My Photographic Life by Richard Young

I started in the photographic world when I was around my mid-twenties, so I was quite a late starter. I was lucky enough to have been mentored by my boss, Jeff Kwintner, in the book shop where I was working in Regent Street. He needed someone to take some shots of Thomas Hardy country in Wessex, and I pretended that I was a photographer and was sent to shoot the surrounding countryside. When I came back and processed the film, not one shot came out. Jeff told me to keep the camera – a Nikon F Photomic FTN – and within 6 months I had taught myself how to use it, with a little help from some of the photographic shops in the day, and a photographer was born.
I got my first world exclusive in 1974 when I shot a friend of a friend who happened to be Paul Getty Junior who had just been released from the mafia minus his ear. From that day on I knew I wanted to be a photographer, and more importantly photography had found me.
I have been working for over 40 years in this crazy business and I love it now as much as I did in the early days.
I decided to specialise in photographing people. I was especially drawn to the show business world, rock n roll and music generally, actors, artists, spiritual leaders and world leaders. Royals and English society fascinated me. I also love working in the fashion world.
When my career really took off in late 70’s I was working pretty much 24/7. I wanted to be the best and that meant a lot of late nights and early mornings. If you want something enough you will sacrifice everything to be the best. Sadly my family had to put up with an absent father for many years, but that is the price you pay if you want to be the best.
I have been part of some of the most iconic times in fashion history. I was invited to all the Versace parties. Gianni invited me to The Ritz in Paris once or twice a year, and this was considered the crème de la crème – super models were riding high and would not get out of bed for less than 10k (I heard it was much more!!)
Richard Young, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni and Gianni Versace, The Rainforest Foundation Fashion Show, London, 1992
The girls were glamorous and beautiful, exclusive, and and we all wanted to be part of their world. You would also have amazing front rows, it could be Bono or Madonna, or Elton or Sting.
Later came Galliano, McQueen, the shows became more outrageous and wild, there was a big turning point at this time.
The photography business has changed enormously since I started. When we changed from negative to digital photography, that was a key moment that changed photography forever. In the 80’s I was given a primitive scanner and modem and told by the newspapers “Learn how to use this!”
I must say that I do miss the days of film, because film was so expensive to buy and process, we were really careful about how much we shot. My wife Susan recently found a contact sheet from the 70’s with 36 shots on, each shot was of a different A-list star in the day, and each one was iconic. Unfortunately, with digital we all overshoot and, not only that, once we’ve taken a hundred shots, we check the back of the camera to make sure we got it; It’s crazy.
The other change I have noticed is that everyone is a photographer these days, wherever you go people are taking shots on their phones, iPads cameras, and that is wonderful. Except when you’re trying to shoot a concert and, when the star, comes out everyone ups hands and then we can’t get the shot as all we can see is a mass of iPhones held aloft!
I think the photography world is a very difficult place to make a living these days. I guess I had the best of it. With the dawn of the digital age, it is easy for people to take and use your images with out permission or fee. The agencies themselves do deals with the newspapers so you don’t even get individual sales anymore, as everything is becoming subscription based which is a disaster for the photographer. Some photographic agencies along with the newspapers have driven down the value of an image so low, that they are even giving them away to people.
My worry is that young people will find it hard to make a living selling photographs and will not be able to follow a creative path if something does not change in the industry.
However, even with these changes I would not change one day of my photographic life. I have loved every minute of it and will continue shooting as long as people invite me to their incredible parties, and as long as I can get the shot in focus!
Richard Young is at the forefront of celebrity photography. With a career spanning over 40 years, and no sign of stopping anytime soon, Richard’s exceptional eye and unique approach has cemented him as the most trusted and prolific contemporary photographer to the stars. As both a portraitist and photojournalist, his unerring ability to capture the moment and present a candid, inside view into the world of celebrity has resulted in iconic images that are celebrated in publications throughout the world.