dialogue.
Apart from your work as a photographer, you’re committed to many other projects related to mental health and wellbeing. Can you tell us something about your charity?
The Free Space Project is an arts and well-being charity providing arts activities, therapies, exhibitions and residencies and it’s based at the James Wigg practice within Kentish Town Health Centre. Established in 2010, our aim is to relieve mental and physical suffering through the use of the arts. Our exhibition space displays work on themes surrounding health and well-being from various perspectives, as we work closely with both emerging and established artists to bring thought-provoking artwork to patients and visitors. The charity works in partnership with the clinical practice to provide a holistic approach and developing the concept of social prescribing.
You’ve been based at Spare Street since April 2017 - What do you like the most about working at Hotel Elephant and your studio?
The studio is nice and quiet and it’s a space designated for work. I can easily get work done here, while at home I’d be distracted by my cat, laundry, cooking and so on. It also helped me find a right work-life balance. I’m a bit of a workaholic and would work late into the night at home. Since I have my studio I learned to switch off properly when I’m back home. It’s also easy for me to get to from home and there’s a café to take a break, as well as an opportunity to meet other creative people.
At Hotel Elephant we’re interested in creating a creative community and encouraging collaborative working - How important do you think collaborative working is to your industry?
I think collaborative working is important, although I’m not a huge fan of collaboration with other photographers as you always end up feeling a bit of competition and pressure which isn’t something I enjoy. But I do love to collaborate with other professionals - I worked on a photography, film and VR project with artist Antonia Attwood called ‘Be Here, Now’ for FORMAT Photography Festival this year in March and April, which included a series of workshops with disadvantaged people around the theme of safe and soothing spaces. It was a great collaboration as Antonia is primarily a filmmaker and I mostly work in stills, so we complimented each other well and were on the same page.
I like working with people from different disciplines. I’m currently working on a commission for the Science Gallery which will open next year in London Bridge. I’ll be working with a scientist around self injury and I’m interested to see what comes from our dual perspectives on a really complex subject.
Do you have any advice for recent graduates or those just starting who want a career as an illustrator or in the creative industries?
Be focused and don’t try to do too many different things. Find your niche and stick to it.