Behind the portrait | Meet the director

Tell us about your relationship with River Island…

My first job with them was for their 30th anniversary campaign. Although I knew of the brand, it was quite fascinating to learn about their unique history and tradition. From their humble beginning in 1948 with Bernard Lewis selling fruit and vegetables to this international retail business, it’s nice to see how, even with their expansion , they’ve remained like a family. Being around their staff and customers who were so loyal and enthusiastic was really like meeting a big family. 

What attracted you to the ‘Family Portrait’ brief?

I love portraits in general and have always been fascinated with family and group portraits in particular. Whenever I go to a flea market or used goods store,I always end up buying some old family or group photo. There’s just something fascinating about them, how people present themselves - particularly in the past when taking a photograph was an event in itself. In our digital age, this portrait moment has become much more diluted but I still think it plays an important role in society. People still cherish group portraits at weddings, graduations, etc. I think it’s important to celebrate family in the age of the self. So this brief felt like a way to do this.

What were the crucial themes you wanted to explore?

I think the main theme is just this idea of family as an ever-evolving entity. It’s not necessarily fixed by blood ties or DNA but by a sense of trust and connection. Of course ancestry is important, but all families are also built on change, as you evolve or someone ages, the dynamics change. So the crucial theme is this idea of family as something in constant flux that needs to be nurtured and is ever-evolving. It’s about the people you surround yourself with, learning that life brings you closer to and with whom you can truly be yourself, fearlessly. 

How important was it to build a back story around the family cast?

Because we didn’t have a real family or real group who actually knew each other, it was important to have a back story about their relationships just to get our models to interact more genuinely. I think it was helpful for them to have that as a resource when improvising their interaction and the chaos of a family getting together to take a portrait. Usually models have the attention on themselves only, but here it was about the group so the back story helped with that.

How did the dynamics of the chosen cast mimic those of a real family?

The concept of a real family is quite debatable. Naturally the cast developed a dynamic between them, just like it always happens in groups, and to that extent it mimics those of a real family - some people are more shy, while others take initiative and it all balances out in this perfect chaotic orchestra of a family.

We were keen to explore the trials and tribulations of achieving the perfect family photo, how did you achieve this?

We created a setup similar to the moment of taking a family photo - with a timer in camera and a flash. It was important to recreate that sense of urgency of getting in the frame while the timer is counting the second until the camera shutter clicks. So I would say timing was key to achieve this.

They say never to work with animals or children, you did both! What challenges did capturing the RI family present?

Indeed! That was probably the most challenging part of the shoot for sure. But it’s also the beauty of it. With dogs and children you really have to embrace the moment and the unpredictability of it. By accept that you can’t control everything you often find surprising solutions. It forces you to be attentive and react to what’s happening, rather than trying to force your vision. I think it’s an invaluable lesson for any director.

What feeling or reaction do you want the audience to have when viewing the content?

I guess I’d hope they’d get out there and start taking family portraits themselves with their loved ones. I think our generation might be losing that tradition a bit and might regret it when we’re older.

When it comes to family photos, do you prefer polished or candid?

I would say I’d prefer polished-ly candid. I love the idea of going to sit at the photographer’s studio with the old-school backdrop and formal lighting. It’s quite rare these days. But doing this while capturing the candid moments that happen naturally - that’s the perfect balance and the harder to master in a group photograph.