Rory Lewis

Cap­tur­ing ex­quis­ite por­traits of some of the great­est ac­tors of our gen­er­a­tion, Rory Lewis uses his pas­sion­ate love for Re­nais­sance art to help hand­craft each beau­ti­ful image.

Practical Photography (UK) - - Welcome - ro­rylewis­pho­tog­ra­

Gan­dalf one day, Cap­tain Kirk the next – Rory’s life as a celebrity por­trait spe­cial­ist is noth­ing if not var­ied.


Pho­tog­ra­pher: Rory Lewis, a por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher based in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in the UK Aim of project: To cre­ate a body of vivid and thought­pro­vok­ing por­trai­ture Lo­ca­tion: A va­ri­ety of stu­dios across New York, Los An­ge­les and Lon­don Du­ra­tion: I first be­gan this photo project in 2014 and have been work­ing on it ever since Hours spent: I’ve eas­ily spent around 400 hours shoot­ing and re­touch­ing. I also reckon I’ve taken around 8000 RAW im­ages through­out the project See more of Rory’s work at his web­site:

WITH DRA­MATIC light­ing ripped from Re­nais­sance oil paint­ing tech­niques and in­spi­ra­tion drawn di­rectly from Tu­dor por­trai­ture, Rory Lewis’ star-stud­ded im­ages are ir­re­sistible to the eye. The task of cap­tur­ing a true like­ness can be a daunt­ing bur­den when work­ing with any sit­ter, let alone one with mil­lions of de­voted fans. How­ever, Rory’s com­bi­na­tion of ex­em­plary tech­nique and dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion to pur­sue his vi­sion has cre­ated a pow­er­ful port­fo­lio of beau­ti­fully re­alised por­trai­ture.

How did you first be­come in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy?

I’ve never ac­tu­ally stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy. In­stead, I read His­tory at Kings Col­lege Lon­don. While I was study­ing, I de­cided to take a course in His­tory of Cin­ema and was in­tro­duced to the won­der­ful cin­e­matog­ra­phy of Ger­man Ex­pres­sion­ist cin­ema. While this may not have nec­es­sar­ily been the most straight­for­ward route into my cur­rent vo­ca­tion, it was my com­bined love of his­tory and cin­ema that put me on this path.

What drew you to por­trai­ture in par­tic­u­lar?

With a hunger to be creative, and a long­ing to carve out my own niche of iconic pho­tog­ra­phy, I be­gan to take an in­ter­est in the his­tory of po­lit­i­cal art. The clas­sic Tu­dor por­traits were filled with ruf­fles, tu­nics and the stony stare of the pe­riod’s aris­to­crats, and they tick­led my fancy like noth­ing else. Their oily like­nesses made me ea­ger to cre­ate a sim­i­lar style of my own. Through­out univer­sity pho­tog­ra­phy be­came my pas­sion. Once I’d fin­ished my de­gree, I re­turned home to con­tinue to de­velop my work. To my sur­prise, I be­gan to re­ceive com­mis­sions. At first it was in­di­vid­u­als who wanted por­traits, then mod­els who wanted to test shoot. Even­tu­ally, busi­nesses look­ing for im­ages for ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns started to get in touch. In 2007, my suc­cess al­lowed me to start my own pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio. How­ever, it was when my work was first ac­quired by the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery that I knew some­thing spe­cial was hap­pen­ing.

You’ve worked with many celebri­ties on this project – who was the first one you worked with?

The well-known English ac­tor David Warner was the first celebrity to sit for me. The last time he’d had his photo taken pro­fes­sion­ally was ac­tu­ally in 1965 when he was just 24. Ever since then he’d de­ter­minedly avoided get­ting back into the photo

stu­dio. To coax him into sit­ting, I wrote sev­eral let­ters to David’s var­i­ous rep­re­sent­ing agen­cies in both the UK and the USA. Un­for­tu­nately, I never re­ceived a re­ply. How­ever, I was de­ter­mined not to give up. When brows­ing on so­cial me­dia one day, I dis­cov­ered that David was at­tend­ing a Ham­mer hor­ror con­ven­tion in Lon­don. As a last-ditch at­tempt, I wrote an­other let­ter to be de­liv­ered on the day of the event. Hap­pily, he replied and agreed to sit for a ses­sion. I’ve been a fan of his for a num­ber of years, so it was fan­tas­tic to get my chance to work to­gether to cre­ate some strik­ing por­trai­ture.

What’s your favourite image you’ve ever taken?

Twice nom­i­nated for an Os­car, and a re­cip­i­ent of every ma­jor the­atri­cal award in the UK, Ian McKellen is re­garded as one of the most ac­claimed Bri­tish the­atri­cal tal­ents of our time. I in­vited Sir Ian to sit for me when he was per­form­ing Wait­ing for Godot with Sir Patrick Stew­art in New York. I was flab­ber­gasted when he ac­cepted. I was for­tu­nate enough to travel to his home in Lon­don for the shoot. The lit­tle boy in me was jump­ing with glee when I saw Gan­dalf’s sword hang­ing on the cloth­ing rack like an um­brella! For the por­trait, I drew in­spi­ra­tion from his promi­nence as a Shake­spear­ian per­former.

Did any­thing in­flu­ence your work on this project?

While pho­tog­ra­phy is my art­form, it’s not where I find my in­spi­ra­tion. In­stead, I look to the art world’s Old Mas­ters. Be­fore I be­gan my project, I delved into the art­works of Car­avag­gio, Ti­tian and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Re­nais­sance por­trai­ture and the use of chiaroscuro (light and shadow) has been very in­spir­ing.

Have you ever had a ‘night­mare’ shoot?

