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Capturing iconic personalities in a new light with Jason Bell and Phase One

9/04/2014 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

Jason Bell is recognized internationally for his exceptional talent and not least his title as official photographer at Prince George's 2013 christening.

© Jason Bell
Jason's images have appeared in many of the world's foremost publications such as Vanity Fair and Vogue US and UK. Among many others he has photographed Sir Paul McCartney, Johnny Depp, Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and David Beckham.

In this video, Jason shares how he manage to capture well known personalities in a new light, why he became a celebrity photographer, the story behind his most challenging shoot (includes floating ice bergs) and his best advice for aspiring photographers.

About Jason Bell:

"My name is Jason Bell and I'm a photographer based in London and New York. When you shoot a writer who no one has heard of, they run the picture half page at the back. When you shoot Kate Winslet it is a cover and 8 pages. All photographers want to see their work used in that way, so I kind of gravitated towards shooting well known people.

Of course there is a thing: You go to dinner and somebody says: Who were you shooting last week? And you say: Angeline Jolie. And most people go: Oh wow. But to me, I think there is something interesting about photographing someone incredibly iconic like that; it is like there is something to play with. She comes with baggage. There is a public perception of her, so already something is informing the pictures. People know what she looks like, and they are aware of how she has been photographed before. So there is a different sort of thing going on where it's like how are you going to photograph her, how do you make the pictures yours and different to every other photograph I have seen of her?

I was recently commissioned to shoot the British Royal Family. The first picture they ever released of the baby was shot by her father in the garden and it was a very informal picture. They hadn't hired a well-known photographer to do it and it was quite low tech. That to me indicated that they wanted to do things differently and then when I researched all the christening pictures in the past there is a lot of red velvet and a lot of heavy lighting and that felt very old-fashioned. To me, they feel fresher and more modern. My main decision was no heavy red velvet, a slightly more relaxed pose, and I wanted you to look at the pictures and not be sure if they had been lit at all.
The idea was that you had this warm afternoon sunlight pouring into the room which felt very happy-like to me for a happy occasion. So after that first shoot they called again and said that they would like to do another picture which is always is a lovely thing when somebody rings again. You think, okay, well, they were pleased.
We did some stuff outside and I saw this window. I just immediately thought, wow, that window doesn't look like a palace and I quite liked the sort of normanizing thing of that. It was a very generic window, it could be anyone's. It didn't seem particularly grand. Something just felt right about this family very framed by this incredibly, ordinary window. You could just feel that they were a family. And there was not much artifice to it. I think we are very used to seeing the Royal Family in a much more structured way. The looseness of it appealed to me at the time.

Probably the most challenging shot I ever did was photographing Johan Reuter - he is a famous opera singer - on an iceberg. What they don't tell you about icebergs is they move and they don't just slide, they rotate. I was on another piece of ice that was rotating, and he's on an iceberg that's moving. And it is like every time you get the shot he is drifting out of frame and we are rotating. And the other thing is that they tell you: If you fall in the water and we don't get you out in 45 seconds, you'll die. So you are in quite a dangerous situation.

I think if I could give one piece of advice it would be to try and get your portfolio to say one thing very clearly. Avoid the temptation to be all over the place. There is a funny thing that photographers usually don't admit, and I probably shouldn’t say, but we are a function of the work that we are asked to do. It is very easy after the fact to go: Well, it was always my plan to do this and do that. But actually, it does often require somebody phoning you up and saying: I want you to do that. And then it is what you make of it. Pitching ideas is important.
And that's good because I don't really want photography to become a business.
It is a passion. Follow that passion and stay true to that passion, and you can't really go wrong.

 Text and video via Phase One