JW: Hi Ben. How are you doing? How is this Tuesday treating you?
BW: It’s treating me well thanks, the sun is shining, and I’m out in the countryside. I’ve not been well recently so I’ve been out here recovering, but I’m back to work in Barcelona tomorrow and then Miami at the end of the week.
JW: So you’re very busy, let’s jump straight into it. Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?
BW: No not really… I was always interested in art and design from a young age but I didn’t necessarily know how I was going to hone it or focus it. I did a foundation course after I finished school and as a part of that I did photography for a couple of weeks and it stuck. Suddenly I had a way to express what I’d been feeling and thinking. I saw it as a way of balancing art and commerce; it’s a vocation in which you can earn money whilst still remaining creative. Fashion was a way to carry out documentary projects whilst paying the bills alongside it.
JW: And you’re currently splitting your time between Cornwall, London and New York?
BW: I am. I’ve got a young family so we’re still working it out and doing our best. It’s usually an intense week in London doing the office work and maybe some studio shoots, then commissions in New York and then some downtime in Cornwall. There we have an outdoor lifestyle – we can surf, do lots of walking and just be in the elements really.
JW: Is that what you enjoy most about coming back to Britain?
BW: I love travelling, but Britain is my home. I love the weather here, for example, over the last two days it has been absolutely chucking it down with some incredible wind and rain! We have amazing landscapes here, amazing coastlines and beautiful countryside. I love Britain; it will always be my home.
We have amazing landscapes here, amazing coastlines and beautiful countryside. I love Britain; it will always be my home.
JW: You’ve worked with us on several campaigns now; your first was for Autumn/Winter 2016.
BW: Yes, it was in Oxford, in and around the university college buildings there.
JW: How do you think you and the brand have changed in that time?
BW: I think we’ve both evolved and in a way become a little bit more grown up, but still in touch with our playful side. On the most recent project we were conscious that we didn’t want to alienate anyone, in 2016 it was very much tailored to that post-uni feeling of abandonment and carefree living with lots of play. Then over the years it’s changed, to be a bit more grown up, initially it was a gang of students, then they were living in their first flat working their first jobs in London. For Times Of Change, we focused more on the individuals and their personalities with a series of portrait shots. Like the tagline says, ‘times have changed’, it’s a different world now, the portraits we made this time were just a bit more real – which is reflected in the casting.
JW: Rooted much more in reality as opposed to projecting an aspiration?
BW: It was, the casting process this time was looking at a cross section of characters that reflected the ambition of the brand. It was less gimmicky, it wasn’t drinking beer or dancing around, it was sitting, focused on bringing out the best in the character. Making the individual feel comfortable in the clothes that they’re wearing, in a neutral, classic setting.
JW: What drives your creative process?
BW: I’m kind of creating this world in my head that if I wasn’t a photographer, I’d want to live in or be a character within it. I have this fasciation with coast and country. I come from a very run of the mill, crappy town in the South East of England; now I’m obsessed with Cornwall, surfing, the cowboys in the Midwest, the American Dream and it’s a hotchpotch of those two influences that drive my work forward.
I suppose it’s the guy or girl we’d all want to be. I don’t treat menswear and womenswear differently; I want the characters to be believable and aspirational, showing the best version of us. I am a massive fan of film and documentary photography, I collect photo books, and paintings, I’m also a big fan of painting. All of these kinds of influences muddle together to inform what I’m trying to do.
JW: These are ‘Times Of Change’, socially and politically; how is this affecting your fashion photography in particular?
BW: I have always operated from a very pure and honest point of view. I don’t think I’ve been at all naive in that, I think people have always wanted to see images of hope and positivity, and nothing that is exploitative or depressing. Photography and fashion photography, has a more important role to play in terms of the diversity that it has to, and should, show. It is a form of escapism for a lot of people too – to open a page of a magazine, see someone and imagine being them for a split second, that’s a powerful position to hold. Fashion photography has an important part to play in reflecting the truth about our culture. We should be careful not to abuse that position and make sure we are responsible with the images that we make. The world isn’t a retouched, size zero place; there are all sorts of wonderful shapes and sizes, ethnicities and personalities and we have to embrace that.
JW: How do you split your time between your personal and commercial work?
BW: I’m taking photos all the time, although in recent years I’ve managed to blend the two. For example, I might go down to Cornwall to surf and find some guys down there that are quite cool and shoot some documentary stuff on them, but after doing that, use them as models in an editorial. I think you should try and make all the work personal. Your personal work should inform your editorial work, your editorial should inform your commercial work – which should all work in harmony. Each day is a different challenge; we’re problem-solving. I try to head off in my car with my large format cameras when I can, but the next week I’ll fly out and do a commercial job. Some people struggle with continuing their personal work, or they struggle without a crew behind them. As I’ve grown older I have learnt to appreciate every stage of the process.
JW: Do you find yourself collaborating with the same people?
BW: Yes, I’ve got a network of hair and make-up teams and stylists that I’ve crafted relationships with over the last 10 years that I feel comfortable with, a lot of the pre-work is unspoken. You can trust these artists to get on with their vision, and they know your vision and it is just one less conversation. It’s a process of trust. It’s like a relationship once you’re really in it – it’s beautiful and everything is working and flowing. They are a safe set of hands that are going to deliver. Paulo – who did the hair for this shoot – and I have worked together for two or three years; we built a good working relationship and he’s become a friend out of that. I trust him implicitly to create the best hair for my photographs.
JW: Rumour has it, that you’re putting your first photo book together?
BW: Yes, I’m working on a book at the moment, so hopefully that’s going to be our by the end of year.
JW: Is that on one specific project or is a retrospective or some of your work?
BW: I won’t say too much but it’s a culmination of five years of work. My first monograph!
JW: Well we can’t wait for that. Thanks for your time Ben!