Rick Guest has been crafting exquisite images for over two decades. His work spans an eclectic mix of genres, but Guest holds a particular love for capturing movement. With the meticulous eye of a scientist and the flair and passion of an artist, his vibrant images relentlessly exude energy and power while encouraging the viewer to experience the world from a new perspective. Here Guest reveals how his vision was formed as an image-maker and what keeps him motivated and passionate in all his creative endeavours.
I was born outside of London and was a happy but very shy child. My Mother instilled a great sense of curiosity and wondered in me, and growing up at a time when you could still spend a great deal of time both alone and outside as a child, allowed me to wonder and feed that curiosity. I still think that curiosity is what drives me, to paraphrase Gary Winogrand, “I photograph things to see what they look like photographed”.
On discovering photography
I fell into photography; while bedridden recovering from an illness in my late teens. I picked up a camera, and I think it was the act of framing my view, of controlling my world, that appealed to me. When you’re out of control, being able to crop your field of view is incredibly calming. I was lucky enough to start assisting Glen Luchford, who introduced me to photographic legends at a time when I was most malleable.Steichen, Stieglitz, Weston, Adams, Modotti, Strand, Model, Beaton, Avedon, Penn, Winogrand, Friedlander, Levitt, the list goes on. It was a revelation. He was fantastic at showing me the golden threads that run through; I would say I liked Herb Ritts, and he would say, well look at Bruce Weber, then look at Herbert List, then Edward Weston, then Hoyningen-Huene. He was a brilliant mentor.
Research can be vital, but I’ve found it can be counterproductive in portraiture. I think it’s important to show your subject the respect of knowing about them, but you must also allow yourself to be surprised, to be open to the mistakes and the gifts offered up during a sitting. Like most photographers, I used to sketch and storyboard everything when I started, but now I like to be open to the moment, to be free to follow the rabbit down the hole. I might have an image or two in my head, but I’m happy to let them go as things unfold.
On shaping a unique aesthetic
I’ve always loved experimenting and have a fairly technical mind having studied sciences to the exclusion of all else in my education. I think my obsession with lighting comes from a combination of loving of sci-fi films and Tudor paintings. I generally have always worked with people that have a shared outlook, often coming from a shared type of childhood, so this constantly reinforced this vision throughout my career.
We are image makers; cameras are just boxes with a hole in one end and a way to record light at the back, it’s unimportant whether it’s digital or film, or even computer generated, it’s just an expression of an idea, and they come from somewhere in your head. I don’t like to pick apart the mechanism of intuition; it’s just a brain’s way of allowing you to compare what’s in front of you with everything that you’ve ever seen and enabling to determine what feels right to you if that makes sense?
There’s a thrill when you capture something in flight, and it looks just how you had imagined it, it feels very primal, like hunting. The essence of it is timing of course, but once again it’s very intuitive; sometimes I don’t even need to be looking directly at a subject. When you catch it, it’s a real kick.
The interest comes from the subject matter being a perfect combination of the things we’ve discussed already, lighting, timing, beauty and power. Dancers are the ideal interplay of extreme physicality and performance. Their ultimate goal is to conceal the effort entirely that it takes to make their art, there’s nothing else quite like it. I’ve been shooting dancers for the last eight or nine years now, with several solo exhibitions and three books on the subject, and two more in production.
I now have work in some great private collections and some national institutions, including six pieces in the primary collection of the National Portrait Gallery, which is crazy for me as I’ve spent so much time in there over the years wandering about looking at work by people I admire.
I hope that anyone seeing the work, who may have never been to the ballet before, might be nudged into going, and falling in love with it as I did.
A portrait is something that happens between the photographer and the subject, two voices instead of one. All you can do is suggest things, create an atmosphere, so the subject feels safe and try and catch whatever gets thrown up. Ultimately it’s the subject that offers up the gift, it can be a shape or a look, hopefully, underpinned with a thought, but it can be very moving and intimate when it happens, a surprise to both of us.