Brains Behind the Beauty

Posted on: July 28th, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

Ever want to know where the brains behind the beauty comes from in those well-crafted images of seductive models (who can never seem to keep their clothes on) and A-list celebs wanting to show us a new side of themselves? Where do the ideas come from, why do they choose the photographers they do and how does it all come together? Well art director Matt Brooke who has worked with iconic photographers like David LaChapelle and Robert Maxwell, has an impressive client list including Motorola, Nike, and i-D and is credited with launching Maxim Fashion USA is ready to spill the beans. We get  a front row seat as Matt details two shoots he art directed for Arena and Maxim Fashion. 

Produced by Liman Cheng.  

Tell us a little bit about your background and what you do.

I’m a freelance art director based in London. My first job was at the fashion bible i-D, which was a great apprenticeship straight out of art college (Liverpool). After that I moved on to become art editor of British Elle. Finally I settled at Arena, where I was first design director before becoming art director.  After four years I went freelance, initially to art direct the first American bi-annual mens’ magazine – Maxim Fashion USA but also to devote more time to commercial clients I had worked with while at Arena. These clients have included Iceberg, Gieves & Hawkes, Motorola, M&S, John Smedley, Reiss, Dunhill, Gossard, Sony BMG, Boden, Luxottica and Nike. I’ve also consulted for publishing and PR companies, including Condé Nast. In 2004 I art directed a photo-biography for the Portuguese football superstar Luis Figo and my most recent book, marks Jean-Paul Gaultier’s 30th anniversary party celebrations. Although rooted in menswear, my folio is pretty diverse covering fashion, music, sport and reportage. This is pretty much a a reflection of the editorial school in which I was formed. I just enjoy that diversity. You never know what’s going to happen when that phone rings!

An image Matt Brooke art directed for Arena

You’ve art directed so much beautiful work and I’d love to know more about your process. Can you take us through your art directing of the Bridget Hall series for Arena and the Christian Bale cover for Maxim Fashion?

It’s nice to know you recall those other shoots. Particularly the Bridget Hall story for Arena. That is still a favorite of mine and quite important in setting me off in a certain direction.

It was around that time that lingerie shoots in men’s magazines were being produced that were enthusiastically retouched, beyond the realms of physical attainability. They still are to be fair. I’ve never had any interest in that. My thinking with that was to create something incredibly sexy but based in a reality that was incredibly cinematic. I prefer my shoots to be more real, and if they aren’t then they are blatant parodies of that whole pin-up ethos, hence my collaborations with David LaChapelle over that period too.

I asked Steen Sundland to shoot the Bridget story. He was a photographer I’d admired a lot. He’d been shooting regularly for Arena but I felt there was a personal side to his work that could work harder. I was really looking for someone who could translate this direction I had for shooting women. It was crucial to the magazine to run these kind of stories, but I wanted to do it with warmth, make the women strong. It had to be passionate, intimate, a fantasy – but still attainable. There was a lot of pressure at Arena not only to get the girls wearing less (competition was intense in the men’s market) but also for great styling credits. I think this story cleared the way a bit for us to build on that for a period.

An image Matt Brooke art directed for Arena

Anyway, I’d had this idea of Bridget Hall, trying to keep cool on the hottest day of the year in an East Village and failing miserably, hence providing a suitable vehicle for her to be in various states of undress. I wanted it to be sweaty and sexy, and well, hot! The styling was fairly conservative compared to other stories in other magazines, but I’d argue ours was far more provocative. The low rent apartment gave it a little edge, a bit Taxi Driver. The key was Bridget, she was such a stunning model who was rocking all the shows and campaigns at that time. I don’t see which other girl it could have been. In my head that story was always her. Arena had a great caché back then and together with Steen we could literally hand pick the models we wanted. As a team we were a bit ahead of the curve with respect to supermodels. We leaned towards those girls as we were so aware of trends and shows and all that aspect of it. I remember we shot a lot of those models way before anyone else on men’s newsstand figured who they were.

