NOT IN-CAMERA: GILES REVELL

Where did you grow up?
The sleepy town of Sawbridgeworth, it’s on the Hertfordshire and Essex border.

When did you take your first picture?
There was no eureka moment, I inherited my grandfather’s Silver Ilford Sportsman.
silver-ilford-sportsmangiles-revell

I do remember being intrigued by its beauty; a matt silver finish with shiny brown hinged leather case.
I wore it across my waist in my early teens, but had no idea what I was doing with it.
It felt sophisticated, technical, way beyond anything I’d ever come in to contact with at that age.
It was the act of making that I enjoyed, rather than ever believing that I was making anything important.
I liked the idea of editing a scene through the viewfinder.
Most of the time it wasn’t even loaded, film was too expensive.
It was in a time when a roll of film had to last you the whole summer.

What was your first job?
Express fruit & vegetable delivery man.
A white van man 
at 17, straight after passing my driving test.
Deliveries at extraordinarily dangerous speeds, I was compelled to drive as fast as I possibly could on every journey.
I went on to be a geologist, mainly because I wanted a job outside in the landscape.

How did you make the jump from white van man to photography bloke?
Was it a wise move? I tussle with this nightly, I might have had my own van by now.

One thing is for sure; we didn’t operate six month credit schemes before you got paid.
It wasn’t such a jump, photography was becoming an everyday activity.
The geology degree was a brilliant insight into the English landscape and how it was made.
I had aromantic vision of a career roaming the World recording and mapping extreme environments, physical and mental challenges.
I ended up in the gold fields of Western Australia, it was an experience, I was very fit then, surviving the elements as well as a very male dominated high testosterone environment.
But it wasn’t for me.

After a year full of the bullshit of travel I returned to the UK and started applying for jobs as an assistant.

Who did you assist?
Steve Rees gave me my first job, he was a good tutor and generous employer.
Then Bob Elsdale, he was the first photographer to own a Mac in London.
People would visit just to see it, they’d crowd around, scepticle if it would ever take off.
Both good people who showed me the ropes.

ls3 cats-bob-elsdale

(The work above is Bob’s, not 100% sure whether Giles assisted on this job.)

What was the first image someone paid you to produce?
Rubber Plants for a brochure,  a tropical plant rental company paid me 250 quid.
Ludicrous money at the time! I was on £100 a week as a full time assistant.
My first ad job was a series of nudes for a medical insurance company, commissioned by the Marshall brothers at Leagas Delaney.
Just before I startedI vomited with fear.
I had gone from table top still life to a full on big production over night.
I didn’t really know what advertising was, I h’d previously only worked in design.

Who were your photography heroes?
Many.
Henri Cartier Bresson; informative social documentary imagery with an exceptional graphic eye and sense of timing.

jump-henri-cartier-bressontrafalgar-square-henri-cartier-bressonAndrez Kertez, he found beauty in the mundane, presenting it in a very simple reductive way.
fork-andrez-kertezsnow-andrez-kertez
William Klein for his fearless, confrontational portraits, shot on a 35mm lens.
He clearly had built up a rapport with his subjects and tried to capture people from afar in voyeuristic way.
I also think the ease with which he experimented with other media shows an artistic man way ahead of his time.
smoke-veil-william-klein
cinema-william-kleinSebastao Salgado for his social documentary.
The body of work that explored international mining and heavy industry in the developing World is exceptional, highlighting working practices that hadn’t changed since the Industrial Revolution.miners-sebastao-salgadowater-sebastao-salgado
Jeff Wall.
One of my favourite images is a ‘Sudden Gust of Wind’.
T06951_10.jpgIt’s based on an Hokusai painting.
'The Great Wave At Kanagawa' Hokusai.jpgIt took months to construct, the airborne papers have all been placed in post production.
I don’t care how long it took, compositionally it’s brilliant.
milk-jeff-wall

Karl Blossfelt; a botanist with an artists eye.
He made photographs to catalogue plant specimens.
I’m really interested in the interaction of Art and Science.
common-male-fern-karl-blossfeldtmaiden-hair-fern-karl-blossfeldt
The illustrator Haeckal is another example of a body of work born out of a fascination for science. 

I first became aware of your work via Big magazine, did Vince Frost get you going?
Yes. it was a big break.

You come across a handful of people in your working life that are true talents, Vince is one of those.
He is instinctive and trusts in good work, the work comes before the reputation.
We became very good friends and have worked a lot together ever since.
The images were raw, and when combined with letterpress typography made a very bold, confident magazine that everyone wanted to contribute to.
screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-10-32-59-am
Do you prefer tight or open briefs?
It depends what it is.
Commercially I like to work on the best idea whoever has conceived it.
I’ll always give my view on a campaign, it’s up to the agency whether they listen.
I’m a wasted resource when used just as an art worker, but some jobs are like that.piccadilly-circus-london-underground-bmp

What’s the difference between shooting for an ad agency and a design company?
Advertising employs you for your technical ability or aesthetic, in the States they call you a ‘shooter’, which sums up the role.

