Born in Norfolk in 1971, Andy Gotts describes himself as ‘an ordinary person doing an extraordinary job’. Over his career, Andy has photographed nearly every famous face you can imagine, from movie stars like Harrison Ford, Robert de Niro and Kate Winslet to musical icons that include Elton John, Tom Jones and Ringo Starr.
To celebrate 30 years of his illustrious career, Andy is launching ICONS, a collection of portraits that bring together the many famous faces and personal icons that have played a part in Andy’s career to date. The collection will be presented both in Andy’s latest book and in a corresponding exhibition, opening 2nd September at Maddox Gallery in Westbourne Grove. Ahead of this exciting launch, we sat down to speak with Andy about his unique style, distinctive method and the one subject he has always wanted to photograph but has not yet had the chance to.
ANDY GOTTS, KATE WINSLET CONTACT SHEET
I think it's because when I was a student, and later when I worked as an assistant to Snowdon and Bailey, photographers had a cast of a thousand assistants and the shoots would last for hours. I can remember watching film stars being photographed and seeing how bored they got. One day I said to myself, 'when I am behind the lens, it'll just be me, and it'll only take 15 minutes'.
So, I try to do it really quickly. I try to have a conversation with the person I'm photographing, and then stop and go ‘click’, and then carry on the conversation, rather than it be a posed, constructed affair - and that's worked for me for 30 years. Every single person I photographed at the beginning was astounded that it was just one person and one camera, and there wasn't anyone else. I saw the positive effect it had on these famous people, so I kept going.
ANDY GOTTS, ELTON JOHN PORTRAIT
I had a debate with Grayson Perry about this - about what is a photograph really is.
My understanding of a photograph, doing a Master's in Photography and the History of Art, is that it is that moment a piece of light hits the silver material that makes the image. The word 'photography' means painting of light. It's the moment my finger on the shutter just clicks, that 125th of a second.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Magnum founder, called it the ‘decisive moment’. It's the moment you choose and the way you decide to click, it's not how amazing you are on Photoshop. That's not a photograph, that's how good you are at photo editing, and I'm not a good photo editor.
I don't want this to sound ostentatious, but what I want is in 100 years' time, 200 years' time, 1,000 years' time, for people to look back at a picture I've done and look at the date and time it was taken and know that's exactly how Al Pacino looked. My game is to photograph these people as them, and not as an idol, or as a musical star. It's photographing B.B. King as B.B. King. Photographing De Niro as De Niro, whether he's being quirky, silly, iconic. It's capturing them as they are.
ANDY GOTTS, ROBERT DE NIRO PORTRAIT
That's a two-part question because there are so many people, I wish I had shot but have unfortunately already passed away. I used to tease my mother I was born 10 years too late. When I first started photographing people in the late '80s, early '90s, a whole host of huge movie stars died like Jimmy Stewart, Burt Lancaster and Gregory Peck. All these wonderful people died. So, there's a whole host I wish I would have photographed.
If I had to sit down and think, 'Who haven't I shot that I would like to shoot?' I'd probably say Tom Hardy. There's never been a reason for our paths to have ever crossed. That's not because of anything he or I have done but we've never been on the same thing at the same time. I know, if he's not already, he will be a massive movie star and a massive icon.
‘Andy, never change. Always be you'. That was said by Julie Christie.
I've chosen to stay true to myself and stay true to who I am. It's doing everything myself. It's arranging a shoot, controlling the shoot, everything to do with my working day I do myself.
Someone once called me ‘the Goldfinger of photography’ because I'm so controlling. As a James Bond fan, I took that as a great big pat on the back!
There's a composer and lyricist called Lionel Bart who wrote the musical Oliver! and he lived in this flat in Acton. The only place that didn't have mess was his bathroom, so we had to do the shoot in there. I've shot in barns. I've shot in art studios. When I shot Jeff Bridges, he has his own music studio that I shot in. I even shot Cate Blanchett in a supermarket car park!
ANDY GOTTS, CATE BLANCHET PORTRAIT
This was in 2001. I had photographed all these amazing British actors. Everyone from Michael Gambon and John Hurt to Jeremy Irons, every British actor you can imagine. One day, I went to photograph Kenneth Branagh and he was flicking through my portfolio.
He said, 'Not many Americans in there, are there?'
I replied, 'No, not one'.
He said, 'Do you want one?'
I replied, 'That would be nice'.
He offered to put me in touch with Kevin Kline who had just won an Oscar for the movie A Fish Called Wanda. Kline was rehearsing for a Chekhov play in Central Park in New York. I was allotted half an hour during his lunch break to take his photo and I literally booked a flight for the next week, to do the photo shoot, and then fly back the following day.
It comes to the next week, I arrived in Central Park, sat down and Kline and I had this great conversation because we both knew John Cleese. After half an hour of just talking, he said, 'I feel we should get on and do the photoshoot now because I've only got a few minutes left'.
I said, 'Great, wonderful. So, we'll be done with this photoshoot quickly'.
He asked me if I had flown to New York just to shoot him, and I said yes.
He said, 'Can you be back here the same time tomorrow? I think I can make your trip a little more worthwhile'.
I said yes. My flight was at six o'clock the next evening so I could stop off at Central Park on the way to the airport.
The very next day I was there at two o'clock and Kevin bounded in.
'Right. I've got some people for you but be bloody quick. It's our lunch break. Please be quick. They want their lunch. . . I've got you the entire cast of the play’.
So, he moved to the door and let them in, one at a time, like a doorman. First, in comes Meryl Streep, followed by Christopher Walken, followed by Steve Buscemi, followed by Marcia Gay
Harden, who had just won the Oscar for Pollock, followed by Natalie Portman, followed by John Goodman. It was the entire cast. That started my career in America. It's that bit of goodwill by that one person. I didn’t know whether I should thank Kline, or Branagh, or the person who referred me to Branagh, or Stephen Fry - who started me off in the nineties. But because of all these bits of goodness and moments of kindness, from them and many others, my whole career has been possible.
All artworks in ICONS will be available from 2nd September. To register your interest in the exhibition, please click here.