Hugo Burnand is an established portrait photographer with over 20 years of working continuously with Condé Nast and Tatler Magazine, as well as photographing the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles, and the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
Other commissions include HM The Queen, President Mickael Gorbachev, President Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson amongst many others.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, you must be a busy man. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you discovered photography?
My artist grandmother gave me my first camera for my seventh birthday, and pretty quickly i realised (without being able to articulate it) that the grown-ups in my life were reacting very differently (in a positive way) to my photographs than they’d react to almost anything else I did (eye-rolling at pebble throwing games, stealing eggs from the hens, chasing cows just for the hell of it, and climbing on the roofs). I then took a photograph of a horse that won the first competition I’d ever entered, and I think from that moment on I knew I’d do photography throughout my life – even though I did a slew of other jobs before I was eventually booted out of a city job aged 27, when my then chairman kindly and genuinely advised me to pick up a camera professionally.
You photograph a lot with the Royal Family. How did that association come about?
I can trace it back a long way, through a progression of steps which all led to the next opportunity and finally to where I am now – starting with an exchange of some party-photographs for some paintings by an Artist friend of mine. The success of those party-photographs enabled me to get a position within Conde Nast Magazine as Tatler’s Bystander Photographer. With that job I naturally met a lot of people, and one of these people asked me to photograph (portraits) the 10 most important people in his life, and one of those ten people made an introduction that led to me photographing the wedding of HRH Prince Charles to Camilla Parker-Bowles. Another wedding (William and Kate) and many portraits later (both private and official), I am extremely grateful (more than I can express) to everyone involved along the route to get here.
The Duchess Of Cornwall | © Hugo Burnand
You photographed William & Kate’s Royal wedding in 2011. Would you say that was the most high profile shoot you’ve worked on?
Absolutely – without doubt! Definitely the most high-profile, and whilst extremely important (and enormous fun), there have been other projects that are equally or more important to me personally.
Kate & William Royal Wedding | © Hugo Burnand
You’ve photographed a fair bit in Panama. Is that part of an ongoing project?
Over the last few years I have been taking portraits of Indigenous Tribes in Panama, and had an exhibition in March 2017 at The V&A Museum, with HRH Duchess of Cornwall as our Patron, when we launched the Panamanian Wildlife Conservation Charity (PWCC), which aims to highlight the destruction of the rainforests and the loss of animals, plants and indigenous tribes as a result. Funds raised from direct donations and the sale of portraits has immediately been directed to various scientific and conservation projects, namely the protection of the previously considered extinct Harlequin Frog, a surviving community of which a team member of PWCC discovered recently beside the Santa Fé National Park in central Panama. Also sustainable eco-tourism projects were initiated with a small branch of the Emberá tribe, living deep in the Darien Gap, close to the border with Colombia. It is incredibly exciting to be able to use my photography to raise awareness and fund these conservation projects that have a world-wide impact. In the pipeline is a similar exhibition in 2019, at The Natural History Museum, with photographic portraits of rainforest tribes from all the major countries in Central and South America. (www.panamawildlife.org)
Your mother, Ursy Burnand is a photographer in her own right. Was she a big influence on you starting photography?
Ursy has always encouraged me, although to be fair, she was unsure that it was wise to have two photographers in one family – it is a notoriously difficult field to make a living in, and she didn’t want us both to be hungry – but she couldn’t stop me, especially after I had spent many childhood years helping her convert our kitchen into a darkroom after supper most evenings, blacking-out the windows and putting the enlarger on the kitchen table which the dogs were sleeping under. She is enormously talented with a fantastically sympathetic and humorous eye. Now it is my turn to encourage her to keep at it. Occasionally we do commissions together, and she assisted at both the major Royal Weddings that I have been asked to photograph. It helps keep things down-to-earth with a family-feel on both sides of the camera.
The Burnand Family
You’ve previously shot eminent world leaders such as Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. Do you have any recollections of those shoots?
Bill Clinton was very travel weary the first time I photographed him, and I was disappointed by the lack of the oh-so-famous charisma…..but thankfully I was asked back another time, and was rewarded with the blinding dazzle of full-wattage charm. When he’s on form he is a force to be reckoned with, no doubt about it.
Meeting Mikhail Gorbachev was interesting – he has a quick and intelligent sense of humour which is strong enough to withstand every word going through a translator – and I can assure you, nothing was lost in translation!
HRH The Prince of Wales | © Hugo Burnand
Do you have any interesting shoots in the pipeline?
As well as the above mentioned 2019 Exhibition of Indigenous Tribes, I am working at HMP Dartmoor, doing portraits of Prisoners (who must hide their faces/identity for obvious reasons) for the Charity Peaceful Solutions who work to help prisoners properly prepare to return to society. Despite each identity being hidden, each portrait reveals the prisoners individual story.
I have four children (eldest is 22, youngest is 17) and I always take a portrait of each one on their Birthdays, no matter where they are in the world, and what state they are in – this has created an interesting catalogue, from portraits with measles and bad haircuts, to portraits taken on jungle treks in Peru or skinny dipping in the Thames, and this is the longest and probably most important photographic commission of my life!
© Hugo Burnand
What’s in your kit bag?
I used to be emotionally attached to my Hasselblad cameras that came everywhere with me for years – but today, with the speed at which digital equipment updates, and because my photographic needs are constantly evolving, I find myself using top of the range Canon that gives me the flexibility and robustness I need in the jungle and in London, and it gets updated in a similar fashion to the way we update our mobile phone, without emotion!
How much do you rely on Fixation for your work?
I rely on Fixation heavily, and especially Keir, who I have followed my entire career – and I still pretend I know nothing and ask his advice (which I usually take, but not always!)
© Hugo Burnand
I recall reading an amusing story about the time you photographed Michael Jackson. Can you tell us anything about that?
Michael Jackson’s people telephoned my staff in London, and asked whether I would be available to photograph him. I had very recently photographed the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles and this was one of the rewards, getting commissions that had previously been out of reach.
Jackson’s staff wanted me to be in the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, and they wanted me immediately; he had just arrived at Heathrow, and the shoot must happen straight away, they said.
A few hours later I was in the Dorchester, with my dreams of a beautiful, personal and insightful portrait – but the plans changed….
Read the full story here
To see more Hugo’s work, visit his website www.hugofoto.com
Hugo was talking to Tim Stavrinou