Wolf Kahler has an instantly recognisable face. You would have seen Wolf appear in movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Barry Lyndon and Remains of the Day, and TV series such as Band of Brothers to name but a few. Wolf, inspired by my recent Portrait Sitting with friend and Actor Steven Berkoff accepted my invitation to sit for a portrait at the London Studio.
Wolf has an amazing profile to photograph, I can see why he is always cast in villainous roles, with a Germanic, Prussian-like bone structure. I directed Kahler to assume fierce yet vivid Expressions to directly to the lens. Wolf’s piercing expressions are breathtaking. Portraits must have energy, the still image should hold the viewer. I encourage my sitter’s to express themselves using inventive scenarios and direction. This enables the sitter to show emotion; connecting with the viewer. The sitting was a memorable one, Wolf regaled me with several tales from his casting with Stanley Kubrick for Barry Lyndon to his experience working with Harrison Ford in India Jones.
Toby Jones is one of the UK’s most prolific actors, After appearing in supporting roles in films between 1992 and 2005, Jones made his breakthrough as Truman Capote in the biopic Infamous. Since then, his films have included The Mist, W., Frost/Nixon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Dad’s Army. I invited Toby to sit for a portrait at the London Studio and to my wonderment he graciously accepted. He arrived at the studio looking very bohemian and scruffy. Jones only, 5ft 5in with his quirky tufty bed head hair and a few day’s stubble. His distinctive looks have helped him play a range of flawed heroes.
Before we met, I spend days watching his work, Patterns emerge when you binge-watch Toby Jones. One is his formidable ability to define a character before he even opens his mouth. In Infamous, a blink-and-you-miss-it gesture tells us his Capote is going to be a terrible gossip (he scans the room slowly, mouth closed but tongue sticking into one cheek); in Berberian Sound Studio, his walk suggests a man both pedantic and socially crippled; in The Girl, the grind of little jagged teeth hints at Hitchcock’s sadism.
Jones is one of my favourite actors, seeing his bohemian image I wanted to create a series portraits with a uniquely patent and unadorned view of Toby. Unprepossessing the viewer with Toby’s distinctive and individual character. Jones was a joy to work with, and seeing his immense talent first hand through the lens is a joy to behold.
Retiring from the Army senior military leader Major General Tim Robinson CBE, commissioned a portrait at Army Head quarters in Andover. With a military career spanning two decades, seeing active service and leading troops in Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland. Faced with such a distinguished military sitter I directed the General to assume solemn and reflective poses; as to mirror his achievements and responsibilities. The General really enjoyed the experience and was fascinated by my lighting and directional methods.
Portraits are very important to military personal, to be captured in Uniform looking ones best and in full finery can fill one with pride for the service. I offer a compressive service to Members of the Armed Forces, RAF, Royal Navy and Army who are looking to capture a professional portrait. Available at studios in Central London and in Central Liverpool; or on Location.
As a London Portrait Photographer you learn very quickly. A picture does speak a thousand words, but not so when it comes to History Portrait Photography. These pictures need only speak two words: authenticity and power. When it comes to this style of photography the photographer needs to play by the rules: rules that are subtle to grasp, comprehend and activate, making the game difficult to play. Yet the end result needs to look effortless. Such photos are one of the truest documents of history and society, particularly for those holding positions of power and influence in the beating power centre of London – but also elsewhere.
Normally two characters are displayed in portraiture: the character of the subject and the character of the photographer. The photographer is aiming to capture the mood, expression and personality of subject. With History Portraiture, the photographer needs to take an apparent backseat, becoming invisible to the end result, presenting objectivity which enables the viewer their own subjectivity. This is a skill, an art form in itself – to appear to effortlessly capture through artistic ability the true appearance of the sitter, the authentic appearance, whilst exuding power. The result should be a deep and detailed portrait, yet a blank slate on which can rest the viewer’s own opinions. (Lt General James Everard Left)
I have an understated passion for Modern History Portrait Photography. In my time studying History at Kings College, London, I spent my days pondering on numerous historical figures gazing down on me and providing the inner voice of judgement on my student-lifestyle. I became fascinated by the pictures, searching for the 1000 words but finding just the two. I -had to do the understanding, the opinion-forming, no lazy back-of-the lecture-theatre effort allowed here. I found myself asking: what motivated the artist? Did the sitter approve, like, or dislike the artist’s representation? Were the portraits politically driven for propaganda or were they true to history?
I feel privileged to combine this passion, this appreciation of these individual’s place in history by becoming a photographer, called upon to utilise my expertise in lighting techniques, direction and even inventive scenarios to capture some of the most key people of our age.
