Designing his own method: the graphic world of Barcelona’s Teddy Iborra Wicksteed
From his plant-studded terrace, Metal Magazine’s art director explains why visual compositions are not just an end product, Barcelona
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Teddy Iborra Wicksteed was born and raised in Barcelona, where he still lives today, to a Spanish father and English mother. Teddy is an animated person, constantly expanding on ideas when he talks, always up for a good conversation and has purposefully mastered several disciplines from photography to graphic design to editing.

These skills perfectly complement each other in his daily work as art director of METAL magazine. As a student, Teddy started working for Folch Studio, a design agency in Barcelona, and for Apartamento Magazine. It was there that he developed design and branding editorial projects for independent magazines, books, and album covers. His work also includes a few special projects, such as Tono Volumen (a study of tone and volumetrics, an exercise in light of the corporal) Barcelona, 2014. Despite the various creative mediums at his disposal, Teddy’s priority is photography.

The young photographer shares a space with the family business, the Iborra Restaurants, in a modernist building in the center of Barcelona. The interior space, constructed with classic lines, contrasts with the original colourfully tiled floors. Although he spends little time in the studio and says that he can spend the whole day “running around town”, it’s evident that he keeps his things carefully organized, and that he uses the space to find moments of calm.

Teddy showed us around his house with its plant studded terrace, and opened the doors to his studio, in a building on the illustrious street of Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona.

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What’s life like for you in Barcelona?

Truly, the gastronomy is one of the best things about Barcelona. There is a lot of competition, and because of this the quality is actually really high, which makes me feel proud. I am a huge fan of the chef, Carme Ruscalleda—in fact, by coincidence I took photos of her for a magazine. The food is fantastic in her restaurant. I love the fact that she puts emphasis on products from this region, and doesn’t wander off too much with weird dishes. I think that, like anyone, I always enjoy anything which is slightly austere.

Despite these austere tastes you have a rather colorful and interdisciplinary career. Was that a deliberate decision?

No, it’s super organic. I realized early on, in the third or fourth year of my career, that graphic design is not a business. I loved graphic design, but I didn’t get on very well with technology. I couldn’t get into using Dreamweaver or Flash, because I didn’t really like them. The term “graphic design” I don’t like whatsoever, because it doesn’t make sense: everything is design and everything is graphic. It’s what Paul Rand said, ‘In reality, design is art and visual communication.’ Pure composition. Everything evolved in an organic way, but I realised that graphic design was a brilliant tool to express or communicate anything visually.

So, you went to editing from graphic design. How would you say this came about?

The last year of my studies I spent in Zurich; I learned a lot there. I was coming back to Barcelona, and through a photographer named Nacho Alegre I joined Folch Studio. They called me in for a trial, and before I graduated I was already working there. I hadn’t even turned in my final project yet. Everything was rolling along nicely and I concentrated on art books and magazines. In the end I finished my studies in the summer.

And photography, how did you get into that?

So, as to be expected, what happens to every designer working in a studio and giving everything of themselves artistically in exchange for financial compensation, is that you get to a moment where you think, ‘My god, I’m putting all my soul into these projects.’ Obviously I learned a lot from Albert [Folch] and Omar [Sosa], a huge amount, and I am so grateful—but of course, when you begin to take on more work, there is a moment in which you think it’s time for me to take the next step.

I’ve always had a camera in my hand; in Folch Studio I was already taking little photographs for my portfolio and photos of the open booklets to put on the website. And sometimes, when there was a project with a low budget, I would get the studio’s camera and take the photos myself, so that’s how I started off. Then I went to study at the IEFC (Catalan Institute of Photography) because I was really attracted to the idea of black and white, printing, and the enlarger. And—wow—I learned a lot there. I was totally captivated by the darkroom, because when you begin to see the compositions and what you can do with the camera—really, using a camera is like playing the guitar—that’s when it really becomes cool to take photos instinctively, because you already know the result before shooting. You can see the knowledge you’ve accumulated.

Regarding art direction, how much would you say is “art” and how much is strategy?

