Image Source’s Art Director and Head of Science Lee Wheatley on shooting Industrial imagery, having guns held to his head and kids tantrums.
In the second of our series looking at Art Director’s creative processes, Lee Wheatley gives us the insider’s insight on the inspiration, planning and photographers behind his stunning industrial shoots.
What originally drove you to art directing industrial imagery?
I like shooting all kinds of things, kids playing musical instruments in a comedic way, portraits, business etc. Food also, you can make it look beautiful or graphic in a rock n roll way. However, when it comes to shooting science, industry, and nature, it takes you out of your comfort zone. All of a sudden you’re playing with things on a vast scale. That can be otherworldly. Certainly in terms of how small and insignificant we are compared to weather or huge mammals such as whales, but also the grand scale we have created for ourselves. For example building vast objects like ocean tankers which we construct from mining ore in the ground, and our research and understanding through medicine. I find all this inspiring in a ‘boys own’ kind of way.
How do you choose what to shoot?
When it comes to things to shoot, I have a list of subjects as long as my arm. It tends to be the harder to get stuff which is usually down to access, health and safety, secrecy, or the owners lack of appreciation that what they have is of commercial interest – certainly to clients looking for a balance of visual documentation and easily identifiable concepts. Mainly, and despite time spent cajoling and persuading these parties to give you access, a lot of them don’t come through. However, when they do, and you get a great shoot out of it, it tastes all the sweeter.
Which photographers do you work with and why?
Monty Rakusen is an obvious choice as he is a brilliant commercial photographer with his own style. What I particularly like about working with Monty is his ability to build a narrative into all his pictures, that and his openness to art direction, meaning he’ll quite gladly scale a 40ft gantry to get the picture. A special mention should also go to his wife, Liz. Those fantastic locations we shoot at are down to Liz’s ability to get her foot in the door. Rafe Swan is also a great photographer. He is fastidious about his lighting, which is always immense, as is his attention to detail. Rafe’s series of conceptual images on stem cell research in 2012 were probably my favourite of the year. Another is Philippe Roy, who even though he is new to me, has already developed a rapport and understanding, despite being half a world away in China. Asia is big growth area for us, as is science and industry, so its very exciting for me to see these global themes being taken on and localised by Philippe, who gets the rationale completely.
What kind of research and inspiration do you look to for these shoots?
All kinds of things! It could be something that I’ve read, or learnt from one of my contacts in the science community. For example last year I heard about a new form of cell repair that is done by nanotech which is injected into the person. It sounded like something out of the film Innerspace! Still figuring out where to take that one… A lot of research also comes from trend analysis, and deconstructing repeat sellers to understand exactly what it is in that image that makes it so saleable. It could be a completely mundane image, certainly nothing to do with science, but the skill is then extracting that element and implanting it into the new shoot you’re going to do. This is quite a big part of what we do as Art Directors.
I’ve had gun put against my head at 4am, because someone thought i was part of a mafia hit squad, and been involved in a high speed car chase across a city, all in the name of getting pictures. Most science and industry shoots are difficult, especially if you’re trying to avoid something that’s on fire and in your locale, but to be honest, the most challenging shoot i’ve ever done was the one with the kids and musical instruments previously mentioned. It was an incredibly hot August day, and in hindsight we’d probably booked too many kids for the shoot. This meant that each set up we did, involved six children twiddling their thumbs or running round, while another two were being photographed. All of this in two very hot studio locations. By the afternoon, tempers were frayed and many tears were shed over the fact that they hadn’t had a go on the drums, guitar, trombone etc, and that was just the photographer and art director! To be honest, all things considered, the kids were great, and the photographer, Phil Fisk, got some fantastic images, so it was worth it. I slept well that night though!