London-based photographer Richard Haughton creates dazzling works of art featuring food with a clean, bright and inspired style. Here he talks about his long-term working relationship with James Thierrée, the multi-talented performer and director whose spellbinding theatrical creations have surprised and delighted audiences across the world. The Toad Knew, Thierrée’s latest creation is at Sadler’s Wells and The Lowry in early May.
Where are you from, and what initially attracted you to photography?
I’m from South West of Ireland. I got my first camera when I was 6. I still have some of my first pictures and they are recognisably mine – the same eye! I found it entirely magical.
I’ve always loved taking pictures, I did my first proper job for an architectural magazine when I was 14, and it’s all I’ve ever done since. I enjoy pretty much every aspect of it, from start to finish. I love the experiences it’s given me. One of the greatest things about being a photographer is that you have to actually be there to take the picture.
Can you describe both your personal and professional style/aesthetic?
My personal and professional aesthetic are the same really – nearly all my work concerns things I’m personally attracted to, and generally my reactions and decisions are personally driven.
Again, it’s in the eye – I look at something and I see the picture, and I shoot it. If it isn’t right, I know what I’m trying to achieve and can keep working until I get it. I’ve done lots of different kinds of work, and my style tends to be a bit different depending on my reaction to my subject matter – (for example) ballet demands a very different approach to food. But I like simplicity, clarity, and, at the same time, a certain richness.
When did you first meet James Thierrée?
I did a shoot with him for Junebug Symphony‘s run at the Southbank Centre in 2001.
Why did you start working with him and what’s the secret to your enduring relationship?
He is the kind of artist I love to work with, in that he exists in his own self-contained and self-created universe. I find his shows endlessly fascinating and challenging and I guess that’s why we have worked together for so long.
What interests you about his work?
As a photographer, it’s the imagery; the shows are full of fantastic images and transformations, unique to James. I also find his movement extraordinary, his relationship to gravity – but difficult to capture in a still image! Above all he is a performer who has everything.
How do you approach shooting his shows? Do you respond to what you see or does James signal which moments he would like you to shoot?
Mainly I respond to what I see, but sometimes we’ll work together on certain key moments.
How does this differ to the work you do in fashion and with food?
Technically it’s completely different, but there are many shared characteristics between restaurants and the theatre – on stage, back stage, the motivation of teams, repetition, the search for perfection on a daily basis. Chefs also tend to exist in their own self created universes, and it’s my job to enter them and represent them.
Which of your photographs do you feel sums up his aesthetic?
This one I think (above, from Au Revoir Parapluie), it captures something of his movement, though it’s hard to choose! Or this (above, from Raoul).