Martin Gardner’s life could be divided in two. The first part immersed in the jet set and the world of stars, the second apparently quieter, which saw the resurfacing of one of the photographer’s true passions: architecture. Although the portrait has given Martin immense satisfaction, such as the permanent inclusion of one of his shots of Fatboy Slim at the National Portrait Archive of Britain, it is the second soul to have prevailed over time. The interview we gave him became an opportunity to reflect on his profession and how it has changed over the years.

1) Your career started as a celebrity photographer. Tell us something about that world.

I started out shooting in London for underground La based magazines like Raygun and Bikini, because they were such cool edgy magazines, I got to shoot some of the best artists in the UK and I was allowed to do what I wanted so I could express myself, those magazines opened up a lot of opportunities for me, One of my first commissions was to shoot Nick Cave for Raygun then I was shooting Blur for Bikini magazine at the height of Britpop fever and meeting the PR’s of all these cool bands and building relationships with them which led to me working with them directly, Virgin asked me to shoot stills on the Spice Girls video shoot for Wannabe, the art editor at Q saw something I’d shot on location for VO5 that they liked and they got in touch and I started shooting for them, I’d always thought of Q as the National Geographic of music magazines so I was really blown away to be shooting for them.

Q had me wizzing all over the planet shooting bands, pretty soon I found myself out in LA with Norman Cook at the Chateau Marmont and as an architecture lover I was sitting waiting for Norman in a courtyard looking up at this awesome little house cantilevered over Sunset Boulevard and wondering about it’s story, years later I would find out all about the Stahl House but at the time I was just intrigued and made a mental note to find out if I could do a shoot up there, it looked like a pretty good location, I didn’t find out anymore about that house at the time but more on that later… I had a lot of fun going from fashion to pop portraits to rock portraits, I’d be shooting AC/DC in Berlin then shooting Girls Aloud in the Studio in London, it was great to cross genres.

2) Any particular anecdotes you would like to share?

There are so many stories from that period, hmmm I can’t tell most of them.

I guess the most famous portrait I shot was with Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) on that trip for Q magazine, I had a large chunk of the magazine to fill and I could see on meeting him that Norman was frazzled from a year long tour and many many publicity shoots with people like me, I needed to fill all those pages but Norman wanted to shoot in the hotel room and call it done, I needed to push for more without driving him nuts. A shot against a hotel wall wasn’t going to cut it with my art editor, they don’t put you in a plane to LA for a picture against a magnolia wall.

Norman Cook AKA Fatboy Slim

Norman was going to do an interview at K-ROQ which is across town in Pasadena, I went with him in the car and as we were travelling back to the Chateau through LA’s golden hour, I asked if we could stop and shoot and he said no, I could see he’d had enough, he’s a lovely guy and I didn’t push it but I had all those blank pages of the magazine in my head, he was hungry though and asked the driver to stop so he could run into

a burger place, I asked if I could get a shot when he came back and he said if I had it all ready when he got back to the car I could shoot one roll, I jumped out and set up my lights and camera in the 3 minutes I had, Norman came back and kept his promise and I think we shot 2 rolls, people ask why there is so much attitude in the image, I’m guessing it’s because I took his burger away.

3) Leaving that world, also meant changing your main genres. Why did you choose to do that?

I was always a portrait photographer, I wound up shooting celebrities as that was where editorial clients took me but I wanted to shoot portraits of fascinating talented genuine people, a difficult celebrity could be tolerated if they were talented and interesting and had brought something to the world that meant a lot to many people, getting to spend time and work with and get to know someone like that is truly the privilege of being a “celebrity” photographer.

More recently, the word celebrity has started to mean something else, I found myself shooting people that won talent shows that I didn’t watch or want to watch and my interest in shooting in that genre started to wain. The instant celebrity of a talent show doesn’t generate someone I wanted to take pictures of or sit and chat with between shots so in the middle of my career, I decided I wanted to do something else.

