How I Became A Suicide Girls Staff Photographer.

Lots of people often ask me how I got into shooting for Suicide Girls and it can seem really weird to many – nude photography is generally and has always been a male dominated profession (three guesses why) so to many people out of the SG loop a woman can seem out of place, plus the fact that I don’t really have tattoos, piercings or any of the ‘typical’ look expected of someone that works with SG. However, at Suicide Girls a very high percentage of the Staff Photographers (and staff in general!) are women, most are even Suicide Girls themselves (you can see their beautiful faces here!) and for many that’s how they got started and introduced into the world of shooting nude ladies! For me it was very different.

Disclaimer: I’ve decided to include a bunch of my old work so you can see my progression and it begins with my original ‘photographer name ‘which is just the worst…Gemma Edwards is such a crap name to be memorable but I used to go by ‘GLEPhotography’ using my initials, sounds terrible now. 

My photography journey actually started with my love of live rock music (crazy now that I’m an alternative DJ as well) and print. I desperately wanted to shoot bands for magazines like Kerrang and Rock Sound (I even worked as an intern here for a few weeks) as a teen and I somehow used to get press passes to shows like Enter Shikari, The Subways, Alkaline Trio and more where I’d shoot the bands amongst a plethora of actual photographers who knew what they were doing for photographs that would just end up on my Myspace page (yes….Myspace) or maybe my MSN display pic if it was a good one.

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Press pass on the left for Enter Shikari at the Southampton Guildhall which I obtained via messaging the frontman Rou Reynolds on MySpace…The good ol’ days!

Still involved in the same ‘scene’, I started shooting alternative fashion style images before moving onto clothing lines which, in the alternative scene, is generally hot girls in mens t-shirts and tube socks. At the same time, I started studying photography at college which I loved. I mostly shot black and white film as that’s what the course was back then and it’s funny now that I look back because at some point my work turned into shooting beautiful and very sexual women. It started from a ‘documentary’ interest from works like Mary Ellen Mark, Nan Goldin etc before I started to like the more glamourised styles of pin-up. Whilst at the time shooting nudes would have seemed insane to me…now, several years on, I can see the progression really clearly.

I went to University to study photography further, I don’t know why. I am of the generation where you were brought up in school thinking you needed to go to Uni to get a good job, many of us were the first in our families to go and, to be honest, it was just what you did after college. I absolutely hated it, have a load of debt and other than my amazing first ‘foundation’ year on an NC Photography course I don’t think I got much value from my degree at all. My work wasn’t right and to put it bluntly, I didn’t have enough money to create the ‘right’ work. However, during this time I was still shooting clothing lines and portfolio collaborations with local alternative models until eventually I started test shooting models for a glamour agency – I’ll add that by this point I had ventured away from Myspace and now had a Facebook Page as well as my own Website.

It took me a few shoots before they actually came back to me and said, ‘look, we’re putting these girls forward for Page 3 so we really need some topless images this time.‘ I didn’t want to turn the shoot down because I was enjoying shooting and making contacts within the agency and actual professional models but it was something that seemed really alien to me. The idea of it did anyway, on the actual shoot the model was clearly very comfortable which made me realise how silly it was for me to be nervous about it. I got over the whole bare breasts thing pretty quickly and this particular model actually went on to win The Batchelor I think! I was working with a team of local stylists and make-up artists at the time as well, all collaborative and unpaid for all involved. I was soon shooting most of the girls topless (as that’s what the agency specialised in) and I could use the agency to book models for test shoots that I would shoot clothing lines with and kill two birds with one stone, most of the models were new as I was and so it was beneficial for everyone. The agencies were also putting these images forward to their clients, magazines etc so they could see the girls but inadvertently it also got them used to seeing my name and work which is a very good thing. There are times in your life and career when I do think ‘exposure’ can be worth it – it’s up to you to decide when that is. I pretty much never shoot anything for free now as it just wouldn’t do anything for me and as great as published work is, it can only happen so many times until you feel like you’re getting the raw end of the deal.

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A portfolio shoot with Lucy Vixen, Make-up by Tara Steel. I used to turn my bed on it’s side and shoot against my bedroom wall as a student with a cheap Interfit light. The walls were cream rather than white and that old textured wallpaper you get, so you can see the lumps and bumps in the wall and the yellow shadowing. However – I had plenty of images published shot like this!
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Some more portfolio work with MUA Tara Steel and model Mel Clarke – we had already worked together a couple times by this point but we were still fairly young…I think about 5/6 years ago?
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More Mel – we’ve worked together regularly over the past seven years or so and kind of started our careers at the same time really! We are still close now and shoot for Suicide Girls whenever we get the chance.

