Digital FeaturesRaw BeautyJames Meakin
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Interview

INTERVIEW

James Meakin

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PHOTOGRAPHY James Meakin STYLING Linh Ly MAKEUP Francesca Brazzo HAIR Stephen Low @ ELSL Management MODEL Jena Goldsack @ Models 1 PHOTO ASSISTANCE Craig Teunissen, Riccardo Raspa CAMERA Leica S (007) with Elmarit-S 45mm f/2.8 Asph., (CS) Summarit-S 70mm f/2.5 Asph. (CS) and Summicron-S100mm f/2 Asph.

British photographer James Meakin’s ‘Raw Beauty’ series presents up-and-coming model Jena Goldsack on the craggy coastline of her home county of Cornwall – a uniquely magical combination of two Celtic beauties.

S Magazine: Your shoot is a combination of fashion and landscape photography. Is this a speciality of yours, would you say, and will you continue in this vein?
James Meakin: I’ve always been inspired by landscape and finding ways to engage it in my shoots, right from my very first tests. I’m known for my persistence in uncovering epic locations and getting shoots to happen there. The digital platform age gives us more space to incorporate scene setting and mood images, which is such a breath of fresh air. Magazine pages can be so restrictive, it’s great to illustrate mood with more images. With so much focus on fashion you can lose that.

The nature, the rocky coast of Cornwall, the rawness of the setting, and the sea in particular is rather striking in your series. How did the atmosphere there affect your imagination and did it influence your iconography?
You can’t fail to be bowled over by the haunting beauty of a coast that perhaps you didn’t expect to find in the UK. I grew up in the west country, and the model, Jena, is from the tiny fishing village on the Lizard peninsula that we based ourselves in. The weather varied from fog to bright warm sun in the 2 days at the end of May when we shot there; but the ethereal misty sunrise and the loneliness of the landscape defined the mood of the whole shoot. I just wanted to get lost in a person, a place, let the imagination wander.

The shooting is a mixture of black-and-white and colour. Do you have a preference? Are there general criteria for which depiction you decide upon?
Sometimes the tones of an image and the drama in the light and skin tone, etc. just lend themselves to black and white. Often, as a model steps into a scene, you immediately see that the fashion is perfectly balanced with the moment. That’s the joy of location shooting: it evolves and you often can’t plan it. I like black and white to be moody, to add drama and enhance something that in colour might simply have been a pretty postcard image, but in black and white takes us into another dimension.

You mention the cold climate in Cornwall when you shot. What were the main difficulties you were facing?
The fact that she had to rush from that final shot to get to a train, then to a plane, to get some sleep back in London and to shoot for French Vogue next day was probably the biggest hurdle!

I didn’t want her to leave with hypothermia! I’m good at working with models to get the best out of them. I was in there with her, and obviously the last picture in the story shows what we were up against: the odd large set of waves coming through out of nowhere! Tough cookie though, she handled it without a single complaint, spending way longer than I thought she would in the water. And we had fun in there! And the water was so amazingly clear and fresh.

Your lighting is rather contrasted, giving the shots a certain sharpness. How did you achieve this effect? Is everything done with natural light?
I work with controlled natural light and I work with low depth of field. I use early light then follow this up with versions of this as the day develops.
Sometimes more contrast is added in the grading.

How big was your team? Do you choose people you trust and can rely upon, i.e., have you a set group of people you work with?
I choose people that enjoy the escape and are prepared to work hard and long days, who smile all the time and love the magic of location. You need team players and people that love what they do; complicated individuals don’t strive on location where control is hard to come by! It was a long drive from London and my assistants were legends on this shoot.

What is the difference for you between outdoor shoots and those done in your London studio?
Ultimately, it’s me in my element. I’m known for leadership on location with a strong vision. I have a wealth of experience in all conditions on location, so I never come unstuck. For me location offers never-ending inspiration and opportunities to develop a story – when light goes bad it might just be good, you just have to rethink. Studio work is about control. I enjoy the functionally of perfect lighting and the rhythm in the studio, it’s much more about delivering perfection with artists at their best. Ultimately, I like to get away from that cramped space and do my thing, where the phones don’t work and eyes slowly open up to a brave new world! People are often seeing a sunrise for the first time, (sober!) in years, and it’s so nice to see them come out of their fashion shells. :-)

How important do you find the characteristics of the lenses, and which did you use? What is your preferred focal length?
I’m very specific about which lens I use on a given shot. Primes make a huge difference, they invoke a discipline on how you approach the composition on each shot, as well as a massive influence on depth of field for creative effect.

The S(007) has astonishingly low depth of field and has a huge influence on my images. At the moment I shoot a lot more on a standard lens, more than I thought I would… Somehow I never enjoyed this on a normal SLR, but the large S view finder makes it so much more inspiring to use... I love the 120 for portraits, the 100 is also heavily used in fashion as it forces the model composition to dominate an image, reveal the detail. I did use the 45 here to pull in some epic landscape, but I’ve moved on from wide angles in the last few years.
Can you elaborate on the selection of styling and clothes you choose?

We wanted to make the shoot feel authentic. The styling has a realness one can relate to and feels effortless. From adding a cool bomber to adding a silk shirt, the fashion feels easy and works with the location, not against it.

Why did you choose Jena Goldsack? What is so special about her?
I have a close relationship with her agent at Models 1 London. We did a similar project with Rosie Huntington Whitely many moons ago. They have great vision as to who’s tipped to go to the top. Jena is definitely their one to watch, as was Rosie! Jena is such a nice person and I felt like focusing on her. Her book was missing her raw beauty and her face is such a pleasure to capture, we thought it would be special to combine that with her home environment, and we weren’t wrong. Watch this space, she’s about to have her moment!

Is there a dream project you would like to realize? And where do you see yourself in, say, a decade?
I’m still dying to get back to Namibia to shoot a wild travel vagabond story in the most incredible landscape I’ve seen. It doesn’t get more Mad Max than that. I still love visions of dystopian futures and lonely stark beauty, so will keep pushing the magazines to unleash that vision and get away from, (yawn,) East London brick walls…

I’m thinking more about how to evolve and visualising myself in 10 years time. So much is changing in this career right now with the advent of multi media platform social media and photo/film cross over, it’s important to charge forward from here. The exciting thing is I don’t know exactly what I will be doing in 10 years time, but it will all just be an evolution of what I do now and the experience I have gathered to date. Who can say for sure what role a photographer will have in fashion by then. A revolution is afoot!