As AnOther launches on TikTok with a series of super-short films from Jacob Sutton, the photographer and director shares his thoughts on his work, the platform, and what he makes of all that dancing
Jacob Sutton knows people usually think of him as someone who needs a lot of equipment – the cranes, the big cameras – to do his work. It is true that the Art Partner-signed photographer and director has become known for creating sweeping, large-scale fashion films where the landscapes are vast, the feats are heroic, and bodies are pushed to their limits. A series of short films for Chanel’s Allure Homme Sport fragrance showcase a longboarder racing down a coastal highway at breakneck speeds, while another sees a man cliff-diving into the Atlantic Ocean. For Nowness, he hit the slopes with pro snowboarder William Hughes, luminous in head-to-toe LED lights, while for Calvin Klein he captured dancers twisting, contorting, and flying through the air.
Born and raised in Bath, Sutton moved to London following graduation to study photography at London College of Communication, and never left. In 2006, an early break came in the form of an editorial for Another Man with Gary Card and Thom Murphy, and his work has since been featured in magazines such as AnOther, T, Vogue Italia, L’Uomo Vogue, and i-D, among others. Amidst increasing visual overstimulation, Sutton’s photography stands out with its minimal yet always striking style. “I’m of the school of thought that if it’s not necessary then it shouldn’t be in the frame,” as he says.
A photographer who tells his story through movement, it’s no wonder that Sutton has been at the forefront of the boom in fashion films, leading the way with work for brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and YSL Beauté. Drawn to motion, which has served as a focus and common thread through his work over the past two decades, the kinetic, dynamic energy of his art makes him a natural choice to create epics of this nature. “I’ve always been into movement so it was a pretty natural transition for me,” he says of the progression. “I love the complexity of film and how it allows you to build characters and a more emotional landscape.”
Over lockdown, however, when so many of us were forced to sit back and take stock of our lives, Sutton started thinking about how he could make something a lot simpler: super-short clips that would strip back the big equipment and be instead shot on phones and GoPros. After sharing his ideas with AnOther’s fashion director (womenswear) Katie Shillingford, these lockdown musings became the beginnings of the clips that we are launching our TikTok with this week.
From models rollerblading in Bottega Veneta to a skateboarding pair of sunglasses, the TikTok videos Sutton has created feel very grounded in the rest of his oeuvre. The energy is there, the vitality and movement. Also present is that sense of the surreal that our current meme culture thrives on. A static model in Givenchy floats above a conveyor belt crosswalk. An army of Matrix-esque Balenciaga-clad clones traverse a staircase.
The clips are playful and whimsical, a feeling that very much reflects the creation process which Sutton remembers as “tremendously fun”. “It felt very strange not to be shooting on a proper camera but you can throw a phone around and float it off on helium balloons and stick it to radio control cars which is really fun,” he says. Taking a desire to come up with ingenious, inventive ways to move the camera as a jumping off point, the aim was to create arresting moments that grabbed attention. “One of the hard things to create on a platform like TikTok is intrigue because it’s very much about immediacy,” he says. “So one of the main aesthetic choices was to try to make a character that was slightly evocative in a very short space of time.”
#AnOtherMagazine has arrived on TikTok! Jacob Sutton and Katie Shillingford capture the Pre-Fall 2021 collections to mark the occasion. Here’s @dior♬ original sound - anothermag
Creating intriguing characters is something Sutton has experience in – it, after all, the very foundation that his career has been built on. “In my work, I usually start with the question ’is it worth making this?’” he says. “There is endless content everywhere you look these days, so for me it’s really important that what I make has some kind of value, even if it’s just for me.” For Sutton, this value is usually centred around the chance to portray a concept or a character which he believes to be inventive or interesting. “I think you can create an interesting character in seconds which makes the short clips for the TikTok project such a nice challenge.”
As a platform TikTok not only allows for humour but actively encourages it, which Sutton feels is a refreshing change from platforms like Instagram where so much focus can be placed on, as he says, the “body beautiful” and living your best possible life. “TikTok leaves you feeling less bad about yourself. You’re more likely to be laughing than thinking that you should really be living somewhere much sunnier with a much better body,” he laughs. “It’s less about self-loathing!” He also appreciates the premium placed on movement by the app, although, as someone who has witnessed many great dancers perform works of beauty and power with their bodies, he’s not entirely convinced by some of the dancing that goes on. “I don’t know if TikTok dances are necessarily the greatest pieces of choreography! But it’s interesting to see the cultural shift and the fact that they seem to work across different ages and demographics.”
As his first experience creating content specifically for TikTok, Sutton found it to be a fun challenge in discipline, and while in the future he is still interested in working on longer, more narrative films, he recognises that sometimes you just have to go with the cultural flow. “I think you can fight against it as much as you want but, at the end of the day, you’ve got to try to make things that are interesting and relevant within that shorter attention span.”
Director: Jacob Sutton at Art Partner. Styling: Katie Shillingford. Hair: Soichi Inagaki. Make-up artist: Siobhan Furlong. Talent: Elise Revett, Chey Carty, Iris O’Carroll, Jaden Kacey, Kim Schell, PeiPei Tang, Harriet Longhurst, Jess Maybury, Olamide Ogundele and Precious Kevin. Casting: Noah Shelley. Camera operator: Joseph Barrett. Set design: Oliver Briscoe-Stagg. Production: Jess Briscoe-Stagg and Art Partner. Edit and post-production: Post89. Sound: Mutant Juxebox.