Through The Lens

Christopher Wadsworth

August 26, 2009, by Chelsea Coyle


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    model: Jorgelina Airaldi by Christopher Wadsworth
    story: "Monsoon Evening" (Harper's Bazaar)

    What photographers have influenced you and how?
    There are many photographers' whose work I admire and respect. Sean Ellis, Nick Knight for his diversity, Paolo Roversi for his poetry, Laurie Bartley as we both share a love of cinema and an interest in Asia and I love how he mixes his available light. Bharat Sikka for his lonely evocative spaces. Javier Vallhonrat who manages to balance extreme technical control but still keep the pictures fluid and sensual. All these people transcend technique to produce moving and evocative work and it is their skill at directing and the people they colloborate with that take it there. I wandered through the Musée D'Orsay a few months back and was so entranced by turn of the century paintings. I was struck by the burnt soft shadows of Jean Francois Millet (something that is very big right now in photography), Eugene Carrier, Pierre Bonnard (reminds me of early nudes of Kate Moss) and the radical colour choices of Gaugin. In fact I found Gaugin's work so much more forward than most of today's photography.

    I am influenced by what I see going on around me and since last summer it has been the warmth between couples. I am starting to sketch out short films and most of it deals with relationships and the space between people so I watch for what is working and open and what is closed off. At the Musée D'Orsay I spent a long time in front of Toulouse-Lautrec portraits of couples asleep or kissing in bed. What he captured on canvas rings true to me. I have an image bank in my head of quiet moments I have witnessed, a baby playing on a tile floor, her features the echo of two cultures. A man standing with his young daughter on his shoulders while his wife curled into his chest and arms with the perfect smile of contentment on her face, that said "home" to me. These moments are what come back to me as I direct a shoot, these are the little truths that exist within the fiction I create.

    Another influence is the person that you are photographing. Is their energy bright and warm like sun and hay or is it elusive and haunted. Do you want to bask in their light or wrap them up and keep them from harm? Is there life and a spark in their eyes as in the end that is really what beauty is to me. It is an attitude and an intelligence.

    Did you have a moment when you realized, within yourself, that you were skilled enough to do this for a living and if so when was that or what was it like?
    There was no one moment as the process is very organic. Yes there are points were I realized that I had reached another level, where the content and technical skills mesh and surpass what I had hoped for. Those places come from time in the saddle, simply working at it all the time. When I first started I used to tell myself, "act like you know" or "fake until you make it" and I still tell this to new shooters. It is odd to be asked by someone what I did when I was just starting. I knew where I was going but I knew I was far from there yet, but I had my point on the horizon. This even occurred as I moved from still-life's to fashion but if you are aware and conscious of what you are doing and how you are doing it, most things just come with time.

    What inspires you to continue shooting and how do you keep motivated when a certain shot or moment just doesn't happen?
    Those are hard moments and it is compounded by the fact that you might have 5 to 15 people standing there watching you go through artistic block. I flew a crew to Bali on my dime as I had this image stuck in my head of a woman standing in front of a wall of lush green and somehow Bali was it. It was weeks of prep and scheduling and flight juggling and I was there early to location scout. I remember pulling the first polaroid of the shoot and in my mind it sucked. All that rushed through my head was if I crazy? Crazy to have spent all this money and time only to come here to shoot crap. I tried a few variations but nothing was working, the outfit, the mood, the light, the background. So I called it and moved to the next shoot, 10 ft across the stream from where we shot that first polaroid. I leaned the model up against a moss wall and set up two lights coming through the trees. The first polaroid left me stunned, it was just what had been in my head and better, it was what had been haunting me and started the whole trip. That shot is one of my touchstones, the whole trip was really as we worked through sickness and bad weather but still came out with work that moves people.

    Sometimes you keep kicking at it and hoping it cracks and other times you move to keep the energy moving forward. If you have done your prep work then usually all the pieces are in place that you need. If you have cast well and have great collaborators in your hair and make up artists and a solid stylist then trust that it will work itself out. That is why I try to run an open set, listen to the people you work with and let them help make it better. That is how I find I get the exceptional moments, it is the volatile mix of all those wonderful talents coming together. I don't think we say it enough but it really is such a team effort, I am where I am due to the trust and talent of the people I have worked with over the last decade.

