Team Loupe: Luke Archer

Team Loupe is a series of interviews with the photographers behind Loupe Magazine.

Interview by Harry Flook –

Luke Archer is both Loupe overlord and a photographer in his own right, as well as being the most sincere creative I’ve had the good fortune to work with. Finishing an MA in photography seemed like cause enough for a conversation about the subject of that study, and a chance to ask for advice for photographers looking to get published, an area he’s well versed in. Luke’s ongoing project, The Rock, records the little reported British territory of Gibraltar, as it prepares for an upheaval in the shape of Brexit. Having already received positive publicity from the BBC, Huck and Creative Review, the project is set to be a significant piece of social documentary.

Harry Flook: Let’s start with Loupe. You founded the magazine in May 2016. Why?

Luke Archer: I had previously worked on Vignette, a free photography magazine that ran from 2011 until 2013. It really gave me a taste of independent publishing, and as indie publishing exploded I didn’t think any magazine had come along in the interim and attempted anything similar. I missed the smell of the ink and wanted to give it another go but with me calling the shots this time!

Loupe has been shaped by seeing what other publications were not doing, or where I didn’t agree with their approach. Photography is so diverse, and yet I found other magazines to be narrow in their approach, so I decided to celebrate all the varied styles and genres I love, in print.

On a more personal level, before starting Loupe, I’d drifted away from photography, I was working for an advertising awards company and so Loupe has been a great way for me to get back into the photography world.

National Day celebrations from 'The Rock' ©Luke Archer

National Day celebrations from The Rock ©Luke Archer

HF: You mentioned the variety of styles which, along with its being free, makes the magazine more approachable. That’s really the signature of Loupe and what first drew me to it, before I came aboard. Can you talk about how you defined Loupe as separate from other Photography magazines?

Exactly. I felt that some titles deliberately put a distance between themselves and their readers. With Loupe I wanted to create a tone that was more open and approachable, those of us running the magazine are probably experiencing the same highs and lows of photography as the people reading! I was also tired of seeing the same names being featured, we really wanted to showcase work that hadn’t been published in print before. One success for us has been to see work we have featured go on to be featured elsewhere.

In response to the meteoric rise of Instagram, curating strong work in print to stand out from the noise is ever more important. We send each issue to a lot of industry figures; picture editors, curators, ad agencies etc. It’s significant that the magazine lands on peoples desks, its not a post they can scroll by or an email they can ignore.

Commander of the Gibraltar Regiment, from 'The Rock' ©Luke Archer

Commander of the Gibraltar Regiment, from The Rock ©Luke Archer

HF: Before we move onto discuss your work, let’s get it straight from the horse’s mouth; what advice do you have for photographers submitting to Loupe, or any magazine in fact?

LA: Lots of advice! All based on either mistakes I’ve made or I’ve seen in the Loupe inbox. Firstly photography is often highly personal so hats off to everyone submitting, especially people starting out it does take a certain amount of courage and determination in the face of rejection.

Obviously the strength of the image is the most important but people often submit in ways that self sabotage! Always follow the guidelines, ours are pretty open but we do request 10 images or a link to a website so it’s frustrating when people send a Wetransfer link that then expires and we have to request the images again. Other publications simply wouldn’t bother, so make it easy and instant. Any publication is going to be receiving lots of submissions so keeping the supporting text short and simple is always great, unless requested don’t include a rambling bio about how you got into photography.
A personal pet peeve is when people name check photographers who have influenced them. They are instantly doing themselves a disservice, whoever is looking at the work is instantly going to compare them to that photographer and if they have mentioned one of the most influential practitioners of the 20th century it’s not a fair fight!  Name checking general influences is fine but I do see a lot of similar references, On the Road, Heart of Darkness, On Photography, Camera Lucida etc.

Gibraltarians reserve their spot at the beach up to 2 days before the National Day celebrations from 'The Rock' ©Luke Archer

Gibraltarians reserve their spot at the beach up to 2 days before the National Day celebrations from The Rock ©Luke Archer

You also need to tailor your submission to the publication, we publish work that other people have ignored so if you email us with a long list of the awards you have won and where you have been published it’s unlikely we would feature the work, we would rather give the page space to a project that needs the promotion.

Its surprising how many people submit without knowing the magazine, we don’t commission any photography but still people submit asking if they can shoot a fashion editorial for us. Quite rightly we receive submissions of all different genres and styles of photography and we wouldn’t want it any other way. However for other publications it is important to know if your work is the right fit for them before submitting.

