Photographer Andy Gotts shoots Hollywood’s finest – warts and all

Celebrity photographer Andy Gotts has uniquely snapped every Hollywood celebrity you can think of.

And now he’s taken this feat one step further, in his latest task of photographing every single BAFTA winner and nominee since the award’s inception in 1954. Prepare for a few late nights…

 

“The problem is actors hate being photographed!” he laughs. “A lot of them like being actors because they are being someone else. They can’t be still for the camera; they act being someone else.”

Gotts quips that singers enjoy the camera more than actors, and the veteran photographer has plenty of material to back up this theory.

“Anthony Hopkins wrote me an articulate letter saying he will be shot, but how much he loathed it. But if I was doing a job where I was a different person every day, and then I had to sit down and be myself, maybe I wouldn’t be happy.”

Gotts, whose Behind The Mask photography exhibition runs at Somerset House until February 7, favours a ‘warts ‘n’ all’ approach to his craft, using minimal make up on subjects, no retouching, and “absolutely no Photoshop.”

This bare-boned approach has produced some iconic shots of Hollywood celebrities over his 23-year career. In order to achieve these results, Gotts stresses how important it is to make sure that every subject he snaps feels comfortable, because a relaxed client leads to a spontaneous, captivating picture.

“Talk to them! In the first 10 minutes of chatting to someone you’ve never met before, you can gauge their humour, what sort of person they are, and then ease into the photography. The chat starts to be the photography. As you’re chatting, you then start doing pictures, then chatting, pictures, chatting, pictures, and a bit more chatting.”

Aside from conducting a conversation with the occasional snap, Gotts has plenty more tips for photographers, both amateur and professional.

“The biggest tip I would give an amateur or professional, is that when you’re shooting, be in the room by yourself. No assistants, have no-one else there at all, just the two of you.”

“I have been interviewed and photographed by a photographer with assistants; I know what it’s like to have more than one pair of eyes on me in a photo shoot – and I hate it too!

Gotts also has tips for the practical element. A self-proclaimed old-schooler, Gotts has relied on just three cameras in his career. And only recently, and very reluctantly, did he make the transition from film to digital. The perfectionist speaks wistfully of his staple equipment.

I used my Mamiya RB 67 camera for every single shoot up until four years ago! It was perfect. A film camera, no battery, 100 per cent manual. It wasn’t until people wanted to see things instantly, that I needed a digital.

Gotts confesses that he re-routed to digital “shooting and screaming.”

“Now I use a Phase One Hasselblad. I just don’t like the fact that now people can ask to look back at the camera shots. In the old days, people couldn’t see the frames until the contact sheet was posted to them – it took about a week.”

Whilst Gotts may have made a transition in technology, his iconic shots have kept their essence. This is largely due to his traditionalist approach to setting up studios for his character studies.

“I don’t use 20 flashes, I don’t use Photoshop. The background will be black, white or grey. It takes about a minute to put up! I use about three flashes, all attached to a battery.

“I know where I put the lights, what effect they give me. I put the camera to eye level, I hoff my tripod up to nose level, point it at the nose so that I know the eye is about an inch above the camera level, and that is how I set up every shot.”

Gotts is not one for change, whether it applies to cameras, studio set up, or to the current trends in the showbiz world.

“The Hollywood 1940s, 50s and 60s was the real era – and that will never happen again. That’s when there were actors, icons… people happy to be found. Nowadays we have less true fans, rather people wanting to be them.

“But if you look at Hollywood, there aren’t that many actors really who do Hollywood movies. I reckon I can name every actor who’s done a Hollywood movie in the last two years as they’re all the same people.”

One thing Hollywood celebrities young and old have in common is a connection to this photographer. Having created an impressive profile over the last two decades, Gotts would never take his work for granted.

“I am honoured to do it. Not a day goes past when I don’t consider how many photographers would jump into my shoes to do what I do. I’m very lucky and I know it.”

For more information about the Behind the Mask Exhibition head to www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/behind-the-mask.

words Camilla Davies

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