British-born photographer Benedict Redgrove’s 20+ year award-winning career has been established shooting global campaigns and editorials for major automotive and aeronautical companies including BMW, Audi, Aston Martin, Red Bull Racing, BA and BAe; technology giants Hewlett Packard, IBM and GE and media brands Sky, Sony and T-Mobile. For the past few years Redgrove has been shooting an ambitious project with NASA, Ten years in the making, 200 images of NASA’s most iconic objects, as you’ve never seen them before. One man’s lifetime obsession.
smalltalk with Benedict Redgrove
“One of the best things about being a photographer is that it opens doors to people, situations, places that you would not normally ever get to experience.”
How did you start photography? and how long it has been now? (Benedict Redgrove) I’ve loved photography since I was a small child. I bought my first camera at 8. My father throught I should earn it, so I had to work digging foundations for the extension to our house. The camera was a Kodak Instamatic. It was a grey, black and silver box that you put a cartridge in the back of. I remember photographing my two brothers and the garden and the extension that I helped dig out the foundations for. I can’t imagine I dug that much at 8.
I shot sports for a long time, shooting Le Mans and Motorbike Racing and I have always tried to see things my way rather than traditional composition. For a long time I thought wanted to be a photo journalist, so I started to cover news stories, just for myself. I had learned that if you showed up looking like you were covering it professionally and saying the right things, people would believe you and let you in. So I did. Nothing was going to stop me. I think if you want to do something enough, you find away whether it is conscious or not. After a while I met a photojournalist whilst we were both waiting to see the same magazine and he let me look through this work. The amount of death and decay in his book, plus the way he spoke about it, he had that slightly distant look in his eye and a demeanour that only comes from seeing so much human tragedy and sorrow made me realise that I probabaly didn’t have the right kind of psychological make up to cope with that. I later in life experienced an awful lot of death and decay and saw literally hundreds of dead bodies, so I know that I made the right decision in not going down that particular path. I started shooting travel and cars and doing so in a way that resonated with me. The first few stories really surprised the picture editors not to mention their clients who sometimes took a bit of persuading with what I was shooting. But they eventually came around and that’s what gave me the confidence to really carry on shooting in the way I saw things and develop those idea.
“I love the end of the spectrum and so my compositions tend to be either extremely clear and sparse or full of detail.”
Your works are clean and sharp yet strong. How did you develop your style? what inspired you? (BR) I have long been inspired by sci-fi films from the 60s, 70s, 80s and purity of good design and a love of graphic design. I’m probably a person of extremes, I love the end of the spectrum, so my compositions tend to be either extremely clear and sparse, with just the essential elements to them, or incredibly busy and full of detail. My work has developed over the years and become a more refined version of itself as it moves froward. It comes from a long held feeling of wanting to see things in a pure clean way. Less clutter helps me focus.
“It’s not that I’m setting out to be different or try and be obscure, it’s just the way I see things.”
Bertone, Mercedes, Roborace, Aston Martin, McLaren to name a few, you have taken photos of some of the most iconic vehicles of our time. What is the first thing to do before shooting a car? (BR) I normally try to find what it is that resonated with me about that design, what it is that the designer was trying to show or how can I allow that design to breathe in the space I’m building or finding for it to sit in. I’ve always shot them in a way that I see them, one that feels right. It’s not that I’m setting out to be different or try and be obscure, it’s just the way I see things.
Were you always enthusiastic about cars? (BR) I’ve always loved cars and prototypes especially. I think my love of futurism, sci-fi, space, technology, engineering have guided my life. I watched F1 and Le Mans and Rallying as I was growing up and I wanted to race cars in my youth but didn’t have the necessary funds to make that happen, so associating that with photography was really putting together some of my great passions. Whilst cars are still of an interest to me, I feel my work is moving more towards exploring technologies and human achievements and showing the results of that combination.
Favourite places to drive? (BR) There are so many great roads and places to drive for different reasons. But I do love driving in Scotland and the surrounding islands. I’m a fan of the wilderness roads. And parts of America that offer spread of scenery. My daughter lives in Italy so when I go over to see her the roads there are rather exciting to negotiate a progressive path along.
“I’m interested in people that have worked and achieved something through their talents, abilities and academic research.”
Any specific object or person you want to photograph next? (BR) There are an awful lot of people and objects I would like to photograph and film next and I’m working on that as we speak with some of the world’s leading experts in Dark Matter and Dark Energy. I’m not so interested in celebrity, but more people that have worked and achieved something through their talents, abilities and academic research. The science, art, engineering, design, architecture all hold enormous appeal to me. As for vehicles, the new Artemis mission rocket and capsule SLS Orion aboard the crawler transporter as it rolls out from the VAB on its way to pad 39 would be an epic photograph, along with the launch. That would give me a great feeling I’m sure.