All of your energy is focused on executing a collective vision, one an agency team has championed for a brand often weeks or months in advance.
You take on the commission with the commitment as if it were your own.
It’s all about the production of the shoot and building a team, the bulk of the thinking has been done for you.
It is a tried and tested model so who am I to criticise, but it but seems a little outdated.

Stronger ideas result from photographers being involved earlier in the process.
There are some talented photographers out there whose creative abilities are underutilised, I’ve noticed a generic quality to a lot of recent photographs, probably as a resulting from countless references found on Google images, I know it helps to sell an idea to a client, but it can limit the imagination of the creatives.
Advertising is fixated with being first, building a story around a technique, but being first today is old news tomorrow.
Designers are out of a different mould, the life span of the work tends to be longer.
Budgets are smaller but their i
deas are ambitious in a different way, the limitations encourage more thought and imagination.
It’s also a relief not to have to spend two days writing a treatment every job you do, to justify your creative credentials.  

The application of images is also more diverse.
I’ve worked on design projects from postage stamps through to huge interior installations.

‘Can you shoot me a face that works upside down as well?’
I can’t think of another photographer I’d ask to do that.
Or one who’d take on that ludicrous challenge
?merrydown-giles-revell-rough-1-%22down%22-01
merry-giles-revell-01

It’s one of the trickiest challenges you’ve ever given me.
But it was such a good idea, all the artists involved in that campaign produced wonderful work.

Your work is more like Art than any commercial photographer I can think of.
Wouldn’t you be far more famous in in that world if you were more pretentious?
Or spelled your name in a more exotic way? Gilles Revelli? Gilmondo Rev-El?
Probably, I think the public warm to an aloof, renegade facade.

You are what you are though.
If you play that role then you have got to sustain it.
I’m hoping that the latest projects will make an impression on the Art world, without having to take on a tempestuous, rockstar persona.
However, I’ve often thought about trying a pseudonym like Sebastian Conti; a new photographic presence in the fashion world.
Try it, but swap that ‘O’ for a ‘U’, it might give you a bit more attitude.
Giles Revell - Fish 2, Dave Dye
Do you think digital technology has helped photography?
Yes, undoubtedly when used intelligently and creatively.

It has allowed quicker workflow and more possibilities creatively.
The draw-back is that there’s this obsession with sharpness.
‘Hyper real’ is one of the most annoying terms attached to imagery at the moment.
I’m excited by imagery that takes away and refines .
Half of the images we value today in the galleries around the World are ‘soft’ by modern-day standards.
The speed that images can be made encourages sloppy practice, multiple versions are made to cover all eventualities, then cobbled together in post-production.
The expectation of how much can be achieved in a single day are being pushed so hard now that photographers are having to cut corners.
I’m excited by modern photography, but I am certain that when film was the dominant medium the whole team were sharper, because there was more at stake.
You had to be confident that when you walked off a shoot with just a few polaroids and half a dozen rolls of film that you’d executed the job.
You didn’t have the luxury of cross-referencing every frame.
Commercial imagery seems creatively very static at present.

The platforms on which we view the digital imagery has evolved beyond any of our expectations.
photography-book-giles-revell
Unlike a lot of commercial photographers, you don’t have a ‘look’ or style?
At first glance I’d agree, but when you look at my work as whole there’s a common thread; the subject matter is revealed minimally, through the use of a line or a plane.
The Port ‘Ten Ten’ cover is a good example, revealing the watch elements through hard shadow and silhouette, the geometry of the plane defined by black.
tenten-cover-giles-revell
It was a lesson to myself of making a composition where every corner of the frame needs to be considered, as well as balancing the proportions of black white and grey.
The great Bauhaus influences played a part in this composition.
Also, I’m interested in the content not the gloss.

Different ideas employ different processes, it means the images have a variety of looks rather than always using the camera optics route.
The common characteristic of the work is it’s stripped back with a definite intension.
The commercial world is obsessed with look and feel, it’s an irritating development over the last few years.
I’m always looking for discoveries and new ways of approaching themes.
Giles Revell - Heals Shaddow 1, Dave DyeYou’re always trying new things, lighting with an estate agents digital ruler, taking portraits with a photo finish camera.
Why? 
It’s not enough just to point off the shelf lights at objects.'Gold Leaf' Giles Revell-01.jpg'Gold Leaf 2' Giles Revell-01.jpg
autumn-leaf-giles-revell-01leaf-2-giles-revell-01flower-giles-revell-01Giles Revell - Pink Squiggle, Dave Dye

Are these photographs or illustrations?
One is photography, the other motion capture.
They’re both about an image developing over time.
100 frames is a collaboration with Ben Koppel to create form from movement.
All the red images are made from the body movement of a dancer, the black version from the movement of a British gymnast training on his floor exercise routine.
The idea was developed for a 2012 Olympic Park proposal, the idea was to create life-size sculptures tracking body movements that would be fabricated in resin.

