When BAFTA commissioned acclaimed photographer Charlie Clift to capture the magic of their 2019 awards ceremony, they were looking for something different. Without a fixed place to shoot his photos, Clift was let loose in all areas of the ceremony, which awards the best of British and international film. The results are a refreshing look at some of the industry’s most celebrated figures in film as they are swept up in the emotion of the festivities.
While Clift wasn’t in control of the lighting or how the action unfolded around him, these challenges ended up working in his favor. Rather than producing the standard posed portrait, the images take on a street photography flair in their raw honesty. “Everything happens very quickly during the evening. One moment Rami Malek is speechless with disbelief and then you turn a corner and find Spike Lee deep in conversation with Bradley Cooper,” Clift tells My Modern Met. “So I have to think on my feet and find a way of connecting with the person I’m photographing as quickly as possible. This commission is very different to most of my normal work. I usually have time to prepare, plan and pre-light so everything is ready when my subject walks in.”
Whether it’s Glenn Close and Timothée Chalamet snapping a casual selfie or Rachel Weisz beaming after her win for Best Supporting Actress, Clift brings an intimacy and humanity to the glamorous event. His ability to connect with his subject, no matter how famous, opens up a new celebrity portrait. Through his lens, these film industry elite aren’t simply celebrities to photograph from a distance, but ordinary people enjoying the opportunity to mingle with their peers and celebrate their craft.
“There isn’t a single way of photographing someone or a type of person,” Clift shares. “Every individual needs a slightly different approach. Of course, super famous movie stars do sometimes come with an entourage and I often only have a few minutes to photograph them. But ultimately it’s still about making a connection with my subject. One of the wonderful things about being backstage at the BAFTAs is that people are more relaxed and open. They’re having a great time celebrating and are generally happy to chat and be photographed.”
By focusing on intimate, candid portraits rather than sitting back and simply recording the event, Clift allows viewers to get a new perspective of the BAFTAs. The photographer places us right alongside these famous celebrities, allowing us to really see their humanity and, therefore, gain an even greater excitement about their achievements.