Deep Lens | Conversations w/ Brandon Jameson
Deep Lens w/Brandon Jameson
Turning the wheels of an 18-year old newbie photographer, budding stylist or other creative is not so easily accomplished these days. Everything has to be spelled out in order to make a point and a point need not be made unless the receiving party is interested in hearing it. Editor-in-Chief, Janet 'Jane' Igah sits down with visionnaire and master photographer (among other things), Brandon Jameson to discuss what it takes to make it to "icon" status in today's fast-paced industry and why millennial creatives should embrace their passions.
Jane: Give us a brief description of your career trajectory – professionally trained or
not, opportunities that led to breakthroughs.
Brandon: [I was asked to move to New York] and work, and my parents were like: "absolutely not. His school work is the most important thing and we want him to get into a good college." Eileen [Ford] [offered to get me into a good school for summer school and arrange it so that I'd be able to work after school.] And my parents said "yes!" So, I lived in Eileen's house. I think I was the only boy that ever lived in Eileen and Jerry [Ford's] house over summers. The reason why I thought this would be so much fun, is because I thought it would give me the opportunity to really see how people light, how people speak to models, how people direct things - because [they filmed a lot of commercials], and to see if it can help me get my foot in the door. [Modeling] worked out really well - so much so, that when Ford [modeling agency] opened up in Toronto, I was ready to go to [college] and so I modeled all through school.
J: So, [how did you make the] jump from modeling to [photography and film] ?
B: I went back to New York, graduated with my bachelor's [degree] and went for my master's [degree] at NYU, and was still working for Ford, just not as much. [I began to film] soap operas and learned that I was a [terrible] actor. [Here's where the unexpected jump happens] - I was still learning all about the real world of film and photography while I was getting my master's [degree] in film. So [yes] - I am classically trained. [However, since I was such a terrible actor, they wrote me out of my soap opera series, and at this point my friends suggested I become a make-up artist.] I knew all these really great models that were over at Ford [modeling agency], like Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford. - The golden age of modeling. I [also] knew all these amazing photographers [that wanted to help me as well] So I [was able to get] this amazing book together as a make-up artist [and then] went to Europe.
[In Europe, I was able] to work with [the team over at Italian Vogue] and [also] got to work with Anna Wintour over at English Vogue and I was actually the only English person she brought on as a makeup artist - [so] I got to work with everybody. [Then, by the time I] came back [to New York], Proctor and Gamble had just bought CoverGirl [and needed a spokesperson], and I said: "HELL to the YES!!!" And so I was their spokesperson all the way through until they sold to Coty last year. So [that was] seventeen years [that] I had this comfortable opportunity as a director and photographer, to make money as a spokesperson and make-up artist, and to still fit behind a camera and see people who were amazing - work!
J: That's amazing! Not everyone gets [the opportunity] to jump in that world like you did. You [just] dived in.
B: Yeah! I remember someone saying to Linda Evangelista, "That cover of you - your lips are crooked. Brandon doesn’t know how to do make-up!" [And she answered] "Well if you'd ever worked with Brandon you would know that he can't do lips and [the] girls do it themselves!"
J: [Lol] That is hilarious!
B: It was notorious, it was just stupid. - I worked in New York [and] I was represented by some really good people over the years. [It was then that] I decided that it was time to make the full jump over to photography and directing and started to do [client work] with the clients that I knew - [like] CoverGirl, Pantene, L'Oreal, and Maybelline - people that I’ve been working [with] for years and [they gave me a chance] and it worked.
J: Awesome! How do you feel your background affects the way your creative process is today?
B: I'm really fortunate - in like a million ways because I got to see the industry when it was really the industry. I got to work with Polly Mellen (Harper's Bazaar), I got to work with Grace Coddington - [the people who really knew the industry], Camilla Nickerson. [and] Lucinda Chambers. [Lucinda] was the first one who brought me on to [shoot with] Elle [magazine] before she went to Vogue [magazine]. I mean - we're talking about the golden age in the nineties. I would say [that experience] gave me the opportunity to see what excellence was from every side. [From] how to put together a story, how to understand locations, how to prepare a carny - the [littlest] things but [how] to get it right. [So] where I am now is working with a whole new [era] of people. The difference - I think, between me and other photographers is that trajectory - where I did get to see, every single day what it [was] like to be amazing. And my career is [applying] all of that learning everyday and [doing] something that at least honors these amazing people and the time they've spent with me [over the years].
J: Wow! So how do you feel fashion influences our culture or vice versa? [Do] you feel culture is influencing fashion? [The industry has] obviously changed so much - how do you feel that influence is coming across [in your work today versus your work] in the nineties?
