A Chat with World Famous British Celebrity Photographer, Cambridge Jones

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What do Prince Charles, Robert Plant, and Anthony Hopkins all have in common, besides being British?

The surprising answer is: An artistic savant named Cambridge Jones.

Jones (real name Paul Barrow) is a world renowned British celebrity photographer. His subjects, in a series of books and exhibitions, include several British Prime Ministers, Royals, Hollywood ‘A’ list celebrities and Rock Stars.

A number of his publications and exhibitions have been centered on musical themes. His claim to fame and first major exhibition, Face the Music (2004), at The Proud Galleries in London, contained portraits of 120 iconic faces who chose their favorite piece of music and then provided commentary on it. Gallery visitors could listen to each subject’s chosen track on headphones as they admired the portrait.

cambridge jones logo
Cambridge Jones’ logo

Jones’ most notable commissions include work for The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Prince Charles’ charity, The Prince’s Trust, The BBC, Nelson Mandela, London 2012 (Olympics Committee), Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and Christ Church, Oxford. In 2009 he was made an ambassador to The Prince’s Trust.

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Jones. We spoke about his many adventures, and I was left with a feeling of pride having had the opportunity to spend an hour living vicariously through his stories and getting to know this amazing man and his life’s work.

Jones’ life hasn’t always been the charmed existence it is now. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle, when his parent’s divorced, and grew up in Machynlleth, in Wales.

Russell Dickson: What does photography mean to you?

Cambridge Jones: Right now it is money, but in the old days I had a really bad memory. I was actually adopted when I was a child, and I had a very traumatic first few years. I think one of the ways I dealt with early life without my real mother or father was to sort of erase memory. That was my safety valve and it allowed me to live in the present and to get on with my life, and I think it has been a very successful trick for me. It has given me a very happy and stable life. At first it meant capturing things, now it means money and a comfortable lifestyle.

RD: So would you say photography has been therapeutic for you?

CJ: I like photography because it is about time and not wanting to lose things, which is a part of being adopted and losing parents. Photography was a tool in which I could capture time and not lose it. The problem with that, is over time you end up with a lot of photo albums, so I learned to be selective about the pictures I take.

RD: What is your favorite camera?

CJ: My go-to camera is a Canon 5D for all things inside and out. It is small enough to wield anywhere and brilliant quality – I have also been shooting film on it in Nashville & India.

RD: What do you prefer, color or black and white?

CJ: I was very heavily black and white for the first 10 years of my career, and I still lean that way. The oddity of digital cameras is you don’t have to make that decision in advance anymore. I can go out and do a shoot with Al Pacino and decide later.

RD: Would you say that a color picture is harder to take?

CJ: Most photographers don’t handle color well because you have to consider all the colors in their environment, so it becomes easier to go black and white.

Cerys Matthews Lines Up Her Guitar
Cerys Elizabeth Matthews, Welsh singer/songwriter, author and broadcaster with photographer, Cambridge Jones

RD: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started out in photography?

CJ: The one thing I wish someone had told me before I started in photography was move to Russia, America or Paris – they actually love & respect photography as much as I do – whereas the UK has something of a distant and commercial relationship to it … it is a functional science rather than an art to most Brits.

RD: You are best known for you celebrity photography, what it is like working with celebs?

CJ: The great thing about my career is the number of actors that come back and say that it is the best photo that anyone has ever taken of them. They don’t mean it is the best photo that reflects their films, but it is the best photo that reflects them as a person.

RD: How do you get celebrities to do want you want at a shoot?

CJ: I gave up trying to go in with preconceived notions some time ago. One example of what I am talking about was a shoot I did with Andrew Lincoln and Bill Nighy. They had the idea in advance of the shoot that they wanted to be a particular comedy group from a British television series “Morecambe and Wise” The actors in the show would always been seen in strange pajamas in bed having a conversation. It was a weird thing happening back in the 60’s and 70’s on English TV. We spent two hours trying to get the shot. It was all forced with lots of people getting involved. It was the last time I did things that way. From then on I just worked with the person in a room and went with whatever mood catches us. Eventually, we found this little motorbike and Bill jumped on it and I thought that is it, that’s the shot we want.

