Keeping the focus: The rise and rise of Wes Kingston

With a CV boasting everything from haute couture to Highland glens, you could describe Glasgow-based photographer Wes Kingston as an artistic chameleon. I meet the man behind the lens to talk icons, passion and what’s next for the happy snapper.

It’s a pretty obvious one, but a must-ask: what first made you want to be a photographer? 

There are a multitude of influences that drove me towards a career in photography. Both of my parents are keen photographers, so growing up I had a great catalogue of albums that I never got bored of flicking through.

All through my schooling I struggled with dyslexia, which was not well managed in the schools I attended. As a result, I was drawn to creative subjects. In my high school in Belfast, I was lucky enough to have an art department that had a dark room. It was learning the processes of loading film, going out and shooting it, before the magic of processing and printing it that really got me hooked.

From the age of 17, I travelled the world doing a multitude of adventure jobs, and found myself in some of the most amazing corners of the earth with friends who were professional snowboarders, climbers and skateboarders. So all along the way I was documenting all these amazing experiences I was lucky enough to be having.

In short, I like telling visual stories.

Which photographers most influenced you and your work? 

 There are many great photographers to admire, so naming just a few that have influenced me is quite difficult. Historically there are many, but for me it’s got to be:

  • Brassai, a Hungarian-French photographer – a true documentarian who captured the essence of Paris and then produced one of the most remarkable photo books, Paris de Nuit.
  • The American Irvin Pen, for his strength in the studio. His distinctive lighting gave his portraits such strength and character.
  • Others include: Henri Cartier Bresson ,Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman

One of my local heroes is Scottish photographer Albert Watson (OBE). When it comes to art crossed with fashion, Albert is the man. He’s shot over a hundred covers for Vogue, as well as campaigns for many of the world’s leading brands. The celebrity portraits he’s created are also incredible.

Gregory Crewdson is the master of big pictures. He sets surreal scenes with large Hollywood-esque production, creating bizarre and unsettling images that are arresting and intriguing. 

Nadav Kander is the driving force in photography in the UK. His juxtaposition on framing lighting, that seems to take influence from classical painters, and his creative concepts can’t help but inspire any photographer.

What is it you hope your photographs say, or get across to people? 

As a documentary photographer, it was always about telling the stories of people that I felt most needed to be heard.

That’s a concept that has now crossed over into my commercial career. I want to be able to communicate between clients, their brands and the target market to help connect in an honest way. It’s important that images are relatable, so the customer can be a part of the brands that I work with. I want people to feel the atmosphere of the moment captured and to be taken to that place.

Name some of your favourite shoots/campaigns/projects you’ve worked on

I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work on a range of different subjects – from aid agencies in South Africa to fashion designers in Paris – from billionaires’ super yachts to creel boats. I enjoy them all, they all present their own variety of challenges that you have to adapt to and overcome.

My last personal project I worked on – “The North Coast 500” – provided me with the opportunity to shoot in all the styles I love – environmental portraits, landscapes and abstract details. It was a great project to work on, and really rewarding to see the results get international recognition.

What’s your biggest motivation as a photographer? What’s the driving force that keeps you taking photos? 

Just pure passion for what I do. I have been professional for 10 years now and I still live, breathe and dream of photography. And I will do until I can’t do it anymore.

Life moves on from the days of living in winter resorts with no commitments, trying to get your best shots of snowboarders published in magazines to marriage and fatherhood!

My career has evolved and I now need to take all of these responsibilities into consideration – along with my passion for photography and my drive to succeed, whilst providing the best I can for my family – now, and in the future.

What piece of work are you most proud of?

When I took my first step towards professional photography I was still a student. I went to South Africa and took on a project working in the townships outside of Cape Town.

I shot a project working with a women’s empowerment group who were trying help themselves gain some skills to secure employment.

I spent days travelling into the township working with this amazing group of women. On the last day working with them we took a walk around their block in the township. I shot an insight into the life in their neighbourhood on 35mm film in a street photography style, as well as giving them all disposable cameras to do the same as we walked around.

I printed all their images for them to keep, and printed all my own work on my return to Scotland. I submitted it to the British Journal of Photography magazine and I got featured. This was my first self assigned project and to go through the whole process from conception to organising, prepping, travelling, shooting and then presenting, to this day is something I am very proud of.

I think it was the humbling experience of the women I worked with, and being invited into a situation that is not normally accessible, that opened my eyes as a storyteller and image maker and set my passion into overdrive.

Which one photograph do you wish you’d taken? 

Steve McCurry photographed what is known as the Afghan Girl, the striking portrait of 12-year-old Sharbat Gula, a Pashtun orphan in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border. It’s not because it’s one of the most famous photographs in the world, it’s the penetrating gaze of her eyes – the embodiment of fortitude and self respect.

Also, Mark Seliger’s portrait of Kurt Cobain. Because it is Kurt Cobain and I was a teenager in the 90s.

And finally….. what’s next for Wes Kingston?

Expansion and self-growth. It’s all about the hustle in the photography business and you have to keep at it all the time.

I’ve been working hard on my re-brand in the last 2 years, and the business is growing at a great rate. I’ll continue to nurture the working relationships with my existing clients and endeavor to always give them new and exciting ideas to fulfil their briefs.

I’m also looking forward to new opportunities with new clients and there will be a new, exciting personal project in the not too distant future….just need to convince the wife!

Take a journey through Wes’s epic North Coast 500 project, and make sure to check his other stuff out too on weskingston.co.uk (it’s incredz).

Instagram – @weskingston.

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