Why does Bentley loves to work with Graham Thorp
Interview by Axinja Josipovic
Let us in on your background and how you came to be a photographer.
I have always very interested in the Arts and Crafts and in particular, drawing and painting. All imagery held a fascination for me. I could often be found leafing through books and magazines, sometimes pausing for a moment, sometimes for minutes, staring at and studying picture content and weighing up in my mind what I thought it was that made it good, to my eye at least. Before I had any formal training in composition, framing, light or narrative, I think I had already begun the process of educating myself, albeit unknowingly in such qualities.
My parents bought me my first camera, a Canon Sure Shot together with a six roll pack of Kodak color negative film shortly before we all went off on a summer holiday together to Malta. I think I must have shot half of it before we’d even boarded the aircraft, snapping and documenting almost everything I saw. I loved it, but most especially the immediacy of it and the ability to create something memorable with the simple press of a button. I was hooked.
At roughly the same time, a friend of mine who was working as a Photography Assistant to a local photographer back home in Plymouth, expressed amazement at a sizable stack of 35mm print wallets one day on the kitchen table and began looking through them. She gave a very fair critique and offered some great advice, and I hung on her every word. Later, she offered to spend a day with me while shooting landscapes; she coached me through the rudimentary basics of composition and exposure as we wandered in the summer sun through leafy Mount Edgecombe Country Park in Cornwall. I still hear her very words even to this day when I look through the viewfinder.
From here, I decided to take photography more seriously and study part time after work at evening classes as well as some self-taught learning. I eventually went to full-time art college.
I’d like to get an insight into your process when approaching an assignment. What is your process from concept to completion? Can you discuss a piece of your work to illustrate this?
First, I would have the initial meeting with the agency to discuss the basics requirements for the shoot, and then the client would come on board slightly later in the process. We would invariably start with a desktop location recce. The first and sometimes second agency meetings will cover what locations they would and wouldn’t like to go for the shoot. Often, your first choice is ruled out as the agency may have been there recently and is keen not to repeat locations even with different cars. I have a fairly extensive library of location ideas, and these may be from actual location recces shot by myself or, from various producers around the world or more simply favorite and screen grabbed from the Internet. There are usually quite a few parameters to take into account and with these in mind, we can quickly produce a shortlist of suitable locations. If a part of the brief were for dynamic shots to be delivered; I would immediately reserve one of my favorite pieces of kit, the Move ‘n’ Shoot tracking rig.
The one caveat here is if we have a car available to shoot with or not. It might sound odd to be shooting for an automotive client with no hero car, but it’s happening quite a lot now. Some of the more high-end brands have comparatively low volume output when compared to the more usual names find it difficult to justify building one to shoot. I just recently returned from being on the location where we didn’t have a hero car, the flexibility to shoot without the massive entourage in tow is an amazing experience.
How do you balance your style with what a client has previously envisioned for a project? Do you find that most clients are controlling or do they let you have a lot of freedom?
I almost see the final finished piece in my mind from very early on in the process. I have a strong idea of the final look and feel I’d like to see, but it is the client’s wishes that always take paramount importance.
With dynamic car shots, I like to create a sense of journey, from where you’ve come, to where you are going. Set against a backdrop of stunning scenery and epic light, always looking to add a little emotional content where possible that might elicit from the viewer a “wow, I’d love to be there doing that”! Being the eternal perfectionist, I’d love to have this in every shot but realistically its not always possible some compromise has to be accepted.
Freedom to shoot is usually in plentiful supply, and most are happy to go with suggestions both at the pre-production stage and during the shoot. Sometimes, you have to be ready to adapt to situations as even with the best of planning; things change, and you need to be ready to make the best out of it. I usually take these as a blessing is a disguise and remarkable shots can arise, and new techniques can be discovered.
One example of this is when having arrived at the hotel before a 10-day shoot in Switzerland, we learned that we had lost through no fault of our own, our star location. Our local producer took us to a location that we had previously recce’d but only from the outside to investigate it’s potential as an indoor location. What an absolute gold mine that turned out to be, fabulous in every respect and the shots are still some of my favorite images to this date.
How is it working with a photo rep? Do they handle all of your booking, sales, promotion, and scheduling? If so, do you still find it necessary to self-promote? What is your main platform for doing so and how does that effort play into you receiving new assignments?