Giles Revell - Red Squirly Thing, Dave Dye'Blue Car Shape' Giles Revell-01.jpgGiles Revell - Red, Curly, Spiky Thing, Dave Dye
They were printed as 3d sculpture moquettes.
The big red shiny thing, studded with relief, was a commission I made with Matt Painter.
I was asked to make a sculpture of the Manchester United v Barcelona European Cup Final.
I’m not sure I’d choose the aesthetic of this now, but the idea was interesting at the time.
We were given all the data captured as the game unfolded to analyse.
These statistics are used by managers and trainers to assess the performance and tactics of the players,individually and as a team.
Every event, such as a pass, corner, header, shot or goal is logged on a time line, as well as spacially on the pitch.
I decided upon two evolving hoop shapes, representing each 90 minutes that grew over the course of the game.
Each stipple marks an event on the pitch, the largest peaks are the goals. car-bar-giles-revell'Green Car Shaft' Giles Revell-01.jpg
Experimenting is easier today, but I seem to see less of it?
Yes, it’s disappointing and surprising.
Especially in an era where there’s so many opportunities to collaborate using different source material, homogenised though digital formats.
Science / medicine / engineering use incredible methods the gather imagery.
CGI is used widely and is a very powerful tool, but tends to be used in a bland way, as a replication tool mimicking photography and film rather than expressing ideas within its own medium.
Commissioners seem uncomfortable to make imagery from the data and information available to them.
The Man Utd vs Barcelona data sculpture is a good example.
Replication seems dull and needless when there are ways of achieving the real thing through another viewpoint.
Which goes back to my point about style over content.

Giles Revell - Red Stripe 1, Dave DyeGiles Revell - Oil People 2, Dave DyeThey say copying is the highest form of flattery, you must feel great, you’re flattered on a regular basis? 
I used to feel that way in the early days.
Plagiarism is the one aspect of the business that’s made me think seriously about a different career.

There is a  lack of integrity in the business.
Ideas and methods of working are my professional identity and security.
I can spend months developing a project or idea, to then discover it’s been infused into the work flow of others can be demoralising.
Not to say financially bruising.
Agencies, magazines and photographers are all guilty, it’s a symptom of the speed with which we all have to deliver.
Images are now referenced rather than conceived.
Consequently, new projects need to be kept under wraps until a suitably scaled, appropriate project surfaces, or better still, released as an exhibition, which would mark the date and occasion to the work.
Without such launches images are copied wherever they are seen and the origin is lost or hijacked. It’d be very easy to slip into a rant at this point, it may sound like sour grapes, but I crave a  workplace surrounded by genuinely talented people.

What makes up a good picture?
I read an article a decade or so ago that crudely broke it down into four ingredients;

1.   Image needs to be flawlessly beautiful, regardless of message.

2.  Image should be shocking, controversial or taboo.

3.  Image should be either informative, telling us something we don’t know or show us something we thought we knew, but with a new perspective.

4. Image should have an extraordinary narrative or back story. 
In 20 years I‘ve come close on a couple of occasions where I’ve made something that I’m still happy to look at ten years later.
But it’s rare that you achieve more than one of these in any image, when you do, interesting work is made.
 

What image are you most proud of?
I guess my finest moments would be 
The Insect Techtonic Project, also known as the ‘Fabulous Beasts Show’.
It was the summer show at the Natural History Museum and is now in their and the V&A’s permanent collections. 
Giles Revell - Insect, Dave Dye'Bug 4' Giles Revell-01.jpgGiles Revell - Fish, Dave Dye
Giles Revell - Fly, Dave Dye

Also, the recent Battlefield Poppies stamp.
It was part of the Royal Mail  Ww1 Centenary series, it’s out now. 
stamp-giles-revell


ww1-1916-battlefield-poppy-stamp-giles-revellww1-1916-battlefield-poppy-stamp-giles-revell
What the hell are these stripes things?
It’s a bouquet that’s broken down into petals, then distributed over time.
Oh yeah!Giles Revell - Colour Bars, Dave DyeGiles Revell - Colour Bars 2, Dave Dye'Stripey 4' Giles Revell-01.jpg

How did you start your collaborations with Matt Willey?
We met when he was running the Frost London office, he was designing the magazine Zembla with Vince Frost and Dan Crowe.
Dan and Matt went on to set up Port magazine, followed a couple of years ago by Avaunt.
We used to The Kings Head in Clerkenwell regularly, a special pub, for our enthusiastic conversations about topics we wanted to explore, ‘At This Rate’ was the first project we did together, it came out of those conversations.breathe-giles-revellGiles Revell - Leaf 2060, Dave Dye

The idea was to produce a booklet and poster illustrating the rapid destruction of the rainforests.
It was a simple set of timings from every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every year with corresponding area of loss in that time.
They are an alarming set of statistics; every year we lose an area three times the size of Sri Lanka. We produced and sold them to raise funds for the Rainforest Action Network Organisation.
Giles Revell - Leaf 2, Dave Dye
The Photofit project was was another that came from those King’s Head conversations, very rewarding.
It was about identity and how you see yourself, most of us observe ourselves everyday for at least two minutes.
We were curious about how people would make an image of themselves from memory, without using a mirror.Giles Revell - Photofit 4, Dave Dye
Making drawings of oneself alienates those that are not artistic, so we decided to democratise the process by using a police photofit kit.
These were used in the 1970s in criminal cases to build a picture of a suspect for posters and news papers.

