DAVE: Art College?
BRIAN: I worked in engineering until I was 21, so as a mature student I studied at Manchester Polytechnic School of Photography.
DAVE: Did they teach you anything useful?
BRIAN: How to lose your virginity and smoke.
DAVE: That must have fed into your photography?
BRIAN: Assisted my sense of proportion, when it comes to composition.
DAVE: Did you assist anyone?
DAVE: What was the first picture you were paid for?
BRIAN: It was for the magazine Management Today, I shot Newsprint being unloaded from a barge on the Thames, just down the road from where I live now in Rotherhithe, South East London.
DAVE: Who were your early ad clients?
BRIAN: Daily Mail, British Airways, Hewlett Packard, Olivetti, Levi’s, Philips & Beefeater Gin.DAVE: Who were your early photography heroes?
DAVE: What did you admire most about yourself?
BRIAN: Obsessiveness, aesthetic judgment, bravery, competitive spirit and being not afraid of hard work.
DAVE: After your smoke filled upbringing in Birmingham, how did you find the glitzy world of advertising?
BRIAN: I have always enjoyed problem solving and advertising certainly nourished that. Being a good mathematician, inherited from my engineering days in Birmingham, served me well, certainly when jumping through photographic technical hoops on advertising shoots, prior to the advent of Photoshop.
I found advertising enjoyable because it not only involved creativity but a high level of problem solving.
DAVE: Who was the best Art Director you worked with?
BRIAN: Paul Arden, because he loved photography and understood how to use it powerfully.
DAVE: I heard a rumour that you once turned up to the D&AD Awards, being held at the Royal Albert Hall, dressed as the Royal Albert Hall.
Is this true and if so do you have photographic evidence?
BRIAN: I certainly did and here I am in the outfit.
DAVE: What was your first good ad?
BRIAN: I just can’t remember having done so many. DAVE: You worked with a little known art directing hero of mine – John Knight, how was he to work with?
BRIAN: That was on the Beefeater Gin campaign.
John made me feel that anything goes!
He enjoyed working in my studio, which at that time was situated in the dark overgrown weed land of the disused docks. DAVE: Were you difficult to work with?
BRIAN: Eccentric but never difficult. In fact maybe far too easy at times. DAVE: You’re quite arty, did you like the commercialism of advertising?
DAVE: What ad were you most pleased with?
BRIAN: Probably the 1991 film I shot for Paul Arden, who was Creative Director at Saatchi’s.
Its title was ‘For The World’ and was for Forte Hotels.
My brief was to get Rocco Forte a knighthood and he got one!DAVE: Why move into commercials? Cash?
BRIAN: It was my ego getting the better of me.
DAVE: Did you prefer Art Directors to give you a tight or open brief?
BRIAN: Always an open one of course.
Well, the top art directors were confident creative’s and always set an open brief.DAVE: As well as being a ludicrously well paid advertising photographer you had a parallel career as a barely paid rock photographer?
DAVE: And sang with Ian Dury?
BRIAN: Me duetting with Ian at my 40th birthday party, which was also the launch party for my book “Work”.
DAVE: How many album covers have you shot?
BRIAN: I think almost 200, if you include single sleeves. DAVE: Is shooting an album different to shooting an ad?
BRIAN: Because of the total freedom, most definitely.DAVE: You shot a lot of them with your mate Barney Bubbles. Surely one of Britain’s most talented and least known designers?
BRIAN: Absolutely criminal. Mainly due to the fact he took his life 20 years ago.
DAVE: What did you learn from Barney?
BRIAN: At the point of absolute failure arrives success.
DAVE: Do you have an example?
BRIAN: Too many to recall an individual example.
It was most often that the edge of the envelope was pushed.DAVE: Often there’s only a face and a prop, so how is it that your portraits are so distinctive?
BRIAN: I wish I knew.
I guess its the fact I always try so hard to produce something that is different.
Plus coming from the Black Country certainly gives you a warped outlook on life.
DAVE: I presume some come from observing and thinking on the spot? DAVE: But some come from you having the sheer cojones to ask someone famous to do something odd – ‘Ere Manolo, sniff those shoes for Me’‘Helen, be a love and crawl under that table.’
‘Can we just cover one with a saucer on your bonce?’
DAVE: Where do you get the brass neck to ask famous people to do silly things?
BRIAN: I have no choice. For I have to ask them otherwise the photograph would be boring.
DAVE: I experienced this first hand when you shot some portraits for Me, (and art director David Goss).
We shot the first few.
But then couldn’t think of how to shoot Dave Trott.
You said to your assistant ‘Pop down to the sports shop and get some ping pong balls, I think we’ll pop one in Dave’s mouth.”
‘You won’t” said Dave.
So we didn’t.
BRIAN: It was not easy trying to make Dave Trott interesting, and his lack of collaboration didn’t help.
DAVE: You have portraits that are supposedly shot in camera.
Brian, how on earth can you do this in camera?
BRIAN: Being an ex-engineer I developed many light machines to produce in-camera effects.BRIAN: For years after people visiting my studio would stand within this light machine.
DAVE: So I’m guessing you’re not a fan of CGI and retouching?
BRIAN: I’m one of the last practicing living photographers that had to do it all in camera, which involved technical gymnastics.
It’s good that they don’t request photographers to be that clever these days because its painful and you have to be really good.
DAVE: Do you think the digitisation of photography has advanced imagery?
BRIAN: Created a great deal of harm in developing homogeneity in image making.
However it has opened up opportunities due to the decimal divisions now in exposures, to create beautifully lit scenarios when employing lights.
DAVE: Which of your rivals did you respect most?
BRIAN: Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
DAVE: Why and why?
BRIAN: Constantly, day after day, as professional photographers they produced powerful images from a variety of subject matters.
Only the truly great photographers can photograph anything to a high standard.DAVE: Which photographers do you admire today?