Creativity is inspired in many ways, but certain genres lend themselves to a more perfect collaboration, and for me this is film and photography. Harking back to the old days, a Photographer’s skill was reliant on interpretation on film, and the blend between Photographic and Cinematic experience makes more sense. The two go hand in hand. Cinema inspired me to take up Photography, and the Art of Cinematography is not lost in Photography. For me, as a Photographer, this inspiration is personified in the actors who are central to the film and its success.
It can be a mysterious world being behind the lens, both in film and photography, but whereas the film has its own dedicated director, for a Portrait Photographer you are both Director and Cameraman rolled in to one. First and foremost, before anything else, the Portrait Photographer needs to be a Director of People. If you don’t direct the shoot, it will show: you can’t fulfil the brief or relay your inspiration. The Portrait is the mirror image of my thoughts and feelings, reflected back for the viewer’s interpretation. It takes a good actor to get the best out of Portrait Photography, to be able to understand direction, feel what I am feeling or trying to say with the Portraiture.
For me this makes for a wonderful experience each and every time I get to work on a sitting with an actor. Portrait Photography and Actors are a marriage made in heaven. Therefore I have made it my business to undertake sittings with many of the talented actors who themselves have inspired my career. Actors who have inspired me include: Sir Lawrence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole…who have their roots in the greatest acting establishments such as RADA, LAMDA and the Italia Conti Academy.
This has led to me, over the last two years, dedicating nearly a third of my time to personal Portrait Projects. I am continuously striving to set up new shoots with the people who have fuelled my own inspiration. The result is some incredible experiences and incredible work representing some of the most notable portrait sittings and finding their essence in the movie clips that gave me a hunger for portraiture. I strongly believe that all Photographers should take time out to watch these films and discover the feelings they evoke.
Hoping I’m not hiding an inner-psychopath, it’s the villainous characters that seem to hold the most allure for me. When I was younger I found an ability to relate to intellectual villains with a thirst for power, often with pasts strewn with tragedy and abandonment. As a child I would become attached to these fictional characters as if they were comrades. I’d become genuinely upset if they were killed. I was the ‘odd kid’ who wasn’t automatically drawn to the hero. I think I was drawn to the charismatic and empathy-inducing villains as they had so many more layers to their characters. The dramatic effect worked on me. To be an actor playing a villain also requires a degree of complexity rarely found elsewhere, and therefore their acting is likely to have inspired both stage and screen, making them the very people I want to work with.
Accolades don’t get much greater than those poured on this screen legend. Twice nominated for an Oscar, and a recipient of every major theatrical award in the UK and US, he is exceptionally regarded as the single most acclaimed British theatrical talent of our time. I am transported back for inspiration to his portrayal of Richard III. Juxtaposed on a 1930’s timeline, the movie uses the play to evoke the fascism of that time, and the cinematography of Peter Biziou is simply awe-inspiring. McKellen as this legendary Shakespearian villain occupies this dastardly role like a poisonous spider in its web luring in its prey. This tortured villain comes to life in the embodiment of Sir Ian McKellen. Universally loathed, while loathing himself. A hunchback, he looks in the mirror in the play’s first scene and describes himself:
“Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time in to this breathing world, scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them.”
I invited Sir Ian to sit for me at a Portrait Session whilst he and Sir Patrick Stewart were performing Waiting for Godot in the Cort Theatre in New York. I was most definitely flabbergasted when he accepted. I was fortunate enough to travel to his home in London where I felt truly humbled to photograph this titan of the stage in his own surroundings. The little boy in me was jumping up and down with glee to see Gandalf’s sword hanging on a clothing rack like an umbrella! The enormity of the task and sense of responsibility before me hit me. I drew inspiration from his prominence as a Shakespearian performer and decided on a style of Portraiture reminiscent of the Renaissance Artist, Holbein, using lighting in such a way to preserve the intimate detail and wisdom found in his expression.
Steven Berkhoff is a well-renowned genius of the stage as well as being a successful playwright and director, continually setting the benchmark for stunning and intense performances on both the stage and screen. Known best for his villainous roles, I was inspired by his stellar performance as Hitler in 1988’s War and Remembrance. He fought off stiff competition for the role, and ultimately it was the right casting choice. He recalls: “As soon as I put on that strange little moustache, everything clicked. I look astonishingly like him and after my audition, Dan Curtis, the director, just sat there stunned. He more or less gave me the part on the spot.” (The Guardian Desperately Seeking Hitler)
The result is that Berkoff’s portrait of the psychotic and demonic Hitler is breath-taking. Viewers are shockingly mesmerised as they watch this psychopathic tale of history unfold. I was particularly struck by the intensely compelling scene where Rommel (Hardy Krüger) accuses Hitler in regard to the Concentration Camps. Berkoff inhabits the role of Hitler is a vicious and despotic response. You can’t fail but be struck by it.
As for my Portrait Sitting with Berkhoff, I arrived at Steven’s London home a little apprehensive over what to expect, this psychopathic portrayal lingering in my subconscious mixing with rumours that he was difficult to work with. His reputation as the ‘go-to bad guy’ had in all reality put the fear of God in to me! It soon became apparent that my nervousness was unfounded, and it was an absolute treat to sit and work with this seasoned veteran.