When I was shooting in LA I would always sneak off to look at mid century architecture and just enjoy it for what it was, In New York, I’d escape for a while and go wander around the Guggenheim and take pictures just for me, in Miami I’d go look for art deco buildings.

So I figured I’d shoot architecture, I had no idea how long that transition would take and that I’d be moving into a world where nobody really cared about my name as a celebrity photographer and I’d have to start from scratch, a portfolio full of famous people doesn’t get you very far with architects, I needed to shoot some architecture under pressure for architects, I shot anywhere I could get into that was cool and I started offering my services to architects who are a pretty hard group to get hold of if you don’t know them.

I saw images of a project Called Lighthouse 65 by the architect Andy Ramus of AR Design, I called him and told him I wanted to reshoot it for him, he was pretty unmoved by my wish to do that but he gave me the details of the people that owned the house, they were lovely and I spent a day shooting the house and took in the images to Andy, pretty soon the house was winning awards and I have been working closely with Andy ever since, he’s been very encouraging and also more importantly very critical of my work which is just what I need.

4) When shooting, what is your typical work day?

A typical shoot day for me involves getting up pretty early, say leaving the house at 7 AM, I will have either looked at plans or reccied the space I will be shooting and I will have considered where the light will be and which elevation I want to shoot at what time of day so there will be a plan for how I will move around the space.

On arrival at the location, I do a tour of the space, generally with the architect or designer, they will point out key features and we will move around discussing the different things to either emphasise or de- emphasise about the space, we may have furniture to remove and often, interior elements will be substituted for different ones, people tend to build their collection of stuff over years and often their

personal things don’t suit the space so we choose what we will remove and diplomatically explain to the person that lives in the space that we might be moving their tartan sofa for the shots but we love it.

I will then shoot the property, I don’t run round snapping images, I compose slowly, most shots have an optimal position where everything comes together, I shoot several images with the camera on a tripod and merge them later in Photoshop, I don’t like HDR I’m more into manual blending.

Often we will shoot dusk shots, these are the most challenging thing I shoot but often the most rewarding, in the Summer, they can happen at 11 PM, in the winter at 4 PM, it’s worth it but they take a lot of setting up.

5) For your work, I guess you’re often the first photographer taking pictures to new projects. How do you choose what it is important to shoot?

In general, my client only gets one chance to shoot a project that they may have spent 5 years from design to planning to build, it’s a huge responsibility for me, I need to get everything they need in that one shoot, it’s a very disruptive day for the owner of the space and we need to nail it, they don’t want you coming back and doing it again a week later.

There is a lot of planning before a shoot and I am often working to a brief, a typical brief that comes in will be “and we want you to shoot this in your style, the items we would like you to emphasise are… and we want you to shoot in a way that you can remove the giant pylon in the front garden” along these lines, every Architect is different, some don’t tell you much at all and others will talk you through the space in detail.

A typical days shoot will net 15 to 20 images of the space and we are working flat out to achieve this, when I’m shooting, I am aware of what will be happening in post to each image and this is taken into consideration while I’m shooting, after a shoot is finished I will often spend as much time again working on the images, depending on the size of the project and what my client wants the images to look like.

6) How do you balance the need of the clients to your own need of expression?

That is a great question, one of the biggest differences between shooting professionally and er… not, is that my shots are being taken for a purpose, the purpose is to promote my client’s work.

If the viewer of the image is looking at my image and thinking about what a great photographer I am, they aren’t thinking about what my client wants them to be thinking about so the very thing that makes me good at what I’m doing sort of takes me out of the viewers thought process.

I want my clients to be able to open a magazine and see a consistent style of shooting that makes them see that I shot the image but I want their clients to see my image and simply think about the architecture itself, I have done a few lectures for photographers and I definitely feel that the difference between the attitude of an amateur and a professional is that the amateur wants the viewer to think about them and their techniques and what camera they have etc. and I want the viewer to think about the space in the shots and who designed it, the images I’m shooting are used to promote the architect to their clients but also to be entered into architecture competitions, there are differences to the way you shoot for those different uses, I need to make sure my shoot does both.

