Photographer Jon Cottam “Art is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has a different opinion which is valid.”

22 jan, 2012

I was born in London, UK, then when I was about 1/2 years old my family moved to Torquay, Devon. This seaside town is very popular in the UK for going on holiday, and a great picturesque area to bring up children. When I was studying at art school to become a painter, I discovered photography, fell in love with it, and decided to change my career plan.

I was fortunate enough to study a degree in photography at one of the most prestigeous art schools in the country, and went on to assist some of London’s leading photographers. This experience was invaluable and helped define my style and approach to photography.

My influences come from every aspect of my life. From the different countries I visit, those cultures I’m exposed to, and of course some of the greats of photography. A few photographers who have influenced my work (in no particular order) – Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Annie Leibovitz, Dianne Arbus, Nadav Kandar, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastaio Salgado, Arnold Newman, Cindy Sherman, David Sliper, Mert & Marcus, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Nick Knight, Ruven Afandor, & Steven Meisel. The list could go on and on and on.

But these are a few which jump to mind right now, which inspired me at the beginning of my career, and still do today. As I studied fine art / painting, I’m also quite influenced by the great painters of our time. I also  love films and like to incorporate some of the feel and look of a movie in my photography. I love the cinematography of Adrain Biddle, Christopher Doyle, Darius Khondji, & Derek Vanlint, and I draw from very visual directors such as Ridley Scott.

The digital era: quality and technology?

At the high end of the scale (publications such as Italian Vogue etc etc) I don’t think the digital era has helped too much with quality. You just have to look at some of the great photographers from the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s. Helmut Newton & Richard Avedon’s fashion images form that era are just as strong if not stronger than the ones produced today.

If anything the digital age has reduced the quality of images we see in some low end magazines. Making it easy for the ammeture photographer to catch up with the professional photographer, without the same knowledge and skill sets required.

Strong concepts and composition are lacking sometimes. It has opened up the medium to the masses with the technology making it so much easier to produce quality images, and occasionally over manipulation of the image. But art is in the eye of the beholder. And everyone has a different opinion which is valid. At the end of the day I’m  very happy to see the variety and diversity in images we have today. Especially with digital media, its great our work can be seen by nearly everyone and anyone. That is a great positive which technology provides.


Worldwide economic crisis affected the fashion photography?

Sure, the fashion industry has faced problems in recent years, yet it´s still surviving and thriving. The images produced are still amazing and I’ve not seen any drop in standards because of it. New fashion designers and talent are immersing from all over the word. Despite the worst economic crisis/recessions in decades people are still buying alot of clothing, and that will never change. So there will always be a need for fashion photography, to promote and sell the products.


Special moments capturing perfect pictures?

I never feel as I have captured a ‘perfect’ picture. Yet there are always times when I know I have a great shot in the bag. I can’t explain it, you just have a gut feeling that you have the shot, everything was working amazingly well together at that precise moment in time – a decisive moment – stealing a phrase from the great Henri Cartier-Bresson. That can be the first shot of the roll, or the last. It´s always different, but you know it when you’ve got it.

Funny/unusual backstage´s moments: breaking up a polybord into tiny pieces of polystyren to   look like snow!

There is always a funny or unusual moment backstage. The one that jumps to mind right now was when I had to shoot hollywood star Emmy Rossum for the cover & spread for Genlux Magazine in LA. We had a snow machine booked for the shoot, as it was for the christmas issue. By 11am it had not arrived. I called the company, and they told me they had an accident on the motorway!

So there I was, standing in the studio, hollywood star all made up in costume and ready to shoot, and I had no snow machine.

So myself and the creative director sneaked off to the quiet part of the studio and came up with the idea of breaking up a polybord into tiny pieces of polystyrene, and we got 4 assistants to throw the pieces around from different angles to make it look like snow!!!

Helping out a model´s career

I love helping out a models career. It´s a great feeling to spot the potential in someone, to see something that someone else doesn’t perhaps. To then be able to help nature it, to help see it grow to fruition is amazing. Like giving something back.

Top cool places for a shooting

Cape Town, South Africa – The amazing diversity of that area and its beauty. You can make the endless locations there look like anything you want.
Los Angeles, USA – Some of the most amazing location houses, there are always such a pleasure to shoot in.
London, UK – So many historical buildings and great studios to shoot in.
Machu Picchu, Peru – Was such a breath taking location to shoot in and had a great energy attached to it.
Whitsunday Islands, Australia – One of the nicest beaches I’ve had the pleasure to shoot on.

Image worth a Thousand words?

An image totally is worth a thousand words. So much emotion and story telling can be taken from even a single image. Images can make you smile, laugh, cry, feel pity, every emotion you can think of can be drawn from a picture.

The Projects

I’m currently working on an advertising campaign for a New York based handbag and jewelry designer. I can´t say too much about  it as we’re only in the pre-production phase. We’ve picked a stunning model with an unique looking face. She’s just beautiful and amazing in a sightly unusual manner. Which is what we liked about her most, and why we picked her for this campaign. I cant wait to get shooting!

I’m flying back down to Cape Town to shoot a few fashion editorials for UK magazines and local SA magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Mens Health, and

An unforgettable moment

A special moment was shooting Hollywood star James McAvoy for the cover of Radio Times magazine, as it was both my first major celebrity and my first cover shoot.

Thats about it! Thanks for reading and sharing with me!!

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