glen luchford's fascinating test photos of his longtime assistant
The legendary fashion photographer’s assistant Jack Webb has been stepping into the frame since the 90s to test the lighting. A new book, "The Agony and the Ecstasy," juxtaposes the portraits of Jack and the iconic photographs he helped create.
Gucci wiosna/lato 16.
Glen Luchford has shot breathtaking photos of 90s Kate Moss and out-of-this-world campaigns for Gucci. But his most prized model isn't someone most people would even recognise. It's his now-43-year-old assistant, Jack Webb. Picture any of the iconic photos Glen has taken over the past two decades, and there's a version starring Jack, who steps in to test the lighting before the world's most famous models replace him in the final frames.
Glen loves the photos of Jack so much that he started saving them after the two first started working together two decades ago. There's Jack walking a peacock on a neon-lit strip of sidewalk for Gucci's spring/summer 16 campaign, and a slightly younger Jack squatting on Malgosia Bela's vintage car. In one photo, a 20-something Jack subs in for Kate Moss, ahead of the model's iconic 90s street boxing spread for Harper's Bazaar. It's not hard to see why Glen loves shooting him — his assistant's bone structure, even now, is no less striking than the British supermodel's.
A new book called The Agony and the Ecstasy, designed by Christopher Simmonds, celebrates Glen and Jack's unique relationship though 164 photographs: 82 of models, and 82 of Jack. It also features a transcription of a three-way phone chat between Glen, Jack, and the writer Lou Stoppard, which i-D is excited to share in full below along with exclusive photographs from Glen's collection. As the photographer sums up, "It's a book about love."
GLEN: I can sum up by saying that, 'Jack stood in the pictures with as much passion as he approaches everything, full tilt.' Jack, you want to add anything?
JACK: You're like so my BFF. I'm forty-three and I'm just buying my first car. As a result of these pictures I now use a facial serum from Octa, Octé… a yellow French looking company. They are in airports. It seals the moisture in, lifts and tightens.
GLEN: Beautifully said.
JACK: These pictures started mainly due to nobody else being around. At the beginning, there wouldn't be anyone on set. Now that's changed and there are loads of people there. Standing in just became a regular thing -- I would look at how the light was on me and then I could understand how it would be whenever whoever it was got into the shot. Then it became about me and Glen having a laugh, something which is fundamental to all of this. We met when I was 19. I was delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut in Golders Green. I wanted a motorbike license and they sorted that out for you. I'd moved to London six or eight months before. Glen asked me if I could work a 10x8 and I said I couldn't. Then he asked if I could work a Hasselblad and I told him I'd never heard of one. Then he asked if I could work a Pentax 6x7 and I said no. Then he said, 'what can you do?' I said, 'a Nikon.' And he said, 'at least you're honest.'
GLEN: At the start, there were four of us in the studio. Now there are 70 or 100. Neither Jack nor I gave it any thought other than me saying, 'quick jump in and let's look at the shot.' Jack's face is absolutely perfect for lighting because he's got really great cheekbones and a small jaw – nice looks, I think. When you get an idea of the light on him, you can see what it's going to be like when the model gets in, which is why I always choose him and no one else.
JACK: I look, for the most part, progressively old and progressively jetlagged and I guess it's funny looking at me next to some knock-out. It's funny in the same way looking at a photo of someone falling over is.
GLEN: It's my version of the Nicholas Nixon series, The Brown Sisters. He spent 40 years photographing his wife and her three sisters every summer. Sadly though, about a decade of polaroids got tossed – most of the 90s stuff. They got thrown out when I moved from London to New York and I had a bonfire in my garden for three days. Now I've learnt my lesson and I keep everything. There are five or six from that period, but the rest are gone. I'm annoyed about that missing decade, because you'd get about 30 of Jack's haircuts. There's usually only one picture of Jack from each session. I would snap it and everyone around the screen would be howling with laughter -- you'd often think, 'oh wow, this is better than the real thing.' So I started saving them on my desktop and occasionally we'd just get them out and have a laugh -- with Jack, obviously, not at him. Jack studied drama when he was a kid and I don't think he realises how animated he is, which is why I also pick on him to stand in front of the camera. What you can't see in those pictures is there's quite a lot of blind panic going on. There is a clock ticking. Someone will be running in saying the model is going to be on set in 10 minutes and we'll still have 40 or 50 minutes of lighting to do, so you're chasing your tail a bit. Some of those pictures were shot in a quick second. He'd just jump in but then pose intuitively without even thinking about it. Jack's got a vaudevillian quality. I feel like I'm watching good theatre, although on his part it's unconscious.
JACK: I'm in tears here.
GLEN: You'll often do something without realising it's hilarious. At the time, I'll be looking at it for the context of the lighting, but when I go back I realise how funny they were. But those pictures were made without the sense that they'd ever be seen again, because usually what happens at the end of a session is you separate test shots out and they get trashed. For some reason I hung onto them. When you start to put them together as a body of work you see you're very committed, Jack -- you never just stand there. You reference Ian Curtis a lot -- he's in about 40% of the pictures. There's also some Tommy Cooper. Some Three Stooges. There are quite a few characters that surface.
JACK: My favourite is the one where I'm in an overcoat and walking. Because I look like I'm going somewhere.
GLEN: I think we both find the fashion industry a bit challenging, so we stay laughing. The two of us together have a laugh and then everyone else joins us.
JACK: It's kind of like a functional marriage.
GLEN: From a working perspective there is definitely a symbiosis that I have with Jack that I don't have with anyone else. I'll be looking through the lens and thinking, 'god that shadow on the left is really driving me nuts' and as I think that the light starts moving and he is already there. After a certain amount of time you can work without speaking. It takes about 10 years. I'll never achieve that with someone else – certainly not in my lifetime.
JACK: I'm immensely fond of him.
LOU: So it's a book about love?
GLEN: It's a book about love. Let's end there.
The Agony and The Ecstasy will be launched in New York on Thursday 7th September with a signing by Glen and Jack (together forever) at Dover Street Market New York for the store's Fashion Week Open House event.