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David Yeo


Photographer David Yeo DOP Ben Marshall Photographer’s Assistant Alex Forsey Hair Jason Goh Make Up David Gillers Studio YoYo Studios Camera Leica S2 camera with APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5, SUMMICRON-S 100 f/2 ASPH, SUMMARIT-S 70 f/2.5 ASPH. (CS) and SUMMARIT-S 35 f/2.5 ASPH. (CS)

Beauty can mean anything, says UK-based photographer David Yeo. His light-flooded series – created in London straight after the lockdown – speaks of the beauty inherent in everyone we see.

How would you describe your concept of beauty?
I like to relate this question to a book published by one of my favourite photographers, Nadav Kander, titled “Beauty’s Nothing”. Beauty is so subjective and can’t be put into a category. Beauty is nothing – as in, beauty is everything and anything. Nadav Kander isn’t a beauty photographer but, strangely, this was how I got into this genre. I met him when I was just at the beginning of my career. We were both doing a talk at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and I was captivated by him and his work. I was moved by the subjects he chose to photograph, which opened me up to the possibility that there is beauty in everyone.

What is your main objective as a beauty photographer?
Lighting is my passion, and my aim is to show the soul, to create emotion and tell someone’s story behind the aesthetic. I once had to photograph a musician and it was an extremely bizarre experience because there was only one lighting set up that was flattering. Sometimes a certain type of light can suit a person. This was the first time I thought about the fact that the way in which you light a subject defines who they are. You can summarise a subject’s personality in the way that they are lit. To do justice to their being, it has to be correct.

The photographer Vernon Trent once said, “Professionals worry about money, masters worry about light.”
I love that quote and couldn’t agree more. Lighting is drama, light is the atmosphere, light is what makes the image. In this industry you can’t be focused on money, as it would dictate the kind of photographer you are, rather than you as a photographer choosing what and how you shoot.
Your colour compositions are very striking – especially the cohesive relationship between your background and foreground colours. Is this type of harmony important in your work?
Colour helps me understand what it is I’m creating and tells the story, in the same way that a series of chapters make up the story in a book. I like harmony between back and foreground, it feels visually correct. For this shoot, I was dead-set on it being a desaturated / non-vivid look. However, sometimes the creative process takes form on the day. 

Your images are all studio-based - what can you tell us about your process?
The process is usually fairly complicated and causes a lot of headaches! For this shoot, there were 16 mirrors reflecting small shafts of light. However, I like the control of shooting in my studio. It is a daylight studio, and I once made the mistake of planning a shoot around the sun coming through the window. But of course, with this being London where the weather is typically unpredictable and unreliable, the sun disappeared just as the talent was just about to step into the shoot. I then had one of the most stressful experiences trying to recreate the sunlight, with a fuming stylist who was ready to go through a lot of looks in a limited time. I ended up saving the shoot, but aged five years in the process. I now make sure I have a solid set-up for every shoot. I work for 3-4 hours before the shoot, crafting the light.

How do you approach commissioned projects, not least with regards to your own creativity?
In order for any big or small shoot to be a success, there has to be a great relationship and trust between all members of the crew. Storyboards are the foundation of the shoot that keeps everyone on the same path. We work on them as a team for weeks before a shoot, so that our creativity is on the same page and we’ve all had maximum input before we start. However, my creativity is always at play, from the beginning to the end of the shoot, as the process is unfolding. My references come mostly from fine art and film.

You shot these images with a Leica S2, your favourite camera which you've used for quite some time…
The Leica S2 is the most ‘analogue’ camera I have come across. It’s a medium format camera that feels like a 35mm SLR. It reminds me of the days when I shot on film, and is the closest I have found to the analogue Hasselblad in terms of quality. It’s not a computer posing as a camera, it’s very manual and easy to use hand-held. The S lenses are the best in the world. My first Leica camera wasn’t anything like the S2, it was an M6, very small and light-weight, and a rangefinder. It was a totally different process, but it made me fall in love with Leica, and I shot anything and everything personal on it for many years.

The title of your series is ‘Frozen Rope’. What is the thought behind this?
The idea for the title and theme of this shoot stemmed from the current global struggle, as it was shot shortly after months of lockdown in London. It is represented by a person struggling to survive in an imaginary cold abyss. A rope is a lifeline – yet in this case it’s frozen and therefore almost impossible to cling on to. It’s completely stiff, instead of a usual rope which has grip, is flexible and comfortable to hold.

What draws you to beauty photography?
There is usually only one beauty shot in a fashion story, but that is always the image that appeals to me the most. There is an intimacy to close-ups, and the emotion can be so raw. This probably stems from the portrait side of my work. I have always been fascinated by the story behind a face – and the idea that you can tell that story with a single image is so powerful. Also, what I find interesting is that beauty photography can mean anything. Sometimes an image is not conventionally beautiful, but it is raw and true – and it’s that truth that’s beautiful.