Photographer Benedict Redgrove has made his name shooting extremes: the fastest cars, the biggest yachts, the largest buildings and the most expensive of everything. But earlier this year he took off into the Scottish Highlands to make a series of personal images that are a radical departure from what we’ve come to expect from him. Fallen Giants is a series exploring managed forests and the toppled trees that litter the landscape. They celebrate the natural world and offer an escape from the day-to-day struggle of modern life. But they also tell a very personal story for Benedict…
Tell us your name, age and what you do as succinctly as possible
Benedict Redgrove, Im 45 and I’m a photographer. My work is mainly for commercial and editorial clients; shooting architecture, technical and engineering facilities and products, along with all modes of transport, some people, big spaces, clean spaces, both man made and natural.
You used to be a graphic designer, what made you want to make the leap to photography?
I had been shooting some personal work while I was working in graphic design and I realised this made me happier – it filled a part of me that my design work just couldn’t fulfil. My creative director looked at the work and said that he thought I was better at this than I was at design. He had a point. I started shooting more and more. I shot some reportage stories and realised that it was a more complete role for me, more like a vocation than a job. It rewards every part of me in each of its processes and all in different ways. The only role that comes close is directing. I’ve worked on a couple of small projects and that is another area that I find incredibly stimulating and fulfilling and would love to do more of. Every single part of directing I find rewarding and enjoyable and it fills me with enormous amounts of happiness. Photography and directing are a complete source of food for the soul for me.
What kind of images did you make when you first started out?
I shot lots of travel and sports. Motorsport mainly, then athletics and rugby, but I loved motorsport. I shot some car collections for friends who I used to go vintage car racing with. With these images in a folio I went to see some magazines and they gave me some more car assignments to shoot. I wanted to explore the idea of shooting the places rather than the cars, and that became more of my personal work. I assisted some fashion photographers to learn about the technical side as I had no experience and had taught myself. I worked with them for a while and through my connections with the previous car magazines I started to shoot some travel stories and a little fashion.
I shot a travel story for a car magazine and this was my first foray into realising that my eye, what I liked to shoot, was slightly different to what they were used to. I got the contact sheets over to the art director and she called to say they were really different to what she was used to, but she loved them and encouraged me to shoot more of the same.
At what point did you arrive at your signature style – that crisp, polished aesthetic that everyone knows you for?
I really developed that style through wanting to make the images perfect. And a bit of OCD. I only realised recently that this is what I have been searching for and wanting in my life. I make my work like this maybe in the desire to make my life like this. In working and speaking with other artists to try and develop a dialogue about my work I have realised that this is a theme. I’ve been seeking calm and perfection in my work, and some people have said that my images do invoke a sense of calm, they have that feeling.
It’s how my shoots are too, the crews I work with are calm people. Don’t get me wrong, they are fun and lively at times, but I like the feeling of calm when I work. Its quite zen sometimes. When I was shooting landscapes in Iceland I got totally lost and zoned out a few times. It was fantastic, almost meditative.
I was also influenced by my love of sci-fi films when I was growing up, they all seemed to be in this utopian perfection. I feel that the places I go to and the subjects I shoot tend to be in clean environments, and to me they just need cleaning up a little more to make them perfect. In the early days when I was shooting film we would spend time making prints and it used to really frustrate me that they weren’t as clean as I would have liked. As soon as digital came I could see the opportunity that was before me and I grasped it.
A lot of your images focus on extremes; speed, wealth, scale etc. Is that something you’re preoccupied with as a subject?
Wealth per se doesn’t really interest me. The products it buys are normally technically better than the products you could buy that are less expensive, so their designs, materials and technical excellence are of interest. I love good engineering, good design, well thought out utilitarian objects are of great interest to me, not just luxury items. An internal part of a jet engine, or a simple tool are just as interesting to me as yacht or watch. Simple made well is far better than complex made badly. Over-engineered is ok, unless it’s wasted and then its just that, a waste.
Bad design has no place in my life. If it doesn’t give you joy or have a purpose then I won’t have it. I made a decision to always buy the best that I could afford. Something that lasts, is well made and will age. We live in such throwaway society and to me there is something special about holding an object that someone has spent time thinking about, designing and engineering. These things tend to make objects tactile and elegant.
I recently commissioned my motorbike to be redesigned and rebuilt by Autofabrica. They share the same ethos as me and we spent hours looking at materials, finishes and working out what we could take off the bike before we worked out what we had to put back on. The end product is simplified, better made, a one-off bike in engineering grey. Style over substance is not something I subscribe to and that goes for objects and people.
I do love speed though. I’ve always loved speed. As I get older and now that I have a daughter the journey has slowed down and I can appreciate that more. Going very, very fast every once in a while does wake you up a bit. I love fast on water, in the air, on the tarmac, its all good – even on my bicycle.
Extremes interest me, extreme environments, extreme machines, anything that is built for an extreme is of interest. The figures, the stats, the materials, the people that build them, the reason for their being, the facilities that build them, it’s all of interest to me. I love this stuff, it fills me with questions and asks more than it answers.
Tell us about your latest project Fallen Giants.
I had been training to go to Everest base camp with some friends, but there were a number of jobs on and my US visa needed renewing. The timing of all this coincided with the trip, so I had to remove myself from the team, which was really rather sad and the bit of me that had been craving the outdoors and mountains wasn’t being given its time. At the same time the relationship I was in broke down so I wasn’t feeling the best I’ve ever felt, and I find that an escape to the open country – trees and mountains – is a great tonic for me. It really feeds a part of me that is very basic and gives me the simplest, purest pleasure.
I took myself to Skye and while I was driving around the highlands I kept seeing all these managed forests. They looked a little like pictures from the Somme. Flattened fields with trees laying on their sides. Whether it’s on purpose or just something I subconsciously do, I tend find myself shooting projects when I go away; to shoot certain subjects that I find in that location. In this case it was the forests and fallen trees of the Highlands. I would drive and stop, walk into the woods and up the hillsides, drive into the forests and shoot. Its not really a project that I will promote, it was just a personal project that I shot that weekend, but it filled a part of me that would otherwise have been left unfulfilled.
Did you take on the project as an escape from the usual stuff you photograph?
There is that too. I shoot a lot of man made environments and products, but I love the outdoors, so when I get the chance I do take myself away. I love the sea and the mountains and if I ever get the opportunity to be in either, I go for it.
What else are you working on right now?
On the commercial side I have a few car campaigns coming up but personally I’m working on two projects that are very exciting but that I can’t really talk about until I have the go ahead from both parties. It is definitely the most exciting work I’ve ever produced.
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