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An intrigue with image making
Jonathan’s fascination with still imagery started at the age of just eight years old, when he saw Harold Edgerton’s ‘Milk Drop Coronet’ in his school’s science lab. Edgerton’s image of a milk drop hitting a red plate was the first of its kind thanks to his experimentation with flash. His technique, which combined high-tech strobe lighting with camera shutter motors, laid the foundation for modern electronic flash and served as inspiration to many. This famous image sparked Jonathan’s own interest in unseen forms of nature and, somewhat ironically, led to him creating his own series of iconic liquid images — the O2 bubbles — and becoming one of the leading advertising photographers of his time.
After graduating from the University of Bristol with a degree in politics, Jonathan spent 16 months working at an advertising agency before deciding the corporate world wasn’t for him. In 1988, at the age of 22, he decided to make the jump to photography and try his hand at going pro. His very first studio was the living room of the house he shared with a friend.
“I cleared out the furniture, put wooden floors down and black out curtains,” Jonathan explained, acknowledging that the confined space probably drove much of the work he does today, working on smaller scale sets.
Now, 31 years later, Jonathan is working out of his Hammersmith Studio and specialises in drinks, liquids, graphic still life and special effects. Other recognisable images of his include the Black Sabbath 13 album cover, his series of floating drinks for McDonald’s and timeless Nespresso images.
Ever since seeing Edgerton’s milk splash image, Jonathan has been fascinated by “unseen forms of nature” hidden in liquids and other natural elements.
“The world is inherently beautiful,” he said, adding that it was “fascinating” to see how different surface tensions created different drops.
“It’s always exciting to see what we get and what we can create with this.”
In order to be able to capture these brief moments in time, Jonathan often works with fast flash duration, sometimes as high as 1/111000th of a second. Working with this type of speed allows him to capture precise moments, but he admitted that the greatest challenge was getting that millisecond timing just right.
Jonathan’s other trademark technique is on the opposite end of the speed spectrum — painting with light.
“My work moves from one extreme to another. I use brocolor lights for the high speed work, but then I could be doing exposures as long as 20 seconds to one minute.”
Light painting, Jonathan said, was a particularly useful technique in his field of work as it allowed him to get light in places he wouldn’t normally be able to reach with fixed lighting. He’s used this technique for everything diamonds to flowers, for both still life and portrait images.
This method, which Jonathan first became aware of after seeing a demonstration of Aaron Jones’ Hosemaster light painting system, involves using a small, portable light source so that the photographer can ‘paint’ the subject with light during a long exposure.
“I went to this demonstration and knew this was the answer and would help me move forward with my work. It means I can actually have the light source in the frame to create textures and shadows.”
After more than 30 years in the industry, Jonathan continues to find inspiration wherever he goes.
“I look at paintings, graphic designs, album covers, magazines — not just photography. I do have a lot of photography books too, and every now and then I’ll go through them again. I draw inspiration from images everywhere.”
Jonathan said he was always analysing images and that he had a “general intrigue with image making”. This continued interest is key, he said.
“If you don’t have any passion for what you do, it will quickly show through. I’m fortunate that I enjoy doing the commercial work that I do.”
His ongoing passion is clearly evident through the numerous awards he has won this year alone. Most recently, he won Advertising Photographer of the Year at the International Photography Awards (this award also brings a nomination for Photographer of the Year) and was named the Grand Prix Winner of the Trierenberg Super Circuit. Over the past sixteen years, he has also consistently featured in the ‘200 Best Advertising Photographers in the World’ books and is one of the top 10 all time winners in the Graphis Annuals.
To learn more about Jonathan and his work, make sure to watch the full interview. You'll also find more fascinating interviews with top photographers on our live shows page.
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