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An Interview with Andy Gotts MBE

Louise O'Shea
13 Apr 2015, 11:04 AM

Andy Gotts has been working in the photography industry for over 20 years, during that time he has become most well known for his distinctive black and white portraits that read like an A-Z of Hollywood. In 2012 Andy was appointed MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours list but even better than this Andy is a great guy and friend to TFC. Louise got the chance to ask Andy some questions about his experiences as a photographer.. Thanks Andy!

How did you become interested in photography?
My initial interest in photography was in 1980 (I was 9). There used to be a program on television called IN AT THE DEEP END. Each week the presenter, Chris Searle, took on a new career and had to do a big job. This specific week Chris Searle was tasked in to being a photographer and to shadow The Mirror’s chief photographer Mike Maloney and try to get a photo of Diana Spencer, as it was rumoured she was going to get engaged to Prince Charles. The whole thing seemed very exciting, but for me the best part was when Mike was going through all the equipment, it was like a scene from a James Bond movie, all it was lacking was Q and from there I was hooked
Did you study photography or assist? What’s your story?
I was in the very first BTEC photography course at a Norfolk college called NORCAT in 1989, I then attended Wolverhampton University and finished with an MA in photography at De Montfort University. After NORCAT I spent 18 months assisting people who did the career I wanted.
How did your professional career start, was it hard graft or lots of luck?
What is luck? Luck is a bucket load of hard work to hopefully give you a break. Due to the Big Brother/reality TV generation many people want a career NOW not work hard and climb the ladder. Unfortunately life is not like that. It has taken my 25 years of very hard work to get to the position I am in now. I see luck like telesales. The more phone calls, knocks on doors, emails, you do the greater the chance of getting the job you aspire to.
There is a saying, ‘make your passion your pay check’, does this apply to you?
There is also the saying, 'find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life’. I think the pay check is the least reason for doing my job, it’s the people I meet and the experiences I have. I know it is cliché but I would happily do shoots for free, and this is probably why I do so many charity projects.
What is it about photography that makes you tick?
In a nutshell being my own boss is a great part of my career. As my sitters are all famous faces it is nice for me to try and capture something a little different, whether it be quirky of more thought provoking images.
We can see from your portfolio you appear to have shot every actor in existence, is there anyone you have not yet worked with who you would like too?
I am a devoted movie buff, and I have shot most ‘A list’ actors you can mention. However I am fan of the old guys like Dick van Dyke, Jerry Lewis, the old Hollywood people. I keep telling my mother I was born 5 years too late as many of the greats died just before my career took off. Like Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, etc.
Where did you get your style of lighting from?
Playing, I like either very soft of very hard lighting, and over the years it has been trial and error. I remember I was in NY shooting Christopher Walken (back in the day I shot film and didn’t use Polaroid). My light meter broke at the shoot so I mocked up a lighting set, not knowing if it would work or not. The resulting soft shot that was hashed up on the day is a lighting style I still use in case of emergency.
Who has been your biggest photographic influence?.
This is a bone of contention as I really don’t look at other photographers for inspiration. I like to watch old movies to see how they lit the actors or I love to look at the work of Caravaggio or Rembrandt and the lighting they used. But also everything you see every day influences somehow. Having said that I do love the photography of Karsh, Albert Watson, Avedon and the early work of Bailey.
So, what’s a typical day like in the world of Photographer Andy Gotts?.
Emails and phone calls to arrange shoots. Drinking champagne! I try to only shoot two days a week as I have so many other things I need to arrange, like exhibitions and tours etc, there are not enough hours in the week.
Tell us about a time when things went wrong on a shoot, how did you turn it around & resolve the situation?.
So many things can go wrong it’s unbelievable. I’d say things like the camera jamming, electric power supply failing, dropping the camera, getting lost on the way to shoot, sitter being in awful mood, me being in awful mood, sitter being late, deleting files off CF card without backing them up or saving them anywhere, falling asleep, nearly killing George Clooney’s pet duck, the list is endless...
