⇾ How Russell Blackmore Shops
⇾ Russell Blackmore,
Founder of Sonic Editions
On sourcing authentic photos, buying quality staples and using the good stuff for everyday occasions
Russell Blackmore started Sonic Editions back in 2009 with the goal of democratizing high-quality art because he saw a serious void in the photography market: Galleries were too expensive and too intimidating. “Getting stuff framed required a second mortgage, and there wasn't anywhere selling the images I loved at a sensible price,” he remembers. “I created this because I was the person who went to the photography exhibition and could only afford the book.” Why did prints have to be so stratospherically expensive? His idea was to “use the same printers and framers as the galleries,” but simplify the sizing and the frame options, and then ship it ready to hang on the wall.
To say it worked out would be an understatement. Since launching the London-based online gallery, it's only continued to evolve. The selection has grown from exclusively music photography to cinema, travel, cars and classic archival imagery. And if you're looking for new prints to update your space, Blackmore has some tips and tricks on how they'll help elevate your living area, “Great photography is both striking to look at and incredibly personal. You can choose shots of people or places you admire or aesthetically pleasing images. They're inspiring to look at every day and bring you joy every time you look at them.”
Like the timeless images he sells, Blackmore's style is untethered and straight to the point. He's always reaching for crewneck sweatshirts from British label Sunspel and a pair of unsanforized selvedge jeans. We caught up with the founder to learn what his favorite print is, why Homer Simpson is his style Northstar and why streaming services are a pain in the ass.
How did your earlier career lead you to create Sonic Editions?
I worked for The Economist for seven years and after that, I worked for Getty Images, which re-awakened my love of photography and also reminded me that I'm not great at sitting on 30-person global marketing conference calls for hours at a time.
The idea for Sonic Editions came about there, as I saw an opportunity to sell excellent photography to people who wanted quality prints without the gigantic price tag of West End or Manhattan galleries while demystifying the whole process in terms of framing, different print types, etc.
What goes into sourcing
the original pictures?
Music has always been my passion. I grew up devouring music magazines, so to start with it—a case of approaching and finding all the photographers I remembered from their bylines on stories and images I could recall. We were lucky to work with NME from the start, so for the music images, I worked through my memory archives of great magazines: NME, The Face, early Loaded, Q, Melody Maker, Uncut, Rolling Stone, etc.
The next thing was to go and find archives with intriguing images that aren't done to death everywhere else. That's what took us to Venice to the Archivio Cameraphoto archive to dig through their negatives to find incredible shots of Paul Newman, Sophie Loren, Chet Baker and Sean Connery in a Riva with a backdrop of The Grand Canal, or find shots of Serge and Jane and Bardot in the Gamma Rapho archives in Paris.
What’s the process like of traveling to find authentic imagery before you sell it on the site?
With archives, it's a question of finding the shots that work for a print rather than to illustrate a story in a publication. Most archives have only ever scanned around 10% of their images and licensed them for editorial use.
What I'm interested in are the shots I've never seen before. A candid moment, a laugh, a car, a bottle of whisky, a watch, and a pair of sunglasses both date and place the image and speak about the subject in a way that appeals to people. So there's no shortcut to looking through the contact sheets and negatives to find the shots we love. The joy with photographers is the stories that come with the shoots, what the subjects (often the most famous people of the 20th century) were actually like to work with, how they were on the shoot, and why these historic images ended up the way we know them today.
Since I've been doing Sonic Editions, this is undoubtedly my favorite part of the job. Listening to Walter Iooss talk about shoots with Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, Terry O'Neill talking about working with the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra, Kevin Cummins telling the story of getting The Stone Roses to be covered in paint by their guitarist, John Squire, before explaining to them after the shoot that there was nowhere for them to clean up, so they had to walk across Manchester looking like Jackson Pollock's floor, or Denis O'Regan talking about going on tour with Bowie around the world for two years. It's trying to pass these stories on with the images we choose that are the best part of running Sonic Editions.
Shaun Ryder and Tony Wilson,
$269 by Kevin Cummins
Do you have a
Ha! It varies. Unsurprisingly, I have loads of prints in my house. I love Don McCullen, Elliot Erwitt, Anton Corbijn and Rene Burri, but one of my favorites on my wall—and one that we also actually sell—are Kevin Cummins' shot of Tony Wilson and Shaun Ryder outside Factory Records HQ in Manchester.
