Gradwatch 2022: Niall Hodson, London School of Trend

From the project Only the Man on the Moon Knows and He Won’t Tell

“I think there’s nothing better than a good story, and I believe that everyone’s got a story to tell,” says Niall Hodson. “I’m a real hater of being on my phone all the time and I like writing things down and listening to people’s tales – usually they’ll have a great phrase or something, and they always seem to resonate with me. It’s quite poetic to chat to someone and they say something so beautiful, you’re just taken by it. You’re like, that should be a hit single or something! Someone should have written that down as a lyric.”

Keen on “romanticising the ordinary”, the London College of Fashion graduate has formed his burgeoning image-making practice around highlighting the personality and beauty in the everyday. This philosophy underpinned the work he was making throughout his degree in fashion photography, which overlapped with the pandemic – a time in which most of us were looking to embellish the mundane.

Photograph by Niall Hodson of a person sat on top of stacks of hay balesBarnardo’s
Photograph by Niall Hodson of a young person in a bandana sat on top of a red post boxKeen Experts, 2022

When lockdown hit, he decamped back to Greater Manchester and quickly became inspired by the nostalgia he felt in returning to home turf. “And then that just became my uni journey,” he recalls. He began to channel his efforts into making images inspired by home while taking on client work, ready to enter the industry afterwards. As such, his portfolio is already filled with names including Wonderland magazine, CAT, Barnardo’s and Copa90.

“All the commissioned stuff, obviously, it’s a lot of pinch yourself moments,” he says. “This is all I want to do, to be quite honest. I’m pretty hooked on it all. I can’t stop looking for photographs everywhere I go.”

Photograph by Niall Hodson of a person wearing a black and white sweater climing in a fieldF Word Magazine, 2022

His final major project was heavily influenced by his reconnection with home during lockdown. Its title, Only the Man on the Moon Knows and He Won’t Tell, is directly quoted from his grandma, who has always used that expression in the face of uncertainty, and the futility of worrying about what you cannot know or control. To Hodson, it was the perfect symbol of the unpredictability of the pandemic.

He began to capture photographs that reflected the “quirkiness” of where he’s from, bringing to life “the beauty in the red brick houses and the people that just get about with a bit of swagger about them,” he says. The outcome is a series of portraits filled with care and character, recalling the warm fashion-documentary work of Jamie Hawkesworth, which extends into the rural landscapes and urban architecture that Hodson shot.

Photograph by Niall Hodson of a person wearing a red and white knitted sweater in a fieldF Word Magazine, 2022
Photograph by Niall Hodson of a young person with their shirt slung over their shouldersOnly the Man on the Moon Knows and He Won’t Tell

It was important to him to include photographs of his family in the project. His grandma appears at the beginning donning a fur hat, sunglasses and a proud pose, and it’s bookended with images of his mother, who played an integral role in the work by driving him around to find locations, discussing the work as he made it, and reflecting together on the final pictures afterwards.

As for the other people who appear in the work, his method was as simple as approaching people who felt familiar to him, even if he didn’t know them. “I wanted it to be a conversation and down to earth,” he says.

Photograph by Niall Hodson of cut lemons on the floorKeen Experts, 2022
Portrait photograph by Niall Hodson of Corbin ShawCorbin Shaw for Twos Magazine

He hopes to translate the work into a tangible format, like a zine, and he’s brimming with ideas to explore further now he’s graduated. When we speak, he’s about to set off on a month-long trip up the west coast of the US, photographing as much as he can as he goes along. He’s also been working abroad on a brief for football brand AC Momento and hopes to make the periphery work he shot around that project into its own body of work. “I used to play quite a lot when I was younger and it just burnt me out. It’s reignited my passion for it a little bit and I think I was quite inspired by the people I met and their passion for football.”

Such is the joy of a well-matched commission, and so far, he’s relishing the challenges and opportunities of working for clients: “I’m being introduced to this new way of thinking and how to shoot something in a new way,” he says. It’s about “trying to find this middle ground that conveys what I do and also conveys the brand that I’m working for. I think it’s a really interesting dynamic”.

Portrait photograph by Niall HodsonArsenal FC Bowls Club x Athletic Club Momento, 2022
Photograph of a person drinking from a mug in a cafeChelsea x Copa 90