HF: That’s all golden advice. Noted. Looking through the submissions for Loupe is always interesting, I think there’s something about reviewing so much new work that I find both healthy and damaging for my own creativity. Has the process affected your own approach to photography, and to The Rock in particular?

LA:  I agree it’s inspiring but it can also be disheartening! You see some amazing work and that can really fire you up to get on with your own projects. However, the amount of projects can be overwhelming and of course it’s always tough when you see someone who has already shot a project that you had in mind! I’m also hyper aware of certain trends within photography and for better or worse how my own work fits into them.
In terms of The Rock, through the submissions I know a lot of people like myself are running around shooting medium format, it’s not a unique style and crucially it isn’t a shortcut to interesting work, instead a strong subject that intrigues is key. That formed part of my reasoning for wanting to document Gibraltar in the first place. Many of the submissions that stand out are where the photographer has managed to educate me about something I knew little of before, and I hope I can do the same with my approach to Gibraltar.

Working on the magazine has also crystallised the importance of how text and images can support and enhance each other. I feel images can only say so much and I believe some of the submissions we receive could benefit from a stronger supporting text and / or captions to help convey what is obvious to the photographer but remains unseen to the viewer. As a result I’ve tried or incorporate short captions within The Rock that hopefully go some way to explaining what makes Gibraltar such a unique and complex country.

Gibraltar is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, from 'The Rock' ©Luke Archer

Gibraltar is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, from The Rock ©Luke Archer

HF: Agreed, though it’s a difficult one to get right. When done well just a couple of words can really allow an image to connect. What is it about Gibraltar that first drew your attention?

LA: Gibraltar is not a country we are taught about in school and most people who visit do so as tourists, be that as a one day coach trip from Spain, or as a stop on a cruise ship, there’s very little you can learn about a country and its culture in a day! The iconic or perhaps stereotypical Britishness is undoubtedly played up to the tourist market with pints and fish and chips doing a roaring trade. In some ways that is a pity, as most British people probably couldn’t locate Gib on a map!

Gibraltar is a country in its own right with a unique history and culture. I think that is often overlooked, it’s not as simple as a load of Brits on piece of rock connected to Spain, I think that disparity between perception and reality is what initially grabbed my attention.

HF: As far as you can gauge, what are the Gibraltarians attitudes toward Brexit, and how is it likely to affect them?

LA: I’m sure as it draws closer people are getting more concerned, previously the attitude felt similar to that in England namely uncertainty, how can you plan and prepare when nobody, not even the UK government knows what is going on? In Summer 2018 the Spanish government changed and it seemed like the rhetoric toward Gibraltar was a heading in a more positive direction. However now that same government has become more fiery in its tone and I’m sure that is increasing the worry for Gibraltarians.

from 'The Rock' ©Luke Archer

Main Street on National Day from ‘The Rock‘ ©Luke Archer

The border and freedom of movement is at the crux of the issue, EU membership ensures that people and goods can cross with ease, this is hugely important as most of Gibraltar’s food and essential items arrive across this border. The border was previously closed by the Spanish Dictator Franco and those were certainly tough times for Gib, no one would like a repeat of that hardship. The fact that thousands of Spanish workers from the border town of La Linea are employed in Gib gives hope that both sides will find a solution to keep the status quo. However just like in other countries around the world politicians in the capital do not always act in the best interest of the wider nation and these workers could be the worst affected.

HF: You recently finished your masters study but the project is ongoing, I suppose with the looming of Brexit it makes sense to carry on. How will you continue to develop it from here?

LA: The masters project was ambitious to say the least! I reached out to a lot more people than I had time to photograph so my next trip will be based around meeting those people and photographing them. I probably have enough landscape imagery but there is definitely more work I can do around the Gibraltar / Spain border – although not literally as you are not allowed to photograph there!  For me it’s a long term project and it will be interesting to see what happens post Brexit. The context and conversation around the work might shift considerably depending on the outcome.

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I’m keen for quotes from all the people photographed to play more of role in the outcome and I’m naturally thinking about print. I’ve given a few talks around the magazine or zine as a format for photographers to publish their work as opposed to books, so I suppose at some point I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is and commit it to ink and paper!

HF: I’m looking forward to seeing that happen.

www.lukearcherphotography.co.uk