Bukkie Dos Santos

Bukkie Dos Santos is a Leeds-based photographer and all-round creative who runs her own film and photography company. Her commissions take her from the studio for portraiture to overseas for corporate assignments – she’s most recently been to Nigeria to make a documentary. On top of all this, she is also busy developing her TV script, ‘Alter Ego’. But her love of narrative and creative thinking started on an unconventional path into the world of architecture: ‘I quite liked the structured world,’ Bukkie says, ‘and architecture made sense to me. I love fine art, but I ended up being more technical as opposed to arty. I loved the notion of creating space.

‘When I came up to Leeds to study, we studied the history of architecture and different conceptual schools of thoughts. It was amazing and I loved it. First year was great, but the second year was more the business element of it. Suddenly I thought – uh-oh, this is an office job?’

As the door shut on the clerical world of architecture, another opened. Turning her back on the drafting table, Bukkie found herself being drawn to her old love of storytelling and visual arts by enrolling on a photography course. ‘I did really well there,’ she says. ‘I was surprised, because I wasn’t expecting anything of it. I wasn’t going to stay, I was going to move on. But it made sense to me, and I thought, “I can do this”. I finished the course, and decided I wouldn’t work for anyone else.’

Start up

Bukkie’s current company, Portrait Studio, is three years old, and is her third business venture. Her first company was something of a family affair, set up with her brother in 2006. ‘We were supposed to be working on media projects, mainly design based work, a lot of photography, that kind of thing. And then my brother decided to go back to school. That was halfway through setting things up and I thought, “I’ve got a company, what do I do?” So I did a bit of photography and then started doing a lot of networking, mixing with a lot of businesses, and tried to figure my way around things, but I hadn’t a clue because I didn’t know what a business was.

‘In 2009, I moved into a business quarter. I had a mentor and he was amazing. It was the first time that I was speaking to someone who didn’t look at me like I was talking rubbish and my plans were valid and my ideas were sensible. I started learning a little bit about business structure and how to set up a business, cash flow, the practicalities of running a business, and it started to make more sense.

‘I started a small business with a couple of other friends, but we didn’t go anywhere. We were creative but we weren’t making any money. That’s when I did Portrait Studio.’

Portrait Studio is a hub for Bukkie to mix her narrative and creative passions along with a sharper business instinct.’I definitely like being my own boss,’ she says. ‘It’s liberating and scary at the same time. Having that control and that space to work within is amazing. I like to focus, and it’s great that in the last 18 months I’ve been able to do that properly.’ And even with the most corporate of briefs, Bukkie finds a way to entwine a vibrant thread of narrative. She’s currently working on a documentary for a construction company – but where’s the story in concrete and cranes? ‘I go to the project site and I create scenes of different elements of work going on on the side – who the workers are, how they work, how the construction looks, the surroundings. I’ll go to many different sites and I’ll gain a series of images.

‘At the end of it there will be six different stories, about the company’s different projects, so you get a nice idea of who they are and how they work and what they’re doing, so you still get the stories.’

Life’s a drama

It’s her passionate talk about ‘Alter Ego’ that fully betrays Bukkie’s love of stories. Pitched as a ‘lighthearted drama’, its originality means it’s a difficult one to pigeon hole. Bukkie says, ‘It’s entertainment, it’s honest, it’s modern, it’s exciting, it’s unpredictable, it’s real life.

‘I think there’s a lot of beauty in life, there’s a lot of interacting and mixing with different cultures. On the surface it looks like everything is the same but underneath we are inspired and motivated by different things, based on where we’re from and our experiences, and it is these kinds of stories I want to tell.’

‘Alter Ego’ is set in Leeds, and is rich with characters representative of the city’s cultural diversity. Set in a club, there is one key element that is a character in itself, and that’s the soundtrack. The music will be provided by a house band – a device to showcase new music. As Bukkie explains, ‘Every episode has a musical element, and that’s why we have the band. I would love for them to become a standalone element, so if they are online, we can watch them, the band can tour, people can interact with them. So when the drama is not on TV, the music is still happening outside of it.’

When you’ve a full-time job, running your own business, and you still find time to write and develop a film script, you know you’ve tapped into a passion. Bukkie says, ‘I love the idea of storytelling, every notion of storytelling, the way in which people interact with something they see that scares them or fascinates them.’



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