Lara Platman: Photography with a passion – a Billingham exclusive interview
Posted on December 09 2017
Lara Platman is an award winning Photographer and Author, a Journalist and Curator, specialising in historic motor sport, British manufacturing and portrait photography. She is also an Ambassador for Leica Camera, a Getty Images contributor, committee member of The Guild of Motoring Writers and a long-time Billingham user.
We recently caught up with Lara to interview her about her life and career:
Lara at Goodwood Revival - © Thor Haley
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where were you born, where do you live now, and where would you like to be in the future? Do you travel regularly?
I was born in Essex but moved to London’s Shoreditch soon after university, following a brief spell in New York photo assisting and welding. I have just bought a plot of land in the Cotswolds and hope to be here for quite some time. I love travel for photography but love to return home as I have a cat that adopted me!
Who or what inspired you to become a professional photographer?
I used to print in the larder with my father, then went onto my art foundation, followed by a photo / fine art degree. It was in the darkroom that the magic grabbed me. Something from nothing. White paper to image. I knew I would be able to ask questions and see the world with my lens.
Do you have a photography ‘idol’? (We noticed your tweet about Joel Meyerowitz from Paris Photo!)
Yes I bumped into one of my heroes, Joel Meyerowitz, over a coffee at Paris Photo. We were chatting about our Leica lenses and I didn’t know it was him, actually him. He was so kind and he saw I was blushing, and he said, “let’s discuss lenses again”! Lee Miller, Elliott Erwitt, Jaques Henri Lartigue, Henri Cartier-Bresson have all put me on route.
When did you start your professional photography career?
Straight after leaving university, I assisted a dance photographer, music photographers and fashion photographers. Then I was commissioned for some small jobs… and then some bigger ones...
Did you study photography or have formal training, or was it something that developed over time?
I studied a for fine art degree at Newport, with Keith Arnott and Martin Parr amongst many other names as my tutors.
Which genres of photography do you admire/enjoy the most?
I love movement along with story-telling, so I suppose it was dance and theatre to start with. Then I found motor sport – a sort of outdoor theatre. I shoot craftspeople at work now, too. I really enjoy shooting. It’s always a challenge.
Which do you excel at, in your opinion?
I always say one can’t beat a decent portrait. One’s face speaks a thousand words. I think I am patient and that makes for a good portrait.
“Madame Arlette Gondree was four when her mother assisted the allied forces from her café, to land on Pegasus Bridge for the D Day Landings. She still has the very same café on Pegasus Bridge, where the landing took place, keeping it as a shrine, and offers free food to all servicemen. This photograph was taken on the 70th anniversary of D DAY.” Photo by Lara Platman.
Most photographers have a personal favourite photograph. What would you consider to be the best picture you’ve ever taken and why?
My photo of a gentleman called Mr Yves Junne, who is sadly not around these days. He was the president of the Automobile Club de France. He is in the photo in the pit lane for a driver change beside a Porsche 904 at a Spa 6 Hours historic race. It feels like a cinematic scene.
Scene in the pit lane at the Spa 6 Hour motor race. Photo by Lara Platman.
What was your first camera?
My first real camera was a Konica but really, my Nikon FM2 was the thing I loved. Then my Hasselblad 500cm from the 1960s, gifted to me.
What’s in your kitbag currently?
Here you can see my kit bag for an editorial shoot and one for a commercial shoot. In the commercial bag is my Hasselblad and Leica M240. In the editorial bag are my Leica M240 and M6 cameras.
Commercial shoot: Hasselblad 500cm, Hasselblad Carl Zeiss distagon f/3.5 60mm, Zeiss Sonnar 150mm f/4, Hasselblad Proshade 6093T, Hasselblad PolaPlus Polaroid Film Back, Hasselblad viewfinder, FlashQ wireless flash shoes and leads, Polaroid film timer, Leica M240 with 35mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX-M lens, Leica M6, SUMMILUX-M 24mm f/1.4 ASPH lens, SUMMILUX-M 75mm f/1.4 lens, Minolta Light meter and accessories. Photo by Lara Platman.
Editorial Shoot: Leica M240 with 35mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX-M lens, Leica M6, SUMMILUX-M 24mm f/1.4 ASPH, SUMMILUX-M 24mm f/1.4 ASPH lens, SUMMILUX-M 75mm f/1.4 lens, Flash Q Wireless Flash Shoes, Nikon Speedlight SB800, Heliopan lightfilter, Zoom Handy Recorder H4n, Leica SF240 flash, Sandisk Memory Cards, Leica Penknife, filters, puffer, filters and accessories! Photo by Lara Platman.
If you could take one camera, lens and accessory with you to a very important event or trip, what would they be?