Steen cracked that story, it was killer when it came in. It was a joy to put together. I think it probably took moments to lay out. I’ve never been one for all that procrastination that some editors and AD’s do, laying stories on the studio floor for hours and having everyone stroke their chins putting them in order. You see what works, do it, move on. First layouts, like ideas, are generally the best. Steen and I shot a lot more stories after, mostly girls and later, menswear. It really forged a direction for me when commissioning girls stories that I used with other photographers such as Kate Orne. I don’t think we ever retouched them.

An image Matt Brooke art directed for Arena

[The Christian Bale shoot] was our first Maxim Fashion cover. My editor, Greg Williams (now at Details), and I had left Arena and been offered this great opportunity to create the first American bi-annual fashion magazine for Dennis Publishing. It was when Maxim was off the scale in the US. They were hoping to ride off the back of that, but to be fair they gave us carte blanche. There was no pressure to make the magazine another Maxim. They wanted a premium product for advertisers so they gave us great budgets and beautiful stock. Our outlook at the outset was quite European. We literally carried on our Arena vibe. As we progressed we became more American in outlook, but you can take the boy out of Arena, not Arena out of the boy.

I commissioned Robert Maxwell to shoot it. He was a great guy, a funny character who was perfect in that Hollywood scenario because his feet were so firmly on the ground, but he’d rock up with his shaved head, tattoos, in a white vest, white tracksuit bottoms and Nike Airs chewing a toothpick. You’d think I’m not gonna mess with this guy! But he was really sweet. Great work too. What I call a real photographer’s photographer. David Maloney, his agent at Art Dept in NY had introduced his work to me. I always had great respect for David’s vision of photography and we had collaborated with many of his artists at Arena over the years.

An image Matt Brooke art directed for Arena

It was a good fit. Robert did a fair few shoots over the initial issues of Maxim Fashion, shaping the visual cues for the magazine. The shoot was pretty simple, pretty quick. It was driven by the collections that season, pastel tailoring etc and we had a kind of Moroccan vibe going on at some house up in the Hollywood Hills. We stood in the street unloading equipment and Christian suddenly bounded over a fence in Maharishi combat pants dusting himself down. He said it was too far to walk on the street from where he’d parked, so he jumped a few fences Ferris Bueller style! I guess that set the tone, and we enjoyed a nice, easy, not very LA publicity driven, shoot.

When it was time to select a photographer for the shoot, who did you chose and why?

There are so many factors to consider here. I think the two examples above give a good indication of my thinking. I always want someone who is going to bring something special to the subject. Sometimes, particularly in fashion, it’s also about the whole team. I always want a team that fits. Photographer, art director and stylist working in tandem. If the three don’t fit together, it’s not going to work. In my opinion it always has to work. I was brought up through i-D and Arena, the budgets aren’t big and for me there’s nothing worse than stories sitting in plan chests gathering dust, because; a) you can’t afford to throw money away and; b) who needs irate photographers calling all day long asking where their story is?!

An image Matt Brooke art directed for Maxim Fashion

When I commission a magazine everything has to flow. I plan that thing from beginning to end and it needs pace and energy. For me that’s the attraction, taking the reader on a visual journey, creating an environment that is consistent, yet unexpected too. Every picture is important, every commission. I remember Terry Jones saying “Even if it is the smallest image in the book, it doesn’t mean it can’t be the best”. Kind of true when you consider all those guys who came through i-D  that way.

Another to consider is being aware of what your favored photographers are up to, where they are in the world, what excites them. I always think it’s best to talk with photographers to see what pushes their buttons, then commission with that in mind. You’re likely to get better pictures.

Sometimes you get presented a celebrity and think of someone (photographer) who’s going to get what you need from them, who’s going to make it happen. David LaChapelle is genius at that. I’ve done a whole bunch of covers and campaigns with David and it’s always going to be off the wall. He makes magazine covers into magazine covers. He loves that responsibility, it’s art to him. You go in his studio and they are blown up all over the office. I was psyched when I saw my Arena covers got up there on his wall. Even though I have a great job, sometimes it can feel like a job, just because of the relentlessness and politics of it. To walk into the office of someone you’ve commissioned and see their enthusiasm gives a lot of validation for your thought processes and determination.

An image Matt Brooke art directed for Maxim Fashion

Another point is to always meet the photographer. I’m pretty reluctant to commission anyone I’ve not met. I like to know that there’s a connection and understanding.

