Charlie Sarsfield is one of the most in demand music video directors and photographers in the UK right now and his work with artists from Stormzy, Sam Fender, Ghetts and Shaybo has been getting noticed by all the right people over the last few years, leading to commercial film and photography projects with the likes of Spotify, JD and Nike.
Charlie lives in London but in between the endless treatment writing, shoots, edits and idea creation likes to travel to his favourite places and capture imagery of the natural world; studying light, landscapes and the beauty of the moment.
Goodrays sat down with Charlie to discuss his work, his career, where he finds inspiration and how he copes with the pressures and strains of a life spent capturing moments of beauty in a world that sometimes seems to be running in fast-forward...
Interview by Goodrays, all images © Charlie Sarsfield.
Where did your interest in photography come from? Were you one of the kids that knew you wanted to create and capture the world around you from a young age or did it develop later in life?
First off, Yo ma Goodrays family, thanks for asking me to be a part of this!!!
My interest in photography started quite young, I was one of those kids that did badly in most subjects but just loved art, and DT, and was always making stuff. First picked up a camera at about 14, and was lucky enough to go to Truro College in Cornwall which had a darkroom. I was one of the only kids in the darkroom constantly and then that continued into university where I studied film and photography.
Photography or film-making? If you had to only pursue one of these art forms for the rest of your days which would it be and why?
WOW *Insert sweating face emoji*.
I think for me there is an element that they come hand in hand, but i'd have to say film-making, that way you get best of both worlds. There is something so special about creating a single image that tells a story, but it’s extremely difficult to achieve, and something I’ve only managed a handful of times. Whereas with film-making you have a much bigger chance of making an impact, even if its just one scene from a music video or film.
What was your first ‘break’ in the industry and who specifically helped you along the way and encouraged you to follow your passion for creativity?
Well, I feel there are quite a few of us who would say these names, but James Payne and Jeremy Cole. They were the first people that reached out to me when I was a runner at MTV and making stuff on the side, and they kind of ‘poached’ me and Jordan Bond who I started off directing with. James owned Lemonade Money, and really believed in us and gave us a mad opportunity as young kids trying to work out what we wanted to make; Jeremy was also a big part of that for us, and so many others that came through the Lemonade door.
Which music artist, dead or alive, would you most want to shoot a portrait of and why?
I'd love to shoot a portrait of Kanye West to be honest, I just think he’s so dope. He revolutionised music for my generation and it would just be a mad experience. However I would give Elvis an honourable mention, I grew up listening to a lot of Elvis so that would be rad too hahah.
When was the last time you felt genuinely inspired?
I'm very lucky to be surrounded by people that I find inspiring, and who are super talented and inspire me everyday. One of my oldest friends Joe Howard is an unbelievable photographer and we live moments from each other so we are always walking around east London, with seven cameras wrapped round us. I think it’s important to find inspiration in the smallest of moments, especially over the last few years where everything has stood still it’s been more important now to be inspired to start something new, or think of a new idea.
These past couple of years have been difficult for everyone in so many ways. What have you found to be the most challenging things to deal with during the pandemic?
Hahaha, this is a tricky one for me, these last few years have been wild... I went through a break up, and had some mad health troubles and struggled with those things more than the pandemic to be honest. A lot of my job is spent alone anyway, and I secretly quite enjoy my own company, so it wasn’t too difficult in that regard. I suppose we had to find new ways to be creative, I couldn’t just go out and shoot a music video with a cast and crew of over 50 people, so production changed quite a lot and really is only just going back to the (new) normal.
How important has it been to have a creative outlet during lockdowns and the restrictions put onto our lives?
I think creativity comes in all sorts of forms, shapes and sizes. Over lockdown it was a case of finding anything that made you smile, and normally those things were creative endeavours, learning a musical instrument, photography, drawing. These things allow a subconscious freedom, so in the midst of a very confining experience that mental freedom was super important.
You always seem to have an ability to see the world in a positive light? Where do you think this comes from? Any tips on how to think positively?
Hahahah, I think that’s a good thing, but, a lot of people always tell me i'm too positive…. I had quite a mad start in life and so that gave me a strange grounding to appreciate the good things, and not hold on to the negative stuff. My mum struggled with drug abuse, my dad moved to Romania when I was extremely young, and to be honest both my parents were extremely young when they had me, so it must have been difficult for them, especially my mum who had me the majority of the time.
