November 30th, 2016
Jesse Gussow

Photographer Russell Cobb has been taking some amazing shots lately. Using "Re-enactment Actors" he takes portraits of the actors and it immediately transplants you to that time. I’m really enjoying the Viking Portraits he’s been doing. The images are so visually appealing; even the sky in the background makes me feel as though I’m seeing these Norse heroes in their environment. His lighting brings out the hardened look of his subjects. His work is truly inspiring and unique.


Where are you from?

I'm from Letchworth, UK. I lived in Chelsea central London for 14 years and I now live in the woods in West Sussex.


How did you first get interested in photography?

I've always been interested in photography; as a child was given an Olympus Trip. Back then, something in my head told me it was important to keep a visual diary. The interest always remained; I studied Photography and Illustration at St. Martins School of Art in London.


I found your Viking series online. How did that project come about?

What underpins all my work is the notion we are all actors on a stage set. I'm fascinated by people from all walks of life who transport themselves into another time and place. I've just undertaken a 5 year photo essay documenting WW2 Re-enactment in the UK, culminating in a large exhibition and a book. I'm often at multi-period re-enactment shows and I started to notice the Vikings out of the corner of my eye. I'm quite tunnel vision at times, so as one project finished, another naturally started.


You use a lot of re-enactment actors for your work. If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Why? What kind of photos could we expect upon your return?

I'm fascinated by history, not to duck the question, but I'd like to visit lots of different time periods. At a push I'd say 1900, turn of the century. So much of that time period is still visible today and I catch myself wondering what was it like then exactly 100 years ago to the day. I'd return with pictures of faces that I met, hopefully some of their story, moments of their life, and environment.


With the Viking series, what lighting techniques did you use?

I use off camera flash and keep my set up simple. In the early days I used 2-3 flashes and reflectors, but now I keep it simple and use a one light set up.


What were the biggest challenges with doing the Viking series?

Finding a location and having to set up a studio in a public space. You have to be quite disciplined and block everything out and get into a zone. Locations are often difficult and the great British weather is always a challenge. Also, having to multi-task and do everything myself to orchestrate a photo shoot on the spot.  Sometimes I'll have an assistant and life gets easier, but I'm always prepared to work alone.


What differences, if any, are there with working with re-enactment actors over models?

The biggest difference is time.  I often only have 5 minutes to get the job done, so with re-enactors, remembering that you're working with someone who may not be comfortable or used to being in front of the camera [can be an issue]. However I often return to the same people year after year, so a relationship and familiarity builds. With models all the basic hurdles are overcome and time is always a nice luxury.


How did a typical shoot go on the Viking series?

Despite their scary appearances, the Vikings are such a friendly bunch. However it takes time to familiarize yourself and to get to know people. Getting to know a few faces is always the key, making contact with someone on the inside. The nice thing is most people end up being friends. At the last show, a friend and Viking called Bitz, was an absolute star. He brought models to my pop up studio, giving advice and helping out all around.


How many photos do you take on an average shoot? How many do you edit? and how many do you post or share?

Too many! I used to shoot film and I still tell myself to slow down, return to the old working methodology, and stop pressing the shutter so much. If a Viking show runs over 2 days it can be over 1500 frames (that's 41.66 rolls of film in old money!). I still weirdly work to film ratio's, it's uncanny. When I shoot a portrait, it usually works out at 1 in 36.


What kind of camera and lenses do you use, and why?

I use 2 Nikon D810's with the Nikon 24-70mm and the 85mm. The Nikon is kind of a work horse and the 2 lenses give me everything I need; again it’s about a simple set up. I have a whole studio in a bag.


Can we look forward to a Vikings III?

Yes, I'm working on a new series now, starting with portraits and Viking faces. The longer I immerse myself into a subject, the better the results, that's the tunnel vision.


What projects are you currently working on?

Vikings III and Vikings IV . I'm also looking at other time periods, too. I've had interest from a WW2 film in the planning, so the transition from re-enactors to a more settled environment of actors on location excites me!


With the internet and social media it's easier for people to share their photographs and claim to be "photographers". Do you think this is good for photography as a whole or has it saturated the market and now it's more difficult to be found amongst the hoards?

The internet has helped me connect and get the work seen, so I embrace it. Yes everyone wants to be a photographer now. I'm also an artist Illustrator and guest lecturer on numerous Masters of Arts courses. What I would say is, beyond kit and technical know-how, there is a lot more depth to originality, an eye for composition, looking, self expression and personality.


Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies? or perhaps some other delicious treat?

They have been asking Politicians that question here and it’s been making headlines. So I already have my answer at hand. Highland shortbread. Every airport in the world sells them and I'm sure if you travelled to some unknown corner of the world you would find a box.


You can find Russell Cobb on his personal website as well as follow him on Instagram to keep up to date on all his photographic work. He’s also an amazing illustrator and has a website you should check out as well.

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