We are now in a time when every corner needs to be cut, when only the “strong” survive and when industry professionals need to change their business strategy.

How has your job changed as a result of recent changes in magazine budgets?

I’ve not worked in magazines for some time now. Most of my workload is for commercial fashion and music clients, out of choice. A couple of years ago I published a photographic music magazine called Sly’n'Chic with Michel Haddi. We hoped there’d be a second issue but the fact that there wasn’t tells its own story of the climate out there. We managed to fund it without advertising, but to push it on we needed to get some in. That’s not really happening right now, even for the big boys. Even the established magazines are feeling a little thinner on the newsstand.


Virtually Blowing Up

Posted on: July 23rd, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

The images you’re going to see were shot with a camera, but not a film camera and not a digital camera. The “camera” we’re talking about is a virtual one and nothing in the frame is actually real. These don’t look like the computer generated images I’m used to seeing either, I was totally fooled! Digital artist Shamus Clisset tells us about the process and inspiration behind his beautiful series of fine-art images titled “Manifestations/Geysers.” 

Produced by Liman Cheng. 

Tell us a little bit about your background and what you do.

My background is actually in painting. I got my BFA in painting from the College of Santa Fe, in New Mexico, in 1998. My work at the time was all about notions of reification -  the tendency to sort of mentally treat abstract concepts as concrete objects. I had been studying a lot of philosophy and art history and my work was satirizing the tendency in those traditions to raise these mental constructs to a level of extreme importance, and critiquing how that carries over to the contemporary art world in various ways. I moved to Berlin in 1999 and I kept developing along those lines during the 2 years I lived there. Berlin is where I really got hooked on the conceptual possibilities of digital media. I got really into the idea that creating something on the computer was analogous to building something purely with the mind. There are no materials like paint or canvas or paper, the image exists only as an image. I moved to New York in 2001 and after several years of experimenting in various directions along those general lines I’ve landed on using 3D modeling and rendering as my main medium of choice. Now my work is to build every element of the image – every object, light, and material that you see pictured – inside this non-material, digital space. I am also a master printer at Laumont Digital in New York, imaging and producing c-prints for a number of brilliant photographers. The work involves a lot of high-end Photoshop, which has technically shown me how to make better images and honed my skills.

An image by Shamus Clisset

Does your “Manifestations/Geysers” work incorporates 3D imagery with photography?

There is no traditional camera photography involved in the process. But there is a virtual camera involved, which you control in order to get the image you want. You adjust f/stop, exposure duration, lens distance, film size—basically everything that you control in a real camera, but without the actual camera. The images are created using physically accurate light simulation software that produces very photo-real imagery.

An image by Shamus Clisset

What software program did you use?

The main software used for the geysers were Indigo Renderer and Blender 3D. Blender is an open source project and Indigo is one of a few programs based on an open-source project called Physically-Based Ray Tracing. Indigo is not free, but it is one of the better and still more affordable ones out there.

An image by Shamus Clisset

Can you take us through how you created these images?

In addition to the 3D renderer, these “geysers” rely on another piece of software which simulates fluid dynamics. The initial parameters of the fluid are set according to the scene and the simulation produces a series of models based on how the fluids behave in real life. The fluid models are then manipulated and incorporated with other objects and virtual lights to produce the images you see using the rendering software. My use of the geyser as subject has mainly to do with the nature of the digital images springing forth from a void and inhabiting this ambiguous virtual space. They also tend to be a bit sinister in their symbolism and I mean to evoke something of a personality in each one, almost as ghostly apparitions drawn forth from their potential digital world – in a sense the images are conjured up rather than explicitly built, hence the subtitle “manifestations”

An image by Shamus Clisset

How long did it take to create one image?

For me, creating one image is a long process of fine-tuning. Depending on the image, I spent several days to several weeks adjusting lights, materials, shapes, composition…basically everything. Creating one element in the image is a relatively easy thing, but since you are building and controlling every characteristic of everything you see in the image, the possibilities are endless. It’s a lot of testing and tweaking. Then the final hi-res render can take a long time, up to a week in some cases – the larger the image and more complex your scene, the longer it takes to render.


