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VISUAL. DOUGLAS.
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B rothers Andrew and Stuart Douglas are photographers and directors who work together photographing famous people (such as writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez and composer Michael Nyman) and directing short advertisement movies. Their photographs appeared on various sleeves, including Pet Shop Boys’ Being boring (which was a one-off collaboration), Michael Brook’s Cobalt Blue and The Concise King Crimson’s Sleepless, among others. Douglas Brothers’ distinctive, natural style gained them high critical acclaim and places in best photographic galleries.


T he Leagas Delaney Group conducted an interview with Douglas Brothers:

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    We have your portfolio in front of us, and the first thing I notice is just how slick your presentation is not. Have you always shown your work in this way?

    Stuart Douglas:
    It does look like a scrapbook, and the first people to see it were appalled, but we found the ones responding to it were the ones we wanted to work with anyway. Initially, being so uncompromising was a practical thing. We were too busy to put much effort into a whole series of pukka prints, getting them laminated, and putting the whole thing together. We would just bung it into the book.

    The more uptight art directors, the ones who wanted the pristine book and the advertising imagery, just didn’t get it, but they wouldn’t have given us the jobs we wanted in the first place. It acted as an elimination process. We said, “This represents us. We’re not slick advertising photographers.” So people said, “OK, can you shoot this, but we don’t want it shot in a standard way. Make it look like a Douglas Brothers picture.”

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    Before that though, you were prophets in your own country, and without honour. Who actually gave you your first break?

    Andrew Douglas:
    Where we first started working was in America actually, where the benchmark of portrait photography was Annie Leibovitz. It wasn’t even Richard Avedon then, that was to come later with his six volume book deal. It was funny. We were working with a type of portraiture so far away from her, so uncontrived, so untricky, so unsharp, so unglamourous. A seminal portrait for us, even though it was some time ago now, seven years ago, was for the then brand-new magazine Mirabella, of Daniel Day Lewis.

    Daniel Day Lewis.

    This was so extraordinary a picture that we both recognised it as such at once, so we submitted just this one print when we would normally submit six. It caused no end of trouble, but the art director took a leap of faith in it, because she hadn’t seen a picture like this before. Nobody had, in an American magazine.

    We dug our heels in, in a way that was very uncharacteristic of us as we’re usually very user-friendly, and we said, “This is absolutely the picture. If you don’t want it, don’t pay for it.” It was as if that picture matched something in our heads that we both wanted. It’s still hard even seven years down the line not to keep trying to make the same magical picture, the one that is little more than an expressive smudge. We would deliberately contrive sessions echoing that one with Daniel Day Lewis. We would work in a studio that was quite dark. using an exposure of four seconds, the eyes closed so that they wouldn’t blink, to try and get the same circumstances that created this piece of magic.

    Moto.

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    You’ve recently started having your photographs printed in platinum. How has that contributed to your look?

    Andrew Douglas:
    It’s hard to say exactly what. When we had Daniel Day Lewis made as a platinum print, we had the printers make it really dark for us. We got them to print it darker and darker so it looked just like the Shroud of Turin, really: there and not there, the form is vague. The picture came to life again for us.

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    After starting out in America, how did you manage to get work in England?

    Andrew Douglas:
    Our first real portrait job here was for a a newspaper called The Correspondent, with a Sunday edition and a Sunday magazine.

    Stuart Douglas:
    It was a series called Manpower, four portraits every month.

    Andrew Douglas:
    ...and that probably broke us here. Funnily enough, the work we were getting here at the time, and precious little of it, was all corporate work. More illustrative things, multiple projections and funny constructions, never techno but always funky and hand-made, collage-y and tricky, funky-tricky, not electronic-tricky. We were so keen to get away from all that. The Correspondent thing gave us a portfolio here, a platform that said, “This is what we do now.” It took a while to grab.

    Tilda Swinton.

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    Tell me about your rather unique working methods.

    Andrew Douglas:
    We do immense research the night before a portrait. When we were working for American Esquire, which had a great picture editor and a fantastic research department at the time, we’d say, “We’re not going out to photograph that person unless you give us lots of research material.” An hour later a stack of books and magazine articles would turn up. This was a trick I learned from assisting Snowdon years ago, where a subject is absolutely warmed by your knowledge of them. No question.

    What we very quickly found around this time was how wonderful two cameras was, for the subject as well. We would have this kind of unholy triangle, where normally it would be a very intense one-on-one. We suddenly had a kind of floating arrangement. The subject is there, I’m taking all of his attention, Stuart is floating and watching the way he’s picking at his hands, or he’s photographing a bookshelf, or a profile while I’m taking the main thing.

