Celebrated photographer Kevin Davies talks to PORT about shooting Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, how parenthood changed his creative approach, and making his subjects feel at ease
In an ongoing collaboration with menswear label Drake’s, celebrated photographer Kevin Davies has turned his lens to the brand’s Haberdasher Street studio for a limited set of images, which will be sold in stores and online. Known for his intimate and honest approach to capturing famed artists and their creative environments, Davies talks to PORT about a career spent working with the best and beyond.
You have had privileged access to the lives and spaces of some of the world’s most renowned artists through your career. What expectations do you have when entering on a shoot?
I still find it exciting arriving somewhere new and seeing what the person and location is like. I’ve been doing this for a while now, so my approach is pretty relaxed, and is what I tend to get booked for. Generally, I am sure that I will get ‘the picture’; this isn’t necessarily an image the subject or the client always loves, but something I am happy with.
Where did your fascination with creatives and their spaces start?
When I started, my whole world was a studio, it was where I felt the most comfortable and photographically in control. If I did shoot, say in a hotel room, I would set up a mini studio. A change started when I became a parent and naturally wanted to document my new life, before realising that I no longer owned a 35mm camera!
Around this time i-D magazine asked me to photograph the painter Jenny Saville. When I arrived at her studio she was frantically working on a collection of paintings for an exhibition, and it was clear she wasn’t going to sit still for a portrait. I spent hours quietly taking pictures while she concentrated on painting. When I eventually announced I was finished she casually remarked ‘I didn’t realise you were still here’. I guess this was the ‘light bulb moment’.
What have you found to be most intriguing about documenting Drake’s Haberdasher Street factory?
At Drake’s I wanted to find the small things, the little details that showed artistry or said something about the people working there. I hoped I could show and portray them in a different light – less obviously and slightly abstractly. I am fascinated by craftsmanship, tools and the environments in which people create.
How do you go about building rapport with your subjects? What are the challenges?
Most people are uncomfortable in front of a camera; I tend to show the subject some of my photographs so that they know what to expect, and it puts them at ease. I remember when I shot Martin Sheen and his son, Emilio Estevez, I showed them personal pictures of my mum and family. I thought they might relate to them more than pictures of other famous people, and we ended up talking about my mum for some time. I’m not dictatorial, so I make suggestions and ask if sitters have any thoughts. Using available light helps too, as I can work quickly and change direction easily.
Were there any personal themes you encountered at your time at Drake’s that you felt compelled to respond to?
In many respects, Drake’s’, Philip Treacy and Frank Auerbach are all about very similar themes. Working photographically with these people and places is always different, but they always have a focus on attention to detail and working by hand to create unique pieces. As a portrait photographer I have been asked to photograph many creative people and I believe that I’ve been fortunate in my career.
Your image of Frank Auerbach was recently inducted into the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection. What memories are conjured in your mind when you see it?
The smell of paint… The uneven surface of the paint covered floor… How much my stomach ached from laughing so much.
You also work with moving image. How did your work with the medium begin?
I have been documenting Philip Treacy for over 20 years and, as I was finishing my book on him, he began preparing for his first show in 10 years. I wanted to continue working with him but felt that I needed to see him in a different way, so I filmed him working and asked a talented friend to edit it. Philip loved it and suggested I film anything and everything immediately. As film is continuous, I felt like I wasn’t missing anything. The way Philip works is perfect for film, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it before!
What does the next year hold for you?
Early this year I photographed over 25 fashion designers as part of a book due out in Spring 2017. I’m also working on a short documentary film about Philip Treacy and will be continuing my collaboration with Drake’s.
Photography Kevin Davies