An insight into the work of eminent photographer, Jonathan Glynn-Smith, who is mid-way through a five year photography residency at Stowe, documenting the School in the run up to the Centenary in 2023. Jonathan is responsible for the beautiful photograph illustrating the cover of this magazine, along with the accompanying shots of the landscape gardens supporting the feature article.
Jonathan, we’d love to know more about your work at Stowe, are you able to shed some light on Stowe Studio 100 and how it has come about?
I have a few friends who are Old Stoics, so I knew of the School but my first visit arose when my daughter won an art prize in London and the picture was displayed in the Marble Hall as part of the annual Prep School Art Exhibition. A few years later I was introduced to Anthony Wallersteiner by an old friend and neighbour, who is also an Old Stoic, Jonathan Keating (Cobham 73).
Every great project starts with a great idea. The Headmaster had a great idea, which was essentially to create “a record of the five year journey of a Stoic moving through the School.” The unique aspect of this project is the approach (five years), which is more of a documentary or conceptual art work than photography. Some of my previous work has been described as a ‘film on paper’, so the idea immediately resonated with me.
We set up Stowe Studio 100 and this web platform was soon linked to the School website. This web gallery gives an extraordinary insight into all aspects of Stowe life. A selection of images on the site will be chosen to form an Art Book released in 2023.
The pictures will be in both colour and black and white and Stoics will be involved in penning the written content. We are inviting them to express their reactions, commentaries and feelings so that their words accompany my photos. There will be a mix of instant feedback, which will have the advantage of spontaneity and other reflections will be more considered and meditative.
I begin every project with some reconnaissance work to delineate the parameters of each project and then work out a route to tell the story. Initially, my approach was about photographing a single year group at the School but I quickly realised that every Stoic interacts with Stoics from different year groups and that friendship groups are quite fluid at the School. The environment of Stowe and the landscape are quite overwhelming and leave an indelible impression on everyone who either learns or works at the School. The architecture of the Mansion and the Gardens force you to look at the Landscape in a certain way. I find myself constantly pulled back by the Ducal Palace as the inspiration for all the other temples. From one monument to another, the Landscape changes according to the time of day and the seasons. As an artist and photographer, it is interesting to see how the pupils create an interplay of light and shadow and inject a youthful energy into the spaces.
You’ve worked with some exciting brands and institutions in the past, how does Stowe compare to your previous projects?
I now work mainly in the luxury goods market as a fashion photographer and as a TV commercials Director, which I have been doing for over 20 years. I work by myself in the most part when I am at Stowe, except for my digital operator who keeps the files on track. I love it as there are no distractions and no excuses!
I did a seven year project with Louis Vuitton documenting the America’s Cup, which culminated in an exhibition at the Espace Louis Vuitton in Paris and then toured around the world to New York, Madrid and Milan. I also worked with Alex Thomson for five years: he is the solo sailor sponsored by Hugo Boss and in constant pursuit of the Vendee Globe. I created a very comprehensive book for the brand, jumping on board boats and hiring helicopters in exotic locations around the world trying to find the best angles for shots.
I photographed the 2012 Olympic Games, working directly for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, on a two year project taking portraits of Team GB. I travelled the entire length and breadth of the Country, shooting the athletes as they trained and competed at the Games. I was lucky enough to attend almost every sports arena and I staged an exhibition for Omega during the Olympic Games in London.
I have shot two books for educational institutions in the USA. These were seminal books, both over 500 pages, and the highest quality in their production values. The first book was for Oberlin College in Ohio and the second was for Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These projects took about 3-4 years to shoot and produce. I worked alongside the publisher College Green on these projects.
More recently, I have been working with Mercedes-Benz and their creative department. I documented a book on the DNA of their brand and its future.
When I have a moment, I also work on directing short films, and I regularly shoot photography for fashion and portrait clients.
Stowe Studio 100 is a unique project which evolves around events at Stowe so it is quite time-consuming. But what you put into life, you get out, so I am doing my utmost to make a success of this exciting project.
I understand you are using your time at Stowe to work with Stoics to improve their photography. Are you enjoying this aspect of the role?
I haven’t started this yet but I will be when the time is right.
You’ve spent 18 months getting to know the Estate and finding the best locations around the school. Which view or vista is your favourite so far?
I love water and the Oxford Water has the best bridge at Stowe, but a close second is the Palladium Bridge. No two days are the same here so I love it when the elements change the scene in front of you. Stowe has become a film set in my eyes.
Of the thousands of shots you’ve taken so far, which do you feel captures the spirit of Stowe in all its glory?
My next shot, well hopefully anyway. Let other people judge, hopefully the photos are getting better every day!