Simon King is a Creative Londoner whose photographic work adds an illuminating artistic depth to the fashion industry’s hidden processes.
It’s 5pm in Leicester Square. Simon has a one-hour window before he is required at a London Fashion Show Event. We meet in a coffee shop and sit under a staircase. Somewhere around us coffee cups clatter, a milk steamer shrieks and a coffee grinder groans.
“I think photography is itself essentially documentation.” —
Barely have I sat down before Simon has launched into a nitty-gritty discussion of photographic ontology. His profound depth of thought and brisk rate of speech signal the conversation’s immediacy, and I realise I’ll have to adapt quickly in order to keep up.
— “You’re always going to be making a record of your life and so I think it’s my duty as someone who has got the access to London’s fashion and advertising worlds to live the best life possible whilst also taking photographs of it.”
“They always say to photograph what you love. But I really did enjoy photographing university lifestyle, photographing my friends, and I think at the moment I’m sitting at around 85% on the proportion of Facebook friends that have a profile picture taken by me – which is sort of a boost to my self-esteem but maybe it also shows that I need better friends.”
Simon’s career began with a degree in advertising. Up until then, he had no interest in taking photographs. But after realising the power of the image for the purposes of communicating advertising concepts (and that his drawing was not quite up to scratch) the camera was the first tool he turned to.
Simon became fixated on his new medium of expression. He studied the craft obsessively, including its history and its science. And before he knew it, his friends on the course were queuing up to work with him.
He soon found himself with a list of clients in the creative industry and the corporate sphere.
In addition, he has been busy developing a voice in street photography.
Creative Londoners: Who do you most enjoy working with?
Simon King: I like to work with a lot of up-and-coming artists because that’s how I consider myself at the moment. So I’ve worked with a lot of new models; new musicians, and people you wouldn’t have heard of, but whose album covers you might see my photos on in a few years’ time.
Creative Londoners: What do you like about working with other creatives?
Simon King: One of the best things about working with up-and-coming creatives is that I find we tend to be equally passionate about different things. But so long as someone is passionate about something, you end up speaking the same language. If you’re working with someone who is passionate about video, music, art, acting, modelling, or whatever it happens to be, you can use that energy as a photographer to get a better photo; the model can use that energy to give you a better emotion and a videographer can use that emotion to get a better video.
A group of passionate people working together might clash creatively because their ideas are all equally valid, but because they all speak the language of passion, they find out that they’re all basically saying the same thing to each other.
Something began to bud in the photographer’s creative mind as a result of his passion for storytelling and photojournalism. The more he became accustomed to the inner-workings of the fashion industry, the more he noticed something fundamental to the way it functions: There’s a wealth of creativity bound up in the process of fashion that’s not often represented or documented in photography.
Creative Londoners: How do you approach your work in fashion photography?
Simon King: Something that I started doing that not a lot of photographers I see do, is go and actually talk to the models, interact with them, that way I get quite different photographs to the ones that you’ll see on the front cover of the magazines because the person who shot that will walk in on commission, point their camera of the way the designer set it up and they’ll walk out to their next show.
I prefer to spend a little bit more time building rapport with the model, making a few jokes and getting them to smile and get the emotion that tells a better story in the image than other photographers. I don’t see many people actually talk to the models, which is quite dehumanising.
The shots that I prefer getting at these fashion shows are behind-the-scenes. I try and talk my way backstage where models are getting ready. Those are the shots that people don’t see all the time; they see the front page of Vogue – the mannequin shot that the other photographer took. But what they won’t see is the shot that I’ve taken – models being poked in the eye, experimented with and actually modelled. It’s a lot less objectifying because it’s the process before they’re put on display. And that’s what I like because there is actually a story there.
Creative Londoners: What’s the most memorable fashion show you’ve done?
Simon King: There was a show I did in London for Chanel Joan Elkayam. The model she had as her show finisher was a famous Israeli tennis player. I chatted with her at the show and I took a shot of her because she had a really piercing gaze as she was having the dress applied to her. And then I ended up in Sainsbury’s with her afterwards – it was quite surreal – shopping for ready meals because she prefers them here in the UK to her own country. And I wouldn’t have been able to walk around the supermarket with her had I not made that connection in the first place. I prefer that memory to the memory of the fashion show itself.
In my portfolio, there’s an image of her in which she is looking at me expectantly, but a little bit annoyed with me for not taking the photo she had asked me to take a moment before. There are so many things that lead up to the shots that you see – and I like the photo itself as a photo – but it’s a different photo for me than it is for you because you can’t see the story that surrounds it. You only see her. And that happens a lot in fashion – you only see the end product. So I do like having those stories for myself, but they don’t show in the image. As I go through my career I would like them to show in the image more. But I didn’t take any photos in Sainsbury’s.
Creative Londoners: Is there anything you would do differently about that situation if you could go back?
Simon King: That’s a difficult question because if I were to do that situation differently there is any number of situations that I’d rather do differently. There are so many missed shots. Even last night, I was doing a paparazzi-style shoot in Camden outside a club when the bouncer wrestled this guy into the middle of the road and all the cars had to stop otherwise they would have run him over. I would have loved to have photographed that, but because I was already set up and waiting for the shoot, I was able to take any photos of the incident. So if I could redo anything it would be stuff like that – not the story about the tennis player in Sainsbury’s.
A lot of creative people say: “I’d rather go back and take this photo this way or write this book that way”. But I’d much rather think that I can use that experience of regret to make myself better for the future. A lot of people criticise me on my blog because I basically slate myself and say I can do better – and I know that I can – but it’s not a process of going back and retaking the same old photos, it’s using that and making fewer regrets in the moment rather than fantasizing about regrets I wish I didn’t have.
You can follow Simon’s work via instagram.com/simonking_v.
You can also follow his personal blog, which he uses to write about his creative process in photography, at streetdances.wordpress.com.
Portrait by Brenden Singh.