Readers' Heroes: Caravaggio and Hitchcock
ANDY GOTTS does not have any photographers on his heroes list. Instead, he looks to Baroque painters and classic movie directors for inspiration. Kathrine Anker finds out where the lighting in Gotts’ celebrity portraits originates.
Your list of heroes is quite unusual - why is that?
Inspiration is a peculiar thing to pinpoint because everything you see day in day out will inspire you in one way or another. When studying photography I actually didn’t look at photographers to inspire my work, because I am more interested in paintings and movies – black-and-white films, 1950s films, those by Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. I looked at the way they lit the film scenes; that was my inspiration, as were the old painters such as Caravaggio. The hard lighting and the angle on the face were more of an inspiration to help my photography. Even now I still go to the National Gallery and look at the old paintings.
How would you say that shows in your pictures?
Think about people like Caravaggio; when they were painting, the only medium they would have would be the sun and naked flame, so it would be very easy to light; you would have lots of shadow, and one or two lights, so the paintings would be very shadow-led. It’s like old films – if you look at Rebecca by Hitchcock, the lighting is very simple, again very shadow-led. My photography is, on most shots, more shadow than light, because the shadow, for me, is an equal part of photography to light.
Do you use the same techniques as Caravaggio?
Yes, I try. 80 per cent of the work I can think of has been done with one light. My photography is quite different because my subject matter is 99 per cent famous people, mainly actors. Normally, if an actor is in a photograph in a glossy magazine or an advertising campaign, the picture is over-lit. There is so much light going on and the photograph is retouched to buggery.
My photography is completely unretouched and I just try to use basic lighting, because I am trying to capture a person as they are looking at that moment on that day. So, for example, if you see my pictures of the actor Al Pacino, that is exactly how he looked when he sat in front of me. There have not been 10 days of Photoshopping afterwards and the lighting is what would have been apparent at the time. When I saw Pacino and we were sitting down, there was one window light coming in and that is how I lit him. I emulated the window light with a flash, but that was exactly as I saw him on that day.
Why did you become a stills photographer, rather than a painter or movie director?
I do see myself as an artist who cannot paint. Caravaggio is one of my favourite painters – along with Rembrandt - and if I had an iota of their talent and was able to do something, I would love to. But I can’t. One day, I would love to go into moving pictures; to be a director or cameraman, something like that. I have seen some fantastic older movies and if you have to pause the DVD at any spot, it looks like a perfectly-lit photograph. So maybe one day I’ll be able to take my mode of lighting and use it for either a short film or some sort of moving image project.
Visit andygotts.com to see more of his work.
Caravaggio fact box:
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Italian Baroque painter, active between 1593 and 1610.
Known for his use of the painting technique chiaroscuro, which literally means light-dark.
Chiaroscuro paintings have a strong tonal contrast between light and shade, which creates dramatic effects and makes the volume of the subject stand out.
Caravaggio took chiaroscuro one step further than his predecessors and made darkness the dominant feature of his paintings.
Caravaggio combined chiaroscuro with naturalist observations of the human condition.
Andy also has a new exhibition coming out, to read more click here!
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