08 Nov Featured: Darren Gwynn
Darren Gwynn is a local photographer with an international reputation. He has assisted Rankin, owner and co-founder of magazines Dazed & Confused and Hunger in London, and has also worked in New York and Paris. He’s now back in Cape Town, and busier than ever. We caught up with Darren to chat about his work.
How, why and when did you become interested in photography?
I became interested in photography around age 16. My girlfriend at the time, who was in the same school, did photography and introduced me to the darkroom. She showed me how a silver-gelatine print develops when you put the paper into the developer. When I saw the crystals on the paper start to come alive, the shadows and mid-tones darken and the image evolve into a final product, I knew I wanted to become a photographer. It was like watching a dream, one that was tangible and stank of chemicals.
What was the first project you ever worked on, as an amateur and as a professional?
In school I shot mainly documentary photography, as I had wanted to be a photojournalist. So when I left school and started college, the first real body of work I shot was a photo documentary called ‘Vulture’. It was the final body of work I exhibited for my end of 1st year at college. I shot a series of 12 Tow-Truck drivers with their families and their trucks, posed in front of their homes.
After realising my love for fashion and the old gods of fashion photography, I spent a lot of time studying classic designers, studying garments and the movements of fashion. One of my first professional shoots was for clothing boutique Chica-Loca! which is a South African brand based in the Cavendish Mall in Newlands. Having full creative license and an understanding of the brand allowed me to create the diptych campaign. I feel that if you’re not constantly pushing concepts and photography as a medium, you become stagnant.
Which style of photography do you prefer, and why?
My personal preference spans many different styles, from fashion to beauty and advertising. Despite these genres co-existing in a similar realm, the one I truly feel for is fashion photography. Fashion and garments are a large influence to me, from the way they’re made to way they move. From Riccardo Tisci’s gothic touches at Givenchy to Malcolm Kluk and Christiaan Gabriel Du Toit’s futuristic digital prints at Kluk CGDT.
Tell us a little about your experience in London, assisting Rankin. What valuable experience have you gained, and how did this influence your approach?
Working for Rankin was a huge challenge simply because of the amount of work he produces. Being his 2nd assistant and studio manager comes with a lot of responsibility. Rankin wears many hats from photographer to publisher; he shoots the largest advertising campaigns on the planet and manages to squeeze a 400 page bi-annual magazine in between those, all while flying to New York and Los Angeles almost every month.
The knowledge and experience I gained is indispensable. From the running of sets with the largest celebrities and advertising agencies to the managing of the sheer logistics that go with it, it’s no small task. Working on that level teaches you the hierarchy of this industry, it teaches you what my friend and I have dubbed ‘setiquette’: your on-set etiquette. It’s helped me streamline my own sets to run on an international level. It’s also helped me perform under immense pressure and solve problems at a rapid pace.
These are some of the projects that I worked on:
You have so much international experience. How does working overseas compare to local projects? Any noteworthy pros and cons?
Working overseas is another world completely. I found that the people working in cities such as London and New York work at an immense level and the volume of work they produce is of such magnitude and professionalism. These are people that don’t go home at 5pm and switch off; they live and breathe their profession. If like me you do the same, it’s great to be around as this drives you to push harder, learn more and break boundaries. These are the people creating the references that photographers, stylists, makeup artists and hair artists are using for their shoots. I’ve also found that the level of acceptance of what’s dubbed as cool or good is larger and so creatives are allowed a larger platform.
If you think about it, the industry overseas in cities such as Paris, Milan, New York and London all have experienced people running it, people with knowledge, wisdom and grit. I’ve found the African industry to be young. The greatest thing about this though is that as Africans we have something that the world doesn’t: the opportunity to create from scratch. It’s such an immense chance and I am seeing such great things come out of Africa.
Why did you move back to South Africa?
Africa, and more recently South Africa has become a focal point for the world. As a creative I want to be a part of the journey. I am blown away by Cape Town and some of the creative’s that live here. With Cape Town winning design capital 2014 I feel that there has been a huge push for creatives and creative integrity. We are seeing more and more young people with immense talent come out of the woodwork and I am absolutely honoured and proud that I am from this little city at the bottom of the globe.
What has been some of your favorite projects in your career so far, and why?
All of my shoots and projects are my favourite. A famous photographer once said: “Shoot only what you love”. I believe this holds a lot of merit when it comes to photography. This isn’t to say you should decline work that you don’t love, however applying your own personal style to a brief is important.
There is one story that has stood out for me. I shot a story named Glass Cages for Volt Café London with stylist Anna Hughes-Chamberlain and art director Benjamin Thapa. The sheer amount of work, planning and thought that went into producing this shoot was monothilic. I remember sitting up until 5am for three nights developing my film in the kitchen in London using my pots and pans. I went into the darkroom and printed the images into Silver Leaf that I had coated with Silver Emulsion. I’m a creative person whether it is writing, sketching, painting or shooting so heading back into the darkroom and creating these images felt natural to me, it brought me true happiness as I was creating something new, something that no one had done before.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m fnalising the Kluk’s SS13/14 RTW collection that I shot, which was great as they have just won the African designer of the year award.
Any future projects we can look forward to?
I’m busy working on a beauty story for Volt Cafe in London as well as a fashion story for REVS also based in London. The beauty story I am working on is not like a traditional shoot, it’s futuristic and challenges photography as a medium. Similar to my Glass Cages story, it’s avant-garde and hasn’t been done before. I would love to give you a sneak-peak however it’s for a magazine and is confidential.
Check out Darren’s website.