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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with photographer Laura Ward

Fly-on-the-wall documentary shots, dreamy landscapes and playful double-exposure snaps - South London photographer Laura Ward has an awe-inspiring portfolio. She talks to us about her collaborations, and why she always tries to push past the comfort zone.

Written by Jessica Furseth

Antonia-Parker-The-Herb-Farmacy
Herbfarmacy by Antonia Parker.

We discovered Herbfarmacy in issue 9 of Amelia’s Magazine, buy more about unhealthy and the brand has grown considerably since we last caught up with founder Dr. Paul Richards. Time to hook up with Alexandra, their new marketing guru.

When we first met you in 2008 you spoke of plans to build your brand, what has happened since then?
We have been very busy expanding our organic skincare range: growing new herbs, exploring and researching new products. Doing everything from seed to skin is quite a commitment and something of a labour of love. We have added at least ten new products to our original ten, which we sell in our ‘neo-herbal apothecary’ in Hay-on-Wye and on our website. We also supply other shops both here and abroad – including in Hong Kong, where our products have proved very popular! The Hay-on-Wye shop sells herbal tinctures (under the Postlethwaite’s label), our skincare range and holistic beauty treatments. We also support the work of local artists, and we are currently showing the photographs of Jan Sedlacek from harvest time this year.       

Herbfarmacy2 by KavanStudio  
Herbfarmacy by KavanStudio
Herbfarmacy, illustrated by KavanStudio.
                 
How big is your team these days, it sounds as though it has grown? And are they as talented as they were when we last met them?
Yes, our team is made up of very talented and busy people: Rupert manages the land with Paul, and also does gardening and general maintenance work. Gabriel and Jayne (who has just left Herbfarmacy to take a degree in Photography) record music and make bespoke yurts. Our neighbour David has helped out many times over the years and he has finally given up his public sector work to join us full time, all for the love of herbs! Carol, Paul’s wife, runs the shop and teaches the Barefaced Yoga exercise sequence that we have on the website. Our two beauty therapists help us to develop products from a therapist’s point of view and one of them, Natalie, also holds a degree in fine art and print-making. I have recently joined the team to help promote the brand, so we are an ever expanding team of interesting people…

Why the change in packaging design?
We listened to the feedback from our friends and customers who thought our original packaging was too earthy and masculine. The new labels are much cleaner, conveying the idea of freshness and beauty alongside information about the key herbs. To convey Paul’s vast herbal knowledge we chose the tagline ‘Fresh from the Fields of Paul Richards’ and his signature appears on all the labels. Packaging is kept to a minimum, and we must be doing something right because we were finalists for Best New Packaging Design at The Natural & Organic Awards 2010.

Michelle Urvall Nyrén Herbfarmacy Paul
Paul Richards gathering Mullein flowers, by Michelle Urvall Nyrén.

Are there any particularly hard aspects for Paul, as a man working in the beauty industry?
Paul: I don’t have any problem understanding the active properties of herbs but – not being a devotee myself – I have had to learn more about the mysteries of face masks and advanced skin cleansing operations so that I can get a handle on what ingredients can best contribute to an effective product. I also help out in the Hay-on-Wye shop on Saturdays when I can. Though I have no problem with our herbal remedies and skincare products I find working in the organic and mineral make-up section a bit out of my comfort zone!

Why should men spend more time on skincare? What do you recommend for the unwilling metrosexual?
Whilst men are generally less interested in looking after their skin than women that should not stop them thinking about the health of their skin. A simple cleansing and moisturising regime for the face is sufficient, and we have two creams popular with the male gender – the Starweed Face Cream, which has a more neutral fragrance, and Just Face Cream which is fragrance-free. For those working outside and with heavy physical jobs it is important to moisturise hands, feet and other exposed body parts. The Meadowsweet Muscle Balm is an excellent stand-by for knocks, aches and strains.

Herbfarmacy by Karina Yarv
Gathering herbs on the farm, by Karina Yarv.

What are your favourite flowers and why?
It’s very difficult to choose because we love them all! But I know that Paul has a soft spot for the Marshmallow and Mullein flowers (there’s a photo of him harvesting mullein on the website) – Mullein is a beautiful vibrant yellow flower that makes a lovely oil. Carol loves the visual impact of a field of deep orange Calendula flowers, which produces an oil of a similar beautiful colour.

Do you make any products on the day of harvest?
Our tinctures are made on the day of harvest, as are some of our ingredients. Hypericum (St John’s Wort) and Starweed (Chickweed) oils are made from fresh herbs. All other herbs are harvested and dried immediately in our purpose-built Drying Shed.

Can you tell us a little known fact about any of the plants that you use?
Burdock – which features in our Whole Body Lotion and of course the Dandelion & Burdock tincture – is grown widely as a vegetable known as gobo in Japan. In fact we grow a Japanese variety, and we have occasionally had enquiries from Japanese restaurants about growing burdock for them.

