The story behind the image of Golden Boy | Profoto (IN)

The story behind the image of Golden Boy

11 April, 2018

Written by: Clare Gillsäter

Photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” This close-up image of a young boy sprayed bronze by Albert Watson shows how the marriage of light and proximity to the camera can create a mesmerizing image. He wanted to do a close-up of the perfect face of a boy in large format.


Finding the shot

Albert is in a continuous state of awareness that allows him to see an image before taking it. “I’m always looking for a shot.” This mindfulness of his surroundings makes him stop and seize the moment, whether it be heading home from a shoot at 1 a.m. in Paris or heading to a shoot on the misty coast of a Scottish isle.

In this case, Albert was shooting an ad campaign for The Gap. A five-year old model sat for him and Albert was enraptured by the perfect beauty of the boy’s face. He asked his mother if they could return after the day’s work to shoot more pictures. An idea was forming in his head that he wanted to try.


Albert Watson undeniably has a bold, visual style. His training in graphic design and in film is evident in his pictures in the way that they are so unique and tell a story.

The conceptualization of a shot is fundamental to his approach. Conceptualization is the nexus of the visual and the concept; the act of turning an idea into an image. He is often asked where his ideas come from. There is no easy answer to that. Albert’s advice is to constantly exercise the brain and to always search for ideas and inspiration.

The concept for Golden Boy was to give the boy a metallic sheen, like a bronze statue. To do this, Albert sprayed him bronze, which had the effect of tinting his skin while it turned his jet-black hair blond.


Albert took the photo with an 8x10 camera using a standard lens, which lends a surreal look to the image. The boy was just a foot away. He added a little light and directed the boy to stare straight at the camera. The shot was done only in black and white, then some of the bronze quality was returned to the print in the darkroom.

Albert used the light to shape the image in his own personal style. The resulting contrasts create texture in the boy’s hair and accentuate the structure of his face. Albert feels that it is a very simple shot but very striking. While it is simple, the image has a multi-dimensional quality. If you contemplate the boy’s direct gaze long enough, you feel like you could be looking at a statue.

Diversity of work

Part of the appeal of Albert Watson’s work is its diversity. He has photographed celebrities, shot ad campaigns and movie posters, and captured landscapes. He makes time for personal projects that are important to him. And he is always on the quest for another image, a new idea. Let this inspire you to find your next image. Golden Boy is an example of how a vivid imagination can translate into a tangible image.

Golden Boy, New York City, 1990

Written by: Clare Gillsäter