Congratulations on your MBE, how did you feel about getting this & what did the Queen say to you?
It was/is an immense honour to be awarded a gong for just doing the job I love. The Queen said ‘who is this Rankin?’ ‘never heard of her. Ma’am!'
What is your favorite piece of studio lighting equipment & why?
I’ve used Elinchrom for most of my career, I love all of it. I used the 600s for years then upgraded when I used them out. The new ELC Pro HD heads (when I don’t drop them) are amazing and very powerful and have a nice defining edge on the shadows. My recent Octa has been a God send and is very versatile. I’ve used the Ranger Quadra when out and about, though the recycle time when on full power is a little on the slow side for me it is so small and easy to travel with.
You shot the superb coffee table book Degrees, how did this come about and which are your favorite 3 images from the collection? (supply the images )
DEGREES came out 10 years ago this year. I was shooting for newspaper supplements and magazines and really wanted to do something more substantial. So the idea of a coffee-table book packet with famous actors was an easy idea for me to conclude. The theme of the project was, I would shoot an actor then ask them who their celebrity best friend was or someone they really admire. I’d then shoot that person and ask them the same question, so it ended up being a book of who knows who and loosely based on the SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION. Too hard to pick favs, but Anthony Hopkins is a strong shot, as is Christopher Lee and Clooney in a pirates hat.
Camera kit wise 35mm or medium format & why?
I’ve never used a 35mm for photography, ever. I was taught when I was 19 on a Mamiya RB67 and always used medium format and then digital medium format. It’s a habit rather than a choice, like a comfy pair of shoes.
what’s your favorite lens & why?
I really don’t have one. Every lens has it own purpose, but if you made me give an answer I’d say 150mm.
Do you work alone or with an assistant? What are the benefits to the way you choose to work?
I have never had an assistant, PA, agent, manager, chauffeur, personal chef or geisha! I like to work alone and do every aspect of my business and shoots myself. I was called once ‘the Goldfinger of photography’ due to my power hungry need of control. I saw this as a complement rather than an insult.
Have you ever been star struck whilst shooting a celebrity? if so when, where & who?
As I have spent 25 years shooting celebrities this subject matter is now the norm and I’ve never been starstruck. Meeting and working with movie idols like Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood gave me a huge rush though.
Which of your images is your favorite? can you share the story behind the image?. (please supply the shot)
The Hollywood legend Tony Curtis takes a lot to beat, as it was the last ever portrait taken of him shortly before he passed away. Before the shoot he asked me to ‘make me look like an icon one more time'.
In my kit bag I always carry a ..............
PhaseOne, lenses, light meter, laptop, mobile phone, bottle of champagne.
You are on a desert island and you can only take 3 things with you what are they?
A private jet with lots of fuel, a skip of ice and a few cases of champagne before the flight home.
What’s your favorite movie?
The 1955 version of THE LADYKILLERS, not the Tom Hanks remake which was a bunch of arse, and I told him so, or THE GODFATHER. Depends on my mood.
If you could be any film star, who would you be?
Cary Grant. Everyone loves Cary Grant.
Film or digital and why?
If it were my choice and time was not an issue then I would shoot film all the time. But these days everyone is in a rush so for speed, digital.
What would you be if you had not become a photographer?.
I’m a qualified chef but I’d be an awesome lawyer. If you can imagine Columbo as a lawyer ‘Your Honour, just one more thing..'
What are your words of wisdom for our readers who are looking to become a professional photographer?
Shoot for YOU and not to keep others happy. Don’t expect great things but embrace them when they come along. Always keep learning. The day you don’t find it fun anymore then give up.
I could not live without my ...?
Constant supply of champagne., or my sanity
Do you have any last photographic words for us?
‘Schmoofoo’ this is the noise a panda makes when it cries. You will need this nugget of advice if you ever pursue wildlife photography.

You can check out Andy's work on his website here: www.andygotts.com

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