CAMERON GRAYSON IS AN IN-DEMAND FASHION AND PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER AND DIRECTOR WHOSE EASY CONNECTION WITH HIS SUBJECTS IS INJECTED INTO EVERY FRAME HE SHOOTS.
Cameron Grayson has a different idea of what defines beauty than most. Despite being exposed to some of the most conventionally beautiful people in the world on almost a daily basis, the acclaimed fashion and portrait photographer and director remains convinced that exquisiteness comes in an assortment of shapes and sizes.
“It can be the most obscure thing that you can make look so beautiful. I’m trying to show that beauty is a reflection of what you see, it’s not necessarily what is aesthetically perfect,” he says.
This unique perspective has proved to be one of Cameron’s greatest strengths in an epic career that has seen him traverse the globe shooting everything from prestigious fashion and celebrity editorials for the likes of the Italian, Japanese, Australian and Russian editions of Vogue, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar to commercial billboards for brands from Adidas, Nike and Puma to Nine West USA and Crown Casino.
With his backgrounds in both graphic design and photography, he has stared down the lens at an assortment of famous faces and during more than a decade of honing his craft, worked alongside an assortment of international industry luminaries including New Yorker Steven Kline, make-up artist and photographer Francois Nars and LA-based snapper Kayt Jones before winding up his assisting career with The New Yorker portrait photographer Max Vadukul.
Born the youngest of four children, Cameron says it was almost inevitable he would one day end up in the creative fields. He was exposed to the fashion and beauty industries at an early age through his mother, a former beauty queen and accomplished seamstress, his eldest brother, Darren, an award-winning hair stylist, home designer and artist and a second brother who earns his living as a sculptor.
Yet Cameron believes it was more than just pure DNA that led him down this path.
“All of that had a massive influence but it wasn’t necessarily photography that drew me [to this industry]. It was actually light and the way light bounces around. My father has been an auto electrician for 50 years and I was always watching him working on vehicles. There was always these lead lights bouncing off reflective areas of cars and bouncing back onto his face. It was more the love of light than the medium of photography. What happened from that was that I set out to learn how I could capture what I was seeing.”
Initially intending to follow a career in graphic design, Cameron was first exposed to the benefits of film and later digital when undertaking an arts bridging course at the renowned Brighton Bay School. From there he attended Swinburne University before making his way to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
It was while as a second-year student at RMIT that he began receiving regular commissions from Vogue Australia. It was during his third year that he was named winner of an international photographic competition held by BMW that eventually led to an opportunity to head to Europe and later to New York. At 28 he gained his first New York agent and has ever since split his time between his studios in Melbourne and the Big Apple.
A big fan of the FX format, Cameron’s first camera was a Nikon F90X which he purchased in 1996. It is a relationship that has endured ever since. “I use Nikon for all my 35mm work, brand loyalty is a matter of your camera becoming an extension of you. You don’t want to have to think about looking at a camera and thinking ‘oh, I’ll need to adjust that’. Once you’re with a camera system you don’t want to move your eye from the eye focus. You know where and how it fits in your hand,” he says.
Now a husband and father of three, Cameron says he works hard at developing an emotional connection to the subjects of his photos, an approach that is clearly visible in many of his images and is somewhat of a Grayson signature.
He still has the first photo he ever took – a beautiful black and white portrait of his elderly great uncle climbing a windmill that he built. While the trained professional in him can appreciate the graphics of the shot and the way the cloud forms around the subject’s head, it is the memories of the man at the centre of the image which to this day still elicits such a strong reaction.
“There’s probably only been three photos that I have taken that made me cry… ones where I’ve just gone ‘wow’, and this is one of them.”
While rueing many of the changes in the commercial sector, Cameron says his own career continues to evolve, almost bringing him full circle from when he was shooting stills for cinematic directors such as controversial British director Tony Kaye.
While he continues to be kept busy for large scale campaigns for commercial brands and the odd fashion editorial, Cameron says he believes his work will eventually lead him in a new direction.
“I think my work is leading down the lines of more cinemas and more billboards for Netflix campaigns and that sort of thing. Everyone sees your work and says ‘wow’, but when it comes down to it anyone that’s at the level that you’re at, there’s always insecurities and doubts about yourself. I think that’s an important thing too because it keeps you growing, it keeps you on your toes.”
Having recently renewed their visas, and with demand for his services in the US still hot, Cameron says he and his wife are still undecided as to the best place to base themselves as a family. Until such time as the decision is made, Cameron says he will continue to work on his own personal projects in addition to collating new post production-free work for an upcoming exhibition.
“This is the first time I haven’t had an agent for 17 years and I’ve got producers to look after me instead. It’s been such a breath of fresh air, but I’m working much better creatively and I’m picking and choosing what I want to do. I’m not the type of person that goes and hustles for work.”
One thing is clear though. Whatever path his future takes him, he will continue to be driven by heart not head.
“As soon as we had our first child, things changed. We’ve got children now aged 11, 10 and 7 and they are the most important thing to me. I’ve probably held back a fair bit over the last few years because it’s such a fundamental time for shaping these kids.
“It’s funny, my shoots are usually big production shoots with lots of lighting, but suddenly [when your kids are around] I’ve found myself loving sunlight again because I’m taking portraits of my children. Suddenly your heart changes. It’s such an emotional attachment and it changes the way you’re shooting.”
What’s in my bag:
- “My Nikon kit is the Nikon D850 and Nikon D810 camera bodies with a NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF- S 85mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED, 80-200mm and NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lenses.
- The majority of my work is around the 35mm for double page spreads and 85mm for portrait formats. It all depends on the brief that dictates my lens.
- Which angle the client wants to shoot from will also determine the lens choice. At times I might use a NIKKOR AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR but again that is according to briefs”
[Words by Tracey Porter]