    As a photographer (and sometimes art director!), where do you find your own artistic inspiration?
    One word: Women. I come from a family of smart women, my mother and her sisters are all intelligent and curious people, who draw you out in a conversation. They remember things about your life and take an interest. These women were all accomplished and their physical beauty was an after-thought and never the focus. Combine this with growing up in Montreal where the women are very open and sensual and have a joy about them, taking pleasure in the everyday things, dressing well, eating well in the company of good friends. It's a place where a woman can balance being feminine and professional. I remember so many friends of the family in suits with a camisole loosely peeking out and looking back I realize that speaks volumes to me. Before I was a photographer, I was with a wonderful, joyous woman for 6 years and she worked in retail and then as a buyer and I learned about clothes from her. What a mule was, what a bias cut was, and it gave me the beginning of a critical eye for how clothes fit someone.

    I sometimes wonder how it is that I haven't become jaded or immune to beauty and women in general working in the field that I do. But it is the opposite. The more I know and the more I see, the more I realize how little I know and how much more I can learn. I look at women in the same way as all heterosexual men and at the same time I look at women in a very different way. I notice if a woman's hair cut accentuates or detracts from her face shape. I can tell if it is healthy and thick or thin. I sometimes will compliment a stranger on their hair and I always wonder if they think it's a line. But when you see a woman who has it down right, when her cut and colour just fit her so well, and I think it is rare, I usually am moved to speak. I love a woman's hands. I just read over my travel journals for the last ten years and I hadn't realized that I always mention it when I have just met someone. There is something in the grace in which some women use their hands and it is something I constantly look for in my work. A good pose is finished by the proper details and how someone uses their hands are one of them. A full laugh. As I was writing this a friend called me and something said brought out this big, full, bright unconscious laugh from her. It is another example of something that rings true, that moves us. I am in wonder at the way in which women wear and inhabit their much more complex (than men's) wardrobes. The small ways that men and women differ in movement due to culture, physiology and intent. I am intrigued by a woman briefly seen only in passing. One is only left with a quick impression, a gesture thrown out casually, perhaps a glimpse of their face, the flow of their hair and perhaps a sillage (the wake of perfume that follows). My mind leaps ahead and tries to figure out the holes in the puzzle. This experience to me is what makes a good photograph, or movie or book. Something that in the end draws you in, engages your mind and participation, asks you to participate in it and ultimately leaves you with more questions than answers.

    I have started to think of a woman's beauty as if I am holding water or sand in hand. It is always moving and changing in nature. It is elusive and the most inspiring models, actors and muses seem to share this quality. It is hard to put down exactly what it is about them but it is there. Kristen Stewart's was like this in Adventureland. She is contained and closed off, yet always moving in many directions in the film, she keeps the viewer off balance.

    What do you look for when casting?
    Range. When I look at a book I look for emotional range. Is the model able to project a variety of emotions and do I believe it. Is it a mature adult way or does it feel more cartoon like as a child's pantomime. This goes back to intelligence and humour in the eyes. Someone that you feel is in on the joke. Specifics will vary from job to job and something like swimwear has its own specifics, but in the end, range is the key factor to me. I cast someone recently from her polaroid because with no set around her or make up on I saw the way her eyes shone and cheekbones raised up in the quietest of smiles and I knew there was a joy inside her. That comfort in her was what I wanted to cast. I pointed that out to my client, that this was who would appeal to their demographic, a strong confident woman with a natural warmth. She was perfect. She worked for 12 hours under the hot sun in a small location and had the range so we never felt like we were repeating ourselves. Half the battle is casting well.

    What is your favourite shoot to date?
    There have been many. I am very privileged to do what I love and love what I do. A recent example is, when I was in Italy for a shoot and my schedule was this. Up at 5:30, double check everything and head to our set which was a speed boat. No one was around to help so I spent an hour scrubbing off bird shit from the deck so I wouldn't have to re-touch it later. Model arrives at 8 or so then we shoot under the hot sun for the next 12 hours. Head back to hotel, not time to shower just eat and re-pack the bags so they each weigh 23kg. Only way back to Milan to catch our flight is to drive and I only can drive standard. 6 hour drive to the airport, wait an hour to check in then head through security. Not thinking to clearly at this point as I have been up for 24 hours. Fly to Belgium, change of terminal and more security lines, just catch the plane to Toronto. One of my bags is gone as they thought my battery powered light was a bomb. Then go through an interview at customs about what I was doing away. After about 45 hours awake I make it home and to bed. I realized afterwards that I wouldn't change a minute of it.


    Blogs We Follow

    Cailin Hill (The Model Burnbook)

    Models x Models (Models x Models)

    Liis Windischmann's (14+ LouLou blog)

    Laura Kell (A Model Life)

    Madison Schill (Chic Greek Geek)

    Kathleen Burbridge (Kathleen in Wonderland)

    Ania Boniecka (A n i a . B)

    Shawn Dezan (motivated//ambition)