It's Nice That talks to Benedict Redgrove on the books that have helped shape him
7 December 2017
Working in both London and Los Angeles, photographer and filmmaker Benedict Redgrove has a discerning eye for composition in the most unexpected surroundings. His projects have seen him work with BMW, Red Bull Racing, Hewlett Packard and Sony, and his personal projects have seen him create a survey of Nasa Technology and film the Wilson tennis ball factory in Thailand among others. Benedict is passionate about his work and here he shares a selection of books that have inspired him, along with a short intro about what these books mean:
“This is the bookshelf I see more than any others. It’s at home in London. My bookshelves now lack so many of the lovely vintage design and photography books I had bought over the years. I had a lot of my stuff at a large colourful storage facility in Wandsworth and some little kids decided it would be fun to set fire to the building. My possessions were lost; either burned or smoke damaged and sold off without any prior notice. That taught me things are just things and it’s good to let go of stuff sometimes, even if it’s not of your own choosing.
“Most of the books here I have bought since then, others I’ve had for a while. I have chosen books that are very significant in my life and have helped shape me and my career. Books have always been a source of pleasure for me. From childhood it was always a form of escape – from the amazingly busy pages of Richard Scarry’s books to the simpler technical books and magazines about planes and cars. As a child I had a lot of trouble learning, and reading and writing were quite difficult. Reading still takes quite a lot of energy. My dyslexia is so normal to me now that I don’t realise I’m writing terrible sentences.
“I learned a lot from TV, and being a visual person that’s how I learn best now. Seeing and doing, practical experience. Unsurprisingly due to that, and what I do and who I am, lots of my books are reference or photography or design based. So welcome to my mind and one book that saved my mind and soul.”
Stewart Cowley: Spacecraft 2000 to 2100AD
I think I must have got this in the late 70s. It’s amazing to now think we all thought we’d be flying around in these space craft in 2000, but I guess the titles back then were all based around 2000. It was such an exciting time to think how the future might be. This book is the epitome of all the things I love.
For me this book features all things that are magical. It has a made up company, the Terran Trade Authority; it has the spaceships that are in the fleet and outlines the purpose of each craft plus all the technical specs for them and the battles they had been in, and any other special missions they’d undertaken. I would sit and stare at the pictures and imagine the battles or the quasars, and taking on new planets. It was mind boggling to an eight-year-old boy and it’s still magical for me today.
My earliest memory is being in a pram and seeing men walking on the moon on a black and white TV, so space and science have always been in my soul. The illustrations in this book made me design my own spaceships, with hundreds of probes and satellite dishes. It taught me to think differently about design. Such a great book.
World Press Photo
World Press Photo was like looking at the purest photography I could imagine. This was when I first realised that photography was more than just something I did, that it was part of me at the very core of my being, and this book made me start to look at the areas that I loved. I love groups, stories, projects – singular/solo images don’t seem to excite me as much as series of images. It gives me a chance to tell more of a story and also visually balance out my work. I find it every difficult if things are not balanced in one way or another, and I need some order to my work.
Looking through this book made me want to see and experience those images. I started shooting stories, such as the Newbury bypass protesters. I shot families of people who were working in the same jobs, following on from their fathers and mothers. It was great for a few years, and then I met a Magnum photographer at a publishing house. He said he was here because he wanted to shoot something different, something a bit happier than what he’d been shooting. I asked to see his folio and it was incredible, but harrowing viewing some of the time. I think those images, combined with the books I had read by Don McCullin and a few others, put me off. I knew I could not live with seeing those sometimes horrific sights. Photojournalists have my total and utter respect. To put yourself in that position, in order to tell the rest of the world what is going on, is an arduous and sometimes dangerous task, and I don’t think I have the mental temperament to deal with that.
I think photographers like Salgado tread the line I would love to walk, between art and their storytelling. It’s mesmerising work and he tells stories in such an engaging way on two levels. One is the pure beauty of the visual, and the second is the involvement you and yourself have with the subject, whether you want to or not, you can’t help but ask yourself questions about that soul in the picture. He is a master of this. All of those things combined drove me onto sports photography which takes me nicely onto my next choice.
Allsport Picture Agency: Visions of Sport
I started shooting sports, mainly car racing, at the weekends. Then I progressed onto rugby, football and athletics, motor cycling but mainly motorsports. I loved that I could tell a story of an event in sets and it was free from restrictions, except track/pitch limits etc. There was a lot to see and tell in the microcosm of those few hours.
I started shooting lots more and eventually contacted a photo agency whose work I loved. I had shot a touring car meeting and took a picture of Frank Biela in a Silver Audi A4 cresting a hill at Oulton Park race circuit with the door of his car partially open, his arm out of the gap waving to the crowd. Allsport loved the picture and asked me to do some more for them, so for a little while I was working with an agency I respected and shooting work I loved. Shooting sports gave me the thrill I wanted from photojournalism – without the flip-side of near death experiences and the hard to deal with situations – and the ability to tell stories and shoot, in sets, things I loved close up.
A lot of the sports photography that is used or picked up by the papers and websites is very straight – the more beautiful imagery being left to the side. I think that’s what I liked about AllSport, they really encouraged me to think and look differently at the situation, and that has always worked for me. If it feels right, then shoot it.
AOP: The Association of Photographers Awards
Photography has always been a very personal thing for me, in that I listen to how I feel when I am taking pictures. A kind of inner voice says yes or no about a shot. I’m sure it must be the same for anyone doing something that is intrinsically part of them, and they are part of it. I have always just felt like that I have a natural affinity to this, but I used to overly complicate it by worrying about the technical side of photography. I can’t really understand technical books very well until I have witnessed for myself the process in which that technical part has taken place.
With that in mind, when I was starting out I went for a week in Eastbourne to meet an advertising photographer who used to shoot on 10×8. I wanted to see if what I knew, or felt I knew was right, and if so, was I worrying too much about things I would learn as I grew and experienced. While I was staying there, the bookshelves were full of AOP awards books and other photography techniques. I would sit up at night looking at the AOP books thinking how incredible they were and working out how they made the images, the likes of Nadav Kander and Aernoot Overbeeke’s work inspiring me to shoot my own work and listen to the voice that told me to give up my previous life and do what I loved.
Deepak Chopra: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
There is so much to say about this book, I could go on for hours, but I’ll keep it as short as possible. This book literally saved my life and got me into a great place of calm. It brings understanding and peace into my life, and everyone I know who has read it. And once you read it, you keep going to it to help improve your understanding of yourself and the universe. If there is one book I would recommend to anyone, it’s this. It applies to everything you do in your life and everything you want to do and be.
The reason it’s shot on my phone is because I keep buying copies and then giving them away to people. I continue to buy them, but now with the purpose of giving them away. So now it’s on my phone, it means I always have a copy of my own with me.