We travelled a lot when I was younger, myself, my mum and her partner drove across India when I was five on a motorbike, then we lived in Italy in the back of a van for a year, and then Spain as well. We were ‘travellers’ and squat dwellers so we didn’t have a lot and would always make the most of stuff. My school hated me, I think I finished primary school with a 9% attendance record maybe hahaha.
Anxiety has almost become the normal state of mind for many, many people and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, social media and what appears to be increasing polarisation within our society. What makes you anxious and how do you deal with these feelings?
I think everyone has become extremely aware of their feelings over the past few years. We’ve had more time to think on ourselves, and understand the way our bodies and minds work away from the constant hustle and bustle of our busy lives.
My anxiety is brought on by the idea of failing, which is a crazy thing because failure doesn’t really exist... you just continue to learn. I deal with my anxiety through therapy, and have done for quite a long time now. On top of that coping methods such as long walks, meditating, breathing and in the last few years I’ve definitely become a big fan of CBD products, and Goodrays has definitely become a part of those rituals.
You’ve spent a lot of time around cannabis culture in the music business and in the places you’ve visited and lived but you’ve never been a big consumer. Why is that?
If you’d had the parents I had you’d probably do the same hahah. Growing up surrounded by drugs in all shapes and forms definitely makes you feel a certain way. It’s not necessarily that I don’t consume, I’d say I know where I need it in my life and I know where it becomes most helpful for me. The introduction of CBD to my life has definitely been a blessing though.
CBD is sometimes referred to as ‘diet weed’ but it’s clearly much more complex than that - how would you explain the benefits of CBD in your life and what is your typical ritual with using it?
The benefits for me are endless in reality. I have CBD Oils that I use every morning and evening now... they help me switch off in the evening and help calm my busy mind in the mornings. Drinking Goodrays is definitely an addition that has really helped, replacing my sugary can of pop.
I think more people should actually read in to the benefits of CBD, especially here in the UK, around the world the benefits seem more widely known, whereas here there is still a stigma attached to it. It's either looked down at by weed smokers, or frowned upon by the more straight edged hahaha.
At Goodrays, as you know, we’re really determined to educate people about the cannabis plant and play our part in removing the stigma that still surrounds it, not just in terms of espousing the health and wellness benefits of cannabinoids, but also by showing people how it can be used to produce sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to textiles, packaging, building materials and plastics. Do you know much about the history of cannabis/hemp and it’s eco-credentials? If not how do you think we can communicate this best?
My mum has always championed hemp, it’s quite handy having a punk-turned-hippie as a mother for these reasons. She’s a very mother-nature loving lady so always sends me unique things to read on different ways we can approach the way in which we live our lives in modern society. She seems to be at the forefront of the hemp world, and always knows what’s going on. However I don’t think many people do know the potential of how it could really help create a more sustainable way of life for us and future generations, and that’s something I think everybody needs to work on - spreading the idea’s and ways in which this wonderful plant can actually help us in the future.
As a creative person, storyteller and optimist who has an incredible network of influential friends and colleagues - do you think that it’s going to be possible for the human race to save itself and it’s home for future generations? Or are you down with the billionaires trying to leave for Mars?
Hahahahah, I suppose it depends which side of the rocket you are sitting on. No, in reality I have faith in humanity always, it takes what’s happening for people to sit up and take notice. In reality we are an incredibly stupid creature, however we are also intelligent at the same time, and I know and believe that the future generation that is coming next are much more unwavering than our generation and will force the change that’s needed. The people who sit in the chairs of power are one or two generations above me, so once it filters through and my cousins generation are in charge, it WILL change. They are much more aware and thoughtful, and I believe will be smart enough to work out a way to reverse the damage that is done, unless we are all under water by then…
Final question… we live on a planet that is essentially solar powered and your art is based on the ability of a clever piece of technology (the camera) to capture light rays and turn these moments of time into indelible visual images that we can experience and enjoy repeatedly.
If there was one photograph, by any photographer, that you could have taken, which would it be and why?
Jeez, there are a lot of great images but for me personally I never wish I could have done something or taken an image someone else has. HOWEVER, my friend Joe Howard, who I believe will become a magnum photographer one day. He took a photo of one of the beaches we love down in Cornwall, and he got me a special print of it done for my 30th birthday because I love it so much.
If it had to be one it would probably be that one, ‘the splash’ as we affectionately call it.
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