RD: Can you tell me about some of the celebs you have worked with?

CJ: The oddity of celeb portraiture is you have this strange access to places and things. I was driving in Wales one time and I got a call from Robert Plant and we got together for a shoot. I did a shoot with Johnny Cash’s son next to a barn in a middle of a field. Al Pacino is one, when I arrived I didn’t have any plan. I tried using studio light but it didn’t look right so we went out into the garden and I noticed he had these wonderful tiles by his pool house, and that is where we did the shoot. The first time I shot Anthony Hopkins was on Malibu Beach, California. I was panicked and sweating because he hadn’t arrived yet and none of my new British lights that I took with me all the way to LA would work because I had completely forgotten U.S. electrical outlets are different. Mr. Hopkins came in and was brilliant and said “I like natural light don’t you?” And I said yes and we did the whole shoot out in his garden.

Jack White Looking Up His Fretboard
Bill Nighy, British actor (The Men’s Room), 1991, (Love Actually) 2003, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean, Viktor in the Underworld film series.

RD: What is it like working with the royals?

CJ: Charles and his mother the Queen are what royalty have historically been. They are incredibly interesting because of this. They don’t expect to have to be anything but themselves. Their status comes from within. They are not trying to be charming or funny. They are regal, mentally more distant, that’s royalty. What is interesting about Princess Diana’s children William and Harry is they are of a different generation and are more in touch with what it means to be a modern celebrity. I did some work with them and Charles for charity.

RD: What work specifically have you done with the royals?

CJ: The Queen was visiting my old college one day, having lunch with the Dean and I happened to be finishing up shooting a book on the college when the Dean came up to me and said “Oh, I have a rather special guest coming, would you be interested in doing a portrait?” I thought wow that was a complete piece of luck! I also worked with Prince Charles, he was easy and charming to photograph because he is who he is. He wanted me to do something for his charity titled “The Princes Trust” it was similar to my original project. In the book you see portraits of people like Sharon Osbourne and a song that helped them get through a tough time in their life. It sold in Starbucks all over the U.K. I also did some work for Tony Blair. I do his Christmas card every year.

RD: How do you stay cool in these situations dealing with celebs and royals?

CJ: The object is to get them to relax because like everyone else they don’t want my camera pointed at them. I don’t have space to get nervous or intimidated or even star struck. I have to get Anthony Hopkins or Robert Plant comfortable enough to be photographed. If I were having tea with them I would get nervous, so because I am there to work, I don’t even think about getting nervous.

RD: What projects are you currently working on and are excited about?

CJ: I enjoyed working on this film called Subconscious. I play the commander of a submarine in it. I am classically trained as an actor, but I do not consider myself to be a professional actor. So I don’t have to worry about getting my next film, it made the job so much easier for me. I am working on a project about Manuel Cuevas, a legendary fashion designer. His projects have included creating the “Man in Black” image for Johnny Cash, dressing icons like Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, the Lone Ranger, The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover), Elvis, and Glen Campbell – the infamous “Rhinestone Cowboy” suit, as well as the outfit he wore during his last-ever appearance, at Carnegie Hall.

andrew lincoln
Robert Plant is holding the seal of Owain Glyndwr a Welsh Prince who tried to expel the English with support of the French. The letter he wrote to seek support from France was sealed with the seal he is holding. Robert & Cambridge are both very attached to Wales

RD: Are there any projects that you wanted to work on that didn’t work out?

CJ: I got a nice letter from Nelson Mandela who wanted me to do a portrait of him with Bill Clinton for a charity. Of course he is not well, so until my dying day that will be my biggest tragedy not getting to do it. I think that might have been the one project when I would have gotten fluttered up.

You can see the work of Cambridge Jones at www.cambridgejones.com

Russell W. Dickson, lives in upstate NY, and is a Freelance journalist. He has written for both print and online news/opinion pages.Russell holds a B.A. in English, minor Journalism from The University at Albany, Albany, NY. His writing experience spans more than a decade and his work has graced the pages of newspapers, magazines, online news orgs, and political websites in both the U.S. and abroad.