Tony Wilson is a hero of mine. For those who are unfamiliar, watch Michael Winterbottom's brilliant 24 Hour Party People as an intro. A man of no discernible musical talent, he's responsible as founder of Factory Records for some of the best records ever produced and who was the catalyst behind the success of Joy Division, New Order, The Happy Mondays and Peter Savile, to name but a few.
How would you describe your style in five words or less?
Homer Simpson cosplaying Hunter Thompson. I'd say a mix of classic American and British staples, with an increased tendency toward casual Dad style.
Denim pearlsnap shirt,
$198 by Wythe
What’s one item that every man needs in his closet?
Wythe's Pearlsnap denim shirts. They go with everything, you can wear them with a jacket and look presentable or open over a T-shirt. As a man who owns countless denim/chambray shirts, these are my favorite.
$279 / $195.30 by Persol
One item that you cannot part with?
Sunglasses. I have a slight sunglass problem. My bag always contains four pairs whenever I leave the house. It's a problem that started when my dad bought me a pair of RayBans from a trip to the U.S. in the mid-'80s, which I still have, and then snowballed with the advent of eBay. If it's only one pair, I'll take a classic Persol Ratti 649 black frame with brown lenses.
Something you’re looking to buy at the moment?
1974 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. Black over black. They're ludicrously cheap, the same price as an eight-year-old Prius. They're hand-built, and Johnny Cash had one in all-black that looked sensational. And you can drive them in the central London Low Emission Zone for free as they're over 40 years old despite having a 6.75-liter engine that gets about eight miles to the gallon.
Three favorite brands, currently?
Do you shop more online or in person?
It's 50/50 now. There are some things you must try on before you leap, and shopping in the right stores, with knowledgeable and pleasant staff, is still a pleasure and allows you to discover stuff you didn't know you needed. I also have a note on my phone of my size in every shoe, hat, glove and shirt brand, so I can repeat purchase them online.
What city has the best shopping?
Tokyo is the best shopping city I've ever been to, but it's been a long time since I was there, and it's not a frequent stop on the itinerary. New York has fallen off for me recently, partly because the British pound has collapsed against the dollar, making everything more expensive, and mainly because cities are identical models of each other now, with the same stuff available everywhere, which is a real shame.
I like to find things only available in that city, in smaller or specialist retailers, so I'm going to say London. Between the last remaining old-fashioned stores like Cordings, Trickers, Crockett and Jones or Berry Brothers to the shops of Chiltern Street, it has the right mix.
Crystal rocks glass,
$109 (for a set of four) by Fable
Whisky in a nice heavy crystal glass. I used to save the nice glasses for when people were around and drink out of cheap tumblers until I realized that these things are there to be used, and they make the whole experience so much more enjoyable.
Anything you refuse to spend a lot for?
I've become Scrooge McDuck when it comes to streaming services. I'm utterly spendthrift when it comes to eating out, holidays and clothes, but charge me $9.99 a month for something I barely watch, and I come out in hives. Netflix has managed to make TV an unwatchable time suck—turn it off, read a damn book and put on some music.
005 selvedge jean,
$325 by The Workers Club
What’s something you buy in multiples?
More and more these days, if I find a pair of jeans I like that fit, I tend to buy a few—same for sweatshirts, T-shirts and scotch whisky. Manufacturers keep tinkering with things that don't need tinkering with. I'm aware this is a sign of getting old, but once I find something I love, I want to stick with it.
Which do you experience more:
buyer’s remorse or regret for not buying something?
The buyer's remorse side ended many years ago when I consciously stopped buying stuff in the sale section or worse—from sample sales. This doesn't mean not buying the jacket you've been lusting after all season when it finally comes down in price, but rather, not going along to clearance sales and buying things you don't need just because it's heavily marked down. One of the great lessons in life is that you do not need a short-sleeved suit—even at 80% off.
What’s one shopping hack that you can let everyone know about?
The more prints you buy from Sonic Editions, the cooler your house looks, and people will find your conversation more interesting and want to have sex with you. You'll also get promoted at work, and your friends will vote you the “most fun person to be around.” Nobel prizes often follow.