Born and based in London, Rupert Vandervell works as a photographer and video filmmaker in fashion/beauty industry. He’s a self-taught photographer and his black and white photographs taken in the backdrop of urban settings exhibit light, shadow and the human form in amazingly impressive and distinctive style. Working mostly in monochrome, Rupert has finished some very creative photo series in recent years and captured life on the streets where the focus is on minimal composition and shapes. His subjects are alone figures unaware of being photographed. The emphasis on low-key processing enhances the contrast which further isolates the human figure. Here we have a perfect blend of cityscape and street photography at their best. It is achieved by skilful composition and looking for perfect light… along with a lot of patience. PhotoArtMag is showcasing some of the recent images of Rupert Vandervell with his to-the-point and precise comments on his photography and related things:
I first began taking pictures as a teenager after being given a camera for my birthday. At that time, my family lived in the Welsh countryside and I started photographing the bleak landscapes around me. I was drawn to the natural geometry and minimalist aspects of what I saw. I appreciated the isolation of the environment and the silence.
My career working in the fashion industry has definitely made an impression on my photographs. The shapes and forms found in clothing for example, are similar to what we see in the city’s surroundings, in the buildings and streets.
Photography’s not a game, I’m not competing with anyone. I try not to take pictures for the sake of it. These days everyone has a camera all of the time, producing millions of pictures everyday. I don’t need that and it doesn’t need me. Actually, I am taking fewer pictures nowadays. I need a project that I can become engrossed in, that said I usually have one.
I hate snapshots. If I’m going to make a picture then I want it to try and say something on a different level. I want it to involve the viewer on an emotional level. It should be an image you want to come back to.
For me, there is no line between art and photography. An image is an image, it tells a story, you hang it on your wall and it makes you think. Everyday you become more familiar with it and it forges a place in your life. It’s always there.
I’ve always been happy spending time on my own and have never craved the company of others. I saw a film recently where a person was forced to exist entirely on their own, stripping their life down to the bare minimum in order to survive, a bit like Robinson Crusoe. That both unnerved and appealed to me in equal measure. I’m freaked out by how populated the world has become, I find it quite worrying.
With some of my pictures I’m kind of imagining a world where there are just a few. It’s a world where we can see the space and ‘hear’ the silence. I love the lone figure, seemingly adrift but at the same time very connected to the space around them. It gives me quite a rush when I see a scene like that.
Which camera and lenses do you mostly use and why? What are your favorite settings and workflow?
I use Olympus cameras exclusively. They are beautifully made and easy to handle, especially the OMD series. The EM5 is my camera of choice at the moment, paired with a 20mm lens, it is the business. Talking about software bores me but I use Photoshop and Lightroom like everyone else I guess.
I’m always discreet, I never look at people in the face and they never know I have a camera. I’m always on the move, you’ll see nothing standing still. I only shoot when the light is right. I won’t go out if not.
In winter, I only shoot at night, it’s often the best time in the city. And at night the light is always right.
There are two pictures, one at the start of my street explorations as a young man and one fairly recently.
The one of the bag lady because I was very young and a real newbie with a camera. I saw her and had to have her picture but I was scared to ask her. I did and she said yes but told me to be quick. I just raised the camera while she was talking, framed and clicked. I went away after thinking that I had not done it properly and cut her feet off or something. When I developed the negative the sense of relief that came over me was immense. I had got her.
The other (see below) which comes from my series ‘Man on Earth’, because it sums up my fascination with the streets. It highlights the presence of life and the unique visual characteristics of the human form against the urban background. Here, the lone figure is surrounded by a web of steel and stone, captured within its centre, like an aperture closing in.
I am working on a book project at the moment. It is all consuming and a real test of my abilities, I’m having to work very hard and be very lucky.
What are your views on contemporary photography (focusing a bit more on street photography/fine art photography):
We live in bland times and much of what I see around me is a product of there being too much of everything. It’s hard to breathe and the good gets swamped by the mediocre. Of course there are wonderful photographers working through it and producing great and inspirational work that will be remembered but it’s getting harder for them.
Look at the masters’ work, both photographers and artists, they are remembered for a reason. You can learn so much from what has gone before you, but trust your eye, it will lead you to your own style and you will be very, very grateful for it.