Diversely building an acting career known for playing both romantic leads and sinister villainous characters, on both stage and screen, David Warner had been top of my list for a portrait sitting for many years. Simply put, he is my favourite actor. As a child, I recall falling in love with the movie Time Bandits, in which David played ‘Evil’. Somewhat later, my father introduced me to his love of Western movies and I was introduced to The Ballad of Cable Hogue. In this, David played the character or a wandering minister named Reverend Joshua Duncan Sloan under the direction of Sam Peckinpah – known for his explicit depiction of action and violence – in this instance through the medium of a western filled with music and comedy. The role played by Warner was a Minister of his own volition through which Joshua pursues his passion ruthlessly seducing emotionally vulnerable women.
Warner himself has successfully avoided sitting for a portrait since Cecil Beaton had coaxed him in to it back in 1964 when Warner was just 24 years old. Now at 72, with his acting career firmly under his belt, I wanted to capture this more seasoned and experienced persona for my Northerners Portrait Exhibition. I was treated to a memorable sitting whereby Warner rose to the challenge in astonishing fashion, creating expressions with emotions that entrance the viewer. I was thrilled when, after the session, the National Portrait Gallery acquired one of the images for their permanent collection.
From Lovejoy to Deadwood, from a lawless saloon owner to the sexiest of beastly British mobsters, award-winning actor Ian McShane has, time and again, captured the public’s attention by playing bad guys, scoundrels and thieves. His enthusiasm for villainous parts was summed up when he ardently declared “The devil has the best tunes!” His Lancastrian voice, described as “syrup on sandpaper”, is instantly recognisable and transports you to a dastardly portrayal of whichever character he is turning his hand to now.
Personally, I most admire Ian for his role as the late 19th Century brothel-keeper and bar owner, Al Swearengen, in the HBO series Deadwood. For me this was McShane’s best and most complex role which he inhabited with utmost gusto.
With his strong Blackburn roots, McShane was a must for my Northerners Portrait Exhibition. I made contact with Ian’s agency and struck lucky as he was currently in London promoting his new film Cuban Fury. It was an amazing experience to photograph him, with quips and jibes such as “You’ll have to pay me for that!” when I jokingly asked him to give me the Al Swearengen look. Plain, simple expression was my theme for the Portrait Session, shot on black backdrops, to truly capture the texture and character of Ian McShane.
Being the self-confessed Sci-Fi nerd that I am, capturing Julian Glover in Portrait was essential. A screen-legend, we can reel off a list of roles including great names such as Star Wars; Bond Films; Indiana Jones. Since 2011 he has played the ongoing role of Grand Maester Pycelle in Game of Thrones. This is his role that fascinates me the most. Here is a complex character who appears weak and fragile, yet a true fan is treated to deleted scenes showing there is more to him that we think.
With such a strong and diverse acting background, I wanted to bring this through in my work with him. At the beginning of the session we sat down to discuss the shoot and the direction it would take. We decided to draw on his role at the time where he was starring in the Scottsboro Boys, a powerful West-End musical charting the story of a group of nine black teenagers, brought together by fate in a case which sparked the American Civil Rights movement. Adding this to his vast number of villainous roles over the year, I decided to focus on two juxtaposing looks: the plain, simple and thoughtful character portrait, and the villainous opposite side of the coin.
With Scots roots in film, television and stage, Iain Glen is an actor of domineering proportions. Best known for his roles in the Resident Evil film, and for portraying Ser Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones, his is no stranger to our screens. Admiring his career over many years, his dark portrayal of Resident Evil’s Dr Alexander Isaacs stands out most to me. In charge of the Nemesis Program of the Umbrella Corporation, Glen plays an eminently cool, yet evil, scientist. I was thrilled that Iain accepted my invitation for a shoot and the session took place in London last month with Iain arriving, by bike, at the London Portrait Studio. As always, I had done my ‘homework’ in order to start conversation, put him at ease, and get the best from the shoot. Iain in respect conveyed his admiration of my recent portraits of Sir Patrick Stewart and wanted his images to be lit in the same style.
The shoot commenced, creating striking frames, with Iain enthusiastically posing without requiring direction towards the end. The result was that I was able to capture a selection of truly spontaneous images which really stand out as unique and capturing this essence of this prominent actor.
It’s no secret that I am a Trekkie. Therefore, as a Portrait Photographer, I was desperate to undertake a shoot with William Shatner, famous for his role as Captain Kirk. From the age of 7 this is an actor who has captured my imagination through his screen-presence.
One of his lesser-known roles was as Adam Cramer in the 1962 American film ‘The Intruder’ where Shatner played a mischievously villainous part where he powerfully and manipulatively incites townspeople to racial violence. The introductory scene to the character of Cramer has him confidently stepping off a bus: the self-assurance is innate and stays with him throughout. The audience sees a charmer and begins to be drawn in to his thrall before it becomes apparent this is a tool achieve an end, ultimately to politically affect masses and incite racial violence. This role struck me with power through Shatner’s depiction.