How can commercial and fine art photographers apply 3D effects to their work? Can you give us an example?

There are numerous ways photographers can employ 3D tools in their work. Most 3D software is at least partly designed to aid in compositing virtual objects into conventional photographs. Lighting and scale can be controlled to match pre-existing photos and elements of the scene can be isolated for compositing using alpha channels generated by the 3D application. HDR images can also be used to illuminate entire scenes, producing stunningly real lighting and reflections of the virtual environment. I think a lot of people associate 3D with movie effects and animation that still tends to have a very digital look. These physically-based programs produce much more accurate lighting, shadows and reflections than the software used for film effects (at the cost of much longer computational times). But when used skillfully, it is nearly impossible to distinguish these simulated images from a true photograph. Another popular use for these 3D programs is pre-visualization of computer-designed products and architectural models. This allows clients to see a very real representation of their designs before they are actually produced. From a fine art perspective, I think the potential for these techniques is vast. Conceptually, the surface has hardly been scratched. I think as the technology evolves and user friendliness improves for these programs it could open up a lot of new creative possibilities for photographers, painters, and sculptors alike.

An image by Shamus Clisset

Alvin Chan Just Does It

Posted on: July 16th, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

Alvin Chan, the award winning Design Director for Nike Europe, tells us the process he goes through when creating an ad and discusses a specific example when he worked with the uber talented photographer Nadav Kander. We’re all jealous!

Produced by Liman Cheng.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what you do.

I was born in Malaysia and my family migrated to Australia. I studied graphic design in Curtin University of Western Australia and started my career in Emery Vincent Design. Later on I went out on a limb and traveled to the Netherlands to work in two firms that I have great admiration for: Studio Dumbar and Koeweiden Postma. Currently, I am the Design Director at Nike, working in Brand Design Europe. I lead a small, multi-disciplinary team that works on concepts, art direction, design, environments, motion graphics etc. for the European geography.

An ad Chan worked on for Nike

You’ve created some beautiful campaigns for Nike, can you take us through the creation of one of the series of ads, from idea to execution?

In 2008, we had to launch the new 10R Ronaldinho boot. Ronaldinho is a brazilian footballer. It is always a collaboration process with the team. Normally it is for a launch of a product. It could be a new football boot or Sportswear apparel. Every product comes with a story and our job is to create an impactful campaign which normally lives in retail and communicates the product benefit in an inspiring way. We start the idea and what we are trying to communicate. Then we visualize that with mood boards for tone, attitude etc. Once we have a locked idea, we will start our search for a photographer that can realize the concept. Partnering with a retouching house, we bring the final imagery to life and use it for the foundation of our campaign.

An ad Chan worked on for Nike

When did the style of photography come into play and why did you choose that style?

Prior to the launch of the boot, Ronaldinho was getting a lot of press in Barcelona, more off than on the field. There were a lot of criticism from the fans on his performance. Known for his flair and samba style football, the images that we see of him are always joyful and full of smile. We wanted to portray him in a different light. Ronaldinho was shot in an environment that shows a sense of isolation. Distressed concrete wall plus the blue tones really puts him within his thoughts. The campaign really shows the strength within athlete and the Fight behind the Flair. Generally, when we develop the concept for a campaign, we take inspiration from many things. It could be current photographic trends, graphics, films or even architecture. Most importantly, it comes from the product innovation. We look out for interesting and unexpected ways to tell this story. Sometimes, we have a creative direction for a season which holds the art direction together. Then the palette of style range is determined and we stretch the boundaries of style with different photographers.

An ad Chan worked on for Nike

How did you decide on the photographer you were going to use?

We chose Nadav Kander to capture the man behind the smile. Showing his preparation and the determination before the game. Nadav was always able to show a different side of the subject’s personality and almost captures the soul of the individual. Through a lot of research, we normally find the photographer that can bring added value to the project. When we have a clear idea of what we want to achieve, our art buying team will try to match the vision with the appropriate talent. A lot of factors can make that decision. It could be budget, the complexity of the task, the specialism needed (ie action, still life) and even to how good the photographer is in managing talent on a shoot.

An ad Chan worked on for Nike

Any fun stories from the shoot?

