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Admiral Sir Tony Radakin

Rory Lewis: ‘I was rejected by Sir Patrick Stewart’

The Hasselblad Masters finalist and RPS member on the challenges and privileges of portrait photography

‘Admiral Sir Tony Radakin’ by Rory Lewis

Each year some 85,000 submissions are made to the Hasselblad Masters – a prestigious photography competition celebrating the best work across the globe in categories including landscape, street and art.

This year, RPS member Rory Lewis has reached the final 10 of the portrait category, with his submission now being put to a public vote.

“It’s a tremendous honour, one that fills me with both humility and joy,” says Lewis. “[Being selected] is a validation of my artistic vision and dedication to the craft. It signifies recognition from peers and industry experts, reaffirming the quality and impact of my work in the world of photography.”

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‘Sir Patrick Stewart, actor’ and ‘Dame Judi Dench, actor’ by Rory Lewis

Lewis, who is based in LA, has been recognised for a portfolio that includes portraits of William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart and UK Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron. He describes his experience with Stewart as “one of the most memorable portrait sessions I’ve had the pleasure of conducting”.

He continues, “It wasn’t just about capturing his likeness. It was about encapsulating the essence of a cultural icon.”

Getting time with the star renowned for his Star Trek and X-Men roles, though, was easier said than done. After several approaches through Stewart’s agency, and a personal rejection from the actor, a session was finally booked during a Broadway run.

“The anticipation leading up to the session was palpable,” says Lewis. “Arriving in New York, I was filled with excitement and nerves, knowing the significance of photographing such a renowned figure. Drawing inspiration from portrait painters like Hans Holbein, I aimed to capture Sir Patrick not as a character, but as the thespian himself.

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'Tobias Menzies, actor' and ‘Ciarán Hinds, actor’ by Rory Lewis

“During the session, Sir Patrick’s professionalism and receptiveness were remarkable. Despite the limited time frame, we quickly established a rapport, allowing him to express himself authentically while I directed to bring out different facets of his persona. His willingness to experiment led to captivating portraits that went beyond mere representation.

“What made this session truly memorable was the opportunity to work with a true British icon and to showcase my style of portraiture on an international stage. It was a moment of personal and professional fulfilment, reaffirming my passion for capturing the essence of my subjects in a profound and meaningful way.”

Beyond the stars of stage, screen and politics, Lewis recently documented servicepeople in the British Army. The resulting series, Soldiery, offers a realistic portrayal of the modern military and has earned Lewis widespread acclaim. “The project enabled me to document the faces and stories of soldiers from different regiments, showcasing their dedication, diversity and sense of duty,” Lewis says.

H.R.H Prince Michael Of Kent, Rifleman Ganga Gurung 2Nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles Copy

‘HRH Prince Michael of Kent’ and ‘Rifleman Ganga Gurung, 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles’ by Rory Lewis

As for being an RPS member, Lewis says the organisation has been a reassuring constant in his career. He adds, “[It] has been instrumental in shaping my photography career, providing opportunities for learning, networking and recognition within the photography community.

“The society’s rich history and commitment to advancing the art and science of photography have inspired me to continually strive for excellence in my work. Through exhibitions, workshops and interactions with fellow photographers, I have gained valuable insight and feedback that have helped refine my skills and expand my creative horizons. Additionally, the prestige associated with being a member of such an esteemed institution has opened doors to new opportunities and collaborations, further fuelling my passion for photography.”

You can vote for Rory Lewis, or any of the finalists, in the Hasselblad Masters 2023 competition.

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