November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Albert Watson/ Part II

CONTINUED from Albert Watson / Part I



On working with stylists:

R: When you’re shooting with a stylist, do you give a lot of direction, or do you let the stylist do their work, and then you kind of step in? Or say, I’ll work with what I’ve got?”

AW: Well I can actually help you with that, because I’ve done a gigantic, humongous amount of that kind of work, and believe it or not, even photographers working in the business don’t quite concentrate and realize this. A really good fashion editor at a magazine, a really good fashion editor, is a perfect combination of two human beings. They are stylists… but they are also art directors. The funny thing is that I was working for years and years and years for Vogue magazine and Conde Nast … and a lot of times people outside would say, “Oh, the art director of a magazine is, uh – might be Roger Schoening…” He was the art director of Vogue magazine. So we imagine Roger Schoening would be at the shooting, art directing them.

But, of course, art directors from magazines never go to the shootings, almost never. I’m not saying that they might not go once or twice a year, but they, art directors from magazines, almost never go to shootings. So who handles the shooting, based on what the magazine might want? That’s the editor, the fashion editor. And the fashion editor is part art director, and part stylist. So not only do they get an idea how the clothing might come together, they might be doing ten pages on cashmere, or something, but how are we going to shoot this? Who is the model? What’s the hairdresser going to do? What’s the makeup artist going to do? How does that come together? So therefore, a stylist is working with you to book a hairdresser and a makeup artist. What photographer they’re going to use. How it’s going to be shot.

If it’s a cashmere story, are we going to shoot in Scotland? Or are we going to shoot in an apartment in New York? Therefore, that’s something an editor works out.

Now a stylist is slightly different. A stylist is predominately putting together the clothes. So they may well get the belt, the shirt, the sneakers, the socks and the stylist might say, “I think this works pretty well together, let’s shoot this,”  and you go ahead and shoot it. And a really good stylist would be watching whether or not, if you’re shooting a shirt, whether or not the buttons are showing, or whether or not they are they like that… (holds up a cuff to hide a button)?  A good stylist will say, “Is there any chance we could just see that metal button?” You know, especially if you’re advertising a shirt.

Automatically, ultimately the buck stops with the photographer, and any good fashion photographer, if it is fashion, should have an awareness of that. Running back very quickly to photographing cars, you know very often that with cars you put 40 sandbags in the trunk of a car to weigh the back of the car down so it looks more streamlined, as opposed to a car that doesn’t have anything in it. So consequently, you would know to turn the sleeve on the shirt to show the metal button. So the photographer has a responsibility to that, and a good stylist. You’re working with those people, so always: it’s hair, makeup, stylist, editor. These things are a partnership. If you’re shooting, for example, a TV commercial, or directing a TV commercial, it’s very much a partnership.

Where it’s a group effort, so a lot of that happens. In a TV commercial you need a director.  As a photographer, there needs to be somebody in charge. You need good people around. The photographer doesn’t usually do makeup for the models, so you get a good makeup artist. These things are fairly obvious, but they’re very often overlooked.


R: Do you say to yourself, “I’ve worked with that person before. I know they know their job, they’ll do it, and go from there?”

AW: Even if it’s a makeup artist I’ve worked with a lot – it can be very often if  you work with a makeup artist and something comes out and you go….”I don’t like it.”  I’ve worked with this person 100 times. One hundred times he’s done a beautiful job, and suddenly it’s not working

In the end the buck stops here. You’ve got to control all these things. And the funny thing is, sometimes with fashion photographers, not all the time, but fashion photographers in my opinion are sometimes a little bit guilty of not being really strongly thinking about the makeup, and the clothes, and so on. Whereas sometimes a NASCAR photographer, he can tell by the sound of the engine what the car is.

You should know the difference between a low level silk, a high level silk, or regular cotton or brushed cotton. You should know these things. You should obviously know the difference between lambs’ wool and cashmere, or a four level cashmere. You should know these things.


Classics / Albert Watson

Kids / Albert Watson

Strip Search / Albert Watson

UFO / Albert Watson

Hat Blocks / Albert Watson

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

What about the print?

R: You’ve mentioned that you think the real end product of photography is in the print, and that makes a lot of sense. And you work with an HP (Hewlett Packard) 3100 …?  What makes that suitable for your work?

