Andrew McGibbon is not the first South African photographer that we have talked to. He is, however, the first that we have interviewed who does not live in Cape Town but in Durban, a smaller city that Andrew himself describes as a “laidback surf town.”
“Not too much goes on here,” says Andrew. “From a business point-of-view, it would probably be a lot smarter to move to Cape Town. But I have already built up my customer base here so moving to Cape Town would almost be like starting over. Plus, there does seem to be a creative energy building here in Durban with a lot of great artists doing big things so sticking around may not be a bad thing.”
What kind of assignments do you get today?
“I’ve focused on commercial photography for a couple of years now. At first, it was hard to convince the ad agencies to try out a new photographer like me. But eventually I broke through, and I do get some nice, big ad campaigns now. However, lately I’ve also felt the need to explore fine art photography. This is what prompted my horse project.”
Yes, I wanted to ask about that. How is that coming along?
“Great! I started shooting in January, had my first exhibition in March, and it’s already gone completely viral on the Internet. Last week I had 31,000 unique visitors on my website. By way of comparison, I think I had about a total of 600 for the whole two years before that!”
Wow! What do you think it is that appeals to people?
“First of all, I think it’s the way the photos are lit. They don’t look like your average horse photos. Even though they weren’t shot in the studio, they still look like real studio shots as we literally took the studio to them. It’s very stylized. Also, judging from the reactions and comments I get, people seem to respond to the emotions that are shown in the animals. They look at them almost like people. In fact, my ambition with this project was that even people who usually don’t care too much for horses would react emotionally, so in that sense I believe I succeeded. Actually, the only criticism I’ve received is from horse people!”
What are they critical about?
“Some think the horse is portrayed as sad, and they think the horse is not sad. Others have an issue with the way I photographed the horse. Apparently, there are certain ways to shoot a horse, and you never, ever cut off the horse at its knees … which I did several times…”
Now that I think of it, my horse-loving colleague did mention that the horses look very thin.
“Yeah, I get that comment too. I didn’t make them thinner, you know! Perhaps it’s because some of them are polo horses and extremely muscular. But most of all I think it’s because of the way that they were lit. It really makes the ribs and muscles stick out.”
So how are they lit?
“Well, they were all shot in their stable or paddock with Profoto lights and a velvet backdrop. I used both black and white for the project. I have two D1 500 monolights as well as a Pro-B3 battery pack with 2 Pro-B heads. My main light source, which was outside the stable, above my head, was a Pro-B head with a Profoto Giant Silver 210. Inside the stable to the right were the other Pro-B and a Magnum Reflector with a blue gel on it. Then behind the horse, up to the right, was a D1 with a Zoom Reflector, backlighting the hair. Luckily, the walls didn’t go up to the ceiling, which meant that we could put the backlight outside the stable.” Not all the horses were shot exactly like that but similar variants were used.
Was this the first time you photographed animals?
“No, it all started in November last year when I did this campaign for the SPCA in South Africa (an animal rights organization). The images of the dogs and goose are from that campaign. That was the first time I shot animals. I also shot a horse during the campaign. I used the Giant Reflector 210 for that, which gave this incredible shine to its coat. And that’s what sparked the rest of the project.”
Did you use the same set up for SPCA images?
“It was slightly different. I had a charcoal paper roll in the back. Behind the dog, to the left and to the right, were D1 monolights with Zoom Reflectors and black flags. I also had a Pro-B head with a Magnum Reflector in the back, high up, looking over the paper roll, hitting the back of the dog’s head. Finally, the front light is a Pro-B head on a boom with a Beauty Dish.”
I have a dog too, but he always refuses to look into the camera. What’s the trick?
“Yeah, you know, it might look perfect in the image, but along with me lying on my back, there was another five people behind me with bells and whistles, shouting and clapping. Then maybe the dog looks at the camera for just one second. And then you have to get the shot. You know, I have a lot of images of dogs looking in the wrong direction…”
I also wanted to ask you about the first image of yours that I ever saw – the one you use on Twitter? With the girl that gets paint thrown at her?
“Yes, that was another personal project I did. I collaborated with a make-up artist here in Durban. We bought about 10 kg of kid’s watercolor paint, which we literally just chucked at the models. That image was very, very basically lit. There’s a Beauty Dish boomed to camera right. There’s a Zoom Reflector in the same height as my waist, aimed up at her at camera left. Then I got black boards right next to her face, just to enhance the shadows on her cheeks. And that’s it. Just two lights! It really boils down to good model energy, good timing when you push the button, and someone with a good throwing arm.
“You know, I also tried something different during on that shoot. If you take a closer look at the girl with the rainbow colored eye lashes, which is from the same shoot, you’ll notice the catch light in her eyes. Underneath that there’s another, star shaped catch light. I took a piece of cardboard and cut out a star in it. I then fitted the card board into my Zoom Reflector, which ended up creating the star shaped reflection you see. A pretty cheap way of modifying your Zoom Reflector, right?”
See more of Andrew’s images at his website.
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