Steven Berkoff is a renowned ac­tor, play­wright and di­rec­tor, who con­tin­u­ally sets the bench­mark for in­tense per­for­mances. Known best for his vil­lain­ous roles, I was in­spired by his stel­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Hitler in the 1988 tele­vi­sion mini-se­ries War and Re­mem­brance. Berkoff’s por­trait of a psy­chotic and de­monic Hitler is breath-tak­ing, so when I ar­rived at his Lon­don home I was a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive about what to ex­pect. This psy­cho­pathic por­trayal lin­gered in my sub­con­scious, along with ru­mours



that he was dif­fi­cult to work with. His rep­u­ta­tion as the in­dus­try’s ‘go-to bad guy’ had put the fear of God in me! Un­for­tu­nately, it soon be­came ap­par­ent that my ner­vous­ness wasn’t un­founded. The sit­ting only lasted ten min­utes, as Steven wanted to con­trol the sit­ting. We found our­selves ar­gu­ing over the artis­tic di­rec­tion of the shoot, and I was un­able to ex­plore all the av­enues I wanted to. In the end, not re­ally agree­ing on any­thing, I did man­age to cap­ture one image that evoked my ideas.

What’s your best story from your project?

I al­ways love to tell my clients about my ex­pe­ri­ence shoot­ing with Wil­liam Shat­ner, who I’ve worked with twice over the past few years. The first time we shot to­gether was back in 2015. I was trav­el­ling to LA and I’d writ­ten to Shat­ner be­fore­hand to ask whether he would sit for me. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but he replied and ac­cepted my in­vi­ta­tion. Once I’d ar­rived at his of­fice, Shat­ner’s PA kindly in­formed me that I had just ten min­utes to pre­pare and five min­utes to shoot, as he was due to catch a flight. I quickly set up my equip­ment and was ready and wait­ing when Shat­ner en­tered the stu­dio. In my mind, he’d al­ways been a flam­boy­ant char­ac­ter. But when I in­tro­duced my­self, I re­alised that I’d been wrong. Rather than be­ing brash and larger-than-life, Shat­ner is a very qui­etly spo­ken man of few words.

Aware of the five minute win­dow I had with him, I asked Shat­ner for a ‘plain’ ex­pres­sion. This was met with “I don’t do plain”, which wasn’t quite the re­sponse I’d hoped for. I quickly ex­plained my rea­son­ing – that as a char­ac­ter ac­tor, the viewer needed a blank can­vas on which to hang their own thoughts. No good, no bad, just an op­por­tu­nity to view and as­sume. With my ex­pla­na­tion, Shat­ner be­came more ami­able. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and then looked up di­rectly at the lens. Be­ing able to di­rect an ac­tor that I had ad­mired for many years was a great op­por­tu­nity.

Pho­tog­ra­phy is about so much more than merely click­ing the shut­ter and get­ting the light­ing right. Suc­cess­ful im­ages are about evok­ing a feel­ing, which is an im­pos­si­ble process with­out prop­erly di­rect­ing your sit­ters.


Are there any dif­fer­ences be­tween pho­tograph­ing ac­tors and politi­cians?

To me, por­trai­ture can be sep­a­rated into sev­eral cat­e­gories. As ac­tors are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of our cul­ture, I tend to pho­to­graph them more the­atri­cally. How­ever, politi­cians are fig­ures in his­tory. I like to cap­ture them as plain and emo­tion­less so that the pub­lic can make their own opin­ions and in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Then the image has value as a his­tor­i­cal source.

What’s your num­ber one tip for por­trai­ture?

It can be a mys­te­ri­ous world be­ing be­hind the lens, both in film and pho­tog­ra­phy. How­ever, while films have their own ded­i­cated di­rec­tor, as a por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher you’re both a di­rec­tor and a cam­era­man all rolled into one. It’s my be­lief that when tak­ing a por­trait you need to be a di­rec­tor first and fore­most. If you don’t di­rect your model then it’ll show in the pic­ture it­self. My por­traits are a mir­ror image of my thoughts and feel­ings, re­flected back out for the viewer’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion. It takes a good ac­tor who’s able to un­der­stand di­rec­tion, feel what I’m feel­ing and por­tray what I’m try­ing to say to get the best por­trait pos­si­ble. I like to keep my sub­jects in con­tin­u­ous move­ment and di­rec­tion. I teach a great deal of work­shops and al­ways en­cour­age my del­e­gates to di­rect their sub­jects. I want them to be able to in­tro­duce emo­tions and the­atri­cal­ity into their own por­trait shoots.

What was the most dif­fi­cult part of the project?

Assem­bling the sit­ters was a mon­u­men­tal task. It has taken years to ar­range shoots to fit into the ac­tors’ busy sched­ules, let alone then sort­ing out my own travel. For ex­am­ple, my sit­ting with Ru­fus Sewell took al­most one year to ar­range.

If you could give one piece of ad­vice to bud­ding pho­tog­ra­phers, what would it be?

Just be a pho­tog­ra­pher. I re­ceive dozens of emails from young pho­tog­ra­phers ask­ing if they can as­sist me. Con­fi­dence is cru­cial, but so many peo­ple lack it. Ev­ery­one should learn how to sell them­selves and how to stand out in an over­sat­u­rated mar­ket. Above & left Rory has pho­tographed Game of Thrones ac­tress Natalie Dormer and for­mer prime min­is­ter David Cameron.

Right & below The cam­era-shy David Warner joins the likes of Sir Patrick Stew­art and Sir Ian McKellen.

Above Trekkie roy­alty Wil­liam Shat­ner gives Rory his best ‘plain’ ex­pres­sion.

Above left Wolf Kahler, known best for his roles in In­di­ana Jones and Won­der Woman, is pho­tographed us­ing Rory’s sig­na­ture light­ing style.

Above Rory shoots with the Phase One 645DF and the IQ140 dig­i­tal back.

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