Each kit is extremely tactile, made up of 100 or so printed strips of images of eye, mouth, nose, hair and face shapes to select from.
That finally came together as a photographic montage in a perspex frame. Giles Revell - Photofit 1, Dave Dye
A broad demographic were gathered with each participant taking around 45 mins to make their portrait, accompanied by an interview.
The results were fascinating.
The physiological comparison was immediate, yet some of the participants revealed a more emotional response than they’d revealed in their interview.
Some picked a more youthful version of themselves, when they were at their physical peak.
Some had suffered trauma and were dealing with their new lives, others had clearly spent a lot more than two minutes in front of the mirror every day, marking every mole or line with pin point accuracy.
Giles Revell - Photofit 2, Dave DyeI think t
he project was successful because we had designed a democratic framework for the participants to express their own vision of themselves, without any intervention or bias.
It was published in the Guardian, we also repeated the project in Canada for the Walrus magazine.
Giles Revell - Photofit 3, Dave Dye
Matt’s a great talent, he’s in America now, designing the New York Times Magazine.
Giles Revell - New York Times Cover, Dave Dyechanel-giles-revell-01avant-falling-man-giles-revell
What photographers do you admire today?
I don’t tend to follow photography closely.
Having said that, I was blown away by the William Klein show at the Tate last year.
Photography meeting design and film and social documentary.red-x-william-kleinyellow-william-kleinboy-with-gun-william-klein-1955
Also, Tim Hethrington, who lost his life in Libya in 2011.
He was an special man, regardless of the photographs that he took.

He left an incredible body work from conflict zones, not only the wars, but the aftermath, which few photographers would cover, most would move on to the next conflict.
A couple of years ago I watched an astonishing BBC4 documentary about his life and achievements, it reduced me to tears. mid-battle-tim-heatheringtonsoldier-at-war-tim-heatheringtonburning-tank-tim-heatheringtonI love your new Shots front cover, any retouching involved?
shots-cover-giles-revell-01
This image is part of a large body of work that is about breaking down form and concentrating on colour alone.
How it’s made isn’t important as long as it’s engaging.
Each block of colour is accurate, sample by hand and accurate to the original flower.
The leaves are similar in that they attempt to look at the 
palette of a specific Acer tree in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
The black and white  accompanying image of a Lily and Helibora were made with the opposite intension; to look at form alone.
flower-giles-revell-01flower-2-giles-revell-01Giles Revell - Flowers:Black, Dave Dye
Thanks Giles, by the way, love the new tests.
Thanks, the work is becoming more minimal over the years often, crossing over into graphics.
Giles Revell-07.jpgGiles Revell-03.jpgGiles Revell-02.jpgGiles Revell-01.jpg

Lester Bookbinder: Advertising

The third and last post on Lester Bookbinder, unless by some miracle I get to interview him.
If I thought finding the pictures was tough that was nothing compared to finding the words.
But here’s what I’ve managed to discover.

a) He was born in New York City in 1929.

b) He trained with the photographer Reuben Samberg.
Ansco 'Reuben Sanberg',

c) He opened his own studio in 1955.

d) He moved to London in 1959.

e) Long before the New York Police Chief Bill Bratton started talking ‘zero tolerance’, Lester was operating a similar policy in London way back in the sixties.

MARTIN HILL, (Set Art Director): ‘No detail was beyond his eagle eye. The almost invisible joints in wallpaper, micro blemishes on a distant skirting board, all had to be dealt with and rendered perfect.
On a square foot basis his sets were by far the most expensive and time consuming to make.
Mouldings were baked enamel, wall paper hand stenciled, all surfaces exercises in perfection.
One of his tricks was to direct a carbon arc light across the set to highlight any imperfection, and woe betide if found any were found.
To have him walk on set on the morning of the shoot and just nod his head in approval was one of the art director’s highlights.

RON COLLINS ( Art Director): Years ago we were shooting a still life. Just a bottle and glass of beer. It was only the second time I’d worked with Lester and he spent about six hours setting it up.
Finally he asked if I’d like to have a look.
So I looked through the camera and then reached around and gently moved the glass about 1/32 of an inch.

When I turned around Lester had gone.
I went into the office and asked his secretary where he was. She said he’d probably gone for a walk and would be right back. I told her what I’d done and her face darkened.  “Oh dear”, she said, “he won’t have liked that”.
Finally he returned.
“Ronnie”, he said very quietly, “please don’t ever do that again. Talk. Point. But don’t touch!”
I realized he’d spent hours finessing the shot and I had ruined it in a moment.
Since then, even with the young photographers, I don’t touch. I point.’

ROMAIN d’ANSEMBOURG, (Photographer): During my diploma course at the Ealing Technical College, in 1983 or 1984, we were invited to Lester Bookbinder’s studio.
What struck me most was his attempt to capture the hollowness of an avocado after removing the stone. He showed us a sequence of 10×8 or 11×14 inch transparancies of an ever increasing ’emptiness’ – on the edge between (suggested) 3-dimensionality and 2-dimensionality (to which we poor photographers are condemned); with a degree of perfection and urge to capture the uncapturable that I will indeed never forget. 

MARK REDDY, (Art Director): ‘Lester ignored me during the shoot, until at one point I heard him shout from under the black cloth “Mark…come and have a look”.
I thought finally he’s warming up, I walked over to the camera and put my head under the black cloth.
I’m now virtually nose to nose with Lester.
He looked at me and said “Not you!”.
He’d meant his assistant, also called Mark.
I slunked back over to my chair.

