Cultura RF/Monty Rakusen
It’s not just that Monty Rakusen makes factories, science labs, tugboats look dramatic, even beautiful. His work pushes some hot-button trends.
“I tend to specialise in power generation – nuclear fusion – ship building, car production,” says Monty Rakusen in his bio. But his shoots deliver much more: the impact of scale; the pleasure in the look and feel of machinery and technology; the storytelling around ‘leadership’, ‘teamwork’, ‘co-operation’. And Rakusen’s vividly physical imagery plays into a social trend that began with the credit crunch and the public’s scepticism of the ‘funny money’ economy of the previous decade. In a recent poll for Gallup in December 2012, 70 percent of Americans rated Engineers highly or very highly when asked about trust compared to the 28 percent who rate Bankers. In visual terms, this translates into a desire for imagery that expresses ‘tangible’ things, a respect for ‘makers’, ‘producers’, manufacturers and people with hands-on skills. Rakusen’s photography has all of this, and more importantly it feels tactile with its textured palettes of warm oranges and reds alongside cool, shiny chromes. In the interview below Rakusen talks about his inspirations, shooting a factory in the style of a perfume ad and the ‘visual mix’ of 100 tonnes of molten metal.
1. A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory/event?
Monty Rakusen: This picture of Lloyd holding coffee beans came out of my shoot in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. I will always remember the experience of shooting in Jamaica with great fondness and emotion. Whilst it was a really tough shoot, it was great to work with these amazing people in this incredible place on the top of a mountain in the clouds. The rum was pretty good too!
2. An image of three books that have inspired you?
3. Favourite photo you have taken?
Monty Rakusen: The Steelworks image. This was a very difficult picture to take. We started really early in the morning and shot for six hours to produce this one image. It was the largest steel pouring that our host had ever made, around 100 tonnes of molten metal, and it was poured using three ladles. The shot itself is made up of many pictures and some of the people appear several times. I am sorry to spoil the illusion! Here it was my assistant’s job to protect and look after the kit which couldn’t move and the environment was very cold and raining ash and this is a good example of the value of a hard-working assistant.
4. Favourite artist/photographer/image-maker
Monty Rakusen: My all time favourite photographer would be Cartier-Bresson. His ability to catch the moment and build drama out of the mundane is unsurpassed. I really enjoy the work of fellow Yorkshire man David Hockney and I am a big fan of Eugene Meatyard.
5. How did you become expert in Energy/Industry/Science photography and what were your reference points?
Monty Rakusen: For many years I ran a photographic studio shooting catalogue and product photography. I was very successful, but I was quite unhappy. As with most photographers there comes a point in their career where they must change direction, and I had been asked to shoot a factory in the style of a perfume ad, with very shallow focus and gentle light. The project was quite successful and it changed the way I took pictures. Gradually I moved more towards industrial photography. I have always been fascinated by Science and Industry and people making things and it seemed an exciting thing to do, to paint this in an heroic light.
6. How do you manage all the visual detail in your images?
Monty Rakusen: Mostly I shoot tethered, so my laptop comes with me into steelworks, coalmines and nuclear power stations. It can be pretty tough for it! The photography becomes more like painting, using the screen as a canvas and this enables me to fine tune my pictures, more so than if I was shooting into a card. Nevertheless, I do shoot into cards regularly too, but I have an assistant constantly downloading them and reviewing them. The work is very thoroughly post-produced, and I spend more time in post production than actually taking pictures, which I feel is a bit of a shame, but this polishes the finished image and gives it high production value.
7. You seem to like boats, tugs in particular. Discuss
Oh dear! I do have relatives who were in the navy and merchant navy, in fact my uncle was in the raid at St Nazaire! and I am called Monty after him. So I am very interested in the sea. I like the light and large ships. However, the fact that I have shot so much on tugs is purely because we were stuck at sea during the recent four day shoot we did. On one day, I left my studio at 4.00 am and was out at sea by 9.00 am. The Captain was pushing a huge car ship around. More and more ships came during the day needing the attention of our tug, consequently there was no way we could get ashore! To make it worse, I wanted to get some sunset shots but we got a call and had to travel across the Humber estuary as the sun set and did not get back to shore until 10.30 at night! I have new projects in progress about Container Ships and LNG powered ships.
8. Often these images are telling a story about a process, that’s photographically observational and conceptual, depicting ‘teamwork’, ‘skill’, ‘trust’. How do you decide on what parts of these vast industrial productions will work best visually?
Monty Rakusen: All my projects are recced, often they are pre-visualised. I take advice from my Image Source Art Director and we do the necessary research. By experience, I have found that it is more successful to show a specific process in a slightly more conceptual way. Indeed, we shoot a lot around the ideas of teamwork, skills, experience and so forth. It is not documentary photography, it is something else.
9. The kind of shoots you do afford you the ability to see what is going on behind the ‘Wizard’s Curtain’. What is the one biggest surprise you’ve learnt?
Monty Rakusen: I think probably that all is not as it seems! Sometimes the things you think are going to be easy, turn out to be hard and the hard things turn out to be easy!
10.You have featured in Victor (the Hasselblad magazine) and in fact the video promo for the first issue feels like one of your large-scale industrial shoots! What kinds of kit (and precautions) do you use on shoots?
Monty Rakusen: Precautions – for my kind of work, Health and Safety is absolutely paramount. I cannot stress this enough. If you are working in the dangerous places where I work you must be abiding by the rules, you must make sure that your team and your models are safe and aware of the dangers. We have a whole prop store full of safety kit and we make sure that everyone is wearing it at all times.
It is often difficult to get workers in factories to wear the correct kit and I can become very unpopular in enforcing this!
Photographic Equipment – I use two cameras, the Hasselblad H4D50 and the Nikon D800, and I have a full range of lenses for them. I use Elinchron ranger flash packs and all my kit goes in secure pelicases with trekpack inserts. I use really good cases because the kit gets bounced about in the back of landrovers and thrown onto the decks of tankers and tugs and gets splashed with molten metal!
Monty Rakusen’s Portfolio
To see more of Monty Rakusen on Image Source