(Full Interview) 16 July, 2018
“AHEAD OF THE GAME “
Rory Lewis on the power of projects and his upcoming fourth major exhibition, Portraitist...
Rory Lewis’s emergence as one of the UK’s leading portrait photographers has nothing to do with chance. Rather it’s the culmination of years of shooting projects, courting subjects and exhibiting, all while following a distinctly measured path.
Speaking ahead of his latest exhibition, Portraitist, hosted by the WEX Photographic gallery and sponsored by Epson, Rory told us “projects consume 50% of my time. I would dedicate 100% to them, but as a pro I have to accept regular commissions to fund them!”
Undertaking projects and exhibiting, he says, is the best way of expressing yourself creatively, and it’s vital if you want to be seen as an artist rather than a technician. In 2011, he was approaching 30 as “a provincial wedding and portrait photographer. Clients were few, and my assignments didn’t inspire me.” So he changed it all.
In some ways it was frustration that inspired Rory’s first major project, Northerners: “I didn’t give up my job, or want to become a photographer to photograph the mediocre. With my degree in history I wanted to capture the figures of today: actors, writers, poets and politicians. So I decided to show the world what I could do. A portrait photographer is nothing without a compelling subject or a portfolio that engages clients and inspires others. Projects open doors.
The Northerners project was inspired by watching Game of Thrones. “There was a lot of emphasis on where you come from, the North or the South. So, I decided to photograph anyone from the North of England who was famous. I wrote letters to many stars including Sir Ian McKellen, David Warner, Craig Charles and many others. After pestering and badgering, they sat for me, and so I was presented with compelling actors, with whom I could exercise my creative muscles.” His portrait of David Warner went on to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery.
Northerners was followed by Soldiery, another highly regarded project taking two full years to finish, which documented the British Army of the 21st century. It’s not only satisfying artistically, Rory says. “The exhibition gained national interest, being featured by the BBC and exhibited across the UK. That kind of exposure engaged both the public and clients. It got me working with The Times and The Guardian. Several more portraits were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, and I also went on to gain assignments with the military and the police. It allowed me to be recognised.”
His latest collection, Portraitist, draws inspiration from Renaissance art. “Over the years I have found myself in awe of Caravaggio, Titian, Ribera... their use of light, subject matter, expression and religious themes. I selected subjects who would suit this style, those with amazing detail in their faces, and who were talented actors or notorious figures of today.”
One of these, pictured opposite, was Rufus Sewell. “The detail of his facial profile and his talent as an actor are world famous,” says Rory. “We shot the portraits on a very hot Los Angeles afternoon in October. It took nearly a year to arrange the sitting. My idea, taken from a Caravaggio theme, was to capture him as St Thomas who doubted Christ’s Resurrection from the cross. The expression, use of light and direction placed Rufus as this character.” The exhibition also includes actors Tobias Menzies, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Ciarán Hinds; former Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Michael of Kent.
“If you want to be a serious fine art portrait photographer, you have to engage with the art community and the public,” Rory sums up. “Projects like this inspire creativity, and are an investment in yourself.”