Meet the Photographer: Winston Kletter
This year marked the first time that we got to work with the incredible Winston Kletter. Trying to call him just one thing is an impossible task, he’s modelled for some of the biggest international brands, surfed some of the most epic waves on the globe, photographed beautiful models in countless exotic locations, and plenty more. The thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie is a seasoned traveller who’s had enough experiences to fill several lifetimes, and we were thrilled to secure him for our most recent Rookies shoot.
The shoot was spread across two days and two locations, Noordhoek and Camps Bay, both in Cape Town, South Africa. From the first shot to the last, Winston had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and the final results speak for themselves.
We recently had a chat with Winston, and learnt all about his journey in the industry, his process, and what inspires him.
What drew you to photography initially and, how long have you been a photographer?
First, let me say how awesome it has been collaborating with the World Swimsuit team, and all the awesome creatives that have shared their decades of expertise and passion for the creative process!
My obsession with photographs really took root while modelling around the world, first in New York as a subject of Bruce Weber’s Olympic Hopefuls series (as a springboard and platform diver). Working with such a genius and being part of the creative process sparked my curiosity and interest. Moving to Milano and Paris, I was devouring every great photograph I could find, drinking in every aspect of the light, composition, expressions, mood, depth of field, fashion, and the way the creative elements came together to tell a story. I collected every editorial or beautiful ad campaign I could find, thousands of images from every quality publication. I was going into book stores and studying the classic masters from Man Ray and Irving Penn to Ansel Adams and Albert Watson, too many to mention! I would spend days in the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, viewing on microfilm the great works of the photographic world. Everywhere I went I would visualise the photographic potential.
I bought my first “professional” camera around 1990, and within about a year and a half I was already working for Elle, Marie Claire, 20 Ans, Max, Diva and many other magazines, as well as shooting advertising campaigns.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Funny enough, though I’m an autodidact (self-taught), I’ve had scholars with Master’s Degrees in Photography offer to be my assistants. My response is generally, “perhaps I should be your assistant?”
What kind of work do you specialise in?
I try to tell stories in my photographs, to create and encapsulate a vision, a feeling, an immersive experience. Interestingly, great photos can often be a process of reduction, rather than adding elements. It is by subtracting everything unnecessary that you can most efficiently express a vision.
How would you describe your style, and what message do you want to convey with your images?
I love beautiful light. We travel around the globe to find and capture the magic, the subtle “flavours” of light. The nearly indefinable “je ne sais quoi.” When the image is right, it’s perhaps more than the sum of its parts, there is a Zen quality that transcends dogmatic definitions. When working for a specific client I try to visualise how best to express the “feeling” of their brand, to capture the spirit/essence of it. That is why casting is so very important, as a photographer’s other job is director. To do truly great work I believe it is an expression of the soul, the subject should be the very opposite of superficial. I’ve always been drawn to the Konstantin Stanislavski quote, “love art in yourself, and not yourself in art.”
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
While I have great respect for those masters of post-production, and their abilities manipulating photos, personally I do very little photoshop on my images. Lightroom is a great program I sometime use, but I try to perfect the image in-camera so the adjustments I do are quite subtle.
Where does your inspiration come from, and what keeps you motivated?
There is the old quote, “you are only as good as your last job” and the appended “you are only as good as your next job,” the latter is a great source of inspiration. Einstein wrote something about being aware of all those individuals that toil through great difficulties to ensure our sustenance. From those labouring deep in the mines, to all those performing backbreaking, thankless jobs for society, and the great sacrifices of Madiba and Gandhi, it is our duty to work at least as hard in our chosen fields to rise to the dignity of those who have sacrificed so greatly for our opportunities.
What has been your most memorable project to date?
There are many! Working with Al Pacino and Oliver Stone were very special for me. Doing album covers and a music video that went worldwide on MTV, every big editorial or big/international campaign is a great adventure.
So many projects call for sacrifice or risk to get the perfect result. And, it is often in going that extra mile, shooting that additional option, pushing the limits which people naturally resist, doing extraordinary or unusual things that are out of people’s comfort zones, climbing out to that dangerous place (do not try this at home these are trained professionals, haha), that is often where the magic happens.
What’s your dream destination to shoot in?
I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot in many of them already including Paris, New York, Cape Town, Australia, Greece, Barbados, The Baleric islands, The Canary Islands, Hawaii, all around the Alps and Rocky Mountains, Utah, the Grand Canyon, and The Pinacles in Western Australia (a 200-million year old fossilised forest). Still, I’m looking forward to visiting Tahiti, Japan, and spending more time in New Zealand, working on a project that hopefully will have us shooting hanging out of helicopters and underwater with sharks.
Which photographers inspire you?
I’ve been very fortunate to work with (on the other side of the camera) some of my photographic idols, such as Albert Watson, Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Ellen Von Unworth, Hans Feuer, Andreas Bitesnich and the list goes on. I love the work of Nick Knight, Cartier Bresson, Richard Avedon, Paolo Reversi, and Peter Lindburgh. I’m also inspired nearly every day by some contemporary photographers.
What photographic ambitions have you not yet achieved?
Shooting for Paris Vogue and Vanity Fair, and travelling on one of the dream trips to an exotic destination with the great World Swimsuit team.
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