Gugu was born in Oxford, England, she appeared in TV series Bad Girls, Bonekickers and Doctor Who. In 2013 She starred in Amma Asante's film Belle.Followed by starring in Gina Prince-Bythewood's film Beyond The Lights. Also starred in Jupiter Ascending, Concussion, Free State of Jones, Miss Sloane and Beauty and the Beast.
This is my second commission for the British Academy Of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA). Janette Dalley, BAFTA’s director of photography since 2007, is heavily into a deep, long term project to make the Academy’s photographic archive the go to source for imagery of the British film and television industries. This commission is another small step on the road to her long term photographic ambitions for the organisation.
This year’s theme for the film awards brochure portfolio was ‘Women In Film’. The call came from Janette sometime back in September and the project started with a meeting at her office. Toby Weidmann, editor of the awards brochure, and various others had put together a list of women that he wanted to approach for the project and then it was over to Janette to make the calls.
Our final list was as follows:
Amma Assante – director; Brenda Blethyn – actress; Christine Langan – head of BBC Films; Gugu Mbatha-Raw – actress; Jane Goldman – screenwriter/producer; Lone Scherfig – director; Sam Taylor Johnson – director; Sandy Powell – costume designer; Thelma Schoonmaker – editor.
The last project I did for BAFTA had been entirely studio based. For this one, of course, I wanted to get out of the studio and into the big wide world. I was also adamant that I wanted to photograph all of these women as they were on any normal day, no styling, no sets, nothing too overblown. I also wanted to make each of them appear as if they were fulfilling a role in their own little private movie. This meant no eye contact with the camera and, with one or two exceptions, I stuck to this rule throughout my final selections.
Janette and Toby are great collaborators in that once they hand over a subject to me they let me do it however I like, with barely a question on concept/location or idea. They trust all the photographers they work with implicitly and off we go to play around in our sandpits. As the project progressed I would occasionally send Janette a rough low res file of a frame here or there that I liked, but apart from that I waited until the end of the whole thing before submitting my final choices. All in, a dream of a thing to do, photographing people whose talents are unquestionable, people who like pictures and imagery. People who get it. I don’t think one of them lasted more than an hour. Dreamsville.
In chronological order then, here they are.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a British actress and has been nominated for this year’s BAFTA rising star award. This was the second shoot in Los Angeles and for this I got hold of a 1989 Porsche 911 and took it up to the top of one of the Hollywood Hills where the view over the City of Angels will take your breath away. I wanted the picture to feel like it could be a scene at the end of a big 80s buddy buddy cop movie. Reveal, betrayal, confrontation, conclusion. Try it at dusk as the sun goes down and the twinkling lights of the city start to illuminate the long, long arrow straight streets. Unfortunately for me my call time with Gugu was 1pm, the worst time in the whole day to photograph anybody because of the harsh, hard, severe position of the sun at its highest point in the sky. However, the sun was at least behind Gugu and could backlight her fabulous hair. Again my assistant handheld the big shiny board and bounced the sunback into her from various positions. This was the quickest shoot of all. She had comefrom filming in Pittsburgh to do this and an interview,beforeturning right round to head straight back. We did the whole thing in half an hour.