    It was all wonderfully loose. Out of an hour with a person, we’d get a front cover, a lead picture, and a kind of little lightweight end picture for the article. It was perfect for editorial.

    Stuart Douglas:
    Even though it was just editorial, we’d try to achieve something that had some longevity to it because tomorrow that page would be budgie cage floor covering. Something that superseded the requirements, ...

    Andrew Douglas:
    ...and for a while there we were a magazine art director’s dream, because we were giving them so much material to design their type around ...

    Stuart Douglas:
    ...and then it started getting too busy to actually print so many pictures.

    Back of a woman.

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    So how did you actually come to work together?

    Stuart Douglas:
    We’re asked this a lot, and we don’t really know. Neither of us were actually doing anything at the time. I was working for Olympus Cameras and was bored, Andrew was doing bits and pieces, record covers, and was bored, and we thought we that somehow we might be able to have anew angle, a new approach.

    Andrew Douglas:
    Initially you came in to kick my arse really, didn’t you?

    Stuart Douglas:
    To get you working.

    Andrew Douglas:
    But Stuart didn’t have any more business sense than I did, and within two weeks he was shooting pictures as well. We worked together when he was very young, doing record covers for people like The Jam, when Stuart was 15, 16 years old. He’d bunk off school, and come and assist. Then we kind of drifted apart, he grew up and got a job, then we came together again for him to get some kind of business sense into things.

    We had to grow into a new relationship, really, and this responsibility to someone else motivated us immensely, so we started working hell for leather. And, it brought in another sensibility to bash against. There is ten years between us, almost a generation. I’m a Harold Wilson baby, and he’s a Margaret Thatcher baby.

    Stuart Douglas:
    I would actually refute that. Andrew would be a hippy and I would be a punk, because he was there in ’67 and I was there in ’77. Andrew would be Summer Of Love, and I would be full of hate and venom. That sums us up, really.

    Andrew Douglas:
    That’s perfect, absolutely perfect!

    Stuart Douglas:
    However, I’d have loved to have been there in ’67.

    Andrew Douglas:
    I had a lot of fun. I wish I’d taken more drugs. I came up a fairly conventional route assisting after college, where I did fine art which is absolutely useless for earning a living. The first guy was John Swannell, a fashion photographer who was fabulous, and I helped him chase beautiful girls around the studio for a year, then I became a house assistant at Vogue. Then on to Snowdon for a year, where I probably learned the most.

    The main thing I liked about him was that he didn’t commit to being any kind of classifiable photographer. Beautiful portraits one day, the next a car shot, the next a still life, the next a fashion picture. My education to that point was that you had to specialise, so that example opened things up again.

    Really, we’re not strictly portrait photographers even though that’s what we’re known for. We’re still reportage photographers, and we do more illustrative things, so we’ve kept open still. With the commercials, it’s become more wide open again. That was really to do with Snowdon in a way.

    Girl drinking.

    The Leagas Delaney Group:
    How did you find your way into directing?

    Stuart Douglas:
    That arose out of shooting the Adidas campaign. Leagas Delaney didn’t know quite what they wanted, so the commission was to just go and shoot something for Adidas. It was about spirit, the spirit of effort or the spirit of exercise. They went with that, and we worked with them for a year. Then Leagas Delaney said, “Wouldn’t it be great if some of your images were moving?” Adidas at that point was just breaking into being fashionably trendy, fashionwear, so we said, “Look at those little ten-second idents they have on MTV about themselves. They’re the best thing they have on there, better than all the ads and the music promos.”

    Then we said, “What we will do is a little ten-second version of our pictures, that will move. Take the gamble on us, and we’ll come back with ten ten-seconders.” As it was, we came back with 12 or 13, some at ten seconds and some at twenty. They still run them now, all the time on MTV in Europe. Adidas definitely got their money’s worth.

    Having seen we were quite capable of using movie cameras, and because we’d been making pop promos for two years before that, Leagas Delaney then gave us the Hyundai advertising commission. We took the original concept about prejudice, rewrote the script, and invented this little Korean family. Again that was very successful, very uncompromising, and that provided the basis for some other work for some other people. That’s how commercials have come to take over from stills currently.

    Each job requires three weeks or a month of our time. We’ve been to Prague, Berlin, New Mexico, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland. It’s been fantastic really, although the most spectacular trip this year was a stills job, for the World Wildlife Foundation. It took us to Nepal, where we had to learn how to shoot from the back of an elephant. It was fabulous.




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