FLORIDA, November 25, 2012 — Photography is an art unlike any other. There is something profound to be said about capturing a single moment in time and preserving it for countless more.
Allan Warren has experience with this the likes of which most of us can hardly imagine. Beginning his career while still a teenager, he has photographed royalty, movie stars, playwrights, singers, and far too many other personalities to mention.
While Warren is most famous for his photography, his career is far more diverse than some might think. Over the years, he has written books, plays, and, interestingly enough, started out as an actor.
In this first part of a two part candid interview, Warren explains whether or not acting prepared him for life as a photographer, how he got his first break in the photography industry, why he chose to become a professional photographer, and much more.
Joseph F. Cotto: During your younger years, you pursued the career of an actor. Looking back, did this prepare you for life as a photographer?
Allan Warren: Yes, in many ways it did, as being in the theater I had to deal with all sorts of different temperaments and often inflated egos, so diplomacy would invariably prove to be the best policy, if you wanted to keep or get a job.
Cotto: Your first break in the world of professional photography was Judy Garland’s wedding to musician Mickey Deans. How did you come across such a stellar opportunity?
Having got a part in a television series called “The 5 0’Clock Club” as a junior presenter, I was able to rent my first apartment when I was just fourteen years of age. It soon became a place where people would avail themselves of the free accommodation that was on offer.
Being so young, any mention of something so vulgar as charging them rent had not occurred to me, and as for them offering to pay it, that certainly had not entered their heads.
So the money soon ran out and by the time I was seventeen, a less expensive accommodation was sought, which turned out to be an old artists studio in Kensington. Micky Deans, who I had met through an actor friend, would often spend days and nights on my sofa, instead of having the inconvenience of paying for a hotel room.
However, surprisingly, on one occasion when he was in town, he rang to say, he already had accommodation and in a very grand hotel along with an American fiancée.
At the time I was acting in an Alan Bennett play in the West End called “Forty Years On” starring Sir John Gielgud. One of the most popular films at that time was Antonioni’s film “Blowup,” all about a photographer.
After seeing the film it occurred to me that my flat in London was not dissimilar to the studio portrayed in the film. Also the lifestyle of a photographer seemed far freer than the constrictions of a would be actor having to attend endless auditions just to get a job.
So I bought myself a secondhand Rolliflex twin-lens camera and began photographing my friends, albeit very badly. The results, invariably, were out of focus or over- or under-exposed, and so I was always very grateful, if an image even came out.
Micky had heard that I owned a camera and so asked, if the following day I would cover his wedding reception at Quaglino’s restaurant and for doing so, he would even pay me! I readily agreed, and before he hung up, I inquired as to whom he was marrying, upon which he replied “Judy Garland.”
Cotto: When did you make the decision to pursue photography full time? Was it difficult to leave the theatre?
Warren: I decided to pursue photography full time when I discovered actors were prepared to pay 12 Guineas, just for a head-shot out of which 11 guineas was pure profit! Just as importantly, I cold dictate the time, and so I always chose the afternoons to allow myself to have late nights and sleep in the next morning.
I left the theater with relish, knowing at last I didn’t have to learn endless lines, attend auditions, where at the best one was treated like cattle or have to be polite and suck up to people that I didn’t like just to get a job.
Cotto: In your opinion, is there a certain quality to your photographs that people find to be appealing?
Warren: I think what makes my photographs appealing are the subjects themselves. There is no mystique or even artistry in my photography; it’s always down to my sitter, not to me. And I am still in the same frame of mind as when I started, in the fact that I am still grateful that they even come out!
Cotto: What makes your work so distinctive?
Warren: The sitter.
Cotto: Over the years, photography has largely gone from film to digital. What are your opinions about this trend?
Warren: What I like about the digital age has to do with something that happened to me when I began my career. I remember a rather grand old duchess pointing to the lines on her face and demanding that on all the prints they should be removed. To do this in those days was a somewhat highly skilled operation, being one had to spend many an unhappy hour scratching away at a print with a scalpel or touching it up with photographic ink. All just to remove her crow’s feet.
When she added to her demands that she wanted the “scrag” around her neck removed, I was so exasperated by the thought of all the work it entailed and so answered: “Duchess, it is a camera, not a wand!” Nowadays a camera is a wand and with the help of Photoshop, there is no magic that cannot be achieved.
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