Words & Portraits Kirk Truman
“I want to photograph people who look genuine. Subjects who look like they live a full life…”
Jonathan Daniel Pryce and I are walking around a three-bedroom apartment in New Oxford Street’s Centre Point. Beneath our feet lies Soho, and beyond it a stunning vista of the capital city which has helped him become an award-winning photographer of high fashion and street style. He takes out a vintage Canon camera and begins to photograph the skyline; meanwhile, I capture him at work from behind my own lens.
“London is constantly evolving. I feel like there’s something new and undiscovered emerging every day,” he says, looking down onto the city streets. “My mother is from London and when I was growing up she would tell me stories of walking down Carnaby Street in the 1970s, all dressed up. At home we had a stack of photographs from her modelling days, in a folder hidden at the back of a cupboard. I loved to take them out and look through them. To this day, I remember being amazed by these foreign-seeming images from another world: the poses, the clothes, the way the light looked – everything. At the time I didn’t realise it, but now I understand how important images were to me.”
Jonathan grew up in Glasgow. He was given his first camera when he was seven – a plastic 35mm point-and-shoot. As a youngster in Scotland, he was fascinated with the process of taking an image: you shoot, you wait and you don’t know what you’re going to get. In some ways, nothing has changed for Jonathan and his work today. The wait may not be as long, but with every new photograph he takes, he’s still hoping for that perfect end result.
As a youngster, his greatest passions were painting and drawing. Photography re-entered his life at the age of 17. While at university, he made use of the darkrooms and studios on campus and thus a fascination was born. “Do you remember Flickr? It had a huge effect on me. I became interested in blogging, and ended up launching Les Garcons de Glasgow with my best friend Daniel,” he says, “It focused on club, music and street photography mostly. I studied in the United States and whenever I’d tell the people where I’m from, they’d nearly always say, ‘But isn’t Glasgow dangerous?’ When I returned home, I wanted to present a different side to the city – show the artistic and creative place that I knew it to be.” The blog took off in ways that he could never have envisioned, building a strong following in Scotland and, over time, finding international acclaim. It was at this time that Jonathan really cut his teeth as a photographer. “Approaching strangers on a daily basis and working with an ever-changing environment was the best education; I began to realise just how much I enjoyed street photography. The camera provides a passport into other people’s lives. I’ve heard incredible, personal life stories from subjects I’ve only known for five minutes!” he tells me. “When my best friend moved to London, I began to visit him on a regular basis. This opened up my world and the reality of working as a photographer full-time was within reaching distance – something I didn’t even consider to be a viable option in Glasgow.”
In order to have a stable income in the early days, Jonathan took a job as an in-house photographer at a small design e-com company. “London’s reputation as being unaffordable made me approach with caution but after three weeks, I already hated my job,” he recalls. “Luckily, the company went into administration and I was made redundant the same day I won Photographer of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards. I took that as a sign and it gave me the push I needed to make it on my own. From here, I decided on a policy: learn as you go, be positive and say yes to everything.”
At the start, Jonathan worked on small portrait jobs but, as his network grew, he began getting assignments from brands such as Selfridges and Reiss. “Most of the briefs were to shoot ‘street style’ imagery for online use. At the same time, I was beginning to regularly attend Fashion Weeks in London, Paris, New York and Milan. I was perceived as a ‘blogger’ at this point, so would often get invites to shows. My first Paris invite was for Issey Miyake – I couldn’t believe it!” Since those early days, Jonathan has gone on to become Vogue International’s resident street photographer, covering the collections globally four times a year.
A significant turning point in his career came in 2012 when he launched his project 100 beards, 100 days with the aim of photographing a different bearded man on the street, every day for 100 consecutive days. “About 10 days in I stopped a chap and told him I’d like to take a portrait for this project. His response was, ‘Oh that’s my favourite Tumblr right now,’ and I wondered how he had already found it, let alone how it could be a favourite; it had only been online for a few days. It was at this point I realised I was onto something bigger than myself.” What started as a small personal project, quickly hit the cultural zeitgeist, being mentioned on Newsnight and written about in the New York Times. By the end of the 100 days, he had amassed over 250,000 followers on his site and a photo book was already in the works. “We exhibited the work in five cities around the world and by 2013 we had a second book, which sold out within weeks. It was a whirlwind at the time.”
Jonathan’s long-term fascination with taking images remains. His work in menswear has become well recognised in London and attracted praise internationally, having been published by TIME Magazine, the New York Times, GQ, Vogue, Esquire and Mr Porter. Earlier this year, to celebrate 10 years of his work, he worked in partnership with Vogue Hommes to showcase a selection of his images at Men’s Fashion Week. “My work is somewhere between the bubble of street photography and romanticism of fashion photography. I want to photograph people who look genuine, subjects who look like they live a full life; which is why London is such an incredible place to be based. One short walk down a side street in Soho and I find a handful of characters I’d love to shoot.” Jonathan is currently working on a volume of photography to celebrate the first 10 years of his career. Focusing on men’s style in London, Milan, Paris and New York, the book will be published by Laurence King and released in 2019.