Please tell about your recent project with NASA, how did it happened? (BR) The NASA project originated 10 years ago with the idea of wanting to depict spacesuits as I see them. I wanted to photograph them and print them as if they were stained glass window iconographic objects. That sense of reverence and awe that pilgrims must have felt when seeing statues or images of their gods. From that moment I spent the next 5 years working towards getting the right access and permissions from NASA so we could take the first photograph. In that time the project developed into a much larger beast which is where we are now with it. The book is available at www.the-nasa-project.com and will be sent out from mid December.
Most memorable moments from your career? (BR) There are an awful lot of really incredible moments. One of the best things about being a photographer is that it opens doors to people, situations, places that you would not normally ever get to experience. There is that amazing line in Blade Runner at the end, when Roy Batty is sat cross legged on the roof, the rain pouring over him as he clutches a Dove in one hand and Harrison Ford as ‘Deckard’ lays on the ground having just been pulled up off the ledge he was slipping from, blood running down his face – Batty reminisces, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched sea-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Well I haven’t seen any sea beams but I have seen attack ships and lots of other amazing things I compiled a list recently as someone asked me a similar question,so I presented them with the following. It was good for me to go back over this and take stock of some of these moments. They may not mean much to others, but they mean a lot to me.
(1) I’ve been incise a fire test stand of a 747. The firemen nodded to me, I knelt down and then watched a continuous wave of fire rolled over my head and surrounded me as it wrapped over the sides of the interior of the 747. A more mesmerising site is hard to find.
(2) I’ve watched an RS-25 Aerojet Rocketdyne engine being tested at Marshall space flight centre in Louisiana. I’ve seen the plume of smoke erupt into a small cloud and then felt and heard the boom of the continuous explosion as it rumbled across the marsh lands of Louisiana. If you imagine the bang from an explosion, that one loud rumble and it subsiding to silence. Well a rockets test doesn’t subside. And unlike launch where it goes away, the test stays put for over 200 seconds. I stood and watched and heard and felt a controlled explosion without it stopping or subsiding. It just goes on and on and on. And when it does finally stop, the silence hurts your ears. If you ever get a chance to see one, then do it.
(3) I’ve stood in NASA Mission Control with the mission controller and watched the sunset behind earth from the cameras on the space station.
(4) I’ve held a lunar Hasselblad in the space suit lab at NASA, opened up the back and looked at the cross hairs on the ground glass and momentarily lost control of my emotions.
(5) I’ve sat in the space shuttle test vehicle cockpit where all of the shuttle crews will have trained at some point.
(6) I’ve been inside the next generation Orion capsule whiled it was in its planning stages with cardboard shapes cut out saying ‘Step Goes Here’ and felt that this is how it must have been 60 years ago with Mercury and Gemini and Apollo.
(7) I’ve had lunch with Mrs Bertone from Bertone cars and had one or two too many of their own branded red wine we couldn’t shoot properly in the afternoon.
(8) I’ve been on the new aircraft carrier while they make the decks.
(9) I’ve been to the arctic’s with the Royal Marines 40 commando and sank into four feet of snow while I photographed them attacking a command post.
(10) I’ve been in cargo planes and fighter jets.
(11) I’ve driven the Bertone Lancia Zero concept car at Bertone
(12) I’ve been fitted for and worn a Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance plane pilots suit.
(13) I sat in F1 cars, concept cars, expensive cars, basic cars, private jets, jets with no interiors and secret places and things I’m still not allowed to talk about.
(14) I’ve been to Lockheed Martin Skunkworks and had guide say to me when I asked what was in that room, behind that door, she said, what room and what door?
(15) I’ve been inside a room as signals are transmitted back to telescopes with mirror moving at micro millimetre in order to delay one signal from a telescope to the same time as the telescope that’s fifty meters away but the star is millions of miles away.
(16) I’ve been told that everything I had just said about black holes is completely and utterly wrong by a specialist in black holes at European Southern Observatory.
(17) I’ve stood outside a helicopter on the ski as it whizzed along a beach while we photographed a tank below as it drove along the beach at full speed and then avoided a rock face at one end.
(18) I’ve worn submersible pressure suits with clasping hands.
(19) Most recently I have had the privilege of meeting people who work on Ebola research and Dark Matter and Dark Energy, climbed Everest, developed new secret material, rescued people from turbulent seas, defused explosives and put out fires.
The list goes on and I enjoy those experiences more and more as I get older.
If you were not doing what you are doing now. What would you be? (BR) If I were to choose another career then I would have loved to have been a pilot then astronaut. To have that level of knowledge, to be able to think, analyse, have the ability to process information in the the way they do is incredible and something I admire. They appear to be the kind of people of that are capable of anything they turn their minds to doing. I would love to be a pilot and race planes. Air racing is the fastest motorsport there is and it requires precision, control and determined calculated courage. The thought of getting into a piston engined plane to race other pistons engined aircraft is so exciting. If you look at driving cars as 2d, then racing planes is 3d. I would race planes at the weekend then my main job would be space exploration and seeing the earth form whatever craft could take me far away, and return me again back to earth.