Jai-Lee Egna Discusses the Importance of Personal Projects with Photographer Buj Avsar

September 3, 2013

By Jai-Lee Egna

© Buj Avsar

 Color Study: The Gift

In our industry’s current competitive climate it has become increasingly more difficult to stay on top of all the components that help to drive a successful career. Marketing, managing a studio, finding or maintaining representation, creating promos, meeting with clients, bidding on jobs…the list goes on and on. As a former photo rep and now a producer/consultant, I have always felt that creating and shooting personal projects can be one of the most vital components of a photographer’s career. I have also seen first hand how hard it can be to find the time to conceptualize and execute ideas for personal projects. An emphasis on shooting personal projects or test shoots should be stressed when planning out one’s workflow. Not only does it allow the photographer to constantly evolve their thought process and work, it allows the client to understand the photographer’s true voice and what ideas and perspectives they can bring to a shoot.

Color study: Yellow #1 memories 

I have been a longtime fan of Burcu Avsar’s work, both her commercial assignments and personal projects. She is able to meld impeccably precise and careful lighting with a very organic, natural sense of composition that results in unique still life, interior and food imagery. Across her work one finds the satisfying common thread of a unique skill: the ability to confront a full sensory experience and distill it into a single visual image while retaining the nuances that make each real life moment exceptional. The result is a body of work that communicates an effortlessly beautiful world.

Beautiful Mess  

Burcu, also known as Buj, has been shooting professionally for clients including Bon Appetit, Country Living, Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living since 2002. After studying film in college she then went on to work as a producer at an ad agency. “While I was producing the photo shoots I wanted to be behind the camera. I have a very strong sense of art direction, composing and creating my own environment. I like to be in charge of every detail when composing the image,” said Buj. She attended ICP for a year and then began to assist photographers. Speaking to that experience she said, “I learned a lot while I was assisting and it helped me to develop my own style and vision.”

Color study: White #6 waterfall 

Buj began a personal project, “Color Studies”, which has received wonderful reviews from the community, not to mention landing her editorial work that photo editors were inspired to assign after viewing the series. Here is a conversation between us about the goals, motivations, and process of “Color Studies” and “Needleprint,” two current personal projects.

Color study: Cochineal #5 dye pot

Jai-Lee: Can you tell us a bit about how your series “Color Studies” came to be?

Buj: Color studies were born in early spring 2012. I wanted to do a personal project and I was thinking about working with color. By that, I mean to explore the relationship between humans and color and the meanings given to each hue. I came up with the concepts and the creative direction. With the aid of stylist Helen Quinn I experimented with five different natural dyes. For each color I worked on I did an intense study; I looked (at in) the archives where the color is coming from, how it is formed. We try to challenge ourselves on each color. I do a lot of sketches and sometimes the shot forms itself on set organically. I love doing the color studies, I am happy to see commercial work come from that. It is a great feeling to inspire people but for me it is also a great way to express myself and show what I can do creatively and technically.

Color study: Indigo #3

Buj has also been working on a second series called “Needleprint.” After photographing a luxury item she creates a print and passes it to the needlepoint artist, Olivia Takats, who then embroiders over the image and returns the print to Buj, who photographs the needlepointed print to create the final image.

Needlepoint: Bond no.9

Jai-Lee: What was the inspiration/main idea behind this project? It is interesting to see the handiwork of needlepoint integrated into images of beautifully polished luxury goods?

 Buj: I shoot a lot of craft books and I research a lot before my shoots. While preparing for “Needleprint”, I was researching needlepoint and looking at blogs and I came across a cover of a book made entirely by needlepoint. It was almost three dimensional. I have always been fascinated by trompe l’oeil, ‘the optical illusion of depth’, because of the way photographers use it in their compositions to animate simple objects in a medium that is very two dimensional. In a lot of ways it runs parallel to how I feel about the subjects I shoot professionally, things that are often mass produced. To me luxury is handmade or custom. I chose these luxury goods to give them this handmade/artisan look that you can feel. For this series I collaborated with the artist Olivia Takats, who embroidered over my photos not only to animate the two-dimensional print but also to bring extra richness and depth.

You can see more of Buj Avsar’s work  at her site,

Jai-Lee Egna is a Producer/Creative Consultant. Visit her site at: