Andy’s life behind the lens

Behind the Mask Exhibition
Behind the Mask Exhibition
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Energy, enthusiasm and a keen-eye – a unique eye – have made Andy Gotts one of the most sought after photographer of celebrities in the world. But why isn’t there a photo of Andy on this page?

“Well” he said, truthfully. “I’m not comfortable in front of the lens so readers will just have to imagine just how I look.”

Behind the Mask Exhibition

Behind the Mask Exhibition

Andy’s story is one of “turn left you live, turn right you die.” As a youngster, he knew he wanted to take photographs, but getting into the business had its share of hurdles.

But first, a sketch in words about the man today. The Lowry is particularly fortunate in being the first gallery outside London able to show a major selection of Andy’s portraits of known-around-the-world show business faces, and the exhibition, which opened last week – is already a hit.

The show’s titled “Behind the Mask” and is the biggest collection of BAFTA award-winning actors’ portraits ever assembled.

Every winner of the prestigious award is included.

Behind the Mask Exhibition

Behind the Mask Exhibition

The project is a fine collaboration between Andy and the BAFTA Future Archive, took two years to complete, and sent Mr Gotts all over the globe to photograph subjects including Lauren Bacall, Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, and Sydney Poitier. And Lancashire’s own Sir Ian McKellen.

Andy said: “Even though I’ve been given the title of ‘celebrity photographer’ I have always seen myself as a photographer of actors. I’ve always been a movie buff and getting the opportunity to meet my matinee idols is beyond a dream.

“I specialise in character studies of the face and try to show a new and different side of world famous faces in my ‘warts and all’ style.”

So how did it all start?

Andy explained: “I remember in 1980 I was nine and a TV programme showed famous photographer Mike Maloney and his commission from the Daily Mirror was to try and get a photo of Lady Diana Spencer.

“It looked amazing to me. I was mesmerised by the equipment alone which looked like something from a James Bond film. That was my first inkling that I wanted to be a photographer.

“At the last day or term, we were all asked what we wanted to do and I said what I wanted was to be a photographer. Well everybody laughed. And the head said ‘No you need a proper career.’

“Anyway when I left school I became a chef and believe me I wasn’t happy. One day I served a diner who told me I looked depressed.

“I explained my ambition and he invited me to go along to learn about photography. He taught me so much.

“That I found out my local tech was doing a photography course. The diner who had been so kind wrote to the college saying that although I hadn’t any artistic qualifications, he’d seen something special in me. So I got a place.

“I loved the whole world of photography. At the end of the year, I was asked which area of photography I’d like to enter. Well I hadn’t a clue and I really felt like quitting.

“ At that time Stephen Fry came to the college to give a talk. I took a chance and in the next room set up a temporary studio. When question time came, I put my hand up and asked him if I could do a photo of him. He thought for a few moments and then agreed.

“I realised straight away that I wanted to photograph the stars. It was like scales being peeled away from my eyes.

“I left college in 1991 and worked for various magazines. But I wanted – needed - a project and I decided to do a book on famous people to raise money for charity.

“I got the addresses of the agents of 300 celebrities, wrote a personal letter to everyone one explaining my aim. After six months I’d not had one reply. Not one.

“I waited and suddenly Joss Ackland – who said he’d pose if I photographed his son’s wedding. So I did and that was how it all started. It takes a lot of time to think of the post I want, but that done and with the show business layers stripped away, the actual shoots don’t take much longer than 15 minutes or so.”

In the world of celebrity, Andy’s name is well known. He himself has become an icon.

And when, seriously ill, Tony Curtis agreed to be photographed, Andy flew half way round to the world – and the star’s picture was the result just before he died.