I am ALWAYS on a lens diet and the Noctilux-M wins, wins, wins! Along with my Leica M240. Oh, and my new Lavalier microphones come with me now, along with my Zoom H4N voice recorder
What’s your favourite / most cherished piece of photographic equipment? Tell us more.
Oh that’s easy, it’s the Noctilux lens. He can see in candlelight. It is an f/1.0 made in Canada in the 1970s - this lens is my go-to without a doubt. 50mm and heavy, but gosh - you can have your eyes closed and he will shoot a photo for you!
You are a self-confessed Billingham fan! When did you buy your first Billingham, and what made you consider it over other bags?
I have five Billingham bags, and have been lucky enough to have acquired them along with bits of kit, or from old friends (who left them to me). I think the bags just are part of my everyday photo life, and just like my Noctilux lens, and gel inserts for my boots, are automatic in my daily activity. The strength and weatherproofing is second to none. I know my kit will be safe whatever happens to the bag. They look amazing, especially as they get older. I love how the Billingham family has made the bags in the same way for generations and they are made in Britain. I love championing good quality craftsmanship that is made here.
1964 Series 2a Land Rover, Billingham Rucksack 35 in Burgundy Canvas and Chocolate Leather (front left), Billingham Hadley Pro bag (front right), 550 bag, Billingham 225 bag and old Billingham System bag.
Which is your favourite Billingham product and why?
In 2008, I received my favourite bag: the Hadley Pro, when purchasing two Leica M6 cameras from a pawn shop – you know, just when everyone was getting rid of their film cameras, I started buying them! Or, perhaps new favourite is the 550, which arrived in 1998: pretty large now for kit, but I use it as an overnight bag. I love my 225 for Hasselblad days.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories about your Billingham bags?
Hmm, I went to the Le Mans 24 Hours and was given the chance to shoot in the pit lane at night. So I decided my working day would be 8pm to 8am. I knew I would want to have a sleep in the day and I knew some of the historic drivers from the historic race on the early part of Saturday and thought I could kip in one of their trailers. Well, all said and done, I found a trailer, except this particular trailer had a broken Ferrari 250 GT short wheel base. It was on the ramp in the trailer. I was given a bucket and told to find the oil leak, so my Billingham and I slept under the £5m car dripping oil. My 225 has some of those very expensive and historic drips… they missed the bucket!
What do you consider are the most important features of a camera bag and why?
Strength at base, strap strength, padded insides - all for protection. Waterproof cloth for commuting and motor sport.
Which feature would you like to see in a bag in the future – something that isn’t available in any camera bag right now?
Well I am trying the backpacks right now, as I have recently started to ride a motorbike, and would love to see more cross chest support to make the bag hug you on bends. There is enough strap there to tie up, yet I would like the under arm to swivel to allow this cross strap, and perhaps padded, too. I also take my Leica M everywhere with me and not always do I want to advertise the fact of carrying a camera, so would love to have a squashy but padded insert that can fit into my hand bag.
Lara's Billingham Rucksack 35 in Burgundy Canvas and Chocolate Leather. Photo by Lara Platman.
Which subjects are you most passionate about in photographic terms?
Portraits of interesting people, people who have achieved something.
We know you are a classic car and motorsports fanatic! How did this come about? How were you introduced to this industry?
I used to shoot for Country Life magazine, and it was they who sent me to Goodwood Revival in the late 90s when Revival started, to shoot the theatre of the event. Boom. Hooked. Cars everywhere. Everyone dressed up, the smell of benzine, history before your eyes, moving properly fast, as well!
What is the photographic project or piece of work you’re proudest of?
My Harris Tweed book. Shot at the time celebrating 100 years of the Orb stamp, having its legislation placed upon the cloth and when the industry was in decline, I would like to think that I helped play a part in promoting it to a wider audience. The Harris Tweed industry is looking fairly healthy these days.
Calum in his weaving shed in Lewis, from Lara's book, 'Harris Tweed, from Land to Street' (Frances Lincoln Publishing).
Which project did you enjoy shooting the most, and why?
‘Through The Night, the Passion of Motor Sport’. This began as a series of separate endurance motor sport events, and one day I realised I had shot quite a lot of them, so started to compile the work into a collection. I think projects work when they just happen without an idea of what is the ending. Each and every photo has its own story in that collection of work. Each photo can live on its own, too.
“This image shows a Spa 24 Hours race in 2011, where everyone in the whole team is working on the car to get it back out again. It took two hours to fix, but completed the 24 Hour race.” Photo by Lara Platman.
If you could shoot a dream portrait, who would be your subject and why?
I am not sure about a singular portrait, but I do have a dream portrait project: I would love to shoot some of the people behind the scenes of film and theatre sets. The humble people who are not in the limelight yet… without whom the magic of film and theatre would not exist. We all know the actors, but I love to look at the craftspeople who make it all happen.
