A Photographer's Path - An Interview with Nic Gaunt by Bienna Ursula.
Finding your voice as you create pictures in the silence of your camera can both be daunting and marvelous. “Capturing” the Person is a subtext specified in a Masterclass by Annie Leibovitz that I recently took. And in the same class, I took that labels can occur in different areas of photojournalism. This brings me to a splendid opportunity to interview Nic Gaunt, a photographer and photojournalist who creates highly refined images, takes an aim at elaborately representing subjects in photographs, and captures the person in the perfect timing, bringing out the correct charisma necessary for magazine covers, fashion spreads, and avant-garde photographs. Through this interview, Gaunt imparts with us his knowledge of photography from his influences, challenges and how formal education in photography positively bifurcated his path as a photojournalist.
Bienna Ursula: Was there anything specific in your past that influenced you to become a photographer?
Nic Gaunt: My mother was a window dresser and this was a great influence on me. The viewfinder of a camera is very much like looking through a window and I treat what I see as a window dressing exercise. My mother was a terrific influence on me in this way as she worked for many top names. A window is a controlled environment where lighting, backdrops etc can be orchestrated to the whim of the creator.
BU: Your photographic projects always vary from each other and yet all of them have that edgy element to it. Tell us how you conceptualize projects such that none of them are repetitive and are all unique.
NG: I like to extract the unusual from everyday situations. I am a great fan of surrealism and allowing a viewer to experience an alternate viewpoint. I believe around us there lies many influences and possibilities. Each day a small thing can start me considering a new direction or project. By changing my direction, allows my own enthusiasm for my work to deepen whilst my commonality of style is due to my own personal past experiences. I approach each project on its own merit and with a strong feeling of direction. I may be undertaking more than one project at a time, but I make sure they do not influence each other. However, once a project is completed I tend to organically move on. Occasionally, I revisit a project I earlier undertook as a thought or experiment.
BU: If I may be so bold as to describe your style of photography, I would categorize it along the lines of avant-garde and fine art. But how would you describe your photographic style and where did you derive that from?
NG: I’d like to believe that my style is my own style and direction, but if it had to be labeled then I believe avant-garde and fine art are a great compliment. I think I derive my style from the influences of both working in media and the London music industry. I have always strived to produce strong dynamic imagery that is engaging to the viewer, with each image having a standalone strength.
BU: You undertook a Photographic degree at West Surrey College of Art and Design. What made you decide to formally study photography as opposed to just learning the passive route?
NG: At the age of sixteen, I was working part time for the local newspaper as well as photographing local bands in my area, and I could have continued on this path, but I felt I needed to not just be formally trained but to have more experiences of the world. I think that like a writer a good photographer should allow themselves to experience new directions and experiment with their discipline. The degree was a fantastic opportunity to take time to discover your own voice. It allowed me to be taught by some legendary photographic names such as Brian Griffin, Peter Kennard, and Martin Parr. Their often brutal truth and frank talks about the photography industry were a wakeup call to understand the importance of continued change and the strength of the image.
BU: Did you have an instructor/ professor who taught you a specific photographic idea that made an impression on you and possibly influenced your style and approach when it comes to the creative process?
NG: My largest influences, I think I took from my degree, came from Peter Kennard and Brian Griffin. They both had a surreal approach to image making that appealed to me. Brian Griffin’s working class routes and experiences were similar to my own and I felt a connection to his beautifully crafted work. Peter’s images carried strong political m e a n i n g s whilst also p r o m o t i n g freedom of thought. I think both of these mentors had a profound influence on me.
BU: What lenses and lighting equipment do you use regularly use and trust the most?
NG: Before the digital age, I would have chosen my Mania RB 6/7 with Elinchrom lights. This is because it forces you to slow down and contemplate the image. Today, due to the digital age, I often decide on my elements of a picture before I pick up a camera. Often sketching my thoughts and then using the camera to collect the elements. I now love to use Canon and small portable lighting units that allow me to paint with light. I do not stick to one lens but use the appropriate lens I need to create each shot.
BU: I’m interested in the key techniques that you learned studying photography that you still employ to this very day. Talk about those techniques that you learned that could be applicable to other photographers.
NG: Newspaper photography gave me the grounding and understanding of the use of negative space (every column inch counts). The negative space becomes a vehicle to reinforce the message of a p h o t o g r a p h . This continued t h r o u g h o u t college. At the time everything was on film and darkroom techniques were critical. Photoshop was about to emerge and the darkroom techniques allowed me to fully understand and utilize Photoshop to its fullest. I was lucky to have both. I believe a photographer never stops honing his art. I look back critically with reflective practice on older work. By working in Asia, I believe I have become even more critical of fine details. It is so important for a photographer to fully control what they see through the viewfinder. Photoshop has allowed laziness in many artists. But it is critical to get at the time of shooting the best shot possible. And yet it is also good to experiment. Whilst I approach all shoots with a thought out direction, I am happy to adapt very quickly to a situation and utilize what is available. I think adaptation is one of the greatest strengths. When I worked for the newspapers you often had to make the best of a situation in just seconds.
BU: What’s the single most important piece of advice you’ve received when you were starting out as a photographer?
NG: Martin Parr said to me once, “Don’t do it.” It was the best advice ever as I was determined to prove him wrong! ■
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