CONSIDERING photographer Andy Gotts has shot everyone from Hollywood greats – Harrison Ford, Michael Caine, Meryl Streep, to fashion royalty — Twiggy, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, to music megastars — Dolly Parton, Kylie and Shirley Bassey, you would think he would be a household name by now. But no, Gotts prefers to stay under the radar.
Gotts’s low-key temperament filters through into his practice too. Here you’ll find it’s just him and his camera, no entourage here, no editing, no countless hair and make up or styling choices, just his subject and himself. Gotts’s unfussy approach is purposeful, “I think the experience of being themselves is alien. That’s why everyone keeps in touch-we’ve formed a bond.”
Gotts summaries his work as “80 per cent luck, ten per cent alcohol, and ten per cent rude jokes.” In his enrapturing contacts sheets of Kate Winslet, you can literally see her face crumple in horror and then erupt into laughter, showering us with unfiltered and unbridled joy, not an expression we are often faced with when it comes to the world of celebrity.
Kate Winslet writes in the exhibition’s accompanying book, “that is most definitely his gift; he sees people’s spirits and delivers exquisite real and natural portraits.”
So how exactly does “a working class” man, a self-described “ordinary person really, just doing an extraordinary job” now have starlets fawning over him? How has he already been awarded an honoury doctorate and an MBE for his services to photography by the tender age of 41?
It all began in 1990 when visiting speaker, Stephen Fry, agreed to be shot by Gotts after his speech at the Norfolk College of Art and Technology in Kings Lynn. From that moment on, slowly but surely his esteemed reputation grew, marking a newfound path in photography.
At the Maddox Gallery, you get up close and personal with each of Gotts’s sparkling sitters — Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart twist and pull funny faces, Andrew Scott weeps directly at us, Olivia Colman grins so broadly her eyes squeeze shut, tendons popping out of her neck.
Gotts maps his magical exchanges and encounters as “50 per cent of the work is done by the other person. It’s half me and half them: we meet in the middle and we create something.”
He makes it seem effortless and easy — Paul Newman called him “one-shot Gotts”, but there’s a reason why one of the most photographed women in the world, Kate Moss, describes Gotts’s imagery of her as “how my daughter sees me.” Indeed Gotts’s honest approach both in style and vernacular, feels like unfamiliar territory in a world of retouching and filters. One can’t help but wonder whether some of todays stars would feel comfortable with their pores, wrinkles and blemishes being on display.
That’s not to say he exposes them, rather draws their true selves out. For Gotts there’s still “a part of me that wants to be an actor.”
Growing up, it was the excitement and allure he attached to James Bond that first introduced him to photography, “it was the excitement of doing something with gadgets, and a bit of a chase — and that’s what my career has become; chasing famous people for photoshoots has been my life for 30 years.”
He jokes in the books acknowledgements, “I would like to kick in the shins all the agents, managers and publicists that have dragged their feet in organising shoots and are the reason this project has taken over a decade to shoot!”, although it’s fair to say it’s well worth the wait.
After 18 months at home, Gotts shoots us back into the stratospheric heights of glittering charisma mixed with unashamed laughter, warts and all. Icons is like getting the golden ticket into the Oscars after party— everyone’s hearts are worn on their sleeves and they seem all the better for it.
Tom Hanks, by Andy Gotts – Portrait – Co-Signed – Courtesy of Maddox Gallery
Unapologetically fabulous, Gotts gives “a massive high-five to each and every champagne vineyard that has kept me going” in the books acknowledgments.
Weaving his way through the crowds of people at the shows opening night, Gotts keeps a low profile, save for his ruby red pair of shoes. Like Dorothy, we follow Gotts along the adventures of the yellow brick road, via his unrelenting and unwavering lens.
by Charlie Newman
Icons at Maddox Gallery on Westbourne Grove is on until September 19. Purchase the accompanying book, Icons Portaits by Andy Gotts here.