2014-2015 Portrait Exhibition
Rory Lewis Photographer has made an outstanding contribution to photography and the visual arts, creating consistently imaginative and thought-provoking portraits. Rory’s ‘Northerners Exhibition’ is an entirely new collection of portraits from a cross section of Northern Celebrities, Sports Personalities, Actors, Politicians and people encountered. Featuring Sittings with Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Ian McShane, Emma Rigby, Claire Sweeney and many others. Rory hopes to Raise £1000 through the exhibition for UNICEF, to help children all over the world in need of support, water, food, medical care and education.
The essence of a great project is that it gathers a life and direction of its own, and it has a structure that dictates the content and gives the photographer a framework around which to build a set of pictures that ultimately sit together to tell a complete story. For Rory Lewis the spark that set everything in motion was a desire to celebrate the vast body of talented individuals from all walks of life who happen to have strong connections with Scotland and the North of England. From that single initial thought everything else just followed and fell into place, and the momentum ultimately became unstoppable until the target list of those who were to be featured had climbed to the extraordinary level.
So many photographers over time have discovered that the key to working in the area where their true interest lies is to present work of that kind in their portfolio, to demonstrate their skill and to attract clients with requirements in that area. Rory’s goal as a photographer was to produce thought provoking portraiture of famous actors, models, and prominent celebrities, while the reality was, as so many hard working photographers offering a general service tend to discover, that the work coming through the door covered everything from cans of tuna, through to industrial fridge freezers and aspiring models and actors.
“As I turned 31 I felt that the clock was ticking, and I felt the urge to push harder and harder to get to where I wanted to be,” he says. “If I was to achieve my goal I needed to produce a body of work that was unequivocally what I wanted to do, and this would help me to attract the attention of magazine editors and photography agents.
“I decided that the best way to proceed would be to set myself a project, and being someone who was born and bred in the north of the country the idea of celebrating others who had their roots in this part of the world came to me. It wasn’t something I had seen done before and there are so many prominent people who fall into this category that I knew I wouldn’t struggle to identify people I could approach. It would be a chance for me to make my mark and to put my style of portraiture on the map.”
Having settled on his theme the hard work now began for Rory, who needed to introduce himself to his target audience and persuade those who were certain to be extremely busy and inundated with similar requests that they should spare some time to appear in front of his camera. “Right from the outset I felt I should aim for the top,” he says. “Rather than just photographing the local WAGS and mayors, I wanted to aim higher; I wanted Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Ian McShane. I began writing physical letters to each celebrity via their agents.”
Rory realised from the outset that those with the highest profiles would need something to persuade them that they should get involved, and the chance to help a good cause was a crucial part of the mix. “I have always been a passionate supporter of UNICEF,” says Rory, “and I felt the exhibition should be held in aid of this charity. I hope to raise £1000,00 to help children all over the world who are in need of support, water, food, medical care and education, and by adding this information to the hundreds of letters I was writing to agents and publicists I hoped to give them an extra incentive to spare me some time.”
Rory’s first taste of success came when actor David Warner responded positively, and it was an exciting moment when the session was finally set up. “It took three emails, four letters and a great deal of perseverance,” he says, “but I had done my research and discovered that David was attending a science fiction convention in London. I arranged for my letter to be delivered on the day and to be placed directly in David’s hand. After a week of waiting and thinking I had again not been successful, David emailed me accepting my invitation. I was over the moon!” The shoot turned out to be hugely memorable. Immediately after the session I contacted the National Portrait Gallery in London, who accepted one of the images into their permanent collection, meaning that it took a historic dimension and it’s preserved my work for future generations.”
Building the collection With a famous name behind him Rory approached other celebrities with renewed confidence, but he still needed to fight for the sittings he was after. “Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen were performing at the Cort Theatre in NYC,” he says, “and I wrote to them both and the answer was no. I then wrote a further letter explaining it wouldn’t take long and it would mean a great deal to UNICEF and the exhibition. To my surprise they both emailed me back accepting the invitation, and from then on I’ve been able to send example images to other celebrities and prominent northerners.
It seems that once you have a few people on board the credibility builds and others will follow. From there I got acceptances from Ian McShane, Emma Rigby and even the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton.”
Because of the nature of the subjects every photo shoot has been different, and each has brought its own set of challenges, ranging from lighting decisions through to the small matter of coming to terms with directing a person who might have legendary status.
“Imagine for a moment, having one hour to direct an actor with the talent of Sir Ian McKellen with no brief, simply photographing the personality, getting to know the real Ian not the characters he plays, and directing him to convey emotions and expressions.
“Each shoot has been unique, and I’ve approached them all individually. It’s a rare pleasure and surprising at the same time; you wouldn’t believe that many of these people have an aversion to being photographed. If you look online you will only find a few portrait sessions that convey the person not the character.”
Terry Hope Editor Photo Professional Magazine July 2014
Exhibition Dates & Locations
Bristol 7th January – 2nd February 2015
Montpelier Central, 32 Station Road,
Bristol BS6 5EA
Birmingham 4th February – 2nd March 2015
100 Hagley Road,
Birmingham B16 8LT
Edinburgh 12th August – 29th August 2015
3 Bonnington Business Centre,
Tennant Street, Leith,
Edinburgh, EH6 5HG
Liverpool 26th July -29th July 2014
Rory Lewis Photography Studio
Carlisle Building 67-69 Victoria Street,
Liverpool, L1 6DE
Manchester 21st October – 21st November 2014
Downing Street Industrial Estate,
Charlton Place, Manchester M12 6HH
London 24th November – 2nd January 2015
93-103 Drummond St.
London, NW1 2HJ