Interview – Rob Lawson
From humble beginnings in Staffordshire to working on one of the most successful launches of a new spirit in recent years, one of the UK?s renowned drinks and lifestyle photographers, Rob Lawson takes a breather from his busy diary to talk to Aviator.
Growing up in a village called Alrewas in Staffordshire, I always had an interest in photography but never really thought it could turn into a profession. I studied photography as soon I left school for two years at Burton on Trent College. I then studied for my HND for a further three years at Blackpool College, before I upped sticks and moved to London to assist photographers there.
The intention was to assist a range of photographers across different fields to help me decide which area in photography I wanted to pursue. And it was in 1997, when I started taking pictures for a magazine called CLASS, aimed at bartenders and drinks companies, when I realised photography was the career route I was destined to go down.
The spirits industry was small back then so my name soon got around and that?s essentially how I became well known in the industry. Over the years, the likes of Diageo and Bacardi Brown Forman have increased their investment into advertising their products, which is great for photographers like me.
For me, the Crispy duck with spiced tomato compote is my star dish. The duck is a fantastic balance of flavour and texture with the spicy tomato compote just giving the dish that edge.
Despite 20 drinks taking five days to shoot at the Punch Rooms at the Edition Hotel, London, one year on the Haig Club launch has been one of the most successful launches of a new spirit in recent years, mainly down to David Beckham?s association with it but I like to think it?s also partly down to the photography! In fact, I never tire of seeing my work out and about. I still look forward to a magazine coming out, book launch or a billboard release that uses my shots.
The photography industry isn?t always plain sailing however. The problem with drinks photography is managing client expectations. They see a photo on my website and think it is easy to recreate it. You can?t forgive them for thinking that it?s as easy as creating a cocktail or drink, putting it in front of the photographic set, shooting it and repeating this 20 times in one day, but the reality is not so rosy. I?m always having to slow clients down, making sure I have enough time to set the light, compose the shot and give the shots the time and vision they need. And when you work for so many different clients in the industry, I have to make sure I?m not giving the same style to competitive brands. When I go to the initial meeting for a job I have to get the feel of the brand and where they are taking it. I?ll then suggest a look and feel, work with the stylist, location finders and art directors to get a look that is bespoke to their brand.
As I have to alter my photographic style for different brands, sourcing new ideas and inspiration is essential. Social media is a great way to see what other photographers are doing and I use Instagram to keep up with trends, new launches, exhibitions etc. You just have to look at my own website, which evolves year after year.
Although, as 90% of my work is in drinks photography, mainly spirits and cocktails and as it?s quite a niche area, I tend not to look at or find any other photographers work that inspires me in that area. My inspiration comes from photographers who are at the top of their game, pushing the boundaries of photography, such as Nadav Kander, Julian Broad and David Stewwart. Their all-round approach from lighting, composition and retouching is second to none and their taste in style is impeccable.
To many, photography is what it is. To me, photography is an art form that can be seen on many different levels. I work best in commercial photography but I also draw my inspiration from photographers in the art world. Ideas are the key in producing art and when mixed with great lighting and composition, the results have to be applauded. Such as James Mollison?s Ape project, which are 100 close up photographs of ape faces from around the world; all shot in one style, one vision and brilliantly executed.
Aside from photography, the art I most admire is the type using everyday objects. You can never look at that same object in the same way again. Tracy Emin?s unmade bed and Damien Hirst?s cow, are both brilliant examples of the bravery it takes for an artist to place their pieces in a public gallery, open for all to criticise, in the hope that they will be considered as art, but in the non-traditional form. This is where I think art works differently to photography. Talented artists with over-confident personalities will probably get noticed more due to their controversy. Whereas talented photographers with the same attitude, just won?t get booked. It?s a mix of having a good eye for composition, knowing your market, having a good business sense and being grateful for the work. The client might only have one photoshoot a year, so they want it to be a productive and fun day coupled with a photographer who takes a considered approach and delivers outstanding results; that?s what will really make them want to come back to you time and time again.
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