JOHN O’DRISCOLL, (Art Director):  ‘When I worked with Lester his set looked nothing like a normal set, it was like the laboratory of some strange scientist; weird tungsten lighting everywhere, and three assistants, dressed head to toe in black. They looked like waiters.’

GRAHAM FORD, (Photographer): ‘He was once shooting for an agency in Germany,  he sent the film to Germany for approval.
They asked for something to be moved in the composition.
The following day Lester sent a new batch of film to Germany.
What they saw were not their amendments to the composition, but Lester’s assistant standing in front of the set with his his two fingers sticking up. Exactly as Lester had positioned him.’

Whatever the description of his working method, the results are as powerful today as they were then.

This first batch of work was shot by Lester in New York during the fifties.
Lester Bookbinder, Luden'sLester Bookbinder, London Fog, 'Duck'Lester Bookbinder, Worumbo 'Blue'Lester Bookbinder, Worumbo 'Cream 2'-01Lester Bookbinder, Worumbo 'Red'Lester Bookbinder 'Cream'-01Lester Bookbinder, Noilly Prat 'Boat' 1961-01Lester Bookbinder, Noilly Prat 'Sailors' 1961-01Lester Bookbinder, Noilly Prat 'Police' 1961Lester Bookbinder, Noilly Prat 'Golf'-01Lester Bookbinder, Noilly Prat 'Police 2' 1961Diane Carroll, Lester Bookbinder', AlbumAnsco 'Lester Bookbinder', ad

Around 1959/60, he moves to London becoming a regular contributor to Vogue, Queen and Nova.
Lester Bookbinder - Duck*Leater Bookbinder, Shes:eyeLester Bookbinder Vogue 'Diamonds'Lester Bookbinder - Bubble spreadLester Bookbinder - VogueMX-2600N_20110323_141443_007-1MX-2600N_20110323_141443_008Lester Bookbinder - Fox spreadBookbinder, ShoesMX-2600N_20110503_140620_018MX-2600N_20110124_140501_022Lester Bookbinder .....

He also starts to make an impact on the advertising world too, with campaigns like this one for Bachelors cigarettes by J. Walter Thompson. (1962/3.)
Lester Bookbinder, Bachelors Cigarettes - 'Arm Chair'-01Lester Bookbinder, Bachelors Cigarettes - 'Beach'-01Lester Bookbinder, Bachelors Cigarettes - 'Barbers'-01Lester Bookbinder, Bachelor 'Blue Stripe'-01Lester Bookbinder, Bachelors Cigarettes - 'Christmas Tree'-01Lester Bookbinder, Bachelors Cigarettes - 'Jumper'-01Bachelors 'Seat', Lester Bookbinder-01

Before long he’s working the best agencies in London, including the best; Collett Dickenson Pearce.
B&H Gold 'Penny Black'-01B&H Gold Box - 'Biba', Lester Bookbinder-01B&H 'Retiring'-01

For one creative team at CDP, Alan Parker* and Paul Windsor, whatever the client, Ford, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Whitbread or Senior Service Extra cigarettes, whether shooting on location, in a studio, people or objects, Lester Bookbinder was the answer.
*Yes, THAT Alan Parker.

Alan Parker, Ford, 'Policeman', CDP-01
Alan Parker, Harvey's, 'Hard Stuff', CDP-01Alan Parker, Harvey's Bristol Cream, 'Iced Cream', Lester Bookbinder, CDP-01'London Fog', Whitbread, Alan Parker, CDP-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt603-01

In the sixties great photographers were eye-waveringly well paid and deluged with work, consequently they’d turn down way more than they’d accept.
Submitting a layout to someone like Lester in those days would be like submitting a script to Ringan or Glazer today; almost pointless.
So I find it intriguing as to why he took on the Gilt Edge Carpets campaign.
There couldn’t have been layouts, the brief must have literally been “Can you shoot some rolls of carpet?…please Lester.”
Is there anything less glamorous, less stimulating or more dull to photograph than a roll of carpet.
Few photographers would even take on the challenge.
Most wouldn’t have the patience or will power to try to give the shots ‘something’.
But somehow Lester manages to give the shots elegance and sophistication.Lester Bookbinder, Gilt Edged Carpets, 'Special'-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt, Red & Yellow Stitch-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt, Green-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt. Pattern-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt, Brown-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt, Pink-01Lester Bookbinder - Gilt, Red-01Lester Bookbinder, Gilt, 'Show Them?'-01Gilt Edge - 'Invest', Lester Bookbinder-01

In 1971 Robert Waterhouse talked to Lester for the Design Journal:
Lester Bookbinder, the American photographer who has imposed his distinctive imagination on British advertising and magazines.
”Look. I take photography seriously, but not myself.” Lester Bookbinder, one of London’s most successful and creative photographers though not necessarily at the same time – is careful to suggest the right image.
Violently self deprecatory about past work he is nonetheless very touchy about other people’s attitudes to it and the kind of job it now brings in.
That job may not be exactly what he wants but, having made sure there’s enough money for it to be done properly, he proceeds to lavish on it his considerable talents; or, to put it in the language of a Jewish New Yorker born on Bleecker Street, ”I work my ass off”.

