Does Dr Andy Gotts MBE still need introducing? The celebrated photographer is most noted for his black and white portraits of Hollywood actors and singers. We caught up with him to find out a little bit more about him and what it’s like to shoot some of the world’s greatest icons.
1- Andy, when did you decide that you wanted to become a photographer?
It was actually a series of events that sparked my interest in photography. I would say it all started in the early 1980s when I was allowed to go to the cinema by myself for the very first time and saw the new Bond movie, For your eyes only. I was absolutely fascinated by all the gadgets, like any child would be. Not long after, I was watching a TV programme where a photographer was being interviewed. He opened his camera-bag with all his equipment, and I was suddenly taken back to that Bond movie with the cool gadgets. Fast forward a few years, I was told at school that I should get into a real career and not photography, which led me to qualify as a chef… One winter day, as I was working in a restaurant, I started talking to a client about my journey into my current job and that I had always wanted to become a photographer. It turns out that he was running a photography class at a local school. He invited me to join his students and six months later the first ever BTEC photography course in Europe launched. The gent teaching me photography wrote to the college and suggested me as one of the guinea pigs…luckily for me they asked me to join as one of the 15 students. The rest is history…
2 - Where did the inspiration for your trademark black and white portraits come from?
As you might have realised by now, I am a big movie fan, especially black and white movies from the 40s to 60s. All my portraits have that film reel effect which is a tribute to the cinema industry that I admire so much.
I also like the fact that black and white portraits are so dramatic. They reveal all the imperfections, fine lines and tiniest details of a person’s face. They are raw, genuine and often touching.
Also, did you know that it has been scientifically proven that photographs in black and white get more attention from people? The brain doesn’t process the information the same way as for colour images, therefore, we tend to study the image for longer and try harder to understand its meaning…
3 - You take photographs of people in spontaneous and genuine moments, what is your favourite anecdote about one of the celebrities you photographed?
I have a few, but one my favourite stories is about cinema legend Tony Curtis. Tony Curtis was nicknamed the ‘American Prince’ and starred in movies with icons like Marylin Monroe.
I had been trying to photograph him for about 8 years and his agent had constantly turned me down. In 2010, I went to LA for another shoot and thought that I would give it one more try. I reached out to his agent once more and – you guessed it – he turned me down. However, I was determined not to let this go this time around. I knew that Mr Curtis was married to a lady called Gilly and that she owned a horse ranch in Vegas. I looked her up online, called her and boldly told her that I was a photographer from London who wanted to take a photograph of her husband. Gilly spoke to her husband, Tony, and they invited me over the following day. When I met Tony Curtis, he was poorly and wheelchair bound. I asked him if he had any requests for the shoot, he simply said: “make me an icon again”. So, I painted an American flag on his face (it took over three hours) and took one photo only. The next day, I found out from his wife that he had collapsed during the night and was at the hospital. She asked me to email the photo so that she could print it out and bring it to the hospital. I did and apparently, he had a good long look before saying ‘this is my favourite portrait ever taken’. He passed away that afternoon.
4 - Can you tell us a little more about your partnership with Flemings Mayfair and what it means to you?
I like everything about Flemings – its intimate boutique feels, the way the staff interacts with the talents and the general vibe of the hotel. It also has a distinct 30s look that really resonates with me. I really see it as my studio!
5 - We know that one of your major projects for 2019 is "iCons" for the Elton John AIDS Foundation; could you tell us more about it?
I am very proud to be supporting the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The organisation raises funds to create an AIDS free future through science, support and most of all compassion.
Elton was introduced to my work in 2005 and asked me to do a book of celebrities for his foundation. I originally said no to the idea, as I had already done a similar book and wanted to do something different. We decided instead on a publication that would include all the icons of the cinema, music and fashion industries. This book is meant to be released soon, as it will coincide with my 30th anniversary as a celebrity photographer.
6 - What do you prefer? Photographing new people, or getting back to photographing the people who became your friends along the years?
I do like photographing people I know! However, when there is a shot you like, it is difficult to aim for a better one the next time around and still maintain expectations…