INNOVATIVE ADVERTISING, CREATING ALTERNATIVE WORLDS: INTERVIEW WITH PHOTOGRAPHER, JOSEPH FORD

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1. Joseph, when did you get started in photography? Do you have any formal training ?

I got into photography through a friend while I was studying languages at university. I finished my degree them promptly moved to Paris to become a photographer. I had no formal training, but I spent several years assisting various advertising and fine art photographers.

2. What would you say makes your photography distinctive ?

My way of creating a narrative. There are two main strands to my work - people in situations, and diptychs linking landscapes with products. Both tell a story and depict an alternative world, whether that be a world where a man wears a jumper that blends in with the seat of a bus, or one where a railway becomes a zipper or a busy roundabout becomes a watch:

3. What do you love most about your job ?

Hard to pick just one. The best thing is being able to turn my imagination into images,

" but I also love the variety: travelling around the world and working with people with an amazing range of unique skills; from those who can knit a jumper that matches a wall, to the free diver who can swim at depths I need scuba gear to go to. "

4. You feature a lot of live animals in your shoots. Which one was the most difficult to handle and what advise would you give to any photographer looking to feature animals in their shoot ?

I’ve done a couple of particularly challenging animal shoots. The first was getting a live butterfly to fly out of a model’s mouth. We had a large number of butterflies, and had to sort through to find the ones that were small enough to fit in the mouth but big and bright enough to be clearly visible as they flew out. We had to swab the model’s mouth dry before each take to stop the butterfly’s wings sticking to his cheeks, and it took 73 takes to get the perfect shot: http://josephford.net/category/motion/603

The second was trying to get a live cobra to strike a Nike sneaker. The animal handler’s comment on these snakes was ‘There are two things to remember about cobras. Firstly: if they get angry, they’ll try to kill you. Secondly: they are always angry’. The danger factor obviously made the shoot more complicated. 

The best advice I can give would be to work with a good animal handler and make sure you have plenty of spare time in case everything doesn’t go smoothly. 

 

5. Do you coach or talk your subjects through the expressions they will be making? Or do you prefer to capture a spontaneous expression ?

A mixture of the two. It’s difficult to make a face on cue, and spontaneous expressions always look more natural, so I tend to try to put my models in the right mood for making the appropriate expression. I often have an aching face at the end of a shoot as I tend to mimic the sort of expression I’m looking for. If I want happiness, I’ll smile and if I want shock, I’ll get someone to surprise the model.

" I like to work with actors, as they are very versatile when it comes to expressing emotion, but it’s also down to making a personal connection with the model and finding a way of inspiring the expression you want. "

6. Which was the most challenging assignment you ever done and which assignment are you most proud of ?

I have had a lot of jobs that have been challenging in various ways - shooting underwater, whilst abseiling, with dangerous animals etc., but one of the trickiest was shooting this campaign for Lacoste. It was already complicated because we were shooting to a tethered laptop from a moving helicopter on a very windy day, but everything was going smoothly until a sudden gust of wind blew a contact lens out of my focusing eye. I had to do the rest of the shoot with my left eye, which was a lot harder than it sounds. When I’m shooting aerials I’m used to composing with my right eye while I look out for other things to photograph with my left eye, and coming down to a single effective eye was very challenging. 

It’s hard to pick a single assignment I’m most proud of - I like different shots for different reasons - but I’m very pleased with this shoot I did recently for Avaunt magazine, where we took a disused swimming pool in Glasgow, spent 2 days installing an anamorphic tennis court made from 2.5km of gaffer tape, then shot parkour athletes playing tennis in it. It was a big challenge, both technically and logistically, and I like the images. 

7.   Do you have any special project that you are working on at this time ?

Several, but nothing I can talk about until they’re completed! 

8.   Given the opportunity, do tell our readers of the potential pitfalls of photography.

The main danger is that you become obsessed and devote your entire life to it. More seriously, I feel very lucky to be able to be a photographer. It gives me wonderful opportunities and immense satisfaction. 

JOSEPH FORD
AOP

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