With developments in mobile phone technology and cameras, where do you see photography moving in the future? Any predictions?
Well, there is technology to open eyes after the photo has been shot, and we can blur out the background… drones and infrared… I think medical and forensic photography will have a huge development now – now that consumerism has paid for its research.
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in photography today?
Learn how to print. Learn how to use manual cameras, manual film cameras. And go to exhibitions – as many as your eyes can muster.
What’s next in Lara’s world? What are your next big projects and ambitions?
I just recently completed restoring my 1964 Series 2a Land Rover car, which took quite some hit on my finances. So, I have to be really commercial with my outlook on photography over the next few years – I have booked 10 days in Venice over the carnival in February - firstly for commercial work, but as always with me there will be personal approaches. I must, however, put my energy into the commercial adventure there. I am going to be building a house, and will ensure my second bathroom will be doubled as a dark room. I rather fancy going back to basics and re-discovering my love for black and white.
1964 Series 2a Land Rover with Billingham Billingham Hadley Pro bag (front), Rucksack 35 in Burgundy Canvas and Chocolate Leather (centre left), 550 bag (rear left), Billingham 225 bag (centre right) and old Billingham System bag (rear right). Photo by Lara Platman.
What is the biggest event of the year for you?
Goodwood Revival is a big event, but 2018 is an even year, so we have the Monaco Grand Prix Historic and Le Mans Classic, both of which I hope to attend.
Lara at Goodwood Revival - © Thor Haley
We noticed a new pink page on your web site. Tell us about your forthcoming project: http://gearstickandclutchbag.com/
I have started to make some podcasts, and along with writing a radio drama about an historic woman racing driver, I shall be using this new website to focus on more trailblazers, more about luxury travel for ladies and allowing a space for women and automobiles to live happily together. I restored my car and felt totally alone as a woman. I think there is a space and need for women to have their own experiences that are so often seen as a male topics. I am currently getting the theme and logos organised, and hope to launch in January 2018. The idea has been in the making for a couple of years now, so I am really excited to finally be moving forward with it.
Pia Bianchi - female racing driver and pilot. Photo by Lara Platman
Where can readers follow you on social media? What can they expect to find?
Twitter: @photofeature – a bit of marketing, a bit of diary, a bit of my uselessness to make a hot chocolate.
Instagram: @photo.feature – my Polaroid scrapbook – photos from whatever I see on that day.
What was the subject of your last tweet or Instagram post?
Probably about Martina Navaratalova my cat, Big Red my Land Rover or how my Noctilux and 35mm argue so much about fitting into a Billingham bag each day!
How important is social media to your business? Do you see this becoming more or less important in the future?
Social media is vital. And growing. I am a sole trader, and I have to promote on a daily basis, especially as I sell my own books and photos. If used well, social media can work.
Where can people view your photography? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, book signings, talks or appearances?
www.photofeature.co.uk is my website for my photos. I have an exhibition in June 2018 at Le Mans 24 Hour of my ‘Through the Night’ project. I am working on an exhibition for May 2018 in Monaco for the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, again from my Through the Night project. I will be on Radio Gloucestershire being interviewed in Big Red, and I have an article coming out in Land Rover Monthly magazine about Big Red, too. Additionally I have several published books which you can find on my site here: http://photofeature.co.uk/signed-books/ [see the special offer on 4 of these books at the bottom of the page]
1964 Series 2a Land Rover with Rucksack 35 in Burgundy Canvas and Chocolate Leather. Photo by Lara Platman.
Will you be visiting The Photography Show in 2018? How important do you think exhibitions like this are for budding professional photographers?
I am definitely visiting the show. Totally necessary. Play with new technical equipment, play with equipment you already know, meet the sales teams, meet other users, great deals on book and portfolio printers, kit and sundries. This year I must get there early as time always runs away with you.
What do you get up to when you’re not taking photographs? What’s your biggest passion outside photography?
You may have guessed… it’s my Land Rover. Already searching for another one to restore, seeing as Big Red is here to stay. And I suppose building my house – finding ways to create a passive home will be my obsession in the next coming years.
Thanks to Lara for her participation and thank you for reading. We hope to publish more interviews soon!
Lara Platman can be found online at https://photofeature.co.uk/
Lara has 4 published books for sale which with the code BillinghamFIVE you will be able to receive a 10% discount on the price of each book purchased. All books will be signed of course and do let Lara know if you would like the book dedicated to someone special. Here are the titles in the offer:
- Harris Tweed, from Land to Street
- Spirit of Place, the Whisky Distilleries of Scotland
- Art Workers Guild, 125 Years
- Through the Night, the Passion of Motorsport