Still life advertising photography is an everpresent reality to Bookbinder.
Skill in this craft helped him – after spells as a fashion photographer and illustrator – establish his own
New York studio in the mid fifties.
There his particular ability to capture, or more often create, the inscape or ‘‘thisness” of a consumer product led him towards the top of a highly treacherous profession.
An exploratory voyage to Europe some ten years ago produced return trips paid for by agencies and four years later he settled here, collecting in due time an English wife, a Somerset cottage and more still life.

”I’ve been relegated to it here. The label is stuck on me so solidly that unless I make a great effort that’s all the work I get. The trouble is I thrive on pack jobs. When they can’t afford forty people running up and down a beach they come to me.”
So, working for agencies, he shoots the glimmering whisky bottle, the sophisticated cigarette lighter – but not the enchanting pack of cigarettes.
That he gave up a couple of years ago as a small contribution to world health, though he reserves the right to smoke himself to death. Bookbinder reckons that he makes a fair living because “the pictures are sharp and the colour is good”.

But don’t make the mistake of associating this kind of photography with art. ”I am by definition a commercial photographer, not an artist by any stretch of the imagination,” Bookbinder assures you.
”I’m successful in identifying the positive aspects of frivolous things. I have the ability to see near beauty in trivia.”
Near beauty is not to be confused with real beauty or with reality itself – though advertising has a separate reality of its own. Nor are the renowned fashion pictures for Queen – the disjointed females sporting ammal limbs and expensive shoes – accorded any retrospective respect: Bookbinder dismisses them as ”second rate surrealism”.

The reason for this seeming aptitude for self-denigration is that Bookbinder, like he says, takes photography very seriously, believing that the art form does exist and that it has reached its finest expression in people like Bill Brandt.
He himself has a collection of ”fine” photographs and is a practising artist, only he keeps this side of his work very much to himself. The two dissociated nudes we show on these pages are seen in public for the first time.

London’s rather lethargic pace (in comparison with New York) permits Bookbinder to spend time on his own work, and on editorial jobs for magazines.
While he freely admits he would go broke if he concentrated solely on magazines (say £30 a commission instead of ten times as much for an advertising agency) the occasional job serves the dual purpose of making him think in a more creative way than for advertising and of keeping his name before the discerning public.
However, he demands absolute freedom and personal control of the frame eventually used. His relationship with art directors tends to be stormy, though Roland Schenk at Management Today has his confidence and admiration.
Bookbinder’s covers for this magazine are among the few commercial jobs he cares to remember.

Basically an indoors man, working from the measured disorder of his Kensington studio. Bookbinder is also well known and well used on the Continent, where he can be found making tv commercials in Italy or taking baby pictures in France (to his continued amazement).
Now that he can afford to be choosy about the kind of job he accepts, he claims that in the mellow light of Kensington and, particularly, Somerset, the quest for money has left him. He lectures periodically at the Royal College and recently tried out an eight week workshop evening course of experimental photography for students who really wanted to get to grips with technique.
He is not yet sure that it will be repeated. Although successful, it was personally a painful experience – ”and I try to avoid pain”.

Lester Bookbinder, Chivas 'Someone Elser', DDB-01V.D.O.S - 'Price', Lester Bookbinder-01Lester Bookbinder, Clark's 'Water', CDP, Ron CollinsLester Bookbinder, 1976-Clarks-Red-leatherLester Bookbinder, Clark's 'Ballet', CDP, Ron CollinsLester Bookbinder, Clark's 'Horse, CDP, Ron Collins-01Mike Cozens, Clark's 'Straightlaced', CDP-01

In the same way that kids reject the music and dress codes of their parents, art directors often reject the styles and people favored by the previous generation, preferring fresh, new people, nearer their own age.
So demand for Lester slows in the mid seventies.
But FCO art director Graeme Norways decides against using one of the new kids on the block for his White Horse Whisky campaign, instead he chooses someone old enough to be his dad, and probably the best person on the planet for that campaign.White Horse 'Neat'

white-horse-on-the-rocks*
white-horse-ginger*
White Horse 'Large', Lester Bookbinder, FCO-01
white-horse-scotch-american* white-horse-double-scotch**

It’s a tremendous campaign.
Absolutely timeless.
Lester was now back in vogue, (small ‘v’), and he started shooting commercials as well as stills.
The images from his commercials are strong enough to be stills, as this
 front cover shows.

Lester Bookbinder Direction Cover

The images with Paul Arden for the V&A are amazing.
They are made be odd, idiosyncratic little touches, like the one unvarnished fingernail or the mug positioned behind the sculpture.