We once had a shoot where the aim was to portray accuracy for footballer and we built a cage to protect the photographer from incoming balls directed at the camera. After traveling to various locations and shooting many athletes without issues, one ball was struck with such power that it squeezed through the gap and connected with the photographer. I was standing in the cage and for a moment, it felt like I was in a war zone as I saw the photographer on the ground with a pool of blood. Some stitches and bruises later, the shoot turned out to be very successful and the photographer was alright. Needless to say, we have built stronger sets from then on.

behind the scenes on a shoot

Get Rich Media or Die Trying

Posted on: July 9th, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

Craig Wong, a young art director who has worked on print and online ad campaigns for clients including the Marines, Mad Magazine and Bank of America shares his insights with us about the tug-of-war between print and online advertising. Thank you Liman Cheng for helping put this together.

I grew up arranging colored pegs on Lite Brite, wearing Hypercolor shirts and playing hours of Doom 2 on my 486. My destiny was predetermined. How could I grow up and NOT work in advertising?

Fast forward 18 years I’m at the epicenter of the advertising universe, surrounded by the hippest people to ever grace a Wacom Tablet. And I’m witnessing firsthand the trend away from print ads; four years of college obsolete. In school they don’t teach you that there’s a direct correlation between the growth of computer technology and the reduced use of traditional media. In the last 10 odd years, 80′s-baby tech-saavy kids entered the tech-ignorant ad world and did what they do best – they made it overstimulated.

The stigma goes that online media is making print advertising obsolete. This is only partly true. Print hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years, nor has it needed to – it’s not broken. Print and online media merely offer different experiences, and the problem the industry faces is knowing both when to use each one and how to use each one. And since the online media revolution has happened so quickly, therein lies the division in the ad industry. On one hand there are creatives who cling to their print ads and radio scripts. They design a “website” without input from UX and don’t know what role an SEO person plays. On the other hand is a new breed of creatives who acknowledge these print and radio ads, but would rather tap into a site’s API to make that killer web banner.

The future of the ad industry is about adaptability and common sense – true survival of the fittest. The recent mad dash to utilize online media is because of its ability to tell longer, more engaging stories. However, let’s not forget that a good idea is still a good idea, good photography is good photography, and good copy is good copy. Print advertising or online advertising is just a vehicle by which to deliver content. The real challenge ad men face is whether or not they are skilled in both.

Kelvin Murray

Posted on: July 1st, 2009 by: Zack Seckler

Written by T.K. Dalton
Edited by Jesi Khadivi

It seems like everywhere you look recently you see one of Kelvin Murray’s photographs. He’s won eight major awards for his imagery this year alone and you’ve likely come across our featured image in the 2009 PDN Photo Annual or in the 2008 Lürzer’s Archive 200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide. Despite all of his success Murray is happy to Featured image “Boobs”reminisce about his years as a budding photographer. He says he can’t underestimate the impact of the studio where he spent his first ten years. “I am a massive fan of the training that still-life brings you,” particularly, he adds, in the form’s emphasis on the fundamental aspects of images. “It’s great training for the mind as a photographer. You’re looking at every single aspect of your image and I think you can see [the influence of still-life photography] in the ‘Boob’ image.”
The concept for our featured image, or as we’ll call it the “Boob” image, was a collaboration between Murray and his art director at Getty Images. The idea was to focus on peoples’ anxieties around body image. “The original idea was a man in a studio just holding his torso which was kind of a strong upper torso body,” he explains. It’s a solid concept and Murray took it to a new level by using beautiful clean locations and casting people that “were real and might have really thought they wanted a smaller bum or bigger boobs.”

The lighting in this image may seem fairly straightforward (natural light from one large window you might have guessed?) but it’s actually all artificial light from two light sources. Murray had his team climb up onto a platform and place one Elinchrom head attached to two Elinchrom 404 power packs outside of a window in the bedroom. They then put a 1 stop silk between the Elinchrom head and the window to soften the light a bit and proceeded to set both packs to full power. Murray also had a ring flash attached to his Hasselblad V System camera to add a bit of fill light. Numerous flags were then used to help shape the broad light sources and prevent a flat look to the image “the light you take out is as important as what you put in.” Attached to his Hasselblad was a 40mm lens and a Leaf Aptus 75 digital back. The exposure was f/11.5 at 1/60th of a second and the back was set to 50 ISO “the best speed for the Leaf back.” Photoshop work was minimal. Murray adjusted the tones in the image and then added a bit of high dynamic range processing to the image for “a little bit of that digital crunch.”