Lisa-Stannard,-Herbfarmacy,-Ginko&Echinacea
Echinacea by Lisa Stannard.

How is the organic and ethical skincare industry changing? What have been the most obvious shifts over the years?
The organic and ethical skin care industry has matured rapidly over the last two or three years with the expansion of the use of recognised symbols that guarantee the organic, natural and ethical integrity of products. However, the term ‘organic’ still has no legal status in skincare as a trade description – the result is that a number of high profile brands have appeared with pseudo organic names that exploit this loophole, and through using cheap ingredients they are able to give the impression that you can buy organic products for next to nothing. The organic industry is working hard to tackle this and I would emphasise the need to read labels properly and check the authenticity of products.

Herbfarmacy by Matilde Sazio
Herbfarmacy by Matilde Sazio.

Top tips for living a “balanced, not boring” lifestyle?
Paul: Balance is definitely the key – eat a balanced but varied diet, keep your body hydrated and well exercised, and make sure you take time to nurture mind and spirit. But forget a fanatic adherence to strict regimes that creates obsessional behaviour which is a long way from balanced.

What are your current favourite products and why?
One of Paul’s favourite products is the Mallow Beauty Balm – the pure herbal oils melt into the skin to give ultra-rich moisturising with a fabulous aroma. We have recently introduced Mullein flower oil into this product to smooth fine lines – and are also in the process of adding this oil to a new lip balm to help soothe cold sores. Carol’s favourite products are Just Face Cream, which is a great everyday moisturiser that suits her (mature) skin and Skin Rescue Balm. She loves the pungent aroma of Marshmallow, Calendula, Chickweed and Comfrey when she use it on her cuticles and as an intensive treatment to prevent dryness and cracking on the heels of her feet.

Herbfarmacy try-me pack
Herbfarmacy try me pack face
The Try-Me GIft Pack contains beautifully packaged pots of Organic Rose Oil, Whole Body Lotion, Luxury Foot Cream, Working Hands Cream and my personal favourite – Starweed Face Cream. Since Christmas is soon to be upon us I asked Herbfarmacy what they recommend as ideal presents:

For The Boyfriend – the Basic Maintenance Pack for Men contains everything a man could need: Nourishing Body Oil, Luxury Foot Cream (winner of the Natural Health Beauty Awards 2009, Working Hands Cream and handmade Herbfarmacy soap.

For Mums and Aunties – we recommend the Divine Face Pack or Replenish Gift Packs which each contains the full works for the face. For a smaller gift try the Complete Skin Cleanse Pack, which offers everything to cleanse and tone the skin and includes a Dandelion and Burdock Tincture, which is a great internal cleanser for the liver and kidney tonic - ideal for the Christmas season!

For an Active Girl – the Totally Balmy pack is a great rescue kit for after the gym – featuring a great after-shower moisturiser, a muscle balm for any aches and pains and a skin rescue balm.

For Grandad - try our Meadowsweet Muscle Balm which is gently warming, along with our Just Face Cream, which can be used after shaving and to combat the effect of cold wintry weather on the skin.

Some of the gift packs are exclusive to the Herbfarmacy shop and our website… so please do visit us!
Laura Ward Reeds
Reeds

Laura Ward has both striking portraits and moody black and white landscapes in her portfolio, physician but what initially drew me to her work was her ‘mirror’ set on Flickr. It’s a very low-key selection of random and sometimes a bit blurry shots, viagra 40mg taken in a plethora of shiny surfaces. The photographer is always in the picture, half-hidden behind the camera, and you can practically hear her going ‘ooooh, shiny!’ as she goes for a quick snap in a car mirror, shop window or water-stained bathroom.

But don’t get me wrong – Laura takes ‘proper’ photos too. This includes some really excellent portraits, skillful and professional but always with a slight quirk. Then there are the airy landscapes and the soft, abstracts shots of female figures, not to mention the surprising plays with layers and light. Laura’s list of exhibitions, past, present and future, demonstrates that this girl isn’t just talented, she also has drive and passion in spades. I think we will be hearing more from Laura – lots more.

Laura Ward Self 2
Self-portrait

Your new exhibition with photography group Effra FC is showing now in Camberwell. Tell us a little about Effra please.
Effra FC is a South London collective of photographers, with varying levels of skill and styles, who meet once a month in a local pub. Over the last few years it’s grown from a handful of strangers into a 90+ group. Effra has favoured low-fi (ie free) techniques to show work in the past. Mark from Sun and Doves invited us to put on our first professional show and 16 members opted in. It’s a wonderfully eclectic group of people who don’t take Effra FC too seriously. I think that is what makes it work. I’m really proud to be a part of it.

