Brandon Bowen: “Pinpoint what inspires you and be confident in it”

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This is Image Noise, a new column by Crack Magazine on the British Journal of Photography, spotlighting the most exciting image makers working in and around the music industry

Brandon Bowen is a photographer and image-maker based in downtown Los Angeles who trained at ArtCenter College of Design. His aesthetic, marked by indistinct silhouettes and dim lighting, has reached some of contemporary music’s most fearless pop stars in the past two years.

From contributing imagery to Lady Gaga’s retro-futuristic Chromatica campaign, to shooting The Weeknd for King Kong magazine, and capturing breakthrough rapper Rico Nasty for Crack Magazine’s premium publication The Collections, the signature mood of Bowen’s work is beginning to make mainstream inroads.

We spoke to Brandon about working with the musicians he has, and creating environments where plans are there to be ignored.

Rico Nasty for Crack Magazine. © Brandon Bowen.
Rico Nasty for Crack Magazine. © Brandon Bowen.

Crack Magazine: Growing up, what images can you remember connecting with? From music or elsewhere.

Brandon Bowen: As far as I can remember I would play with 35mm film cameras as toys, I think I was fascinated with how they looked and the mechanics of them. My parents never put film in them or taught me how to use them, So I probably took some of my first images with a Polaroid 600. I have a few crazy stories about cameras from my childhood, but to get back to the question, It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but the images from Lomography in the mid 2000s are probably what inspired photography as a career at first. I remember being 12 years old thinking this is what I wanted to do.

You have a very distinctive mood to your image-making in terms of shadows and colour. Are there any specific references which have inspired this?

I gravitate toward darker aesthetics. When I look at other photographers, I look at Paolo Roversi, David Sims’ editorial work, Mert and Marcus, Phiip Lorca Dicorcia and a few more. Lately I’ve doing shoots without references, or at least no images present while shooting. I spend much of my time thinking of photos or piecing together references in my head which I write into notes.

Who are some of your favourite image-makers? Could be directors, designers, or photographers.

Ridley Scott’s Alien and blade runner inspire me. Fellini’s 8 1/2, Angst by Gerald Kargl, Rose Marie Johansen. I often think of the panning shot in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film the The Passenger. As far as designers I like Rick Owens, Doublet, Demeulemeester, Kris Van Assche, Worstok, JPG, Yohji, CCP.

The work for Lady Gaga’s record is incredible and really chimes with the glam, retro-futuristic themes of the record. Can you talk us through the creative for that shoot?

Shooting Lady Gaga was cool, she had so much energy and was very creative with her posing, It was all very seamless all while she was simultaneously shooting her Rain on me music video.

Rico Nasty for Crack Magazine. © Brandon Bowen.
Rico Nasty for Crack Magazine. © Brandon Bowen.

Do you enjoy the process of making images for a specific creative campaign and working with designers etc?

Definitely, I love bringing artists and brands into my world and vice versa. I’m very lucky that the people I work with trust my vision and invest in my ideas. My best shoots are the ones without too many restrictions, that encourages me to experiment and make images that I haven’t before.

Talk us through the time you shot Young Thug, how was his energy on set?

Thug is pretty mellow on set but when he sees something he likes he’ll definitely get into it, which hypes everyone involved. He has a pet tarantula that was climbing all over him during the shoot, which is a detail I love. Probably the most cash I’ve seen at one time.

Let’s talk about Rico a bit. Were you a fan of her music before?

I heard a few songs of hers on soundcloud I thought were nice back around 2015, after meeting her she was really cool, she seems to have a lot on her plate. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to her new song OHFR about 15 times.

Talk us through the concept for that shoot…

A lot of the images of her are quite animated, so I wanted to bring a chic and serious energy.

What’s next for you?

A few album artworks for some of my favourite musicians are in the planning stages and I’m shooting a fashion campaign for a brand I’ve liked for a long time. I’ve also been experimenting with some new processes and programs so I’m excited to share that.

What advice would you give to young photographers trying to find a look of their own?

The main thing is to keep shooting consistently so you know what works and what doesn’t. Pinpoint what inspires you and be confident in it. A range of references to piece together into one image is a good place to start instead of just copying your favourite photograph. Come up with answers on why an image doesn’t work. Be a problem solver and know how to fix and adapt to situations. Focus on lighting.

Crack Magazine

Crack Magazine is Europe’s biggest independent music magazine bringing print, digital and social media content to dedicated followers of contemporary culture. Since launching in 2009, they’ve had artists like Björk, Skepta, Thom Yorke, Aphex Twin, Dave, Charli XCX and SOPHIE on the cover and released a book, ’The Crack Magazine Archives’ celebrating their best photography.