Lines and curves, lights and shadows. When Benjamin Whitley decides to use the camera, he crystallises in one photo something that could be easily translated as the sound of the harmonium and the bass guitar, as the shape of a melodic mind that somehow can explore the chaos and the peace with the exact same heartbeat. And just like one unfinished album, he is here to be someone and to write his name in the History of this world.
Who is the Benjamin behind the camera lens?
A complete and utter hopeless romantic.
When did you understand that you wanted to live as a photographer?
My mother has always taken photographs and journaled our family’s history. I was captivated by the resonance those photographs held from a young age, so I suppose that’s where it grew from. As time moved on, I started to notice the differences with memory and the document, how moments could be (or most of the time were) staged, and the importance of writing your own story. I bought a camera and worked along from there.
What about your relationship with the fashion world? When and why did it start?
Fashion is this beautiful and chaotic situation, where characters can be built and roles can be played, completely separated from the mundane. You really can try whatever you please. I fell in love with its beauty, its unique ability to create and recreate. It produces something otherworldly, whilst echoing the present and the ordinary. Of course, magazines are to blame.
Do you think that your photos have a strong personal aesthetic? Like a Benjamin Whitley signature?
I try and let the lines, shapes and subject talk for themselves but, inevitably, when you enter such an intense situation as photographing someone, there’s an inherent sensuality that can be explored. This creates a personal connection that can only be brought about by the artist and the subject. It’s important to allow people to act and react to a situation and their surroundings, but it’s very much important to give and to take. You direct, observe and listen. I try to keep my images as clean as possible, usually with a restricted colour palette. It’s really beautiful when you can allow light, subject and dress to bounce off and contrast each other freely.
How does a young photographer based in London survive these days?
There’s no sure recipe or method for making things work, but I really feel it’s important to stay open, to have a plan but not to construct too much of an expectation of what life may bring. Just keep on working hard, try not to become too affected and don’t give up. I’m finding myself working in many situations – situations I never thought I would experience, with different energies and paces. I enjoy having such variety.
Editorials, catwalks, backstage… What do you genuinely prefer to shoot?
Each one serves its purpose and provides different experiences. Editorial allows you to observe, research, compose something and create art; whereas the backstage and the runway are more dependent on environment, reaction and adrenaline. In the backstage I feel I am more a spectator, but in editorial, I become the creator. You have more time to play, to build a relationship with the subject and the team. But, for that very reason, backstage is incredibly exciting, for the short span you have to capture something beautiful. I enjoy it all, but currently I am focusing on my editorial work.
What do you think that is essential to do when you have to photograph clothing?
Whenever I shoot, I run through the pieces with the stylist before we begin. It’s important to listen to the choices that they’ve made when bringing clothes for a concept, and to talk about how they move on and play with the body, with contortion and gravity. By photographing in such a way you create a tableau – you piece together texture, colour, shape and figure through the combination of subject and environment. You observe the way it reacts to the body and then you react to it.
And what about the new mood on your Instagram profile? Is three a magic number for you?
Threes give a certain visual grammar, a pace to the profile. It allows a short dialogue between preceding and succeeding images to occur, even if they are merely crops of the same image. It then becomes a wave of rhythm, encouraging a longer take of the images. It’s quite a nice interruption to a constant flow of images.
Tell us a little bit more about your video projects, including the editing and sound choices.
Moving image allows an artist to conduct time, to gain and disrupt attention. Again, it’s all about pace and rhythm. It’s very much a contrasting method to working with still images. There isn’t the same type of control – you can’t endlessly shoot and select the most favourable result in the same way you do with photographs and composure demands a different concentration. The aesthetics I’ve worked with in still images transcend moving image and, whilst being a starkly different media, I feel their personality remains the same.
Could we expect to see more videos than photos in your upcoming work?
It’s funny that you ask, I’ve started writing again which leads to working with video. I took a break whilst realigning my stills work, and would love to have the opportunity to work with moving image again. Sound is a constant influence in my work and I would like to explore its relation to image more in the near future, so video seems like a clear choice.
Speaking about sounds, if your work could be a song, what would it be?
It could be many, it’s impossible to pin down just one. I adore the unashamed romanticism of Jeff Buckley’s chords, Patti Smith’s brazen poetry, the minimal ambience of Brian Eno’s instrumentals... The list goes on. I’m listening to a lot of Arthur Russell at the moment, I love how experimental he was with placing sounds together. Music is an integral influence in the work I make and in my life, I couldn’t do without it.
Looking through all the human history, if you could go back in time and photograph a moment, a person or a place, what would that be?
I think it would be interesting to be completely isolated with the natural world, perhaps somewhere glacial or deserted, untouched by civilisation. There’s something quite romantic and heroic about a man venturing the unknown with his camera.
And looking through the future, where do you want to be in the next years? Who and what do you want to shoot?
I’m not really sure, I just know I want to keep taking photographs.