V&A 'Ace Caff' HandV&A 'Elsie' Paul Arden, Saatchi & Saatchi-01V&A 'Cup Of Tea' Paul Arden, Saatchi & Saatchi.png-01V&A 'Currant Buns' Paul Arden, Saatchi & Saatchi.png-01
Brian Griffin - V&A Direction Article-01
Lester Bookbinder Porsche 'Flying'

His last great campaign was with Mark Reddy for Volkswagen.
The idea was to shoot images that look distorted, as if being seen by someone from a speeding car.
But how do you distort them in a way that looks real yet aesthetically pleasing?
How do you control what you are shooting?
Lester pointed the camera at a reflective piece of perspex that could be bent in or out to extend or contract the image, giving him complete control.
Mark Reddy, VW Corrado 'Dalmation'-01VW 'bike 72 dpi 560 wide

Throughout his career Lester shot a helluva lot of personal work, unfortunately these are the only pictures I could find. (Bought by Paul Arden.)
Lester Bookbinder HMV  
Lester Bookbinder 'Nails'
Lester Bookbinder - Model:Chair  Lester Bookbinder 'Mirror:Baby'Lester Bookbinder - Bag

In our business you often hear the question ‘do they have a good eye?’
Very few have.
But those that do transform.
In their hands the everyday feels exotic and the familiar appears fresh.
It’s not logic, education or training. It’s an instinct.
They make subjective decisions.
‘Five ice cubes look right’, ‘The face out of focus is best’, ‘Leave one fingernail naked’.
Some people get those decisions right time after time.
The ones with ‘an eye’.
Like Lester Bookbinder.

A profile of Lester by Creative Review, from February 1982.
bookbinderCreative Review, Feb 1982 bookbinder3-01Creative Review, Feb 1982, bookbinder3-01

 

 

 

 

IPA POSTERS.

It’s tough for newbie creatives to get noticed.
If you aren’t in an agency that produces good work it’s hard to produce good work. If you don’t produce good work it’s hard to get a job in an agency that does.
One of the ways around this is to find a client that will accept good.
Up and coming copywriters Mike McKenna and Alastair Wood spotted one of these opportunities back in the late eighties.
The IPA Society held a lecture every month, and to let agencies know about it they sent out a sheet of paper with details typed onto it for their pinboards.
If a typographer, photographer and printer would donate their time they could produce a poster.
A poster that would be seen by every single agency in London.
The first one they did got into the D&AD Annual, a first for each of them.

Cut to a year later.
I was Alastair’s Art Director, and we got an opportunity to promote a talk about Desert Island Ads.
A difficult brief because it didn’t have a single focus or reference point.
Eventually we settled on an idea which involved me scribbling glasses and bow ties onto an old, cheesy film still.
The first people we got to show our shiny new proof to was Mark Reddy and Richard Grisdale, over at BMP.
It was going pretty well until they got it.
IPA004
Mark: “Oh no! No…No…No…It’s such a cliché! Silly glasses and bow ties?”
We scuttled back out with our cliche.
(I’d like to point the jury to exhibit A Homepride- Mark and Richard around the time the incident took place.)
reddy & grisdale

Shortly after we got another brief: Christine Barker’s Review of The Year.
Alastair was on holiday, so he suggested I work on it with his pal, Mike.
How do you sum up a whole year in a single image?
What unifies all agencies?
PENCILS!
mike_mckenna IPA
I got my mate with a camera, Malcolm, to shoot it for the £50 budget the IPA allocated.
We made the pencils ourselves and used the back of a layout pad as the background.
It got into D&AD.
Twice.
ChristineBarkerReviewsThe1990Agency_ad

After this successful dry run, Mike and I teamed up and got a job at Publicis.
In our first week we got an opportunity to produce a poster for a talk on ‘Advertising under a Labour government.’
Our Head Of Art at Publicis, Derrick Hass, insisted he draw Fred, the little flower grading dude, but wanted a name check on the poster.
The front page of Campaign two weeks later: HOMEPRIDE FURY AT NEW AGENCY PUBLICIS”
It had been brought to Homepride’s attention that their new agency had used their character without permission.
To make it worse, in a political context.
A secretary called to arrange for me and Mike to have tea with C.E.O. Michael Conroy.
Derrick: “Keep me out…you’re kids, you’ll be fine, but don’t involve me… I didn’t even want to draw the bloody thing!”
Mike: “Er…it’s got your name printed on it…you asked us to print your na…”
Derrick: “WHAT?… SHIT…SHIT…SHIT!”
Mr Conroy was fine, he simply asked us to explain what had happened.
WhatWillHappenToAdvertising_IPA

In 1992, at the height of the recession, we got a brief to promote an The IPA Bowling Evening.
At the time, news of redundancies seemed to be coming in on weekly basis, so making the event topical seemed a good way to go.
Eventually, the lovely illustrator David Holmes agreed to draw the ad.
The £0 fee wasn’t the problem, he said he couldn’t beat my free and easy scribble, and we should just use that. Unfortunately I didn’t have the balls to use my own drawing, feeling I needed a ‘professional’ illustrator.SorryLuv_IPA

BRIEF: The repackaging of John Major.
We tried to court controversy like those great George Lois Esquire covers.
E.g.
68-04_Esquire_Alibgeorge-lois-8

Solution: Show the Prime Minister bum out, socks on:
John Major
REJECTED: TOO CONTROVERSIAL.
(The drawing must’ve been a homage to John Lennon’s ‘Two Virgins’ cover.)
TwoVirgins

