Glen Luchford is the creator of some of the most cinematic imagery in Fashion Photography today and in addition gives some really great sound bytes. While we all serve an industry that seems to be pregnant with revolution, listening to the thoughts of one who’s lived through a number of significant changes in the business is a more than welcome pastime. Fantasizing about the glorious tales told and all the while intrigued by one man’s ability to remain current and always evolving, I couldn’t get enough of Glen’s opinions on the subjects we all seem to be contemplating on a daily basis. Photographer and philosopher, he left me with much to think about and filled with excitement on the possibilities of what explosive change will arrive next.
Christopher Michael: What did the beginning of Glen Luchford the photographer look like?
Glen Luchford: I was living in Brighton at the time and a lot of my friends were fashion students at the college there who were obsessively collecting blitz and i-D magazine, so I was really surrounded by that whole thing. I used to buy The Face and one of my friends was going to go up and show their collection to the magazine so I said “Well I’ll go with you.” It was at a time where you could just walk in and meet the art director and it wasn’t such a big deal, unlike now. I used to hang around there and try and get a meeting, then David Bradshaw said to me, “Oh you should get a job as an assistant and he ended up taking me on a photo shoot. The photographer said you can assist me but I won’t pay you, so I did that which lasted about a week and then he fired me because I kept looking through the camera. (laughs) The day I was fired I was walking home and could see flashlights going off on Old St so I went and banged on the door and asked if they were looking and got a job that way, it was kind of like that in the 80′s. That lasted about two weeks then I got fired from that guy and ended up meeting Norman Watson who was working with Ray Petri at the time doing all the buffalo stuff. I worked with him for about a year, catching the whole end of that was interesting, then Norman fired me. I wasn’t a very good assistant because I never wanted to do the work; I just wanted to watch all the time. I think they thought I was lazy but really I just wanted to learn and watch so I could absorb everything.
CM: Well clearly you did, at which point did that turn into your first commission for a magazine?
GL: Well I eventually went back to The Face and that was when Karl Templer was just starting to work there, the art director showed my pictures to him and wanted us to do some pictures together, so we did. Actually, just prior to that, I gave them the number of the local nightclub I used to hang out at in Brighton because I didn’t have a telephone at the time, and they ended up leaving a message. So I called them back and they said “Tomorrow you have to photograph this band called the Stone Roses” which I’d never heard of, they had just done their first demo tape. I was thinking “shit, how can I take a good picture of an LA rock band?” So I hired an 8 by 10 plate camera and thought that I’d do a very statuesque Avedon kind of portrait of them but I’d never used one before. The magazine had hired it for me but it was sent to the studio in a box, here I was never having done a commission before and here was this camera I didn’t know how to put together, luckily this assitant in the next studio took pity on me and came in and set it up. Then the band walked in which was very confusing because they were these very handsome interesting looking guys about 20 years old rather than Guns and Roses who I was imagining in my head, so I realized I made a mistake. Anyways, I shot 10 plates of them and they are still some of the best pictures I ever took and the magazine loved them, after that they gave me regular commissions.
CM: So you really just learned as you went along?
GL: Pretty much everything I did after that was a disaster, I really had to make all of my mistakes in public. It took me a good couple of years to work it out but it was fantastic that they gave me the opportunity to shoot for them. In those days you were not required to use the certain girls you are now, it was about being experimental and doing something new, which was celebrated by the magazines rather than feared as it is now.
CM: Do you see a difference of breed between your generation and the arrival of digital reliant photographers today?
GL: Well recently I was working with this advertising client and there was an enormous wall of people that wanted to have an opinion on what we were doing. So after all of the work that I had done with the Art Director for the weeks prior and the whole day of pre lighting, it was all scrapped by this plethora of individual opinions who all had a different idea of what would be good for their market. I think in a situation like that, if you don’t have a good understanding of lighting and such, it can be quite the disaster. Prior to the arrival of digital, photographers had to learn those skills so that still makes a difference. What’s happening now of course, which is definitely going to separate the men from the boys is you have to shoot stills and film at the same time. Suddenly you’re expected to be a cinematographer and a photographer, in the last two seasons we’ve been expected to deliver the film and stills all in an 8 hour day.
CM: I thought it was really funny and also a little balsy what you said in that interview with Another magazine, which was that you were not so sure you liked that everyone was doing moving image. I think that most people would be afraid to say that because they wouldn’t want to be less appealing to the clients who are commissioning now….but also the fact that everyone in the film industry sort of turns their nose up at the idea of fashion photographers tackling the moving image medium and you already having done a short film, so what is it that you don’t like about moving image in fashion?
