Photographer

Rory Lewis captures Sir Patrick Stewart. (Rory Lewis/Submitted)

Rory Lewis welcomes guests to his new DTLA Photography Studio.

The British photographer is surrounded by his celebrity and royal portraits. A striking depiction of Sir Patrick Stewart sits above his desk. Actor James Cromwell’s portrait is nearby.

These aren’t the usual headshots. Lewis is a royal and celebrity visual artist specializing in portraiture, photographing many of the world’s most recognized faces, including members of the royal family, the military, government, everyday people and the stars of stage and screen, namely Dame Judi Dench, William Shatner, Sir Ian McKellen, Natalie Dormer and a pantheon of others spanning 20 years. His work has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery & The National Army Museum in London, along with galleries and museums across the globe.

“You are nothing without a compelling subject,” Lewis said.

Lewis explained how he attempts to break the mold of typical risk-averse portraiture which is commissioned within the media industry. Dynamically challenging the established norm and instead injecting moments of spontaneity, and even awkwardness, into his imagery he successfully shuns the aggrandizing and sycophantic result typically seen in portraits of the famous. Lewis’ aim is to strip back the artificial layers of staid portraiture and replace it with strangeness and a sense of quiet.

His love of Caravaggio is evident in his Italian Renaissance-inspired photographs, which are curated on black backdrops, almost like a painting.

“I’m filling a niche,” he said. “I’m known for a unique classical style of portraiture and that’s what I produce. I only produce one product. People laugh but look at Five Guys. They give you a fresh hamburger cooked right there. It’s one product, OK? I offer classical portraits.

“And I’ve always stuck to my guns. I have a unique style, and now I’m bringing that here to Los Angeles, where it has been well received.”

Lewis explained much of the portraiture you see commissioned does not seem very flattering, using filters and removing all the detail of the face.

“For me, it’s all about creating something historical,” he added. “When people look at Sir Ian McKellen in 100 years’ time, you’ll see Sir Ian McKellen’s all his detail.

“With Patrick Stewart, on the day of his photoshoot, I noticed his nose. It looked like it had been hit in the past. I recognized this because my grandfather was a boxer. Mentioning it to Patrick, he was surprised I distinguished this detail and it is now preserved in his portrait.

“It’s all about keeping these little features.”

Lewis first explored LA in 2014, when the London Times commissioned him to shoot a portrait of William Shatner.

“I became known for working with ‘Star Trek’ actors,” he said. “So I was commissioned to photograph William Shatner. He was my first LA client. So, I flew over from London to Los Angeles — an 11-hour journey and jetlag. William Shatner says, ‘You’ve got 5 minutes.’”

Lewis photographed other interesting faces while on his trip too LA and was impressed by the city.

“It’s a melting pot of the world,” he said. “You meet all sorts of characters. A year later, I brought (my wife) Sasha. She fell in love with the place, especially the weather. It was all because William Shatner brought me here for the first time.

“I was also tickled by the fact that you have all these amazing actors here. So, I wanted to shoot more. I wrote letters and sent emails. One of the actors I contacted was the late and renowned actor René Auberjonois. Capturing his portrait, he fell in love with my style and introduced me to a whole host of fellow actors in North Hollywood and West Hollywood. René started everything for me and set me on course for this move to LA.

Lewis’ recent projects include photographing the 1st Cavalry Division in Texas, the first woman to lead Virginia Military Institute and campaigns for Louis Vuitton in New York and JP Morgan.

“Diversity and inclusion are very important to me,” he said. “In Los Angeles, we have a wonderfully huge, diverse population. Everyday we hear a different language spoken. We’ve made friends from Taiwan, China, Italy. LA, it’s such a cosmopolitan city.”

Lewis grew up in Liverpool and studied history at King’s College in London. While he was studying, he perused Renaissance art and obsessed over cinema.

“I joined the cinema club and, for a couple of bucks a week, I was able to see different movies,” he said. “I thought they we’re going to start off with ‘The Matrix.’ But no, they started off with German expressionist cinema in the 1920s. I saw all this film noir, black-and-white movies.

“I decided I wanted to do something creative. So I picked up a camera. That’s how it began.”

Lewis started shooting at fashion shows, and the models loved the photos, proving he had an eye for photography.

I set up my first studio in my hometown of Liverpool. It failed because it was my first business.

“But then I learned my lessons and went on and created a better, smaller business and grew it — and it led me here. All roads lead here.”

He’s always been familiar with California, as his parents formerly lived in Palm Springs in the 1970s.

“They decided to come home when my mother was seven months pregnant with me,” he said. “I could have been born in America, but I had to come the hard way.”

The couple is still finding their footing in Los Angeles, discovering new places every day. Sasha focuses on the business side, while Lewis is the creative.

“I like to concentrate on my art now,” he said. “There was a time when I did everything, and that was difficult. I would have to do everything from social media to cleaning to retouching. It came to the point where Sasha needed to join me.

“As a married couple, we travel together. We work together. We’re never out of each other’s company, which is the way it should be.

Rory is excited to offer his portraiture to everybody in LA, his classical, unique style of capturing subjects is quickly becoming renown.

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