AW: First of all the machine has to perform well. What does that mean? It means if you are looking at a screen and you’re looking at something that has 31 percent magenta on the screen, you want 30 or 31 or 32 percent magenta on the piece of paper. So the translation from the screen image to the piece of paper should be very, very good. So if you’re looking on the screen at an apple green green and it comes out acid green green, you’ve got a disconnect.

HP is working very, very well, so that the translation from the screen to the paper works very, very, very well. Contrast-wise and color-wise. So the translation is excellent. The other thing that’s very good about these printers, which in my opinion is really remarkable, is that you put through 500 prints or 1000 prints, and they’re consistent. And very low maintenance. Remarkably, incredibly low maintenance. At the moment, we’re servicing our machines about once a year. And we’re not talking about a little old print coming out on 8×10. We’re talking about one of these (waves his hand around toward a number of very large prints on the studio walls).

Not the one at the door, that’s a C print. And not the monkeys. That’s a C print. But all the rest of them are HP.

R: Do you do the C prints in your darkroom?

AW: No. C prints that big I send them out and I have them done outside, but they’re all done from our files and from our master prints. So that, as far as I’m concerned, when we send them out they’re already done.

R: So, for example, you take a Batman picture, or a chrome, how much do you play with that?

AW: It could be gigantic. Look, the basic thing, you’ve got to, you can never rescue totally, if the picture’s not there — the essence and the soul and the power of the picture is not there when you take it, the computer is not going to rescue it.

R: I’m not talking about rescue…

AW: It depends on the image. You can move it gigantically in one direction, and you can actually pull it back in another. Look at the girl by the Frigidaire. I put a small strobe inside the refrigerator, OK? I filtered the strobe quite strongly with an orange red, OK?

I then lit the rest of the room by bouncing off the ceiling a neon green gel. If you look at the contact sheet, that’s what the contact sheet looks like. Now, if you actually look at the green, you go well, there’s a 10 per cent, an 8 per cent more gamma in it than the original That’s because in the original we might bring the original to a certain level and be comfortable with that level in the knowledge that possibly later, on the computer, we can go just a little bit further on  the gamma. But we don’t want to overload the negative, so consequently, we know that going in we can push it a little bit more, with something like that.

So, depending on the image, it’s a hard question to answer because, depending on the image, we are at that point not… We don’t know. Sometimes things are just straightforward things. But the soul and the essence and the power of the picture has to be in the taking.


Kids / Albert Watson

Strip Search / Albert Watson

UFO / Albert Watson

Hat Blocks / Albert Watson

Classics / Albert Watson

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

What about printers, and does everyone need an HP 3100?

AW: Well, you know the other thing is this, and I understand that many of your readers may be photographers, may be looking at something like that, it’s the 3100 that has the maximum width of a 44” print, which to your average photographer is gigantic. Forty-four inches, you know, and they scale down there. The interesting thing to me is that I consider those machines dirt cheap…. I think those machines are cheap…

R: Really. How much are they?

AW: I think you can get the machines now for 7,500 to eight grand. That’s cheap.  That’s cheap. Now. Eight grand is not cheap if you’re a photographer taking pictures of your kids, or your wife, or your aunt at a birthday party, or a kid blowing out a candle. You’re not going to spend eight grand on a machine like that, but if you’re a working professional photographer, eight grand he should be able to handle even if he pays it off for a year. That is dirt cheap for a machine like that.


UFO / Albert Watson

Hat Blocks / Albert Watson

Classics / Albert Watson

Kids / Albert Watson

Strip Search / Albert Watson

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

UFO (Unified Fashion Objectives): “A 40-year retrospective of Watson’s best work, pulled from his vast archive. In its pages, a memorable era of style, beauty, fashion, personality, and power is captured for posterity.”  Foreword by Gail Buckland.

Hardcover, 14″ X 11″ (portrait), 400 pages, 350 images approx. Saifu cloth case with printed band Boxed Edition: Hardcover presented in clamshell cloth box with foil debossing.

Published by PQ Blackwell,


What the future holds?

R: Do you have another book planned?

AW: Well, that’s not a good question, but of course I do. But it’s not a particularly good question because we’ve just spent six months getting these two books out of here … And basically, the last one, the Vegas book, left on Friday of  last week. So I’m just happy… all I see now is the dust of those two books getting out of here.

There are a couple of projects floating around, some … There’s a project that a whiskey company sponsor wants me to do. A book on landscapes in Scotland. And there’s another project I’m quite interested in… But, I’m quite happy to not be doing another book for the rest of the year.

