Having worked on an impressively wide variety of projects, portrait photographer David Vintiner has worked with people from all different walks of life. He’s shot trans-humanists, who believe technological advancement is the next step in human evolution; locals of Béjar, Spain during the festival of Los hombres de musgo; and the natural wildlife and landscapes of Kenya. Today we discuss his artistic processes whilst working with different clients, as well as the impact of the recent Covid-19 pandemic on creative industries.
What inspired you to begin studying photography, and to further explore it as a career?
After school, I attended a 1-year art foundation course where you get to try out all aspects of art and design, I certainly couldn’t draw or paint but discovered I was pretty good at photography. Around the same, I visited a Richard Avedon retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London, I knew then that I wanted to be a portrait photographer. Seeing those iconic portraits printed as large as the gallery wall left a very strong impression on me.
Your style often features blue desaturated tones, with an emphasis on graphic lines and structures. How did you develop this style throughout the years, and how would you describe your own personal aesthetic?
My style and aesthetic is a constant process, although much of my work can have blue hues to it, it’s just as likely to have strong warm tones or be black and white. I use a variety of techniques and experiment with different methods each shoot to see which best convey the mood I’m seeking to create. I often develop new techniques by shooting everyday scenes, images which don’t have any theme or concept, more of a journal or scrapbook.
By not having to fulfil any particular brief, I am free to use these shots to change my working methods or shift my ideas on composition or colour, it’s important to me to keep trying to change my work and to not stay still with one particular style. I think my overall aesthetic is bold, graphic, thoughtful and engaging with expressive use of colour.
Your I Want to Believe project explores transhumanism – the belief that human beings are destined to transcend their biological bodies through technology such as bionic limbs and other body modifiers. When photographing these, how did this scientific and technological aesthetic create portraits that diverged from your usual portraits, and did this difference encourage you to explore technology further in your work?
I don’t see this work as diverging from my usual portraiture; aesthetically I approached them in a slightly different way by using a brighter flash technique but the methodology was exactly the same. The main focus was to engage with the sitter and to tell their story in as concise a way as possible.
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Having explored technology through your projects such as I Want to Believe, Insight Project and Ai-Da, how have your beliefs regarding technological advancement developed? Was there anything in particular about these series that changed your perception of technological progress, and its relationship with humanity?
Yes, I think the shoots where I’ve encountered a technology that was very tangible and human I found quite beautiful. The most interesting ideas to me were those where the tech was working in partnership with the human rather than some cold, distant form of technology.
The Insight Project, for example, was shot for GQ magazine and looks at the work being done by Ninja Theory Games in partnership with the Professor of Psychology, Paul Fletcher from Oxford University. As a player, your virtual character within the game has psychosis and acts as a kind of proxy therapist, the concept is seen as a radical new way of treating mental health issues. Through many of these projects, I learnt that technology can be a fantastic partner in the advancement of humanity.
Before the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic set in, yourself and art director Gem Fletcher had started to raise funds to create a photo book about transhumanism, named I Want to Believe – an exploration of Transhumanism. However, you cancelled the project in March due to the unprecedented circumstances. Are there any plans to continue this project in future? Where can we stay updated on the progress of the book itself?
The decision to cancel the book at such a late stage was a very hard one indeed, we had been working on that project for 5 years and had obsessed over every minute detail. When the pandemic hit, it just felt like the wrong time to be pushing forward with the publication. The project will definitely be finalised in some way, it deserves some sort of conclusion, I just don’t know what that will look like at the moment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically impacted the lives of everyone working in artistic fields, photographers included. Do you believe that more aid should have been provided to the artistic sector specifically? Do you feel that coming out of these difficult times the arts have even greater value since it is a sector that we have relied on for entertainment and solace?
It has obviously been an incredibly difficult time for almost everyone. I would definitely like to have seen more aid made available for the creative industries, particularly as it’s such a huge proportion of the UK’s economy. For the last 4 years, the UK has been having a complete identity crisis and is becoming an increasingly hostile and inward-looking society. I think the arts can play a vital role in shaping a more positive future for this country post-Covid (and post-Brexit) by continuing to push progressive and creative visions of the future as opposed to the old, stale and nostalgic narratives which currently dominate much of the UK’s society.