I love being a part of a team and it’s a wonderful reassurance to know that there is someone fighting your corner, looking after your interests and helping manage things. Of course, like almost all relationships, it’s about what you put into it rather than what you can get out of it. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, and hopefully, you both grow and develop together over many years. I think as well it’s important not to expect too much early on unless of course you’re a very well known and established the name and had a wide client base regularly knocking at your door.
I do still self-promote although I need to do more on that front but have been lucky enough that work has kept me busy recently. I am currently mulling over re-design of my website which is the perfect excuse for a mail campaign.
My main platform for promotion is the telephone. Possibly this is a carry over from when I first moved to London and would spend weeks if not months on the phone calling photographers looking for assisting work. Similarly to working with an agent, you need to allow time for your new contacts through portfolio views to come to fruition. One must remember that all agencies and art directors already have working relationships with other photographers and it’s never as simple as the walk in with your book and walk out with a shoot unless the gods of timing are with you that day!
Do you retouch all of your work, or do you outsource those parts of the process? How many hours does it usually take retouching a photograph?
My work is always sent out to one of some high-end retouching houses here in London. Postproduction techniques to mainstream advertising standards are a hugely time-consuming process from start to finish and takes years of continuous practice to reach a level expected by most agencies and clients.
My philosophy is that everyone on the team brings something to the table; their chosen discipline or skill and postproduction can either make or break a shoot. As well as the fact that post is hugely time-consuming, you always need to consider that there maybe other projects to either shoot or quote on, so I leave all postproduction to the experts.
I will happily make up composite PSD’s for the retoucher if time allows showing the placement of files and elements but it’s best to sit next to them and go through it all together.
Revisions can sometimes go on for weeks after the shoot, especially after a big production and for a large part of the time, it’s the client making minor adjustments to the product, and so its good to have somebody take care of this and for them to be able to deliver the revised work promptly.
Most of the time, WIP jpegs will be emailed for me to look at and comment on accordingly but I do love going to the retouchers studio to sit with them and direct over a good coffee!
What type of preparation do you make before going on set to shoot?
Most of the time pre-shoot preparation involves simply checking the camera and computer equipment and making sure everything is working perfectly. I pretty much always buy new hard drives for the shoot back-up and these are labeled accordingly and never touched afterward, so I always have an easy access library.
Sometimes, if I know the climate is going to be extreme, either hot or cold I may stock up on clothing to suit, but apart from that, physical prep is quite minimal its more mentally preparing one’s self.
What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens?
At the moment, I shoot mostly on a Hasselblad H5X with a Phase One P65+. A great combination and suits are shooting cars well. I have been looking at an Arca Swiss recently and would love to test one so perhaps a personal work project may be in the offing to provide an excuse to have a look at it.
Lens wise, for the Hasselblad the 50mm is pretty hard to beat as a general all-around choice but I don’t have a favorite as such, and it’s just, which one is best suited to the particular job at hand.
You have shot in beautiful locations; would you please name some of them for us?
Switzerland is one of my favorite locations, and I’ve chosen quite a few shots from our travels here. It has breathtaking scenery and perfect ribbons of black tarmac winding their way over the mountains. It has lots of great contemporary architecture there as well. Slovenia is particularly beautiful, very green and lush with huge forests that feel very wild and dark. California is always a favorite location to visit, a huge state with a huge variation in landscapes both natural and man-made. South Africa holds a dear spot in my heart as I visited it many times as an assistant over the years with various photographers and I recently had the chance to go back and shoot as a photographer myself. A great and varied choice of location types and great weather but don’t mention the wind!
Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers?
The one thing they don’t, and can’t teach you at college is just quite how patient you’ll have to be to reach your goal. It can be a real tough journey with extremes of highs and lows along the way, and it’s probably best not to get one’s heart set on assisting for a couple of years after leaving the University before “moving on to shoot” as I don’t know of anyone who’s managed that yet. It can be a little disheartening sometimes to collect your book from an agency and be told that you need to keep on testing when you think you’re ready to go. Patience is a virtue. The second thing they can’t teach you at college is how nerve wracking and stressful your first shoot will be. No matter how good you think you are and how much testing you’ve done, nothing but nothing prepares you for that! Its quite a right of passage and well deserved!