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Postgrad Lives: Zooming in on the glossy world of fashion photography

Mel Bagshaw, 51, recently completed an MA in international fashion photography at the London College of Fashion

Why did you choose this course?

I have a long background in the arts – I first took a BA in fine art at Central St Martins, and went into illustration and then curating. My work led me to commission a lot of photographers, and I realised it was something I was very interested in. I did a BA in photography at the University of Westminster, which I enjoyed immensely, but it didn't really answer the questions I wanted answered, so I went on to do this MA, to specialise in the kind of commercial photography I was most eager to do.

Were you after a career change?

Not really – more a natural extension of my career. I'd worked as a freelance illustrator for many years, producing images for newspapers and adverts, but I found a lot of the jobs were drying up and being replaced by computer imagery and photographic work. So in my eyes, the progression from illustration to photography was a natural one. The kind of photography I do is not that dissimilar to the illustration I was doing: quite glossy, highly finished and graphic.

How is the course taught?

For the first few terms, we did projects on specific themes, but we were increasingly encouraged to work independently so we could develop individually. Eventually, everyone had a major theme, and this led to our final project for the MA show at the end of the year.

Did you get a chance to display your work?

We had a three-day public exhibition at the Mall Galleries in central London. We also had a private viewing for members of the photography industry, agents and people who worked for magazines. It gives them the chance to look at your work, and then decide whether they want to contact you and commission you.

Is a postgraduate qualification essential for a career in photography?

It gives you an enormous advantage, especially if you go somewhere like the London College of Fashion, because they're highly respected within the industry and have a huge number of contacts. You also have access to visiting lecturers and photographers from all kinds of areas: editorial, reportage and fine art as well as fashion.

What did you like best about the course?

That you were given enough time to refine your own style and work out how you wanted to express yourself. The lectures gave you a wide range of viewpoints, since they didn't just look at fashion: we looked at film, painting, music, even poetry. It meant you developed your work in directions you'd never have thought of.

And what was the most difficult thing about it?

The demand for facilities meant that it was sometimes hard to get time in the studio. You were also given a lot of independence, and although some students flourished, others floundered a bit.