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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Martin Wonnacott: Master Of The Bar

The beautiful beverage photography of Martin Wonnacott

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Keep it simple, stupid. That’s Martin Wonnacott’s advice for photographers striving to make the beautifully elegant still life images he does. Of course, as an Englishman dividing his time between New York and London studios, he wouldn’t put it so bluntly.

“Overlighting,” Wonnacott says. “It’s the biggest faux pas. I think people throw too much light at objects. Generally speaking, there’s a lot of work out there that’s overlit. Less is more. But people are afraid of that.”

Talking about the ability to get perfection with digital capture, Martin Wonnacott summarizes it this way, "Getting through a lot of product is quite common. You need to keep going, keep going, keep going until you get it right. And you may get two frames that are right. But that’s the advantage to digital; when you’ve got it, you’ve got it."
Wonnacott’s photographic specialty is liquids. Beverages, to be exact—bottles, glasses, pours and splashes. Usually, it’s alcoholic beverages for some of the most prolific advertisers in the world who call on him to make striking, colorful compositions that viewers can practically taste. He’s truly a master of beverage photography.

“When I was a kid,” explains Wonnacott, “I was photographing and experimenting when I lived at home with my parents, messing around with bottles and liquids. I had no idea why; I just liked the subject matter at that point. I thought it was interesting, and there were huge amounts of technical challenges that I was trying to overcome from, like, 14 or 15 years old, trying to capture splashes of liquid and stuff. It amused me. Photography itself was always something I was interested in from school.”

“My first job as an assistant was actually in a studio when I was 17, and they shot a lot of drinks there,” continues Wonnacott. “I got to see a lot of tricks of shooting film, and it was just interesting. The whole technical subject matter intrigued me. I think the whole area—later on in life, again I sound 106—it’s an area that I love. I just really love the whole subject matter. I love the drinks industry itself; it’s intriguing. Alcoholic or nonalcoholic, it’s an interesting business. And the subject matter just fascinates me. It’s technically complicated, but I love the challenges of it.”

Adds Wonnacott, “Obviously, not everything can be absolutely perfect, but you should strive for it to be as close as physically possible or there’s no point doing it. You have to go in with a kind of passion to achieve. You want to walk away from it and look at the image and want to drink it, want to feel it. If I don’t achieve that, I’m bitterly disappointed.

“You see some work and go, um, I don’t feel it,” he says. “And you have to feel it! That’s what I always try to get across. And you need to feel it from inside. I’m not quite sure what that is, but that’s how I judge my work. If I don’t feel it, then I’ve failed.”


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