You’ve also explored the natural world in a few of your projects, such as Laikipia which featured the raw landscapes and wildlife of Kenya, which drastically contrasts your technological series. Having explored both concepts through photography, would you say that the organic world provides a strong juxtaposition against the artificial world of technology, or would you describe them as intrinsically entangled with one another? Do you have a preference between shooting in natural or artificial environments?
I don’t really set out to work within any particular subject area. Instead, what I’m looking for is an interesting story whether that’s technology-related or nature related. The reason I’m a photographer is that I’m naturally a curious person, I want to find out about a broad range of topics and the camera is the perfect tool to give me access to a huge range of subject areas.
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Your Los hombres de musgo series presents a photographic interpretation of a traditional festival from Béjar, Spain, which celebrates a tale of the Christian population regaining control of the town by camouflaging themselves with moss and overwhelming the guards at the city gates with their appearance. How did you combine contemporary subjects with an aged environment, to provide a modern twist on traditional folklore?
A large part of the idea with those shots came from collaborating with art director Gem Fletcher again. We knew we didn’t want to simply document the festival and so set out to make images which felt a little bit stranger, a little more surreal. This was with the intent of telling the story with a more contemporary feel and adding a second layer of messaging to the images. To isolate the moss men away from the crowds of onlookers simply heightened the strange feel to the scene in front of us.
You have had the opportunity to work with extremely interesting people over the years, and through your work, you have been able to investigate a range of different concepts and lifestyles. Which of your projects did you find the most fascinating, and why did the concept or people behind it pique your interest?
I feel very privileged to work with such a wide variety of amazing people and explore some incredible places along the way. Over the years I have photographed some really fascinating individuals, before a shoot I always take time to think about what sort of questions I can ask them to get that first-hand account from them. Some of my favourites being Buzz Aldrin, Nick Cave, Chelsea Manning and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, all of whom left me with plenty to think about after the shoot.
Project-wise, by far the most fascinating project I’ve worked on would be the Transhumanists. It’s a world I knew almost nothing about but with each person we photographed, we uncovered more and more lines of enquiry to follow, fascinating twists and contradictions cropping up all the time. What I particularly liked about these people was the way their minds worked, some of their ideas initially seemed outrageous, but haven’t the biggest leaps forward always seemed that way at first?
You have had the opportunity to work with a variety of subjects, including many widely known celebrities. How do you approach shooting someone who has already been portrayed in media and photoshoots countless times, in a way that maintains a distinctive style that sets your portrayal of them apart from others?
Firstly, I make sure I do quite a bit of research prior to the shoot so that I’m clear about what I want to achieve and what I want to say in what is usually quite a short space of time. I also try and allow some space on the shoot for things to be quite spontaneous and to try and make mistakes. This doesn’t always work but often by shooting out of your comfort zone something surprising can come forward.
Although I shoot digitally, I don’t like to see the images coming through onto the computer or to look at the back of the camera otherwise, it can become a bit too controlled, it’s about keeping things loose and staying in the moment. I also like to spend a long time editing after the shoot, I’ll often do a quick first edit but then I like to sleep on it and look again a second or third time, sometimes even more than that. During editing I’m looking for those off-key moments, I like to think of them as the shots between the shots, the moments where the person’s guard is down and where they are less aware of the camera.
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Your work often features subjects with interesting backgrounds, and your portraits tend to reflect the stories behind the people. How do you utilise photographic elements to convey the personality and story of your subject, and how does your style adjust to fit the client themselves?
In a variety of ways, shooting on location is obviously a really quick way to help tell a story, take the Mark Gatiss' shoot for Avaunt for example. Mark used to have a Victorian science laboratory in his house and so the magazine wanted to shoot in a Victorian pathology museum to have him surrounded by all these jars containing diseased body parts and pieces of bone. This coupled with his dark sense of humour really enabled me to explore that side of his personality in the shoot.
With studio shoots, this can be more challenging, it then comes down to lighting, gesture and expression; it’s also about the connection between myself and the sitter and the way I manipulate the process to convey the story I want to tell. I try not to adjust my style too much to satisfy a client's needs, after all, they are coming to me to shoot the way I shoot. However, it’s important to understand that the client has their own needs for the shots and that brief must be met, I do always shoot to fulfil the brief and also throw in some shots to challenge the brief.
Are you currently working or conceptualising any new upcoming projects that we can look forward to?
Yes, loads! I literally have pages and pages of ideas written down, most of which involve travel or gatherings of groups so, for now, are still on hold due to Covid! Hopefully, I can start to work on these projects in 2021.
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