A talk by the then D&AD Chairman Edward Booth-Clibborn: How to win more at D&AD.
(Would love to know what he said?)
The previous year the D&AD Annual looked like this:
BcEBDoAgCADAH0EjA-kzzrEsK6cz_r_uLvexI5Y8W4DPs1eD8lZ7JlhvuC5RkKIK0yasySgeQZRVUod7nD8
So we literally helped the character win more.
How to win more at D and AD_Laughing man_IPA Society

The next brief: Tony Brignull on the glory days of CDP.
By this point I was trying to make the layouts less basic, more creative.
I liked this one, it looked cool and honouring all the creatives who’d contributed to CDP’s success but picking out the speaker.
The line seemed good too, the clever thing was that he was an old boy as in the school terminology, and an old boy as in old, (Oh you got that, you’re ahead of me.)
We just needed Brignull’s sign off, excitedly we took our fancy layout down to Marylebone Road and waited and waited for him in the cafe part of the AMV reception.
Eventually he came down, weary, not full of the joys of spring.
Not much small talk: “You have a poster?”
We unfurl this A2 rough with a proud flourish.
CDP scamp

“I hate it.”
He got up and walked away.
We looked at each other trying to figure out whether to follow him or slunk out onto Marylebone Road.
We opted for the slunk out.

Over the years lots of teams hustled IPA briefs, lots ended up in D&AD Annuals.

A successful ad.

One of the first campaigns I ever made:
Kawasaki001Kawasaki002Kawasaki003
The agency was Cromer Titterton, my creative partner was Alastair Wood, the typographer was Andy Dymock,  and the photographer was Duncan Sim, the photographer’s assistant was a scruffy, curly-haired Brummie called Malc.
We shot for three weeks to get the three shots above.
Malc was treated like a 17th century slave.
We shot in the freezing, windy Highlands of Scotland, at the end of the day Duncan would sometimes say to the Brummie “Sleep here tonight, in the van, we don’t lose this spot…Night!”
We’d all go back to some fancy hotel, eat, drink and sleep, then turn up the next morning, Duncan would bang on the side of the van: “MALCOLM!Let’s go…COME ON!”
Up he’d jump and be lifting stuff within seconds from waking up.
Because he had it so tough, Alastair and I would try to help him out, smuggle him breakfast from the hotel, buy him drinks and generally try to make the shoot a bit better for him.
A year later, completely out of the blue, he called me up: “Dave it’s Malcolm, Malcolm Venville… Duncan’s assistant, can I get your advice on my pictures, I’m going to be a photographer.”
He turned up with a ramshackle box of photographs at my office in Edwards Martin Thornton: stuff from photographic college, random pictures of his girlfriend and a few portraits of reggae stars, taken as a favour for a friend’s magazine.
All were grainy and black and white.
At that time Advertising photographs were all colour and glossy.
Shame, I thought, he’s such a nice bloke.

I gave him a couple of tiny jobs to help him out financially.
The first, a portrait of my Nan for £50. (I remember asking her to wear black and white clothing so that I would get an idea of  what the picture might look like, I guess I didn’t trust him?)

For the second, I asked him if he was able to take a colour picture of some expensive plates? “Yeah, easy!”
I was a bit anxious, should someone from snooty up market jewellers Asprey’s ask to see Malc’s folio, to see why I’d chosen him to shoot their products, the nearest thing to being relevant would be some grainy black and white pictures of Lee Scratch Perry – “Some people have heard of him… and some people have heard of you.”
I get to the shoot to find he’d stuck the three plates to a pink wall with Elephant Gum, “Er…will that hold…those plates are worth more than this shoot?”, Malc: “Yeah!…yeah!…I think so.”
Asprey001

Next, he shot a poster for the IPA Society for writer Mike McKenna and I, this time Malc was a bit more bullish about how it should look,  insistent it be shot in daylight.
We used the cardboard back of a layout pad as the background and made the ‘models’ ourselves.
ChristineBarkerReviewsThe1990Agency_ad

Shortly afterwards I had a proper ad that needed shooting.
One with a budget.
Should I risk giving it to my, by now, best mate, or give it to proper photographer?
He ‘pitched’ for it, showing me Richard Avedon shots as reference, again he wanted to shoot in daylight, and wanted a fifties feel.
Sod it.
Lighting Industry Fed 001

We then tried to hustle a few projects by offering free creative and photography, providing we had complete creative control.
Things like this poster. (Again shot in daylight and printed by Klaus Kalder on lith paper.)
feared hand
At that time, Malc was working out of a retouching company called O’Connor Dowse,  who gave him a room at the back of their offices to use as a studio, for free.
Malc convinced Grenville, the owner, that a big ad in Campaign would really put them on the map.
It’s possible that we felt an endorsement from London’s leading Art Directors REALLY would help O’Connor Dowse, but we were very aware that meeting the best Art and Creative Directors  would be pretty useful to us too.
Paul Arden, John Hegarty and Alan Waldie passed.
Graham Fink made Mike McKenna and I come up with better concepts for his image, quite right too.
This is the finished result:
London ADs 001
The ad was a great success.
I’ve no idea what it did for Grenville, but Malc started shooting regularly with the Marks, Denton and Reddy, and I was hired at Simons Palmer DENTON Clemmow & Johnson within the year.