What’s amply evident in our featured image is Murray’s wry comic touch. His style has been popular both in the UK and across the Atlantic and he’s frequently complimented for the humour in his photography. Interesting enough, however, Murray doesn’t view his work as having a comical feel, he says that’s largely accidental. “It must be how I look at the world. Even the body series, the “boobs” image you’re running, I don’t know if I see it as humorous. It may be humorous to other people but that’s not how I see it,” he says, adding that any smile it evokes is “more of a gentle smile, the acceptance that we all want a body different than the one we’ve got.”

Murray was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about his career and his craft:

F STOP: Can you tell us a little bit about the idea for the featured image?

Murray: The image was a personal shoot from my portfolio. I often give my personal images to Getty images because it gives me the courage to go out and spend more money than I would normally spend on a personal project.  It allows me to have more latitude and freedom in approaching test shots in a more aggressive and colourful way because there is a chance I will recoup some of the money in the end.

An image from Murray’s portfolioF STOP: So it’s a way of tricking yourself?

Murray: It’s a kind of emotional management, if you will.

F STOP: We’re featuring an image from a series about body images. Were they all done on the same location or various locations?

Murray:  I found a location two or three years prior that we never used and decided that I had to find that location again. It had these lovely different coloured rooms that were all vaguely plain without too much human contriteness lingering around. I hadn’t kept notes, but I knew what part of London it was in. I tracked it down and it was such a perfect location I was able to do all four shots in that one location.

F STOP: What was the whole budget was for this personal shoot?

Murray: It probably ended up costing about three and a half thousand pounds.

F STOP: Was it worth it?

Murray: I absolutely love this series and it’s done me very well. It’s in my book and it fits beautifully. It’s winning awards and getting me a lot of good publicity. I almost use Getty as a sort of emotional trigger early on and then I forget about it.

F STOP: It has been featured in quite a few venues, awards and magazines and such. I figure just the publicity you gained from it is worth a lot more then you put into it.An image from Murray’s portfolio

Murray: It’s so easy for me to sort of get lost and run around in circles. I really envy photographers who can manage their emotions to the level where they don’t have all that background noise. But you can argue that all the background noise and doubt is part of the process. If you don’t go through it, you’re taking a short cut. Otherwise you just end up producing something that you already know you can do and not pushing yourself. It’s not going to really move you forward.

F STOP: Where did you get the idea for this series?

Murray: My art director at Getty pulled an ad from a German or Swiss magazine and showed it to me.  It spent about a year on my desk. I had lots of ideas the whole time. I have these massive magnetic orbs up in my studio that are covered in ideas. The idea changed slowly and became a much more involved idea with a room set with different characters and a different body anxieties.

F STOP: What was the original idea?

Murray: The original idea was a man in a studio just holding his torso which was kind of a strong upper torso body.  He was holding something in his hand that made him look stronger.An image from Murray’s portfolio

F STOP: Did you shoot the images on the magazines that each person is holding up in the series?

Murray: Yes, I completely forgot that, when we priced it out I forgot the body parts! We spent around another thousand pounds on those.

F STOP: After you shot the images of the body models did you print them out to look like it was on a magazine?

Murray: It was the other way around, I shot the four hero characters initially. I was pretty specific when I started. The models were cast for one specific body part. But I didn’t want it to be over the top or garish. I wanted it to have a real element of honesty about it. I tried to find people that were real and might have really thought they wanted a smaller bum or bigger boobs or that kind of thing. When I shot the magazines I spoke to the retoucher first. He said the best approach is probably to shoot a magazine that’s not too light, not too dark and add an element of sheen to it. It shows the retoucher where the light is coming from and how to mimic the final image when it goes in.

F STOP: Now it looks like there is a bit of HDR retouching, kind of post brushing feel to it. Is there a degree of HDR in this?

