Originally from Sydney, Glen Allsop is a photographer based in East Hampton, New York.
Seeking authenticity and a sense of atmosphere in his work, Glen has the rare ability to find intriguing images in moments and subjects that are entirely unposed and uncontrived.
As his first Australian stockist, we chatted with Glen about natural light, jazz bands, and the place of prints in a digital world.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I just wanted to play in a band. Fortunately in my teenage years I was able to fulfill that dream, and played in everything from jazz bands to pub bands, wedding bands and stadium bands.
How was your photographic practice birthed? Tell us the story!
Birthed? Ooo.. sounds messy…
I started shooting sunset pictures and ocean abstracts when my mum gifted me a little canon ixus50 point-and-shoot camera for Christmas, about 14 years ago. My famous quote to my then girlfriend (now wife) Amee was, "This is a very nice present but what am I going to do with a camera?".
Fast forward a year or two and I sold three prints to one of my brother’s clients who wanted "something oceany" for a wedding he was attending in New York. He chose three and framed them together. It looked great.
He introduced me to a portrait and movie-set photographer called Bradley Patrick. He also shot weddings but did so in a cool calm collected way, reading natural light, shooting non-cheesy classic candid images. I assisted him, learnt a bunch, and then started taking my own wedding bookings.
I also had great film-based photographer mentors around me who were passionate about the pure art of photography. My film director friend Micah came from a photography family and is very technically minded - still to this day he doesn't stop talking about benefits of the 85mm f1.2 lens.
My best friend’s dad Bill McCausland was an accomplished surf photographer with work published in National Geographic, and I still remember sitting at his kitchen bench as he explained what aperture was.
I guess these three photographers were the midwives to the birth. Ha.
Glen and his son Navy on film. Image: Glen Allsop.
What is your personal or professional motto?
Now that I am shooting in New York, the majority of my photographer friends are accomplished photojournalists shooting for Reuters, The New York Times and so on. Their hardcore photo-J motto is "f8 and be there!", which in laymans terms translates to choosing a very deep aperture (like f8) so that even in a high pressure scenario, anything and everything you point your camera at will be sharply in focus.
I have adapted this motto into "f1.2 and feel something", alongside my other favourite motto, "sharpness is overrated". A slightly different approach I guess, in the pursuit of capturing atmospheric images.
What is your fail-safe strategy for when you need creative inspiration?
The turmoil of living and working creatively is that there's no such thing as fail-safe. Being near the ocean always feels refreshing and good for the soul, which is often what is needed when feeling stuck. There’s (almost) nothing a quick dive into the ocean can't wash away.
Shooting in Naples. Image: Maxim Lundh.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
My weeks are far from predictable, and therefore each day is far from typical, but a few things remain. The day will start with coffee and chats with Navy and Amee. Throughout summer we’ll often head down to the beach for a morning swim to wake up. From there I'll either be shooting, editing or meeting someone. These three things are the everyday, if you like.
You shoot in a variety of locations, how does travel inform and inspire your work?
In my line of work, I'm forever in pursuit of the most beautiful light. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of light, or even natural light, but light comes in so many different forms and qualities that it is eternally intriguing.
Light is different around the world. A sunny day in Sydney shoots very differently to a sunny day in the Hamptons, or in India. Light creates atmosphere, whether it's a candlelit event or an intentionally backlit portrait.
You add to this the different elements that shape light – say, a beaten up concrete indigo bath in India that bounces light around – and you've instantly got something that’s unique to its setting. This is what travel is all about, being inspired by something out of your ordinary.
Shooting in Ischia. Image: Marcus Malmborg.
Your images focus on moments and subjects that are unposed and uncontrived, how do you go about capturing these?
What a lot of people don't necessarily see is that we are always looking. And thinking. And listening. When shooting, it's important to be completely in the moment and listening to what is going on in the room, because that might be your cue as to where your next photo is. It's also anticipating people's movements or actions, taking a guess as to which way someone will turn, or which way they might look.
I don't enjoy setting up posed photos. There's a line between directing subjects to make them feel comfortable in front of the camera, and directly telling them exactly what to do. I always prefer to facilitate rather than dictate. The result feels less contrived that way, and leaves room for the unexpected.
What has been the biggest influence on your work to date?
The people in my life are my biggest influences. My wife Amee plays a big part in what I do and what I think about when I'm shooting, and so do a lot of my creative friends whom I admire from many different fields.
My buddy Antonio is a creative director of a large clothing label, and his take on authenticity was embedded in my photo-brain from shooting campaigns throughout Italy with him. Another friend in the textile game, Agyesh, has a more abstract creative view on things, which I love and am often challenged by.
My younger brother Craig shoots entirely on film, on a Leica M6 and an old Hasselblad, so seeing the different images he creates has an influence on what I'm thinking about when I'm shooting film.
I once shared a studio space with two film director friends, Salomon Ligthelm and Dan DiFelice. Being around their work ethic on a daily basis was hugely inspiring — not to mention the precisely lit gritty masterpieces they would be working on day-in, day-out. Another friend is a poet, and reading her carefully chosen words can definitely influence an edit I'm working on at the time.
In the same way, I share a lot of music with friends, like Ed and Dylan, and music will always play a big part in my life — I love the atmosphere that a song, album or Spotify playlist can create, and therefore affect the mood of a shoot, or an edit, or a drive-to-the-shoot.
I'm fortunate to have creative friends that support me. I know that when I'm at the digital checkout with a rental cart full of lighting gear for a lookbook shoot, I only have to call Jack Jeffries to quiz me on what I'm missing, and what I'm planning on doing with all that nonsense I've put in the cart.
Indigo dying in India. Images: Glen Allsop.
'Concrete Bath' by Glen Allsop, at Mr and Mrs White Manly. Image: Joshua White.
How do you spend your downtime?
You're assuming I have downtime. Anyone with a four year old knows that downtime is not your own time ;) But Navy is so much fun and we are very close, so I love every second with him and his wild free-spirited endless thoughts. Cycling has been a growing passion recently too – there’s something very primitive and freeing about two wheels, two legs, two lungs, and a ribbon of road in front of you with the wind in your face.
What kind of narratives do your photographic prints add to a space?
At the end of the day, the narratives people derive from my work is left up to them. I don’t mind too much about whether or not people see the same thing when they look at a piece of work as what I see. What I do care about is the feeling.
I don't like horror movies, and in the same vein I wouldn't put emotionally dark pieces on paper that create an uneasy feeling in a room. That's not really me. That doesn't mean a piece can't be low lit, I just feel like there's enough darkness out there these days, and I'd prefer to be an uplifter or dreamer than add to the darkness. TV chef Gordon Ramsay is always barking at people that "this dish should be YOU on a plate!", and in the same manner I take on the mantle that my prints should be a piece of me on paper.
'Arch Study' by Glen Allsop, at Mr and Mrs White Manly. Image: Joshua White.
What do you see for the future of your work?
More prints. In this day and age where we view almost 99% of images digitally, I absolutely love how a photograph will come to life when it's printed. Even the most ordinary pictures, like one I was staring at in an old cafe the other day, have a life of their own when they are on paper and in a frame.
The formality of a frame says, "Hey, I'm important enough to frame, so figure it out!" So I'm test-printing a ton of stuff, and will release bits and pieces here and there. You'll see. I'll also keep going on this film thing... I might be onto something...
Shooting in New York. Image: Amee Allsop.
'Halfway Up' by Glen Allsop, at Mr and Mrs White Manly. Image: Joshua White.