English-born photographer Ben Watts was raised in Sydney, Australia before moving to New York in the nineties.  Most notable for his work with GQ, Victoria’s Secret, Rolling Stone and Gap, Ben continues to innovate and bring arresting images to the forefront of fashion. Ben spoke to me and Emily Sandberg about his foray into photography and how complacency isn’t in his vocabulary.

How do you think your upbringing in Australia influenced your style of photography?

I grew to love being outdoors, the bright colors and the energetic beach lifestyle.

When you first arrived in NYC, what was it about Hip Hop culture you found so fascinating?

I was fascinated by the energy, the flamboyant showmanship and the lifestyle.  It’s all very in-your-face and nothing modest about it.  I loved it.

Having shot editorial stories, advertising campaigns and portraiture,  is there one arena you feel more comfortable in than others?

I like to think that I am comfortable in all of them, although, I treat every shoot as a new challenge. There isn’t an easy day, but there is never a hard day when you love your job.

How do you feel about the evolution of photography to digital?

I think its great. It made photography and an immediate medium, taking away the anticipation of waiting on the processing.  Sadly though, it has killed Polaroid which was a major part of my love of photography.

Karl Lagerfeld said “[We are] easily in a period of over-retouching… Some models [end up] look[ing] as if they are coming out of a funeral parlor, all life taken out of the face, I hate that.” What are your thoughts on the idea that Photoshop has ruined fashion photography?

I agree. I do very little retouching to my images and I try to make them look the way I want when I actually take them.  The beauty of a model is who she is, not who you can make her with technology.

On Twitter you’re known for the #shhhhh photos where you take photos of models and celebrities making a shhh gesture. Where did the idea for this originate?


Your Photo Booth project started with a Hipstamatic lens and is now being strategically placed outside events. What do people love so much about this experience?

People love getting their picture taken!  They love the experience of a photo shoot and the attention.

Where did the idea for your branding of the diamond come from?

Just the opening pages of my last book Lickshot.  I was playing around with some tape as I have a tendency to do and that was that.

You studied Visual Communication at university and fell in love with scrapbooking and collage. How did you end up embracing photography and why?

Really it was a natural progression.  I love visual energy and it was only a matter of time before I started making my own images.

You once said, “Never become complacent in order to stay competitive”.  Tell us more.

This goes with anything for me.  You need to always challenge yourself in order to better yourself

Your relationship with MILK studios started with the conception around the space. Their space, internship program at Parsons and ART gallery has created a subculture in the photo community. Can you tell us more about the intention and your relationship with Ben and Rozzi?

I am not an owner or partner at MILK.  I have known Rozzi forever and we have both grown up in the industry together.  There is loyalty program that we share.

Follow him at @WattsUpPhoto and Facebook