New York-based British celebrity/fashion photographer Gavin Bond began his career jockeying for the best angles to capture runway fashion shows. While he still takes on assignments in the controlled chaos of fashion, shooting backstage at Victoria’s Secret annual fashion shows, he’s more often in controlled studio and location sets with celebrities ranging from Jon Hamm to Katy Perry. Digital Photo Pro caught up with the globetrotting lensman in Miami, where the stars were a car and a luxury sport yacht created by Lexus.
DPP: During today’s shoot the clouds opened up on you, your model and the Lexus LC500 that was the hero of the shoot. You embraced it rather than being frustrated by it.
Gavin Bond: On outdoor shoots, you always face the elements. I’ve often been blessed by great weather, but today we got rained on twice. I’m shooting outside this beautiful mansion with a beautiful model for Lexus. Then it starts to rain. What do you do? Quickly, you get someone to clean the car. That looks fine, but the driveway is ruined—puddles of water in some places, dry patches in others. Rather than having my retoucher wanting to murder me because the driveway is in pieces, I decided to do a wet-down. There was a garden hose nearby, and we wet everything evenly. It made for a great alternate picture for the client. Suddenly, the car and model were reflecting in the water. Especially on location shoots, you have to go with the flow and embrace what’s given you.
DPP: How did your career as a fashion and celebrity-focused photographer evolve?
Bond: I started in fashion but not as a photographer. Back in the day, I studied fashion design at Saint Martins in London, and when I was in my second year of study, I would go to Milan, Paris and all these amazing places for the shows. While there, I would spend part of the event backstage. This was in the early ’90s at the time of the supermodels. There I was with Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista. I was this young kid and would kind of blend in backstage and take pictures of all these girls. This was my first take on photography.
DPP: As an aspiring fashion designer, did you ever come out with your own line?
Bond: I came out with a line of T-shirts. One that sold extremely well had lettering on it: “Please don’t feed the models.” It sold out at Urban Outfitters. The clothing line we had was called “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” ENC for short.
DPP: Why did you make the switch to shooting fashion rather than creating it?
Bond: I kind of got hooked. I wasn’t very good at pattern-cutting, I suppose. I just started taking pictures during college. In my final year, I had an agent, stepped out of college and started working. I never went down the normal route of assisting a photographer. I just went into it and learned from my mistakes over the years.
DPP: Your intimate knowledge of fashion must give you an awareness of the best angle on a piece of clothing and interpreting a designer’s work with your camera.
Bond: I really appreciate fashion. I love clothes. A lot of my friends are very successful designers. In my same college year at Saint Martins was Hussein Chalayan and Giles Deacon. Alexander McQueen was the year above me. Stella McCartney was the year below me. It was the ’90s and a really amazing time for fashion. To be part of all that was really special.
DPP: How do you approach a shoot such as today, where a new model Lexus car and the company’s first sport yacht were the supermodels?
Bond: The location I was given was great. Because I was able to be part of the casting, I was able to get a Brazilian model with a huge personality that matched the vibe I was looking for. The weather…you just have to roll with it. Then it’s working with the car and the boat and the model, and making everything work in harmony together. This includes making sure the clothing is a good fit with the vehicles.
DPP: What’s your typical lighting setup?
Bond: Today, I happened to work with flash. I shoot such a variety of work; I match it to what the job or subject is. One day I’m working with models, then I’m going on tour with a band, then shooting a movie poster, then off on a desert island shooting swimsuits. It could be a whole mixture of stuff shooting with my Leica that never leaves my side or shooting with my old Rolleiflex or my Bolex. I enjoy shooting a variety of subject matter. Today, a new generation of people are looking at an LCD screen on the back of the camera or pulling a camera phone out of their pocket instead of looking through the viewfinder. That’s what they’re used to doing.
DPP: Do you think the screen distances people from the subject matter before their lens?
Bond: Sometimes. I have this Leica where I don’t look at anything. I just walk around New York with the camera around my neck, judging the distance, then just feeling the moment. When I look at the contact sheets from when I very first started taking pictures backstage at the fashion shows, every frame is a different picture. I took a photograph, then I moved on. What your eye sees is the moment. Beyond that the moment is gone. It’s like back in the day when you would take a Polaroid, “Wow, that Polaroid is amazing!” You would never get that same moment on the Polaroid again. So it’s, like, move on.
Now with digital, many people take the same photograph over and over again. The technology is good and bad. I still like to have that surprise rather than constantly stopping and looking at a monitor I’m tethered into or the LCD screen on the back of the camera. Leica just brought out a $6,000 camera, but it has no digital screen on the back of it—the Leica M-D. So basically you go around and take your pictures; you don’t know what you’ve taken until you’ve downloaded the images from your memory card. You’re treating it like a traditional film camera.
DPP: It sounds like a good tool to keep a photographer in the moment and not miss all the potentially great images that are going by while they’re staring at the LCD.
Bond: On a set you have clients and a publicist, and you’re taking pictures, and they’re all looking at images coming up on the screen and commenting on them. That’s one of the great things about digital. But whenever I can, after I’ve shot some for them on the screen, I’ll go to my card, then carry on. Otherwise, people are going to question things. It’s a great tool for advertising clients and certain jobs. You have the immediacy, then you can correct things. But when you want to do true photography and capture the moment, you don’t want to disturb the flow.
DPP: What’s your go-to camera for that sort of shooting?
Bond: On the whole, I shoot with the Nikon D800; it’s got a high pixel count and shoots fast. I do a lot of movie posters. With medium format you get these huge file sizes, but it’s slow. With the Nikon, I can shoot faster and still get those larger file sizes. I shoot mainly with prime lenses. I like the Sigma lenses, the Art lenses—the 50mm and the 35mm. Then all the Zeiss lenses, which are great but manual focus. Shooting with hot lights wide open with the Zeiss 55mm ƒ/1.4 Otus is beautiful.
DPP: You shed a lot of your gear and your team to work on a very important personal project.
Bond: I work with the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation in Mexico City. My dear friend Eduardo Serio saves lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars—big cats—from circuses, illegal breeding facilities and people who get them as pet cubs, then they can’t handle them when they get big. He now has over 220 big cats. I go there every six weeks or so and document them all. Eventually, I’m going to have an international touring exhibition with the photographs and the film I’ve been making. The proceeds will go back to the foundation. Black Jaguar-White Tiger has the fifth most-viewed Instagram account in the world. I’m using every format under the sun—I’m just going in and having fun. I’m doing reportage, but I also built a studio there for doing portraits. None of the cats are trained, so it’s a waiting game. Every time I’m there, different things happen. It’s not like you can say to the cats, “Hey, do this.” They’re wild.
I really wanted for myself something that was really away from my normal world. I’m fortunate to be working with all these celebrities. Sometimes the two worlds come together. I have something that they all want to go to and be a part of.
To see more of Gavin Bond’s photography, visit his website at gavinbond.com