Therefore, when I was afforded the opportunity to work with Shatner in Los Angeles, I could barely contain my glee let alone my professional image. It took a few deep breaths on spotting him at his office, to commence the task of setting up my Portable Studio Kit. With a number of different ideas floating in my mind, I explained to Bill that I was aiming to achieve a simple expressive look. His reply “I don’t do plain” jokingly left me re-describing it as ‘emotionless’. The result was a series of wonderful expressions that capture his essence perfectly.
With a lighting change, I then directed Shatner to a more fierce look. In the majority of his roles he has been the hero, instead I wanted to capture the inner villain. Joking that playing the hero won him the girl, we had fun turning the expectations on their head, and photographing a different side.
This was a remarkable shoot for me and a wonderful experience. Having the opportunity to photograph an icon is indescribable.
Continuing in the Trekkie theme, Andrew Robinson was a strong contender for my Expressive Portraits Exhibition following his role as Garak in Deep Space Nine. For me, this desire was strengthened by his notoriety for his role at the first psychopathic killer, Scorpio, from Dirty Harry, as well as playing the part of Larry Cotton in the horror film Hellraiser.
On a personal level, the role in Dirty Harry struck me most profoundly. The film begins with one of the coolest opening sequences in any thriller. Perched on the roof of a San Francisco skyscraper, Scorpio with wild hair and piercing blue eyes takes aim as a sniper targeting a young woman in a rooftop pool. With the unforgettable theme tune standing as a backdrop, the anticipation building for the inevitable shot creates a sense of dread, and once delivered we receive a real gut-punch.
This scene played in my mind as a met Andy. I discovered he had once shared a room at LAMDA with Brian Cox who I had photographed last year. The sense was one of completeness that these two eminent figures had been captured in my Portrait Photography. The shoot with Robinson was one of ease and achievement: he is a natural in front of the camera and at ease with the non-transient nature of Portrait Photography, a complete change from his usual depiction on film. The result is that the images capture the essence of this incredible actor as a true reflection of all he is and has achieved.
A talented thespian, he has also made a solid name for himself in major Hollywood productions such as X-Men 2, Troy and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He was also the first man to play Hannibal Lector on-screen, in the 1986 Michael Mann film, Manhunter. The role which stands out the most in my eyes was Cox’s portrait of Nazi War Criminal Goering in the TV dramatisation of The Nuremberg Trials. Cox had to learn what drives some men to carry out unspeakable deeds, and portray an unrelenting man.
I cannot begin to state the awe I felt when Brian Cox – even more so when he turned up for our London shoot on the back of a scooter. Having the star of my favourite episode of Hammer House of Horror, the Silent Scream, sitting and posing for me was such a treat – it really makes your job as a photographer that little bit easier when you work with an actor who can tell a whole story with just one look. He is such a funny and pleasant man who, at the same time, has such a commanding aura about him. I had an absolute blast working with him in what was a truly humbling experience.
When I was an 8 year old boy, Captain Jean Luc Picard was my boyhood hero. As I grew up, but retained my love of all things Star Trek, I became more and more enamoured with this legend that I not only saw in my childhood’s favourite series, but also on stage and screen, a true stalwart of British acting talent.
Looking back, two of Star Trek’s The Next Generation’s episodes particularly inspired me. The first titled ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ in which Picard is taken captive by the Borg, and the second, ‘Chain of Command’ in which Stewart stars alongside my screen idol David Warner when Picard is taken to Gul Madred for interrogation. This is an incredibly powerful episode with torture methods including sensory deprivation and bombardment, forced nakedness, stress positions, dehydration and starvation and physical pain.
Leading up to the shoot, I became somewhat star-struck. As I waited in the Neo Studios in Manhattan the fanboy inside me was jostling for prime position and ran the risk of overshadowing Rory Lewis the Photographer. Drawing on reserves I wasn’t aware I had, I managed to shake Sir Patrick’s hand and move forward on a professional basis with my inner Trekkie firmly at bay.
Before the shoot, I was aware that there are in fact very few photos of Sir Patrick where he is not in character. It therefore became my desire to capture who he was as a person. I staged a few photos to determine the best facial positions and the appropriate height for the camera, and from there the shoot commenced with ease. Drawing on his time and experience as an actor of long-standing, he effortlessly adopted the expressions and emotions we, together, thought suitable. The result was a marriage of natural kindness and fierce intensity.
Enabling me to keep the Trekkie-Rory in his box, I found Sir Patrick to be curious, warm and extremely polite. This shoot will stay with me forever, both professionally as a Portrait Photographer, but also personally to have met this stalwart of my life’s screen-based inspiration.
The Cinematic Inspiration, Full Circle:
As my career and success develops, my Cinematic Inspiration not only now draws on what I have seen, witnessed and been moved by as a young child, teen, and adult…It now also draws on the experience of meeting some of these screen legends in the flesh and working with them on a professional level. Whilst my cinematic inspiration is a work in progress, and my Portrait Sittings will always be driven and guided by this, I am also honoured that this inspiration can now grow knowing that I have captured the essence of these great giants of our screens.