Murray: A little bit for the hero images, but I try to limit it. I don’t like images to look overly Photoshopped.

F STOP: It looks like just a hint of it.

Murray: That’s a good way of putting it. I like to play with colors afterwards, if the colors aren’t right. I try to work with a limited color pallet, which is why that house was so appealing to me. It has these lovely plain walls. We only slightly adjusted some of the colors to fit better together with some of the props. At the end it took quite awhile to explore and I ended up putting a little bit of that digital crunch on.An image from Murray’s portfolio

F STOP: It’s a really beautiful series of images and I think it resonates with a lot of people. Is it a project that you created with the intent of sending to award shows?

Murray: Absolutely. I take these projects on because they are great for my career. I think without them your career isn’t going to blossom in the same way.

F STOP: Can you mention specifically how it has been great for your career?

Murray: I think I’m doing very well with a number of different projects in the awards. And then you start to get calls from people that you haven’t met or worked with before because they’ve seen something you’ve done somewhere. It’s shows people where I am going as a photographer. It’s hard to separate the good from the bad, so winning awards is a good indicator.

F STOP: Has shooting this type of personal work helped get you into that type of category?

Murray: Absolutely, it just to keep your book moving on. Otherwise there’s a strong danger that your book stagnates. If art buyer sees that your book hasn’t changed I think that’s a negative statement, especially in London.

F STOP: How did you get your start as a photographer?

Murray: Even in my early teens I was drawn to 35mm cameras.When I was in university studying psychology I met people that heard I was a very keen photographer and I got a job in a studio in London, a still-life studio. When all my fellow students were off in Thailand or whatever they do I was pushing brooms and picking up burgers in the studio. When I left for university the photographer offered me a job as an assistant. Then I worked my way towards being a still-life photographer.  I think if I had gone to work in a different studio I would have ended up as a different type of photographer. I think the studio you get your first job in has a massive impact on what you see and what you learn. I started off as a still-life photographer working on 8 x 10 large format cameras and I assisted for 4 years and at the end of it the guy I worked for said what you need is ten beautiful 8 x 10 and if you go off into the world with 8 x 10 ‘s you’ll get work and he was right. I worked really hard as an assistant, I would be in the An image from Murray’s portfoliostudio whenever I had an idea, and I shot everything. Looking back on it I was manic. Part of it being that I was allowed to use the remnants of shoots. So if the person I was working for had bought five boxes of 8 x 10 for a shoot but only used 3 ½ I was unofficially allowed to use that box and half.  I used to use Polaroid in the same way. When you’re not paying for your resources, everything became very studio based. I did that as an assistant and when I went out on my own it went very well, even though there was a recession going on I was very successful in still-life.  And that’s the way it continued for about ten years. I became more and more frustrated by being locked in this studio but I am a massive fan of the training that still-life brings you. I think I am still influenced by my training in still-life.  If you break everything down to texture, composition, color, you’re much more tuned into the sort of basics of it because you’re so used to working in a black studio where you have to find your background and compose your subjects. In a still-life studio you build it from the ground up and I think it’s great training for the mind as a photographer.  You’re looking at every single aspect of your image and I think you can see that in the “Boob” image.  You can see how I used really simple composition techniques, really simple use of color and texture of the carpet, and the simple pink walls.

F STOP: Do you still consider yourself primarily a still-life photographer?

Murray: No, definitely not. After ten years of doing still-life I became increasingly frustrated with it and I started to move my still-life studio into the outside world. I traveled a lot and I would do still-life in Vietnam or Chilli or Bolivia just really simple stuff. At the time no one was really doing much of that, still-life was very much in the studio. This is about a decade An image from Murray’s portfolioago. And I came back and built this portfolio of still-life on location, it was more just to show my commercial clients I was trying to achieve new things. I assembled a leather bound print book of still-life on location and I took it around to a few art buyers and they were incredibly excited by it and I began to get still-life on location work straight away on a very commercial scale.  Then it began to move into staged shots with models. I’m definitely not a lifestyle photographer.

F STOP: A lot of your images now seem to have a strong sort of humorous vein through them. Is that planned?

Murray: Definitely, I don’t even know if I would call it humour.

