Jason Baron is the Creative Director of Photography at BBC Creative, the BBC's in-house creative agency. Baron has been at the BBC in the Pictures team since 2001, having previously worked at the British television station, Channel 4.
Baron is one of three judges of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards’ Student Competition with Bruno Bayley, Managing Editor at Magnum Photos and Jeff Hamada, Founder & Editor, BOOOOOOOM.
We speak with Baron about his current work and his advice to students entering this edition of the Sony World Photography Awards.
How did you become involved in photography?
I fell into the world of photography purely by accident. As a jobbing actor and musician in the 90’s I needed some income from somewhere and ended up in the Channel 4 press office doing all sorts of jobs before someone in the photography team went on leave for two weeks and I was asked if I wanted to cover. A good friend of mine was a photographer so obviously, I thought I could do the job (he’s still shooting and did all the stills for the BBC television series Downton Abbey). Then in November 2001 I was asked to help out at the BBC for the Christmas rush, and I just never left.
You are the Creative Director of Photography for BBC Creative. What are your main responsibilities?
I co-manage a team of 15 or so, and between us we commission, create or manage the photography for well over 700 titles a year. Everything from Strictly Come Dancing to Panorama, and lots in between. We’re on set with photographers from the first day of filming – getting unit stills as well as managing big studio talent shoots for specials and seamless, and creating key-art imagery to promote BBC programmes. Our images end up online and in the press, and for our BBC portals such as iPlayer, bbc.co.uk, and BBC Sounds. We’re increasing our out-of-home portfolio too, so our commissions are hitting bus sides, 48 sheets, Tube stations etc…
What are the main photography skills to do a job like this? -
All our photographers are freelance, and we choose the right person based on the creative need for the project. So we have highly skilled live events photographers, documentary photographers, unit stills specialists and those good at the shiny floor studio lighting set-ups. It’s varied output, and that makes for varied styles of photography. We know our markets and media, and commission based on that. Some of it makes it to galleries (recently the National Portrait Gallery in the UK for the Taylor Wessing prize), and some of it makes lifestyle magazine covers. The aim is to create something impactful, has some truth in it contextually, and has been beautifully crafted.
What are you currently working on?
Recent work we’re really proud of ranges from television dramas like Bodyguard, hit shows like Strictly Come Dancing, and documentaries such as Chris Packham: Autism and Me. And when I was asked who I’d use to create a portrait of modern Britain I said “Martin Parr”. A few weeks later I was on a beach near Bristol with him shooting the New BBC One idents. That was a highlight project for sure. I’m lucky to have worked with some amazing photographers, and it’d be awful to pick out some over the others. They know who they are. Often I commission people I just want to hang out with, kinda hoping that we’ll get some good photos out of the assignment. If we get on together, it’s likely they’ll do the job that’s in my head. So that’s some good advice for young photographers – don’t be up yourself, even if you take amazing photos, no one will want to hire you. There are of course notable and famous exceptions to this, but that’s old school, and there are too many good photographers out there now to choose from.
What do you enjoy doing the most?
My background is factual programming, so documentaries, Natural History and history programmes, food formats etc. Nothing gives me more joy than commissioning for a documentary about a person or persons who have some truth to shed light on for the world. Meeting people you wouldn’t normally meet, and shooting them in a way you wouldn’t normally think of. I don’t think it’s rocket science to create a powerful image. It can be a chance moment at the end of a tiring day or a rogue shot in amongst the planned ones. But powerful images are always about the truth, or they ask the question about whether the truth we thought we knew was actually real. That’s why I love the likes of Weegee, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Elliott Erwitt. A recent find, that Martin Parr introduced me to, is Ian Weldon, who takes pictures at weddings, though he isn’t a wedding photographer. His stuff makes me laugh with all sorts of emotions going on.
You are one of the Student Competition judges of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. What entries would you like to see?
I’d like the students not think too much about the images they enter. If they really believe their image has something to say about the truth, then that’s what I want to see. I don’t care too much about technical know-how or clever clever stuff. It’s mostly all tricks. Sometimes tricks are marvellous, but only if they shed light on a truth that’s never been photographed before. The other thing is that I used to be a comedian, so I like funny things, because I’m not funny anymore. Awards are often full of very serious pictures of serious subjects, and I get a bit fed up with all of that. Some levity would be good.