States of Being

We sat down with acclaimed fashion, portrait, and beauty photographer Paul Westlake to discuss inspiration, the ‘ah-ha’ moment, and his ongoing love of analog.
Words: Ger Ger
Images: Paul Westlake

"I wish I'd have never heard the word 'digital.' It destroyed photography, in my opinion. I don't want to sound like a Luddite — I use digital professionally almost every day — but I really don't like it."

Born in England and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Paul Westlake has had an international career spanning over twenty years. His work has been featured in numerous magazines around the world like Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, ELLE, Marie Claire, and GQ. Today he is based in New York, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Westlake started to take pictures when he was a teenager and became serious about his work in the mid-1980s. In 1989, ELLE magazine opened in Australia and they took him on board as a regular contributor. Agents soon came knocking and his career took off.

"I love daylight the most, it's the king of light for me. It's everything. From hard direct light with immaculate shadows and big contrast to soft bounced and diffused light. If you master daylight in all its permutations then you can apply that to studio lighting."

"One well placed light will make a photograph sing."

"I'm usually involved in every single step of a production. I live and breathe this stuff and I never lost the passion for it. I'm there at the casting and I’m there at the editing.
Assignments and personal work are completely different states of being for me. The parameters on a job are well-defined whereas with personal work there is only myself to please. It's more indulgent."

"My favorite parts of a woman's body are the eyes. Imagination is what makes a model strong. How I define intimacy? A bed for two. No kids."

"My five most memorial shoots? Wow ... there are so many.

My first shoot for ELLE magazine in Sydney. It was in the dunes of the Kurnell Peninsula in 1989. It was the kickoff point.
Then there was my first shoot in New York, which was for Marie Claire magazine in 1995. We did a story of 'The Red Balloon,' which is still one of my favorites. That was the catalyst to me moving there.
Shooting in Sicily the first time. It was in Palermo and my producer Chico Paladino showed me things I'd have only ever dreamed of. Enchanting! I have returned there many times to shoot.
Working in Positano, Italy, with the fashion editor Carola Bianchi was very inspiring and beautiful as well.
And most recently I was shooting for Pan & The Dream in a studio in Brooklyn. The story was 'The Empress's New Clothes.' Very inspiring."

"The industry is completely different now compared to the days of film. You had to learn a lot about film and what the various development processes did to it. The actual shooting was conducted by the photographer. You were king. It was what you saw in your mind's eye and in your camera. I really loathe the shooting environment of today with five different people waffling on about a frame on a screen."

"My first camera was a beautiful 1940s Zeiss Ikon in a brown leather case that my uncle gave me when I was 12. You had to use a light meter and that really appealed to my scientific nature.
I have quite a few old film cameras now that I still use. A 1942 Graflex 4x5, an Olympus Pen-F Gothic, and a Nikon F5. It's all about the lenses and feeling. I have a load of Pentax 6x7 and Mamiya RZ series equipment, too, and a Polaroid GOOSE (600 SE) that I've worn out. My day-to-day workhorse is a Canon EOS 1D X digital. It's OK."

"How one of my typical days looks? Typically I'm stuck on at the bloody computer after breakfast. Our lives have been hijacked."

"Inspiration for me is music, art, movies and books. I subscribe to The New York Times. Magazines I read are Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, W, Luncheon, and Pan & The Dream. And women are my inspiration, of course. That's how the river flows."

"I hate distraction and small talk. I hate wannabes and name-droppers. I don't like when there are too many people on set and it's loud."

"How I feel about trial and error? That's the only real process for me. You make that mistake and you never forget it. On the flip side, there is the happy accident on film, the 'ah-ha' moment. And something I learned the hard way: it's not what you know but who you know." — Paul Westlake