How did you initially get your start in photography? I got started in my early 20‘s, and just started shooting as a hobby while I was making a living as a drummer in a rock band, but within a few years I had a pretty strong desire to make it my life and my livelihood, and once the band went their separate ways it seems like the next thing to do. For the first few years I shot anything and everything, people, cars, the dog and then all I did a few years after that was turn my attention to shooting models, and the rest just happened.
I understand you‘re „self taught“, in your first few years as a photographer, how did you go about developing your skills? Developing my skills‘ has basically just been the learning process along the way, which I‘ve intentionally chosen to manage on my own. To me it was very important to learn, refine, and believe in my own way of doing things, because ultimately my photographic style, and my individual vision, is what i will get paid for. At the level I‘m aiming to work at, all the photographers going for any particular job are all amazing, and all have access to the same tools, so the thing that ultimately sets them apart from each other is their own style, and way they see things. So for that reason, I‘ve always tried to shut out any other influences and just do things my own way.
Fashion photography is competitive; combine that with the cattiness and sometimes large egos that are involved…what made you choose fashion photography as a focus? Just because I love it. The process of taking something and transforming it into something else is like a drug for me. competition, and crazy people are irrelevant, because they don‘t change what I do, or my enjoyment of it.
When you were first starting out, how did you publicize and get work? I did 4 or 5 years of doing model portfolios when I first started shooting, which was actually a great source of income, and a chance to build my folio at the same time. It also helped that models were then taking my pictures around to all the clients when they met them, and the model agencies talking to clients regularly also, so word of mouth was good for me in the first few years.
How easy was the transition from living/working in Australia to relocating to London?
Well it‘s been one long transition really, in-between Sydney and here I‘ve lived in Milan, Hamburg, Munich, Cape Town, Istanbul, LA, Paris, and now London, so the transition between the 2 has basically just been my ‚life‘ between the 2 places. Relocating is a constant thing for me, so I‘m used to it.
Richard Avedon once said, „My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph“. Do you feel the same way about your work?
Yeah I think so, and I think that‘s always the case. I mean 10 different photographers will shoot the same person in 10 different ways, and they would all do it according to how they perceive that person. So inevitably the pictures end up being as much or more about what‘s in the photographers eye/head than the person they are shooting.
What inspires and motivates you? I‘m inspired by the unknown basically. Where I could be next week, the picture I could take tomorrow, even ‚the next frame‘…and all the things I could see and experience, and the people I could meet along the way, I love all of that mystery. Repetition is a killer for me, mentally. So what inspires me is mystery, and what motivates me is the buzz I get from living in it.
What do you typically look for when you are picking your team for a fashion shoot (makeup, hair, wardrobe) and do you prefer to be more organic or do you do a lot of pre-planning and provide them with specific direction? First and foremost, I just choose people whose work inspires me, and then also people who work well without direction, because I rarely (if ever) tell my creatives what I want them to do. I‘m not a make-up artist, or hair dresser, so I cant explain to them what I want, but along as what they do on their own looks amazing, and gives me a direction to go in, I‘m happy.
With many people involved in the mix, sometimes shoots can go astray. What is your approach to getting such a shoot back on track? It hasn‘t really happened to me that much. I guess it would be due to the wrong person(ality) being on the shoot, which I would try to not let happen in the first place, but if it did, it‘s about calming things down as best you can and trying to be diplomatic (which isn‘t my strong suit, but you do your best), or just staying out of it. I guess I would make the cost effort if there was a problem with the model, because that‘s the relationship that defines the how the images turn out.
What is the one thing about the industry that you love and one that you hate? I love the freedom it allows me to hav. It‘s the perfect life basically. I have created a situation where I can eat, sleep, travel, work and do basically everything when and where i want and very few jobs allow that kind of freedom while paying you well. After that there‘s not much to hate.
What‘s the funniest mishap that‘s occurred on a shoot?
It‘s funny I get asked this a lot, and one story sticks in my mind. I was shooting in Ibiza a few year ago, and we were driving between locations in the middle of nowhere, and the model needed to pee, so we stopped at a hardware store, and she was told by the manager that the toilet were round the front but when she went round there, all she saw was porta-loos, so she went in and started to pee. Anyway, mid-pee, one of the staff came round and realized she was peeing in the loos that were actually for sale, and started shouting and screaming (in Spanish), banging on the toilet, and trying to force open the door, and then started rocking the toilet to try to tip her out. She burst out with her pants half down and scrambled into the car as we drove off like we‘d just robbed the place, with the guy chasing the car, cursing, and kicking our doors. It was one of those moments that was scary and funny at the same time.
At this stage in your work, are you 100% satisfied with what you just shot or do you still think about what you could improve or do differently for next time? Sure, there are always things to refine, but I think its not necessarily things you learn from one particular shot or another because each picture is unique, so nothing I did today will be relevant tomorrow, it‘s just whether I got the most out of a particular shoot or not. I never write down how I lit things or try to remember certain things about the shoot, because I wont be in the same moment again in the future, so there isn‘t any point. Using digital helps to get it right on the day anyway, as you can see any potential problems as you go.
Let‘s talk about gear. What camera(s) and lenses do you primarily use? 5dmk2 for 35mm, with 50mm 1.4, 85 1.2, and 1.8 lenses and the 70-200 2.8, and Mamiya 645AFD3 with p30+ (30 megapixel) digital back, with the new leaf shutter lenses. I love them both, very easy, fast and very similar in style and functions so the transition from one system to the other is easy.
Do you shoot digital and/or film?
Now just digital. I‘m a fan I must say, nothing beats the best back and camera in the world, shooting without stopping, and knowing you‘ve got the shot.
With the popularity of digital and airbrushing, what are your feelings about the use or overuse of Photoshop? I love Photoshop. I spend a lot of my life on it but I use it in the way I best feel will bring the image to life, much like working in the darkroom back in the days of film. Infect 30% or so of all the time I spend retouching an image I‘ve shot on digital, is time I send trying to get it looking as much like film as possible. As far as ‚retouching‘, I personally try to leave maximum detail in all my images, which is a major part of beauty photography….and have never ‚airbrushed‘ anything in my life. To me, good retouching is like good plastic surgery, no one should be able to tell what you‘ve done.
What is your post production work flow and what software/hardware do you utilize? Capture one to capture and process, and Photoshop CS3 or CS4 to retouch, using plug-ins like alien skin for grain, and then proofing every image 2 or 3 times during that process so that the final image is perfect. That‘s important as a lot of things are missed on the screen which end up being seen on the print (screens are back-lit so they hide a lot of flaws).
Do you have a preference between studio or location shoots? I like both. I love the controlled lighting that the studio gives, but I love the many different options of shooting on location. On location you can almost turn 90 degrees and have a totally different image. So I love the freestyle element that gives me.
What‘s the most spectacular location you‘ve had the opportunity to shoot at? I love shooting in wide open, deserted places, so Namibia (Africa), Death Valley (USA), and Fraser Island (Australia) are among the most incredible places I‘ve shot. I definitely like the feeling of space in my work, and you won‘t see any houses or trees or things in most of my images for that reason.
What are some of your favorite music tracks to listen to when you are shooting? I love lots of different track and genres of music, so I continually make and refine all my playlists, and choose different ones depending who I‘m working with. Mainly rock, lounge, and mellow house stuff is what I prefer, along as it‘s upbeat and cruisey and doesn‘t disturb peoples creative space. I think music plays a massive part in setting the scene, it‘s the first thing I attend to when I walk into the studio, and always have portable speakers on location.
INTERVIEW Bay Kat Brackley
Images: copyright by gavin O´neill