Laura Ward Ponies Effra FC
Ponies, on show now with Effra.

Effra started as a Flickr group. It seems to me everyone who uses Flickr adores this site. What is it about this site that resonnates so strongly with its users?
The simplicity of Flickr is one of the reasons that we’re all photographers now. I remember the excitement of taking my pictures out of a static website and having this new interactive audience at my fingertips. Having strangers comment on your work is a thrill. It’s also a huge source of inspiration and reference as it’s saturated with so many impressive photographers and ideas.

Laura Ward Self 1
Self-portrait

Your CV of photography exhibitions is impressive. Could you tell us about a favourite project please?
Thank you. I tend to favour projects that take me out of my comfort zone. That said, my favourite project is one called ‘Unthought’. I work on images collaboratively with Belgian photographer Stefan Vanthuyne. We don’t discuss how we do it and quite often it doesn’t work, but that is part of the process. Photography can be very isolating, so ‘Unthought’ is a very happy friendship. I also worked on ‘The Apollo Project’ with Jonny Hughes where we took over a shop for a month and turned it into an art/music venue. I could write a book about that month, so that was definitely significant. As soon as those doors opened, it belonged to the community.

Laura Ward Unthought
Unthought

Your previous show was the group exhibition ‘Send me a postcard darling’. What was the thought behind this, and how did you get the enchanting Melissa Auf Der Maur to participate?
I decided to book The Red Gate gallery in South London with the aim of doing something similar to shows in Nottingham and New York. SMAPD evolved into its own little thing thanks to the people that got involved. Postcards are such an accessible format for everyone to produce but it’s a size that can challenge you. A couple of established artists commented on how difficult the format was to work with. I remember seeing one of Melissa’s photographs many years ago which I was really drawn to. It was a self portrait called something like ‘When I’m sad, my nose bleeds’. She’s so supportive of creative projects like this so I just asked her. Having established artists like Melissa Auf der Maur, Chad Van Gaalen and John Riordan means more people might come along and take a look at the work of home studio heroes.

Laura Ward Autumn
Autumn

Is there a new project coming up which you can tell us about?
I’ve started planning a new project which is partly inspired by the film ‘The Double Life of Véronique’. At the moment it’s a portrait series of 10 people who lead double lives, or those who do one thing to fund something else. I’m really interested in layers and mystique in subjects and they’ll probably be multi-exposed. I’m also hoping that 2011 takes me out of my comfort zone, which is why I’m taking part in Sonny Malhotra’s ProAm Project.

You have an international background. Do you consider London your home? How does taking photos around London compare with photographing other places?
I’m 32 now and having lived in so many places, I can make anywhere feel like home but London is the one place I feel comfortable. I like diversity, uncertainty and the fact that I have friends from all over the world in the same place. I live in Herne Hill which is a wonderfully friendly little melting pot of the best of all worlds and I can’t help but take photographs of it. That said, I need to get out of it fairly regularly to be able to appreciate it. I’ve done very little London life photography this year and I’d like to get back into it.

Laura Ward She Makes War
She Makes War

Your website and Flickr stream has an impressively wide range of photos and styles. You have these amazing, intense portraits as well as the really fun, playful stuff. What kind of photography is your favourite?
I’ll take photographs of almost anything I prefer an element of surprise and untidiness. I don’t really favour studio lighting, and I try not to plan too much. My favourite kind of picture is a soft abstract female shot. I love Francesca Woodman’s work so if I could take more images akin to hers, I’d be happy. Though I’d never want to rip her off.

I really love the set of pictures taken in mirrors and shiny surfaces! But tell me, what’s the deal with these pictures?
It’s the depth, layers and the light! Puddles, mirrors, windows are so much fun. Taking photographs through layers is also great, whether it’s a layer of plastic, water, and even cling film. Despite having Photoshop, I use these pre-digital techniques all the time.

Laura Ward Mirrored
Mirrored

How did you get into photography? What is it you love about it?
I have absolutely no formal training. I started in my teens when my parents allowed me to go travelling to Italy on my own and my dad gave me a Pentax. I was still hoping to be a decent writer back then, but I quickly realised that taking pictures was much easier. I can never find the right words.

What do you do when you’re not taking pictures?
I’ve worked for charities for many years now. My day job is very much focused on numbers and organising – analysis, strategies, reporting, reconciliation and fulfilling appeals. I definitely get a kick out of working both sides of my brain but it’s not easy managing creative projects and having a day job. Having said that, I don’t think I could do one without the other.

Laura Ward’s work is showing now with Effra FC – on until 25 January at the Sun and Doves,61-63 Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell, London SE5.

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  1. [...] The utterly lovely Jessica Furseth interviewd me for Amelia’s Magazine which you can read here. [...]

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