The daily grind …

AW: You know, I had a lot of that… I had tons and tons and tons and tons of that in my life, too…. Shoot a catalog and get it out … 20 outfits a day, and guess what we do the next day? 20 outfits. And guess what we do the next day? 20 outfits. ….

… and how long can you take pictures?

AW: Somebody asked me about that, and I said, it’s a weird thing about photographers. Photographers just seem to go on forever. I remember three years ago bumping into Irving Penn’s assistant, “How’s Mr. Penn?” I asked, and he said … he was shaking his head and he said to me, he said, “He just likes, really, to do three days a week now.” Of course, he was 90.  “He only likes to do three days a week now,” not the full five. At 90. We should be so lucky.

(Watson turns to Gail Buckland.)

Gail, how old was he? Ninety-two when he died?

GB: He was born in 1917

AW: Yeah, that’s right. And Avedon was born in 1923. So he was six years… so he lived actually longer than Avedon did. And he died a year and a half ago now, or was it a year ago?

GB: Maybe a little bit more. He was ninety three.

AW: Yeah, I think he was pretty close to 93.

GB: He was (still) having exhibitions.

R: And going to them, too?

GB: No, he stopped that.


AW: He never liked anybody taking his picture. I remember that. He had a big show at the Museum of Modern Art. There was a big dinner afterwards that we were invited to. We sat at the table adjacent to him, and it was a funny moment, when the Museum of Modern Art photographer came up to him during the whole thing, and went to take his picture, and he had a napkin in his hand and just as the photographer got there to take his picture the napkin went up in front of his face, and the photographer just got the napkin….. (laughter).

R: Did you ever show at the Witkin?

AW: No. …  We’ve been very low key in New York and what we’ve been doing for the past four years is working galleries and museums in Europe.

R: Is that because you don’t want ….

AW: No, it’s not because we don’t want to. I think it was just … I don’t really have a great or weird answer, or something strange about it. I think that we really wanted to, really practice in Europe, almost. I mean, I could have done a small show in New York, or a bigger show in New York, but we’ve been actually quite low key.

R: So you wanted to get it right?

AW: Well, I think it’s not a matter of  getting just the show right. It’s a matter of  getting the entire system right, of galleries, museums…. What’s the difference between a gallery show and a museum, except that people say we just do less in a gallery than in a museum,  because they have a lot more space.  But there’s more to it than that. Then, also, when you sell prints, how do you sell prints?  And how are you organizing that? And how mucked up is that, and that kind of thing? And really, in the past five, six, seven years, Aaron has done a fantastic job of it.

CH: I find now that I’m retired from the newspaper I take photos of things I’d never have looked at before….

AW: But that happens because you now have allocated some time to that. In other words, you’ve allocated time to suddenly, …  rather than Monday you’ve got to do this, and Tuesday you’ve got to do that, and Thursday do that. And maybe you’ve got to go into the office to do some printing on deadline, or organize something on a Saturday and maybe for 10 minutes on Sunday you do something you’ve got to do. And Monday you’re back into the whole system.

Now you’ve got a little bit of time, and you suddenly say you know there’s some nice looking rocks in my garden that have always interested me and I think I’ll photograph rocks. And then when you go and photograph the rocks, you say I’m not a rock photographer, and the next thing is you photograph the rocks and you make a print of it and then one of the twenty shots you take works, and then you say “That worked really well, I should apply that to the other ones, that technique,” and you go down a different road.

But a lot of what you learn by doing your daily grind… I would say the biggest thing for a photojournalist is to move up in his camera size, because you have time, you know. Obviously the nature of photojournalism is that you need mobility, you have seconds to grab pictures, moments, sometimes a little bit longer, but not long, you know.

You can buy an old 4×5 camera for nothing, with some nice lenses, some beautiful Zeiss lenses, and you can buy that, and suddenly …  And it will be uncomfortable for you, and awkward for you, and annoying for you, and so on. But maybe if you have a darkroom, or if you can load that stuff onto your computer, you might be pleasantly surprised. And, as always, when with something new, even when you get a new car, things are not quite what you remember of your last car. It’s annoying, but then eventually, of course, you figure it out. The more you do it, the more fluent you become with it.

R: Thank you very much.

AW: Thank you for coming all this way.



To view Watson’s portfolios visit:

Video interviews and gathering behind the scenes content from the shoot, The Macallan Whisky, one of his latest projects.



1 comment

1 Photographer Albert Waston | { 08.21.10 at 12:59 am }

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