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James Butler & Annemarie Sterian

An interview with James & Annemarie
founders of Shutterhouse.

January, 2021

We catch up with James Butler and Annemarie Sterian, the creative couple behind our latest photoshoot. Annamarie is from Italy and moved to London 5 years ago to pursue her career in fashion photography. James specialises in cinematography and acted as Director of Photography for our new brand video.

The couple jointly own Shutterhouse Studio, a collection of three completely unique spaces, curated by them. These spaces strive to move away from blank, all-white studios and offer exclusive and quirky locations for photo shoots.

Could you tell us a bit about how you started in the field of photography and cinematography?

Annemarie: My love of fashion photography started in my childhood; my mum used to buy loads of fashion magazines so I was constantly surrounded by it and naturally built an eye for it. When I moved to London I decided that that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to live in a space where I could also practice photography and that’s how this space came along.

James: I started as an assistant and grip at CBS News and then developed into a news cameraman. My father was a photojournalist, so I’ve been in that world since I was very young. I discovered the more creative side of camera work and that drew me into narrative and commercial work. I still do a lot of journalistic work and documentary filmmaking. I do like the creative side of it a bit more, where you can create from scratch rather than just capture what's in front of you.

How did you meet?

James : We met at a bar and found out through chatting that we did similar things and worked in similar industries. Our work hasn’t crossed over too much. We do the odd project together but it's more passion projects or we bounce ideas off each other. We help and inspire each other with our work. I take a lot from Anna’s work, and I would hope that she takes at least a little bit from mine!! It’s a nice relationship and we don’t depend on each other too much in our professional lives, we keep them very much separate and respect that. We have the right balance.

How do you find living in the same environment that you work?

Annemarie: I was quite worried at the beginning because I thought it would be one of those situations where you don’t stop working. I actually don’t mind waking up, rolling out of bed and just being in it; I love my job. It is quite a multifunctional space. If we’re doing a photoshoot I know I can do the set design the night before, test the lighting, James helps me out. It’s nice to be fully immersed in it all the time; I think my brain wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it anyway.

James: We’ve divided the house up a little bit so we have areas that are our own. Our bedroom is a bedroom, our kitchen is a kitchen but then this massive area in the middle is a blank canvas. We’ve left it as such, so whatever the project is, we have this space to create in. We’ve built entire sets in here, left them for a few days and lived in them, for the fun of it. It’s nice to have a space in your house that can be anything.

Whilst you were creating those spaces, did you have anything in mind in terms of aesthetics and themes or are they just how you found them?

Annemarie: We don’t really like blank studios with infinity coves because that’s something that you can find anywhere, so we tried to create more of a brand, which is how Shutter House was born. We have interesting backgrounds that we often make ourselves and lots of textures. It kind of developed organically.

James: The raw shell of the building really dictated the aesthetics. The Cookhouse doubles up as a kitchen studio and a standard photographic studio. We tried to curate each studio in a way that offers something a little bit different. A lot of them are lived in, which really adds to it. Anna and I love collecting props and weird items that we find along the way. Having an array of stuff that you can just pull into a shoot at any moment is something that photographers love. A lot of clients who book again do so because all of that’s here for them already. We have a Victorian antique bed, for example, that our art director downstairs found and restored slightly. This bed is booked out everyday, we get people asking about the bed before they ask about the studios! Having that eye for props has really helped. The space is one thing but it’s what you put in it that makes it.

Could you talk us through the process of creating the narrative for our beddable brand video?

James: With commercial work it's great to get good references from the client, to get an idea of their style and brand ethos. With the beddable brand video, the focus was memories. We were trying to define what makes an object in a room special and the idea of connection from a person to an object. Memory and time spent develops this connection, so we wanted to explore the idea of a memory inside a bed. We came across the idea that we remember via touch and smell, not solely through sight. Memory is a tactile thing and the black and white shots in the video reflect this.

As you work and live within the same space, how do you wind down from that?

James: In the evenings we read or we watch movies on our video projector.

Annemarie: I like to separate the areas of the house, for different things. For example, a tip is not to work in the same space that you sleep, otherwise it will keep you up at night. I strongly believe in separating things within the house; creating nooks for different purposes.

Do you have any sleep habits or rituals?

We go to bed at 9.30/10pm at the moment, things have been really busy. It’s quite nice because we get into bed, we have a little catch up about our day, just as we’re falling asleep. We have a no phones rule and leave that stuff downstairs if we can. Our bedroom is open on three sides, so we’re almost suspended up there and there’s a big skylight at the top. With all the plants around it's like sleeping out in the open, there are no physical walls constraining you, with an immense amount of light in the morings. The air up there is really clean because of all the plants and our bedding choices reflect that. We like anything that’s super light, organic and made from natural fabrics.

Are you currently watching anything that you would recommend?

We’ve been watching The Queen's Gambit and we’d highly recommend it. Working in film and TV, does sometimes ruin the magic a bit, but there are some series that are awe inspiring to see. The lighting in The Queen’s Gambit is phenomenal, we take a lot of inspiration from things that we watch. We’ve also been enjoying Ratched on Netflix and Nick Frost’s Truth Seekers on Amazon Prime.

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