MY STORY The other side of the picture
The greetings card company Really Good was started by David Hicks more than 30 years ago with a £40 government enterprise allowance, and capital of £200. It is now worth £4m and sells in 30 countries, but its founder has made a dramatic career change.
Did you have art and design training?
I haven’t had any traditional training. I was a chef before I started Really Good, which was creative in its own way. I’ve always had a strong sense of what I wanted to achieve and what I thought was good, then learned lessons and improved as I tried things for myself.
How did the idea of Really Good begin? How much of it has been your own creative process and how much pragmatic business nous?
I dreamt the name, oddly, and started it on a government scheme in 1987. I had £200 only, and an attitude of making it work. It was both a creative process and using business sense, to be honest. There's been plenty of design I've loved but not published because of a business decision - you have to have a style and direction, but the business sense to make it all work.
Are you still involved in Really Good?
Oh yes. I don't run the everyday side of things, but I'm still responsible for all the product.
How did photography become so important to you, and how old were you when you took it up full time?
I did a photography O level years ago, but that was using b/w film and old Russian cameras. I was always interested in it, but took a break for a few years while I established the business. I went back to it when I realised that I needed my own creative outlet. I had been dealing with artists for years for commercial reasons, and had forgotten about me. So I refocused on this side of me again. It was good to do something that didn't have to be commercial and just for my love and passion of it.
How would you categorise your pictures?
Ultimately, it's what interests me. I'm not interested in the nature or nice landscapes, but find interest just walking the streets. Anything a human being has touched. Little things that you wouldn't normally notice. Things that are in front of you but you don't necessarily see.
Your work ranges from schoolchildren in Ho Chi Minh City to tourists in Riga, would you say your pictures are reportage?
Yes. They are art journalism with social comment.
You have had several exhibitions, in the course of which you have invented a new process. What is “Photomentary” and how does it work?
I've taken my experience of printing commercially and looked at what is happening globally and to the photography art market. It occurred to me that everyone travels more than ever now, and everyone has a camera even if just on their phone. So the days of just printing a photograph, mounting and framing it, are numbered. Easy and comfortable yes, but photography has to move on. So I started to investigate how and what photographic images could actually be printed on. To date, I have printed on vintage greenhouse glass, sari silk, bus windows, rear view mirrors, wooden tables, corrugated cardboard and double glazing. Then framing them as appropriate. I can't do this with everything I do, but if I have the appropriate project I'll source mostly vintage things to print them on, after doing a test or two of course.
In the course of your photography you have visited over 90 countries. How much is your work an indulgence of your urge to travel?
A fair question. I love to travel as it's a great education and I like to experience new cultures, people and food. Just walking the streets to sense how people live is fascinating. However, your eyes do open more when you travel, so you notice more, appreciate more and shoot more. I still carry a camera in the UK, but abroad I ask more questions and see more. And of course, I appreciate my life more.
Your latest project is a series called Those Pesky Pigeons. What is its message, and how did it come about?
This is a classic case of them being in front of us all the time, but us not noticing so much. They are everywhere (including England), not vermin, and in fact they seem to be quite intelligent. But mainly we have stopped seeing them, let alone appreciating them, because they're all over the place. It took many years to get this collection together though.
Where can your work be seen, and what is your next project?
Mainly on my site and social media unless I exhibit. I run and shoot many projects at the same time, so I'm not sure what the next gallery will be. I've just got back from Vietnam and Cambodia, and I'm waiting for my printed and framed double glazing units to come back. I'm already planning my next odd printed presentation, but that's top secret until it's tested and done!