23 Minutes with Photographer David Loftus

by

AKA Jamie Oliver's best mate.

Three years ago, a copy of David LoftusAround the World in 80 Dishes landed on my desk at my former workplace and, taken with the recipes and their to-drool-for photographs, I reviewed it here. David, however, is no chef; he’s instead spent thousands of hours in their company, and naturally has picked up a thing or two. His true passion is photography (of all kinds bar sport and weddings), and he’s formed quite a reputation for his inspired food shots, mostly thanks to his enduring bromance with Jamie Oliver. (They’re currently working on their 20th cookbook together.) Earlier this year, David was the recipient of the Special Lifetime Achievement Award for Photography, and if you need further proof of his clad, his nickname in the industry is, quite aptly, Lord Loftus.

We were fortunate to ask a few questions of the highly regarded shutterbug on how his career came to be, what’s kept his friendship with Mr Oliver thriving for two decades, and how anyone who can see is a photographer.

Congratulations on your recent Special Lifetime Achievement Award for Photography. As someone who’s rarely satisfied with what they produce, is the award something you celebrated?

I was certainly chuffed. Being asked to judge awards is a lot more thrilling than entering them. I get great joy from looking at others’ work rather than my own! I entered the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize last year with what I thought was my strongest portrait, and the rejection letter hurt. Even more when I saw what depressing pictures they chose as winners! I’m certainly not “trendy”. So, yes, I celebrated, though it was drinking rosĂ© on the top of a mountain in Basilicata [Italy] as I was unavoidably shooting.

You weren’t originally a food photographer, but an editor asked that you shoot food and you took to it. Did this foray give you the confidence to switch and explore even more subjects?

I wouldn’t say “confidence”, I just couldn’t really afford to say no, so I always nervously said yes. Having trained as a graphic designer and illustrator, I had used my hobby of photography as a means of hiding from a bullying teacher at art college. It was the pub or the darkroom; sometimes the pub won, sometimes the darkroom! When I changed from illustration to snapping, I wasn’t really aware of the industry’s pigeonholing of photographers. I shoot everything from fashion and travel to portraiture – there is nothing technical in what I do, just a love of what I shoot.

You’ve said that your work with Jamie represents 10 per cent of your workload, despite the impressive volume of books you’ve made together. What does the other 90 per cent of your schedule comprise?

We’ve just finished our 19th and are working on a longer term 20th, so I feel a party coming on. I shoot all sorts, cars for Maclaren, portraits and lifestyle for Collette Dinnigan, travel stories for CN Traveller, hotels, interiors, ads for multinationals. I shoot everything except weddings and sport… although I did shoot Collette’s wedding!

You’ve known, and worked with, Jamie for 20 years now. What would you say is the glue of your partnership and friendship?

We are like chalk and cheese, really. Sometimes I’m like the brother he didn’t have – in good ways and bad ways. We’re best chums, so if something doesn’t work out, it can be hard, but we can read each other extremely well, and can take the mickey out of each other, but, ultimately, we have each other’s backs, and I am certainly fiercely loyal towards him. He loves that my nickname in the industry is Lord Loftus, so either calls me that, or if he wants to annoy me, he calls me Frodo because I always walk around in bare feet and he thinks my feet are hilarious.

When taking on new work, what are you looking for in a project or collaborator?

They have to be morally and ethically sound. Of course, you always hope they are financially sound, but it’s the one thing you never check, and obviously, as a result, one is occasionally burnt. Photographers are rarely great businessmen. Like most jobs, there’s an element of taking on commercial work to pay the bills, which might not be creatively exciting, but one always tries to make any project fun. The big bonus jobs are those where every factor comes together, a great team, an exciting design brief, amazing locations, even if the fee is rubbish, these are jobs that stay in the memories.

You’re recently married. How does creativity factor into your relationship with Ange?

She’s an extraordinary lady; I had admired her from afar for a while. As a branding specialist, design, photography and styling were part and parcel with what she does so well. She is one of those rare people who can be given any brief: “make my company look better, where it needs to be seen, and make an impression”, and she does it with aplomb. We’ve worked on a few projects together, with Traveller, MasterChef and Maclaren, and I am in awe of her talent, as an art director, a stylist, a strategist, and as a person. I am a lucky man.

You’ve been known to say, “If you can see, you’re a photographer.” What’s one tip that might instantly elevate the photography of a novice?

I believe in what I said. Most people can take a decent picture. Start simple. Daylight is best. Take time; patience is a virtue. Take time to get horizons and verticals straight. Learn what your phone or camera can do, move your finger across the screen to expose on the area you want to be sharp and well lit. Take your time to press the button, hold steady and press lightly, avoiding blur. I have a YouTube channel that attempts to demystify the art of photography, but professionals hate it!

Are you someone with a meditative practice, or an activity that centres you when life gets hectic?

Meditation has always escaped me; my hyperactive mind refuses to rest. Someone once said that I have “hungry eyes” and I know what they mean. I am constantly seeking new shots in my head; it’s a way of life, not just my job. I direct commercials and short films, but these create stress. I write books – I’m on my second – and these hardly help. I draw still; I recently completed a “drawing a day for 365 days”, but ultimately this became a project of disappointment in my own abilities. I think probably my brain is at its most relaxed staring out to sea with the sun on my face, or beach combing, one of the few times my mind can switch into neutral.

What’s the greatest advice you’ve been given career-wise, and who offered it?

Ha! My art college tried its best to squash all ambition, and most of what I have achieved has been without any sound advice. I lost my identical twin when I was 25; he was a graphic designer, called Johnny, and he was my biggest champion as a freelance artist in those early days. I miss him immensely, but ultimately his tragically early death gave me a lack of fear to try to perform well in areas I might normally have feared to tread. Carpe diem, as he always said.

Food photography by David Loftus. Visit his website here.

Pick up a copy of Collective Hub Issue 46 with Jamie Oliver on the cover. You can also buy it here.

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