GL: Basically it’s just that the constraints are getting tighter and tighter, every new level of stress that they put on the situation means less creativity. I hate myself for saying it because it sounds so romantic to look back and go ‘oh the 80′s and the 90′s when we went with 10 rolls and nobody was in the studio but hair, make up, model, stylist and photographer. That was it and you just had fun for 2 days in the studio. It was a great time, but at the same time, at that period we were all just moaning about what shit it was in comparison to the 70′s so I hate myself for saying it now. When you are in a situation where you have to live out so much in such a short period of time, the girls and the objective changes, it’s not about how much time you’ll get to be creative, it’s about how much time you’ll get to achieve all this stuff and if there is any time left at the end to do something creative then you’re lucky. Creativity is now a luxury bi-product. I believe that the clients are going to start putting more of a value on the film and they will create an extra day for it, that will be more interesting because they will be prepared for it and have more money for it and ultimately more respect for it. You’ll be able to do the photography and then think about the film portion separately, up until now it’s not been done that way, it’s all just being shoved on to the end.
CM: Speaking of film, your photography always has a cinematic feel to it, are you big on references or is that just your natural aesthetic?
GL: I do reference films a lot but I’ve been trying to move away from that because I’ve done it for so long and it gets tedious looking at the same thing over and over again. You can’t be a photographer anymore you have to be an image maker which means that you can work in any genre, just learning photography skills is now only 50% of it. I was reading this interview with Wes Craven and he said, “When I teach film making, I’m never looking for film makers, because a really good film maker has such a strange unusual group of skills. You have to be a really good people person and you have to be a diplomat and you have to be able to do all of these things in order to get 50 or 100 people to do what you want and you have to be a dictator and a mother to someone and have lighting skills and it’s this big odd mix.” So I then wonder when you’re at these schools where they are teaching kids photography, if they have made that transition in teaching them now that this isn’t going to be enough. It’s now turning into something very very different. What people have realized is that just being a model, photographer or editor or whichever is no longer enough. In order to sustain something, you really need to turn yourself into a brand, which Terry [Richardson] has done very well, Olivier [Zahm] also. It’s a commodity basically, so I’m a bit divided about that because on one hand it’s sort of become the norm and once something becomes the norm people tend to backlash against it, but on the other hand if you don’t brand yourself then you don’t have longevity so is everyone then going to be forced into a situation where you have to start being more than a name on the bottom of a page.
CM: Wow, well when you put it like that…
GL: There was a period of time where all of those photographers were not really obsessed with the past they were just interested in trying something new whether it worked or not; and the industry was just looking for something different so it opened a few doors of opportunity. I also think that Margaret Thatcher had a really enormous effect on my generation because it was so stifling and the country was in such dire straits in the 70′s. She really supported the rich and middle classes, the schools became over populated, there was a lot of unemployment and there was this whole feeling of political strife to the individual, a lot of chaos was going on. So her gift, if you want to call it, to everyone was the realization of “Well the state is not going to take care of you so you better start taking care of yourself,” and they started this scheme which was called the enterprise allowance scheme. If you start up your own company you get a thousand pounds and they will help you sustain that to see if they could inspire people to get thinking and create new business. That mentality really got absorbed by everyone around at that time, nobody really spoke about money. It was “can I make money doing something that I love to do every single day, rather than ending up in a factory somewhere?” Or basically getting another job. So to be able to work for The Face magazine and get paid 100 pounds for a picture was an amazing feat, it felt like a real luxury, plus I got my allowance money so it was great.
CM: And that was what really woke up the creative minds and efforts of the then arriving generation in England?
GL: It really installed fear in people and made them start fighting for themselves. I think that everyone that came out of that period became really ambitious and all of the photographers and stylists that came out of that time were really really driven, I never heard people talking about money, it was always about ideas and being creative. I remember giving a talk in London and I gave this whole slide show at the end of which I asked if anyone had a question and this one kid put up his hand and said “when I do my first advertising campaign, how much can I expect to make?” I said “Based on that question, you are never going to make it because if you are doing it for money it will never happen. You should really be eating sleeping and drinking fashion photography day and night, the money is irrelevant, you do it for love or you’re just never going to make it.” The point of focus has shifted and has suddenly become really corporate in its mentality and again I’m falling into the trap of romanticizing the past but it wasn’t like that before, there was not a lot of money kicking around so you did it because you really loved it.
CM: I’d like to think that same principle applies to now when so many are struggling to get into an over saturated industry, the most passionate no doubt have to rise to the top…
GL: The fashion industry like everything else is mutating, so quickly that it’s not what it was even 5 or 10 years ago. I think you need to accept that and get on with it or move over to another industry. I think in my generation there were very few photographers wanting to be fashion photographers which a lot of them stayed, some went off and did other things. Now, there are 100′s of thousands of people that want to be a photographer. A friend of mine who teaches at the London School of Fashion said, in the late 90′s early 2000′s, everyone wanted to be a fashion designer and nobody wanted to be a photographer and now it’s the complete opposite. There is a bit of a chicken or the egg thing going on right now. Before, nobody was trying to do what was in the magazines, they were trying to do their own thing, whereas now you look at young photographers’ books and it’s their effort to imitate what is already in the magazines. So the question is, are the photographers forced into a situation by the magazines to deliver that sort of work otherwise they are not interesting? Or is it that everyone has decided that it’s best to just try and imitate what is happening to see if they are able to break into it. It’s a hard question to answer.