| P E O P L E |
Photographer | New York
As one of the industry's most sought-after beauty photographers, Ben Hassett is revered for his striking portraits of the most beautiful women in the world. Now, he's adding another string to his bow by pushing the creative boundaries of motion video.
As one of the most sought-after photographers in the world, Ben Hassett is best known for his striking portrait photography and his use of shadow and light to create visceral, highly polished images. Over the course of his 15-year career, he has photographed many of the world’s leading actresses and supermodels, including Marion Cotillard, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Tilda Swinton and Jennifer Aniston, to name a few. He’s solicited by top international fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Numéro and W Magazine, and has created iconic advertising campaigns for brands such as Christian Dior, YSL, Shiseido, Burberry, Bulgari, Calvin Klein and L'Oréal. His passion for photography remains unabated, where he continues to push the boundaries of still photography and more recently, digital motion video.
Born and raised in London, his passion for photography came at an early age. “I was very young when I first found out about photography. I was 14 years old”, he says. “I picked up a camera and I started taking pictures with it, using black and white Tri-x film. I fell in love with it. I also found being in the darkroom extremely exciting. I still find the idea of being in the darkroom exciting today: the smell of it, the chemistry, watching an image appear on the paper while you are standing there in the dark, rising up from nothing.”
He decided to study documentary filmmaking at a college in the north of England after finishing school. He experimented with film, video, performance, installation, and to a lesser extent, photography. “After a couple of months there, the tutors were pretty upset by the work I was making”, he says. “My movies were a little too loose and experimental, not TV material. I was not going to get hired by the BBC”. However, the head of the college’s Fine Art department noticed his talent. “Lucky for me, he looked at what I’d been doing and took me under his wing, which is how I came to get a degree in Fine Arts”, he says. “I was very lucky to end up on that course, because it was super experimental – we could do anything, really.” Under his mentor’s guidance, he learned a valuable lesson. “There is no right or wrong way to do things in art, maybe life, as long as you are committed to an idea”, he says. “This guides the way I work every day as a photographer, at least on a subconscious level.”
After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles for an internship with filmmaker Roger Corman, and then returned to London to build his photography portfolio. “I was initially a reportage photographer, and for many years I only considered doing that. My first paid job was as a reporter for British GQ magazine”, he says. “They sent me to Namibia on a reportage assignment". His first Vogue beauty assignment soon followed, which officially launched his career as a beauty and fashion photographer. “Being known as a Vogue photographer opened other doors, to Vanity Fair, for example, W Magazine, and Harper’s Bazaar”, he explains.
Fast forward to the present and Ben Hassett is a world-class photographer at the top of his craft. His work characterises an intuitive sense of composition and attention to detail that emphasises the tactile nature of his subjects. “I photograph a lot of women. A lot of those women are very beautiful. They're almost all, without exception, strong women, and confident women”. Attracted to imperfections, he leaves almost imperceptible natural flaws in his work as a clue to indicate the picture is real, to give the image credibility. “The way we work now, it's so easy to make perfect pictures”, he says in reference to the industry’s retouching practices. “I need mistakes. I need to see them, welcome them. In my studio, I'm trying to make an accident happen in front of the camera. It brings the whole thing to life. I'm looking for spontaneity.”
After spending many years living in Paris and London, he is now based in New York where he lives with his two daughters. He is humble yet candid when speaking about the impressive list of famous women he has photographed throughout his career, citing that he particularly enjoys the experience of photographing actresses. “Working with actresses really isn't like shooting anything else that I do", he says. "It's not their job to be models. You're shooting them for a fashion magazine, so they have to play that game.” It is clear that his profession allows him to indulge wherever his creative vision takes him. He is also known in the industry as being extremely selective when choosing subjects for his assignments. “I only agree to shoot people that I like”, he explains. “I have a special rule about that. I'm extraordinarily picky.”
How does he keep his creative passion alive after 15 years as a photographer? “I still have an enormous amount of enthusiasm for still photography”, he responds. “One thing is the challenge of continually problem-solving, and the other is that photography keeps changing and that you have to keep up with it”. He has also recently returned to his filmmaking roots by experimenting with digital motion video. “I’ve gone back to making these short experimental movies that I was making in school. This time I have the benefit of an experience of light, of having great models, and also of knowing what I want to do, which is essentially the most difficult thing”, he says. “Over the past year, I let myself make a lot of mistakes. Pictures did not always work out the way I wanted them to. I just went with it and kept my eyes open and paid attention to those mistakes.”
Embarking on the next chapter of his life in full force, and always looking ahead to the next creative challenge, there is no limit as to where Ben Hassett’s multi-faceted talents will take him next. “All I really know about technique is that you can't know everything, and that I've still got an enormous amount to learn. That also keeps me going. I have this childlike wonder about what I'm doing again.”
Interview: Enrique Nalda & Kimberley McLoughlin
Photography: Ben Hassett
Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue Two - Purchase Now
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .