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Creative Review Annual 2000

Interview: Liz Faber

"This is as big as your imagination"

Nick Thornton Jones

The advent of digital technology has opened up photography to the realms of the imagination. A photograph is no longer a reliable document of truth: the camera has learned to lie. By the advent of photographic image manipulation has, of course, had positive benefits. Particularly in fashion through the work of the likes of Nick Knight (CR Sept 9) and Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin (CR April) digital technology has driven the creation of stunning imagery. Manipulated images are now the norm rather than the exception. But the work created over the past year by fashion photographer Warren du Preez and The Sunday Times art editor Nick Thornton Jones pushes photography’s embrace of image manipulation to a new level. The pair have set out to innovate the medium while staying true to traditional photographic values. The resulting work is an intriguing blend of mixed media and artistic disciplines: art direction, photography, graphic design and illustration. The duo insist that each piece they create starts with a photographic image, no matter how abstract the end result. They believe the success of their work is down to the lighting. “If the lighting is not there what we are doing simply doesn’t work. The images are all 2D, built with flat colour yet, with the right lighting you can achieve a very very modelled look,” states Thornton Jones.

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The pair are guarded about the processes involved in their images. Both are also keen to stress that the production of each piece of work is a 50/50 affair. Du Preez takes the original images, then the two of them work on them together. “We need to have a good open working relationship.” recognises Thornton Jones. “Warren has to be open enough to let me reconstruct his work “. The couple met through a photo shoot at The Sunday Times a couple of years ago, “I recognised a huge talent in Nick and wanted to work with him,” says du Preez. At the time they met Thornton Jones had been “fiddling” with ideas while du Preez was “dabbling with simple graphic elements”: both were looking for something different. “I was bored with photography,” says Thornton Jones. it had become too fashionable almost like design in the 80s. Their resulting work is also heavily influenced by du Preez’s earlier collaborations with the laser artist, Chris Levine. Ironically du Preez met Levine when they were commissioned to do a  front cover for The Sunday Times on beauty light therapy in 1998. As well as fashion stories, Levine and du Preez have collaborated on a lenticular campaign for Boss and a window for YSL. “Chris has been instrumental from an alternative lighting point of view. He has motivated the progression of this work,” comments du Preez. Thornton Jones and du Preez are aware that distinctive styles such as the one they have developed have an increasingly short shelf-life once somebody uses it in a high profile campaign photo shoot others may not want to be seen to be second with it. As a result, both Thornton Jones and du Preez have held back from showing any of the work, even though the first image was completed over nine months ago, Du Preez comments, “The work is very personal, we have built u body of it before we have even shown it. The extent of our portfolio shows our commitment to it. Having said that, what we are doing today not necessarily what we will be doing tomorrow If they want to stay ahead of the game they are going to have on keep moving. In the months they have been working together they have completed over 40 pieces. The work has involved  in that time, going from the very abstract and then returning closer to traditional photography. Both say they would love to put on an exhibition and are also looking into silk screening the images They are equally keen to get to apply: there is even talk of moving into animation. We are stepping into the unknown while retaining the intelligence of the craft of photography. This is as big as your imagination,” claims Thornton Jones. Only time will tell if it is an important step in an imaging revolution or a mere fashion statement.

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