Eventually I had an offer to be signed with a really well known and popular syndication agency, this meant I had a agent who would try and place (sell) my images, worldwide, in magazines like Nuts, Zoo, etc which I did! I had work published all over the world, covers, features and lots of small images here and there which finally meant some pay was coming back to me and the girls. Over this period, I’d grown really fond of the shooting style of Front Magazine (mostly Zoe McConnell who has since gone on to do much bigger and better things) and it was also a style that sold well at the time worldwide as well as working for the clothing lines and portfolio images models wanted, so it worked out for everyone really. I shot pretty much exclusively that style outside of my Uni work, plus a few weddings over the next couple years until I was actually getting paid to shoot for Front Magazine. I started with the Alt Girl shoots, which I shot pretty regularly for a year or so as well as a few other features – the top of it all being when I shot a special edition nude cover with five models and the bottom being when I shot a feature on Nass Festival which came out like the most depressing Vice article of all time, full of morph suits, mud and crushed Four Loko cans. It was all going fab until the company went under, owing me thousands (yes thousands, whilst I was a student as well…I wasn’t a happy bunny) in pay which I have never and will never receive, same thing happened with all the staff that worked there. Since then, Front has been sold and resold and been nothing but grief, avoid like the plague. Selection of published work below; Bizarre covers with Mel Clarke and Ruby True, Front features with Okami Suicide, Notonix, Arabella and the Alt Girl cover shoot featuring Bella, Keshia, Katherine, Abbie Mac and Chelsea. Finally, Jodie Gasson calendar shoot which I shot for the agency and later syndicated for a cover in Australia and a feature in a UK Newspaper! However, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve shot that never sold, too. Some of my best work has never seen the light of day.

I always think my career peaked too early – at one stage during University I had four covers out in four different countries but soon after all this, most of the UKs Lads mags shut down…Loaded, Front, Nuts and Zoo were all gone and Page 3 was on it’s way out. Meanwhile, syndication worldwide was also taking a bit of a dip and I wasn’t selling anywhere near as well as I used to. That probably would have been the end of my career if it hadn’t have been for Suicide Girls.

Luckily, before absolutely everything had gone literally tits up for me, the wonderful Mel Clarke had put my name forward to Suicide Girls as a potential Staff Photographer – she basically recommended me for the job. I always feel really bad when people ask me for advice on how to get started because not only is everything ever changing but I was actually just sat at home when I got a call from Missy Suicide to discuss the website, how it worked and if I was interested in working for them. I was lucky that I had enough experience under my belt and had made a name for myself in my little niche that I had SG approach me so I didn’t really have to figure out how to approach them or get their attention, I wasn’t even aware that it was a possibility to shoot for them to be honest – I will give some advice in my next post regarding that though.

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SG Katherine in my first Set of the Day for Suicide Girls!

Like everyone else, I had to shoot and submit sets to the site in hope they would be bought as you won’t be considered for a Staff position until you have successfully sold ten sets to the site chosen as Set of the Day. This meant me and the girls were shooting in collaboration in the hope that we would sell our sets and get paid – I sold two out of my first three sets which I shot in a local hotel room with SGs Mel, Katherine and Chad who I already knew via Front/general internet life! I wasn’t really that sure what a Suicide Girls set was and my style wasn’t quite right, I was used to shooting harsh flash shots for the magazine with loads of retouching expected of me whereas SG is a far more natural approach to the whole process, it’s taken me a while but I find I’ve been editing less and less in my work. I wish us photographers could all sign a pact not to retouch our images at all, that would be amazing but for now it’s light edits only to keep up with everything else that’s out there. I think it took me about a year to be made Staff, which dragged so much at the time but I could finally say I was THE Staff Photographer for Suicide Girls in the UK, the go-to-girl! Although it has grown since then and I am no longer the lone wolf roaming the UK that I once was.

I’ve been shooting Suicide Girls for a few years now and I still love it, if they are still happy with my work, it’s definitely something I see myself being a part of forever and not something I want to stop doing any time soon. I love meeting all the amazing girls and it’s so satisfying when SG chose your set for the front page over SO many submissions – and there really are a lot.

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My latest set with Katherine – five or so years apart I think!

Please leave any questions in the comments below, if you’d like to shoot a set for Suicide Girls you can reach me via email on: info@gemmaedwardsphoto.com

My SG Sets

My Website

What Is ‘Suicide Girls’?

How Can I Become a Suicide Girl? Pros and Cons.

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11 thoughts on “How I Became A Suicide Girls Staff Photographer.

  1. You’ve mentioned in a previous article that a Set of the Day is bought by SG for £500. As a staff photographer are you on a salary or do you still have to rely on your sets bring bought as a Set of the Day?

  2. Aw I remember the earlyish days when you were asking us on twitter for feedback and thoughts on your new look website. No idea how long ago that was but so cool to see you doing so well in a difficult industry

  3. Lovely stuff as always Gemma! Great to read some behind the camera insight 🙂

    Also sad to be reminded of the demise of Front and the pain it caused so many readers and contributors. Such a shame it all went south and you won’t get what’s owed!

    Couple of questions on that topic though. Do you think the ‘death’ of the UK lads mag scene is permanent and do you think that’s a good thing?

    Thanks again and keep up the fine work

    Wimb

    1. Hey! Obviously at the time I didn’t think so as it was my entire career down the pan – but really I guess it is a good thing. FRONT was definitely the least offensive to women (IMO) but many Lads Mags really didn’t use great language about women, faked interviews to make the girls seem ‘appealing’ and ‘naughty’ and some of the retouching levels were just plain disrespectful. My favourite thing about SG is that is has a far more natural element to it. Since magazines have been struggling for so long I definitely think Lads Mags are dead forever…hopefully that will help with the death of Lad Culture too!

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the interesting questions 🙂

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