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Why we’re so proud of our collaboration with photographer Luke Stephenson

Published 22 Nov 2016 at 13:43 by Liedewij Loorbach

British photographer Luke Stephenson is the man behind the quirky, cheerful portraits that we have been using in our latest Cultural Optimism campaign. Stephenson is an artistic photographer, with an eye for documenting. Preferably in large collections. As accurate as possible. Every single cornflake in the box, kind of precision. He allows just a tinge of chaos in his portraits.

How do you photograph a cornflake? It’s not as easy as it might sound. How do you ensure the texture get captured correctly? The colour gradient, formed by the thicker bits and thinner bits? How do you make sure the crisp of corn stands out against the background? When you realise the technical wizardry involved with capturing one single cornflake beautifully, you’ll realise the insane amount of hours Stephenson spent photographing each and every one of the 7122 cornflakes he found in one box.

Organising life
polaroid-big-shot_021 Stephenson enjoys organising life. He does that by capturing collections. The seventy portraits that We Are Public used in our Cultural Optimism campaign are from Stephenson’s series Pola Roid. The series consists of approximately 2500 portraits, and is still growing. Stephenson made the photos with the Polaroid Big Shot camera, which was exclusively produced in the ‘70s. Andy Warhol used the same camera to photograph celebrities, and used many of those photos in his screen prints. The camera is made of plastic, and to make a photo you don’t only need to put film into it, but also a flash cube. Neither the appropriate film or flash cubes are produced today, Stephenson has enough to make about 1,000 more portraits. “It’s a little odd, but when I have taken your picture I feel like I own your soul” says Stephenson. Stephenson’s photos document friends, family and strangers he’s met over the years. He remembers exactly where he was and how he felt during each photo. “It’s like a sort of diary for me. I document people I know or have met, and so I remember where I was and what I was up to.” In that way, he indirectly documents his own life with Pola Roid.

Stephenson has always had a weakness for collections, ever since he was a child. He photographed the collection of Clown Eggs, property of Clowns International, the world’s oldest clown foundation. “I’ve always been fascinated by the amount of work that goes into a good collection.”

Ice Cream
In the summer of 2013, Stephenson drove three and a half thousand miles along the British coastline to visit 99 locations, and photograph 99 flake ice creams that classically cost 99p – hence the title 99 x 99s. “It interests me how things that are basically the same can have very small differences, almost always caused by the human touch.” Stephenson explains it best – take a look at the crowdfunding video for the 99 x 99s book below.

Luke Stephenson, 99x99s from The Photographers’ Gallery on Vimeo.


Show Birds
A number of Stephenson’s photos were on display, from his Show Birds series, during the last edition of Unseen Photo Fair. Clean and technically perfect, Stephenson captured the most beautiful show birds in all of Great Britain. He published this collection in his photo book entitled An Incomplete Dictionary of Show Birds.


Luke Stephenson x We Are Public
Stephenson aspires to eventually make a photo book of his Pola Roid series. The money We Are Public has offered him to use his portraits will be directly invested in realising that book. Tina Farifteh, marketing guru at We Are Public, was the one who decided that Stephenson’s photos were exactly what our campaign needed.
“We were looking for a personification of a cultural optimist. These portraits by Luke Stephenson are serious, with a wink, and they exude creativity,” says Farifteh. “Exactly what we want to communicate: we are looking for people who are headstrong, curious and have a lust for life and an urge to explore.”
Want to see more of Luke Stephenson’s work? Check out his website.


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