Who is Bran Symondson?
Born in London in 1971, Bran Symondson is considered to be one of the finest reportage photographers of the 21stCentury. He began his career working alongside renowned photographers such as Gavin Bond, David La Chapelle and Nadav Kander. During this period he joined the UK Special Forces and was immediately called up for a tour in Afghanistan. He documented his life changing experiences under gunfire with a simple Canon G9 camera, these significant images culminated in his first show “The Best View of Heaven is from Hell ”. As the photographs were taken whilst he was a serving soldier with the Special Forces the Ministry of Defence banned this exhibition, however, it was not long until The Sunday Times decided to commission him to go back to Afghanistan and re-shoot the images as a civilian photographer. After being awarded the 2011 Amnesty International Media Award for his photograph “Lost Boys”, Symondson decided to develop the concept of his photographs further and he began work on the sell out show “AKA Peace”.
Bran Symondson’s 2012 exhibition “AKA Peace” is considered to be a pivotal point in his artistic career. After his tour in Afghanistan he established the concept of taking decommissioned AK47 guns and masterfully embellishing them with dollar bills, iconography & butterflies. He then went on to ask artists such as Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Antony Gormley and the Chapman brothers to reinterpret their own AK-47 assault rifles which were all exhibited in “AKA Peace”. This critically acclaimed show raised in excess of £430,000 in one night.
Symondson’s unique artworks of contemporary AK47 derive from a simple premise: taking something of fear and loathing and turning it into something of beauty and intrigue. Each AK47 has a narrative which is told through the meticulous craftsmanship of adorning the weapon with various objects which then is enhanced with the placement of bespoke handmade bullets containing different commodities which relate to the narrative of each work.
His pieces have been bought and collected internationally from the highly acclaimed artist Jake Chapman through to Elton John and the Prince of Bahrain.
Bran is also known for his philanthropic work not only in heightening the awareness of worldwide issues through his photographs but also raising money for different charities through the donation of his AK47’s at charity art auctions. To date he has raised in excess of £580,000 through his contributions.
Bran’s last show was an amazing collaboration with the world renowned photographer Terry O’Neill. The body of works entitled “Hollywood Re-Loaded” were unveiled in September 2019.
1. How did you start in art?
I worked as a Photographer for a few y–ears, then joined the British Army as I needed a change of direction. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan and my experiences there, I returned to photography and started using AK47s as my medium, which then led me into London galleries and the Art world.
2. What was your process?
I am virtually self-taught, when I first began my career as an artist I would speak with other artist friends for advice on the art world as it can be an overwhelming place when you start. I spent time developing my techniques, learning by your mistakes is the only way to grow especially in a creative environment. It’s interesting looking back at my early works and seeing how my works have progressed. When I create new pieces I always try and better my myself every time, one of our Army regiments Ethos was the “consistent pursuit of excellence”, so I apply this to my art.
3. Why AK47?
When I work with an AK47 I see it as a blank canvas rather than a weapon, although the history of the actual AK47 I am using will also come into the narrative of the piece. I used AKs captured in Africa when working on a wildlife conservation piece. I find Symbolisms fascinating, so I always put clear bullets in the AK47 magazines and fill them with symbolic fillings to denote the narrative of the subject matter, Human rights and the environment are subjects that are always close to my heart.
4. Irony in art?
Very much so, again an Ethos I live by is Humour and Humility, I think humour hidden within the art can be important, especially when its ironic humour. I’ve been in some pretty scary situations in my time and quite often you deal with those dark times thinking of the good times. I also think its key never to take yourself to seriously, laughter can bring people together.
5. Who is your inspiration
I feel all styles and genres of art are equally important, just as in music, I think its wrong when someone runs down a certain form of art or medium, as each style influences and inspires one another, I often take inspiration from artists such as Caravaggio, Picasso to Frida Kahlo. Art is freedom.