If you think about it, it’s not great for my own marketing to shoot with the intention of the viewer not thinking about the photographer, the signature has to be in subtle style triggers that my potential clients will recognise but won’t take away from the purpose of the shoot.

7) Any shot you’re particularly proud of?

I have a lot of shoots I love, I love the Black House shoot for AR Design, I stayed in the house with the architect and the couple that own the house, they love to entertain and we had great food and drank a little too much, I got to experience the house as a guest and that put me in a great place to shoot it the next day.

I also love the Quest which is a Magnus Ström shoot, I shot it in August in Weymouth and from early morning shots to the dusk shots at 11 PM it was a long day, we had an Aston Martin for the shoot and I love the images, we have front covers worldwide in many different genres of magazine.

I just shot with an ex Norman Foster architect in the Mendips called Rebecca Dyer of RD Architects, I love her work and the ethos of her practice and we worked very intensely for a number of days on her projects going back and forth getting the right light at the right place, I particularly love the shots we got of the Lake View Lodge, a converted barn on a hilltop looking over a giant lake surrounded by wildlife.

8) When you’re not shooting for clients, what do you shoot?

I was in LA for a break a while ago with my partner at the time and we ran around LA looking for case study houses, she was navigating and I was driving, I loved doing that, we found some obscure case study houses and also wandered around the Eames House in Pacific Palisades, I love mid century architecture and I love exploring, so that was pretty cool.

Whenever I’m in LA I like to head up Mullholand and check out the Chemosphere, I love the architecture of John Lautner and this is one you can get a pretty good look at without too much to organize and when it reveals itself, it always takes you by surprise.

We also headed over to Palm Springs and explored the architecture there, I love Palm Springs, if you love architecture it has to be on your bucket list, I really want to go there for Modernism week, I shot this image of the Bank of America building while we were there, the Ferrari was there but so were a lot of very ordinary cars, I wanted to keep the Ferrari so had a little bit of post to do in this one.

I was out at about 3 in the morning shooting Fawley oil Refinery as a personal project, I wanted to capture it at night, it’s pretty emotive and I’ve loved it since I was a kid so I wanted to capture the feel of it

When I was a portrait photographer, I shot architecture for fun, now I’m an architecture photographer I love to shoot portraits of people for fun, I pretty much shoot portraits of buildings for work which is also fun.

9) What is the question you hoped for and that I didn’t ask? What’s your answer?

How has your job changed in the digital age?

So in the film days, I was running around with a giant bag of film, I used to write on the box each time it got x-rayed, depending on the speed of the film, I would have to throw it out if it got x-rayed too many times, once a guy pulled a gun on me in the Middle East as I was insisting on a hand search of my film which had already been shot and the x-ray machine looked archaic, this was a super stressful part of being a photographer, digital has removed that part of the job and it is a lot better, I used to come home with a ziplock bag full of the shoot and be super nervous until I’d handed it over to the lab, now I have tiny little cards with everything on but it’s all backed up, on that front it’s better, I’m calmer on planes, I have more control over the quality of what I’m doing now, I have the convenience of shooting digital and the experience of shooting film to lean on, I guess the thing I miss most is polaroid.

One thing about the digital age is that I have to compose images to work in different formats, so for example, I love getting front covers of magazines, so if you want a cover, it’s best to shoot a portrait crop that leaves space for a magazine title, then your client wants things to work on social media which in a lot of cases is square, then the images need to look great on a website which is landscape so you have to think about where an image is going and whether it will work in all those very different situations.

10) Tell us 3 young photographers that we should follow.

I dunno about young photographers, hmmm follow me on instagram at @mrtngrdnrphoto, I love the work of @nick_knight and I’m always intrigued by the work on instagram of @spathumpa he shoots from interesting angles and creates art constantly, I love his stuff.

If you love photography and architecture, I would recommend a film called “Visual Acoustics” about the work of Julius Shulman, the instagram feed for the movie is always pretty inspiring too and that is at @visualacousticsfilm.