B: Oh my God! [There is] a huge difference! [In the nineties] we were just cracking the internet, but it didn’t mean anything. What meant something [was] you [picking] up the [new issue] of vogue or you were lucky enough to sneak into an international magazine store somewhere and see what Italian vogue looked like [for that month]. The way that fashion was being dictated was through the print page - through the opportunity to see something you’ve never seen before and never had the opportunity to access. [For example] I was [on a shoot where] we were hanging Christy Turlington off of the Eiffel tower. That kind of shoot today, is not going to happen. Fashion is being influenced now by [street style, and not so much the magazines].
J: Right, street style!
B: Yeah! All the magazines are combining [and a] fashion editor for one magazine is [also] fashion editor of another. [Times are different]. People who really have a voice right now, the people that have the eye and the ear of [the world are] those people that are online producing [their own content].
J: Now, that brings me to my next question - How does having work under legendary photographers [like] Richard Advedon hone your eye for what is relevant and in your case, award winning [today].
B: [Back then photographers] had the luxury of brilliance and money around them. Right now there’s very little money . [Right now, campaigns don't pay] much. [Today, brands are hiring people] who will work for relevance instead of a paycheck. What I've learned [through working with legendary photographers is] these people were working with excellence and money [so they had] the ability to discern something immediately, because time [was] money. [Today] if you're not good - you’re yesterday’s news in a heartbeat! [Today, it's about] relevance So when I’m on set [today] , working with me sounds like : "lose that! add that! thank you for that - that’s brilliant [or] that sucks! [The industry once] worked that way before, then there was a moment where everyone sat on their asses and did drugs and [was] way too pampered. [The industry was stripped] from [being] surrounded by brilliance and money - to money and sloppy and now, it's just brilliance.
J: Going back to being on set, what is the best way to describe the working relationship between you as a photographer and your stylist on any given project? And how is that relationship important to the success of that project especially now, [knowing] there [are] no second chances?
B: I bring the light and I bring some form of vision, but the way it's always been is that the stylist and/or slash fashion editor and or slash creative director - which, we are all wearing those hats now, which is unbelievably crazy! Fashion is democratized. If I am not working with someone who I feel is the voice of the story, it won’t go anywhere. And I feel the same way about models. If models are beautiful but [are] just [standing] there - I can [only] bring just so much magic, it's [about] what they bring. That is how my whole team is. If we have a loose link on set - it shows . If the styling isn’t on point - it shows. If the model feels uncomfortable [then] the stylist isn’t inspired [and] s/he [has] worked for weeks, extensively to get everything together and beg for the clothes from the showrooms that you know are very difficult to get. You put it on someone who is not inspirational [and it] sucks. More, now than ever , we are such a tight team. Now that the money is stripped out of these things, a lot of times it's just passion and the word booking has changed to collaboration in many ways - which means [you'll get] maybe lunch if you’re lucky.
J: Right! Or shipping if you're lucky! Lol.
B: You have to realize there's a sensitivity here that's not: "Aren't we all the best? Aren't we all rich as the day is long and isn't this lunch being catered by the best people in the world?" No it doesn't work like that! It's - put your head down, listen to what's happening in the whole world and reflect real well with your talent on set, and do it in a way that gives you not only pride but a feeling of partnership.
J: That's so amazing! What you just said is why I started [The DOE Online] because, me personally, I’ve gone through, a lot of assistants. I feel like this generation doesn't have that put your head down and work at your passion [dedication] they wanna be paid, they want the instant gratification, they want to be [successful] overnight, they want to be a famous stylist and they think styling is glamorous, [but] thats not it! That's just not how it works and thats not how someone moves from one place to another.
B: We're on the same page - if you look at someone like Patti Wilson, who i think is genius. Patti Wilson and I worked together when I was doing make-up on CoverGirl - Patti was the go-to-girl [for fashion styling] and the fact that she now has transformed herself into taking responsibility for what a fashion stylist use to do, [because] she was a commercial stylist and now she's working with Steven Meisel and doing amazing [work] for English Vogue and it's because out of all the people she started with she's been able to transform herself and in the process stay relevant, and stay a partner - no matter what the job looks like. The old stylists already have that phone book - contact lists of the designers that they have the ear of and so they’re going to get the amazing [pieces] way before anyone else. [There is] a pecking order in fashion. I think the new fashion [creatives] are the ones that are able to take [pieces] from the thrift shops and from Zara and God knows where [else] and make it into something that is photographable.
J: Right! It's [all] about the [final] image.
B: [Yes! Because] Patti's got Prada! And Patti always will have Prada, but on the other side of that is someone like Alister Mackie who takes stuff that they see off the street and into the studio [that's] the difference!
Brandon Jameson All Rights reserved. Originally published on March 27th, 2018 | Archives