Yello Interviews: Entrepreneur and Photographer Amleya Clarke
by Karen Rollins May 20, 2019
Barbadian entrepreneur Amleya Clarke has always loved art and has been developing her creative side through dance and drawing since the age of three.
Amleya thought about making a living from her artistic talent but initially lacked the confidence to pursue her dream. Instead, she chose to study law at the University of the West Indies because it was “a good degree”.
However, while studying at the Cave Hill campus, Amleya realised that photography was her passion, and when she left university she began freelancing for local studios before starting out on her own in 2014.
Yello chatted with Amleya about her photography business and life as a young entrepreneur on the island.
Describe yourself using three words.
Multi-passionate, creative and intuitive.
Tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was born in England but have spent my whole life in Barbados. I grew up in Bagatelle Terrace, St James.
From the age of three I started ballet and jazz classes and was involved with different plays at church. I was always interested in the arts. I loved doodling and drawing, listening to music and dancing.
I also always liked taking photos and was known as the ‘family photographer’. I got my first digital camera at about the age of 13.
I studied art at CXC and CAPE level, but I never felt confident about having a career in art. I even applied to the Barbados Community College twice, and got into the programme, but I never went because even though I love art, I thought it was too much pressure to just rely on your own creative ideas to make money.
I chose to study law at university because it was a ‘good degree’.
When did you get even more interested in art and photography?
In 2008, during the summer, I did a week of shadowing at Brooks LaTouche Photography studio. I watched them work, held a reflector and they showed me how to remove spots in Adobe Photoshop. That was interesting because I was studying art at the time.
I also went to Anguilla and did a project on my uncle who is a fine artist. He creates sculptures and has exhibited in England and Canada.
Then, the next summer before I started university in 2009, I went on a photography course with Joel Brooks. My mother was going to England on vacation and I begged her to buy me a camera, but I started the course even before I got it!
So, I think all these things started to build my confidence. Then when I went to UWI, I joined the photography association called PHOTOACC (Photography Association of Cave Hill Campus). I did another beginner’s course through them and I also did photography jobs on campus for other student organisations and the university itself so that was a great training ground.
Then I did an internship with Studio Studio and after that they asked me to come back during holidays. I learned a lot with them because they have an in-house studio but also photograph weddings and graduations and that helped to build my connections in the industry.
I was studying law, but I’d be in class thinking about a photography workshop online or a photography article. I finished the degree and graduated in 2013 but instead of going to law school I decided to make photography my career.
When did you start your business?
It was a gradual process.
After I graduated, I freelanced for Studio Studio, a photographer called Andrew Browne and Pro Photo, the company that takes the graduation photos at UWI.
I also worked as an intern for a local magazine called Islandista. It’s not around anymore but I did quite a bit of work for them in terms of photography and assisting with social media and I got some of my work on the front covers.
I joined the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) and that helped to develop my business skills and with networking. I officially started my business in the summer of 2014.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Not really but I think many millennials are entrepreneurship minded and I also grew up in a culture where it’s normal to have a side hustle.
I also knew that employees want workers who are self-sufficient and productive and don’t need someone standing over them telling them what to do all the time.
So, I just wanted to develop a range of skills like being able to manage money and communicate with people and those are also entrepreneurial skills.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced starting the business?
The cost of equipment is always a challenge. Photography is expensive. You want to have the best equipment, but it’s costly, so I had to be patient and manage my money well especially because I started straight out of university, so I didn’t have a lot of funds.
One of the other challenges I faced was confidence. I’m a naturally shy person so I had to overcome that and believe that I can do the job. I think I’ve worked hard on that and now I can go to a networking event and communicate effectively. Experience has helped, especially when you have successes after you doubted yourself.
I’m into self-development so I read a lot of those articles, watch videos and listen to audio books. I’m also into meditation and write gratitude journals.
How have you been growing your business?
I find word of mouth is one of the best ways to get new business and it’s kind of undervalued. Social media works as well but as an extension of word of mouth.
Working with local photographers helped because that meant a lot of people already knew who I was and got my name out there.
What do you like to photograph the most?
I love portraits. I also love fashion and beauty and working for brands.
I enjoy creating beautiful portraits, working one-on-one and bringing out someone’s personality. I like coming up with concepts and creating a unique look and style that fits that person.
I think that’s why I was more confident to have a career in photography rather than fine art, because with fine art you are making something from nothing but with portrait photography there’s already something there.
You point the camera, a person smiles, and you click but then as an artist you bring in your understanding of lighting, concepts, and your skill with working with people.
And, it’s still an original and unique piece of art because every time there’s something different in the image.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I think my imagery can be described as clean, a mix of contemporary and classic, with a fashion flair and style. It’s also high end.
The three words I normally use are customised, contemporary and captivating.
Which photographers inspire you?
Internationally, I’d say Annie Leibovitz, Sue Bryce and Lara Jade who is from the UK and about the same age as me.
There are also lots of local photographers I admire like Jaryd Niles-Morris, Gina Francesca and Melanie Grant. Then there are people I’ve worked with like Andrew Browne, Carl Blenman, and Steve Cumberbatch.
What are your plans over the next five years?
I want to work with more brands – international or smaller ones. I find it rewarding helping a brand with their imagery and getting their business out there. So, I want to provide even more support for my clients through imagery that resonates and helps them to sell to their target markets.
I also want to work outside Barbados and plan to explore opportunities abroad especially in England.
I’m also working on other projects like developing a retouching business, possibly starting a podcast, and doing more film production because I love video.
What do you love about Barbados?
The weather! I love that it’s always sunny and warm.
I like that we’re developed compared to some of the other Caribbean islands, there’s a lot happening here in terms of events and talent on the island. I also like that we have a luxury side, but you can also have a good time without spending a lot of money.
The mix of people is great. You meet people who are laid back but then there are also people with big dreams.
Where do you go to relax with friends?
The beach. Mostly one of the west coast beaches or Pebbles beach by the Hilton.
What advice would you give aspiring photographers?
Photography is very competitive so make sure it’s something that you really do love. I’d advise people to get to know other photographers and find out more about the lifestyle.
You should also think about the service you want to provide and develop different skills because there’s more to running a photography business than taking photos.
Photography might be your passion or hobby but there’s a lot of work involved if you want to make a career out of it. It seems fun when it’s not your job, so you have to love it!