In these shoots, here is a clear need to guarantee authority, the exemplary status, and in some cases the immortality of the sitter. These portraits need to stand the test of time like no other. To achieve this air of power and authority, the photographer needs to set the individual in a plain, yet solemn expression. The photographer is neutral, the sitter a vessel of unadorned vigour. How does this look in reality? This portrait of Baron William Hague of Richmond, commissioned just after the General Election of 2015 when Hague announced his retirement from politics, is a perfect example. The usually affable and jovial character portrayed in the media has instead been replaced with true authenticity and exudes the aura of a powerful political figure with a career spanning 30 years. I have kept the portrait neutral to allow you, the viewer, to make up your own mind and to form your own opinions.
Similarly this atmosphere of power can be seen in my portrait of General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Chief of Defence Staff, which was published in the Telegraph Newspaper. The commission came from the Ministry of Defence, looking for a portrait which can be used across a range official publications. As is often important when working with subjects who have busy agendas and high-profile responsibilities, the shoot was brought to the heart of power in Whitehall itself. My role, the game I needed to play, involved directing the General in order to project an air of solemnity whilst holding a plain expression. The result is an authoritative yet commanding portrait of this modern day historical figure. The image fits the historical context of military portraiture: a juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity.
At a recent London Portrait Sitting with Iain Duncan-Smith I dodged the ball of political controversy to remain true to the elements of the history portrait. The public, along with current and future historians, will have their own opinion, my role is to allow this judgement to be formed and to sit comfortably with the image portrayed. The viewer can subconsciously overlay their own viewpoint on the portrait.My aim is to allow my integral presence in the shoot become invisible in the end result, allowing the portrait to become a blank canvas for the viewer’s opinion. I aim, from behind the camera and through directing the shoot, to place these eminent figures elegantly yet timelessly in to their place in history.
Profoto sent me the B2-250 kit to review this month, and it was the worst thing they could do. The kit was SO GOOD, I had to buy one myself! As the photographer on the move, the ProFoto kit combines durability with portability and power.
The B2-250 kit includes AirTTL Power Pack, 2 batteries, charger, X2 B2 Flash heads with a padded location Bag and a Carrying Bag with shoulder strap. The power pack is intended for the photographer on the road, and weights just less than 1kg with its Li-Ion battery. The B2’s twin outlets have a dedicated thumbwheel that allows the package 250Ws of power to be distributed asymmetrically over a 9-stop range in full or 1/10 steps.
At 0.7kg, the sturdily-built B2 Off-Camera Flash Heads measure 10.2cm long, and have a 9.9cm diameter fitting into the palm of your hand. A barely-visible umbrella channel runs through the top of the head.
I had the chance to use the B2 Heads in two photoshoot scenarios, the first was a bridal editorial photoshoot, shot on location the B2’s battery back was a big advantage. On the proverbial tin the pack’s Li-Ion battery can be charged in or out of the pack, and will give you up to 215 full-power flashes on a 45-60 minute charge from a multi-voltage 2.8A battery charger or a trickle charge from an optional car charger. I managed to capture over 200 frames and still the battery was more than half full. Simple, light and easy to move, I was able to change position continuously capturing a variety of angles. I recommend Ultra Compact Portable Stands for the kit, they are the ideal accessory for mounting the heads.
As a portrait photographer capturing expression is of critical importance. I arranged a portrait sitting with veteran Actor Steven Berkoff, with only 15 minutes allotted for the sitting, time was of the essence. The B2 kit was quick and easy to setup, and boasts recycling times from 0.03 – 1.35 second fast enough to capture 20 frames per second, capturing even the most fleeting gestures. The kit is hassle free light enough to carry anywhere and worth every penny. I’m off to USA shortly and will be taking my kit with me, if portability is key then the B2 250 AirTTL To Go-Kit is for you.
William Hague is a British Conservative politician who was the MP for Richmond from 1989 to 2015. He also served as Leader of the House of Commons from 2014 to 2015 and as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2010 to 2014. He was the Leader of Conservative Party from 1997 until Iain Duncan Smith took over the position in 2001.
Until this point, I had longed for the chance to work with a truly significant British historical character. William Hague’s name is synonymous with modern political discourse, but to meet him in person, you would not think it.
He is a very witty man who was reeling jokes off through the entire sitting. I was pleasantly surprised with how well he held himself for the portrait, so well in fact that the finished frame is very reminiscent of a Holbein piece – dignified and full of grace and authority.
