Here at So So Gay, we love to go behind the scenes of anything and everything theatrical, so to kick off 2013 in style, we’re making it our mission to interview the people that make a theatre production happen. Each week we’ll be talking to some of the most important faces in the West End, and what better way to start than by chatting to the man who has the huge responsibility of making actors look pretty.
Darren Bell is a head shot and production photographer based in London, and has the unenviable task of getting that one elusive shot that will make an actor get seen for the casting that could change their life. He’s also recently branched out into taking photographs of big-scale productions. So So Gay had the opportunity to bend his ear about all things stage, and this is what he had to say…
So So Gay: So Darren, we take it you’ve always had an interest in photography?
Darren: I have yes. It’s taken me a long time to find out what I enjoyed though. I’ve photographed weddings, corporate work, parties, night clubs, children portraits and then recently started some West End work, which is where I’m most happy. It fills two of my life pleasures, photography and theatre!
What makes a good head shot for an actor?
Casting agents and directors look for something different every time. I think the best head shot is something that is honest and represents you. There is software that can remove all imperfections; change the shape of your nose, make your eyes bigger, remove freckles and even make you thinner, but I refuse to do that with headshots as your photo should be a true representation of yourself. I’m sure if you walk into an auditon looking nothing like your photo it puts you on a back foot. I’m also a massive fan of colour photography, because it shows you off and all your features. Black and white is an industry standard and I provide them as a matter of course, but colour is just real. It shows eye and hair colour, and there is much more feeling in the photo. But it’s all subjective.
Any real diva people you’ve worked with?
(Laughs) Yes! And she knows exactly who she is. But she is also one of the nicest, funniest and most talented girls I have ever worked with. She may have been in the recent production of Sweeney Todd in London, that’s all I’m saying!
Who would you love to get in front of the lens in your studio?
Darren took this. Let’s all say ‘Thank you Darren’.
I have three people I want to take photos of, mainly because I adore them in everything they do, and that’s Idina Menzel, Sheridan Smith and Dame Judi Dench.
You’ve recently moved into stage work; what’s the most exciting production you’ve photographed so far?
In the last three months I’ve worked on some pretty good shows, in the West End; Tommy, Seussical and Lift the musical. But I have to pick Seussical as my favourite, because I got to see my work turned into posters on the Underground. This has been one of my career goals, and was a total buzz when people were sending me pictures of it! It was an amazing feeling and so far a career high. I’m most excited about Lift, which is on at the Soho Theatre in February. I had to work with the director to create six images for the posters and the whole process was so much fun, I spent a total of twelve hours in a cold goods lift in an office block in the City, but I am really proud of the work the team of thirteen people created. It was a mental day!
What’s your favourite West End show?
I am one of those stagey Wicked fans. I think I’m on my 11th time of seeing it now!
And your least favourite show?
Ooh tricky. I will plead the 5th amendment on that one for fear of upsetting friends/clients/future clients. These questions are mean.
We can take a good picture on Instagram. Does that mean we can call ourselves photographers too?
This is a really good question, and everyone can be a photographer with iPhones, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I have seen some amazing work that has been done on iPhones – I even know one guy who did a fashion shoot on an iPhone to prove how good it was. I follow a lot of well known photographers on Twitter, have trained with a few and admire a lot from a distance, and I would call those guys artists. A camera is like a canvas and a paint brush, but it’s the artist that makes the photographer and if Instagram is helping people become artists then that’s a great thing. It just makes it tougher to compete in the business world as everyone wants to make money from photography. But a professional photogapher is probably 80% business and 20% photography, when you factor in the cost of professional level cameras and other things. For example, to work in a theatre you must have liability insurance, working in the streets taking photos you need that too in case someone falls over a bag or tripod – so many people forget about the small things. It isn’t actually that easy!
On a scale of 1 to Elaine Paige, how stagey are you?
I polled Twitter for this and the response was that I should change my surname to Strallen [After the famous Strallen sisters who are currently taking the West End by storm in various shows]. I was really flattered by that.
What does 2013 have in store for you?
2013 is already getting busy with fringe theatre work and I’m also working on getting a lot more head shots taken. I would love to take a photo of any of the three famous ladies I mentioned earlier, so if anyone can make that happen I’d probably offer my hand in marriage. I’m also expanding work into ‘Actor Portfolios’, which means taking photos of actors in a staged environment that looks like TV/Film work – think of a model portfolio but for actors.
And finally, who’s your stagey crush?
Wow, this question has caused much debate over Twitter and Facebook, but I bravely warned him just in case this went into the article, but it’s a very handsome actor, Dom Tribuzio.
After a quick Google of Dom Tribuzio we can agree with you Darren. Shall we think about starting a stage blind date service?
Some of the theatre posters Darren’s photography has been used in.
You can book Darren Bell Photography for head shots and production work by contacting him through his website. The first ten head shot bookings for January and February 2013 will be at the reduced rate of £80. So hurry and book today.