In reality I am very rational about this. That is, when I worked at other studios I remember that we gave endless presentations in PDF format to clients when trying to sell a book. However, with Omar Sosa—who I was also working with for two years for brands such as Flos—we realised that we had to take along stuff that was already nearly finished. For example, I never even took my laptop to meetings at Metal Magazine, instead, I brought a printed magazine—without putting the cart before the horse, bringing all your ideas directly in print form. In the end, this avoids a lot of problems, it means that the client can see the product before you start. So if you’re asking me whether it’s a matter of strategy…It can be.

What short term and medium term professional challenges do you have?

I’m going to be honest with you about this: I haven’t got to where I am through fear. That is, when I was little I had lots of problems at school, I found it really hard. The teachers began to make comments to my mother, telling me to stop studying, do something else or work in the restaurants. And I believed it. At first, I actually went to study exactly that—hospitality. I never dared to dream that I could take photos. I never dreamed that I could create a book, or that I could take photography because ‘that wasn’t me.’ However, since I was young I had clearly shown a special sensitivity towards this. I mean, at school my notes were like a party on the page, it was obvious I already had a special writing style, and there were certain structural things–but no teachers had noticed. Don’t get me wrong, no one ever said that I was stupid, but it’s true that they said I was unfocused.

So, if you’re asking me where I saw myself going, I’m going to have to answer honestly and say that in reality, I never imagined I would get to where I am now. Much more than that, I’m delighted, I couldn’t be happier. What more can you ask for than to go somewhere and have someone tell you, ‘Wow! Your photos are beautiful!’ This means that: people are looking at my work, they appreciate it; and on top of that they are doing it on a regular basis, because they know what my most recent piece of work is. For me, that is a compliment.

You’re talking about the satisfaction of being acknowledged, no?

Yes, yes, but either way, a long time ago, back when I had yet to publish a photo, a friend of mine told me a beautiful thing: ‘I really like your photos.’  And I said to him, ‘Yeah, but… man, I see yours and I’m so impressed.’ The two of us were really drunk, so he told me, ‘But don’t worry about that, because it’s like writing a book—you’re writing, you’re writing, you’re reading it over, you’re correcting it, and if finally, someone reads it, amazing… but if not, well you’ve got a book, no?!” Despite this, I’ve spent a large part of my life feeling restricted, thinking that I couldn’t do photography.

It’s good to break the barriers which you impose on yourself.

Yes, yes, and I have to say that my girlfriend, Mónica Zafra, has helped me a huge amount. She is a stylist with skills far superior to mine in photography, and she told me, ‘No, no. Your photos are great, and you have to go for it.’ And now I get to a session with the comfort of thinking, ‘Wow, this is all mine!’

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In your photographic work one can see a strong sense of beauty. Does this aesthetic vision influence your daily life?

Things that are badly thought out or ugly annoy me… But that’s the eternal debate. I remember a wonderful professor that I had in Zurich who made us define what was good, bad, ugly and beautiful, and all the combinations in between. As in, tell me what is both beautiful and bad, give me something which is ugly and good, something which is ugly and bad. When you are forced to define these things it’s really difficult, and it ends up becoming a criticism of oneself. That’s to say, yes, everyone chooses one pair of trousers or another, one pair of shoes or another, everybody has a very, very aesthetically oriented vision… But yes, it’s true that I have a stricter filter.

Your photographic portraits are characterized by having clean lines and sharp features that give your figures an almost sculptural plasticity, toying with classical beauty. There is something that is contemporary, but at the same time very timeless. What is behind this aesthetic?

Photography is, in a way, the direct translation of what your eyes want to see, and the camera is my tool to filter this. Just like when a person is in love. It can be absolute fucking bullshit, but when a person is in love they idealize the person in such a way that, in reality, the mental image is… surreal, it’s nothing like reality. So what you see in your head stays in your head, and the camera is a type of intermediary tool for you to demonstrate a little bit of what you’re seeing directly inside your head. Well, try to. A way to take you there. So yes, I’m a timeless or classic guy in the sense that I like people to look beautiful [in photographs], with profiles that I think are like those I want to see.

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