Images where taken with my medium format Mamiya 645DF, Leaf Credo 40 & 100mm Mamiya Leaf Sekor AF 110mm f/2.8 LS D & 80mm f/2.8 LS D. Thank you to Calumet Photographic for supporting the Photoshoot.
Sir Stuart Peach is a veteran soldier who has amassed a staggering 38 years of service in the Royal Air Force, earning the rank Air Chief Marshal. Even though I’m a professional photographer, I will forever be a historian in my heart. Over the years, I have managed to hone my skills and discovered how to marry my passion with my profession. So when I am tasked with private portrait sittings for politicians, military figures and others of significant standing, I tend to look back in time towards historical portraiture for inspiration. Drawing on the work of Holbein, Dürer, da Vinci and Gros, as well as portrait photographers such as Karsh, I always hope to produce a frame worthy of documenting. In short, I hope that future historians will one day use my work as a source to discover the personality and soul of each sitter.
My sitting with Sir Stuart was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create the perfect military portrait. Bathed in the illustrious history of Whitehall, we conducted the session in the MOD Building – a perfect location to capture the experience, rank and authority of the subject. Employing direct eye contact with the lens, full military garb and a solemn posture, the frame urges the viewer to look into his eyes, demanding the utmost respect his title dictates. Images where taken with the Mamiya Leaf Credo 40 and 80mm f/2.8 LS D Lens.
Subliminally, without really knowing, we’re all exposed to art – as well as impressions – that shape our unconscious and our ability to think, perceive and feel. As we move through life, art that was once a staple of our history books takes on a greater meaning, and perhaps this is none more true than for Renaissance Art and our assimilation with it as being what portraiture with power is about. The essence of the best portrait photography is mirrored in these Renaissance pieces. For me this is especially true of the Tudor Portrait Artist Hans Holbein ‘the Younger’.
In the works of Holbein lies the heart of my portraiture inspiration. I loved history as a child, its permanence and transience all at once, reflected through the eyes of cultural and societal change, how it has been documented and therefore how it is recalled. I was fortunate to live near to Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, a treasure trove of pieces that began to unconsciously inspire and challenge me. The Gallery exhibits several of Holbein’s Works, which reflect not only the Renaissance period but exude a timeless quality as records of history.
With Holbein we gaze upon solemn yet intensely powerful expression. His subjects are painted as though frozen in that moment in time, the essence of their being, authority and personality captured forever from that one moment. Holbein took his interpretation of his sitters seriously, knowing they were the testaments of time, and this has inspired me to adapt a similar style for my own Photographic Portraiture.
My work calls me to photograph many high-profile corporate individuals and political figures, and over time I am continually drawn to Holbein’s influence in my own interpretations of the subject of portraiture. I believe Holbein’s style and timeless authority easily sits alongside the modern portrait – I aim to imbue my viewers with the same thought provocation that he succeeded in creating.
Detail, in the eye of an artist, is everything. As a viewer you don’t realise how the tiny intricacies of art combine to leave you with a bigger picture, a bigger sense. For Holbein, his portrait of Sir Thomas More illustrates this ability to focus on detail. There are the slightest imperfections that reflect in themselves perfect definition, making it appear almost like a photograph itself. There is no Renaissance ‘air-brushing’ away of imperfections, there is no place in portraiture for the Death of Real. What you see is a true likeness of the subject at that moment in time. Real is everything – it is the tiniest of imperfections that define a person as the character they are. This can be seen in my portrait of Sir Patrick Stewart where I encouraged and captured the true facial tones and imperfections, capturing the essence of the man, just as Holbein did with More.
Objectivity is crucial in portraiture: for Holbein and for me. The outward appearance of his subjects directly reflects the inner character, personality and mood without an over-layering or obscuring of this essential essence by the artist himself. I endeavour to follow this same style, bringing an integrity to the final portrait that allows the viewer to reflect on their own opinion and understanding of what they see.
Having worked in fashion photography, I know and understand the drive to create perfection that renders an image false. In portraiture, Holbein teaches us, it is the imperfections that make perfection. Models are directed on what to be, how to act, how to represent emotion: for portraiture this is simply wrong. A true representation and a guiding and directing to the true inner person is what makes a portrait thought-provoking and an accurate historical record that exudes timeless quality.
The greatest collection of Holbein’s work is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. His works provide inspirations to historians, art-lovers and passers-by alike. His viewers are drawn to a naturally level-playing field that allows interpretation and true-understanding. It’s this timeless quality I seek to recreate and learn from.