F STOP: It has a subtle quality of humour to it.

Murray: I think you’re right. I did a series of people carrying things.  On my website there is a shot of two boys carrying a portable football goal and there’s these two old men carrying this very modern pink sofa. And these are things that just amused me. I looked out the window and I saw these two boys carrying a goal back from the local sports field. And they were arguing because the one in the front wasn’t carrying it right and the one in the back was really having a go at the one in the front. And it really made me smile so I held that idea and I kind of recreated it. Then I saw a couple carrying a sofa up the road. Obviously someone had out a sofa up in front of their house and they took it and were carrying this sofa up the road. So I recreated that as well, but I took away all the extreme information.  These two men are stepping down these old steps with this very old plain stone wall behind them and they are carrying a pink sofa. That’s when you can really see my still-life roots coming through, in that you see how I strip things away and try to almost put something on a background.

F STOP: So it seems like a lot of your imagery kind of has that humorous kind of touch to it now, would you agree with that?

Murray: It’s not really intentional, I hear that said about my work all the time and it’s always a positive thing, ‘we like the humour in your work,’ but the irony is I don’t tend to see it that way. It must be how I look at the world. Even the body series, the “boobs” image you’re running, I don’t know if I see it as humorous. It may be humorous to other people but that’s not how I see it.

F STOP: You said that it brings a smile to your face…An image from Murray’s portfolio

Murray: But it’s more of a gentle smile, the acceptance that we all want a body different than the one we’ve got.

F STOP: Do you think that there’s a large market for that type of imagery in advertising?

Murray:  I think there is. I picked up an American agent just before the recession and I did a lot of work rather quickly, which then stopped when it got really bad about 18 months ago. One thing I kept hearing about my book was how the American market really likes my softer humour.

F STOP: I have heard people say that during a recession people want to laugh more. Have you noticed people gravitate towards work with a light humorous quality?

Murray: I am quite busy at the moment and I’m working harder for less. People don’t really define it, they don’t say, “hi Kelvin, I’m using you because you make me laugh in a sort of gentle sort of way.” In a nutshell, I think I am benefiting from the fact that people want to feel happy about things and I think my work is instinctively clean.

F STOP: In many feature films, comedies or anything with a humorous nature, there’s a very high-key look to everything. It’s kind of like the signature lighting style for comedy. Now we’ve talked about how you’re images aren’t necessary outright comedic, but they do have a humorous tone to them. Do you approach lighting in a similar way, using a high-key look to communicate that the image in question has a degree of humour in it?

Murray: My lighting varies shoot to shoot, although I think you do see certain themes running through. I tend to be happier with large banks of soft light. For example the shoot of the “boobs” image, it’s a girl’s bedroom, although we changed the tone slightly, we didn’t change the color. Other shots are quite different but on that shot that worked. I used that style the whole way through that series. I had to hire these massive stands to get up that high An image from Murray’s portfoliobecause the minute you bring the light into the room you change everything. On that “boob” shot there was a large black fiber hanging taking the light off that left hand part of the wall and then there was some smaller blacks doing other little things. You start with a large amount of light then you slowly begin to remove bits of light. That comes really from still-life where you a lot of the time take light away.

F STOP: Do you ever build sets?

Murray:  I don’t build them myself.  But to be honest, I prefer to shoot on location.

F STOP: Why is that?

Murray:  Because it is so hard to get a set really good. I just did something for the BBC and I guess there was water going everywhere and we had to do it on a set, but I spent a lot of time and effort making the set look real. There’s nothing worse than looking at a set in the corner of a cheap studio.

F STOP: You started off in still-life and you’ve transitioned into doing this location work, which is quite different, but you still have incorporated the roots of your still-life start. What’s next for you, what direction are you heading in now?

Murray: I am really interested in moving imagery and I think that’s where our work is going. It turns me on. I’m playing with the idea of covering still shoots with HD video. It’s a little more expensive because you need a track and someone to help assemble the track and get the dolly along the track. But you can do the two things in one environment. It excites me the way people move the camera.  I am not sure how I will incorporate this into my work, but I will just shoot things where it works.

To see more of Kelvin Murray’s work visit his website.