Born to a Pakistani father and a British mother, London-based Samir Hussein was lucky to be exposed to photography from an early age. His father, Anwar, and uncle, Akhtar, were both successful photographers and undoubtedly he benefited from witnessing them at work. His father captured images of icons like The Rolling Stones, Robert Redford and Princess Diana from the 60s through the 80s. Starting out with photos at musical concerts around London, Samir soon became known on the showbiz circuit and also began photographing the Royal Family, focusing on Queen Elizabeth II and the heirs to throne Prince Charles, and now Prince William. His portfolio also includes standout images of showbiz biggies like Angelina Jolie, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones & Madonna. Samir has travelled extensively with the British Royal Family, most notably capturing the journey of Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, since the announcement of their engagement in 2010. His iconic images of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, wedding and the recent birth of their son Georg,e have been used on high profile publications, coins, stamps, and posters.
Excerpts of an interview :
What brought you to India, and Kolkata especially?
My girlfriend is doing a master's degree at London School of Economics and she came on a three-month exchange programme to Kolkata. It was a great opportunity to come to India; we could see some of the country together. India is a country I had long wanted to explore. We planned a visit to Rajasthan and Kerala but before these travels I was also keen to get to know Kolkata and so linked up with an NGO, The Hope Foundation, and took photos at their projects helping street children around the city.
You are a showbiz and royal family photographer. Share the journey briefly.
I started off shooting for musical concerts for Getty Images, as music is a great love of mine. My interest in photography and contacts led me to shooting film premieres, fashion events, the British Royal Family, etc. All these fields are incredibly competitive, but this brings out the best in you. I would say the emergence of Prince William and Kate Middleton as a couple really propelled my career. I was on hand to shoot their engagement announcement and have officially captured all their important moments since then.
How did the royal connection happen?
My father specialised in capturing the Royal Family, most notably during the Princess Diana years. I saw it as a great opportunity to carry on his extensive work and tried to go out on assignments with him when I was starting out.
I have had to prove myself though. But over the years I have established myself and have built a connection with the royal palaces who officially accredit the media to Royal events.
Can you share some of the experiences with the royal family?
I have extensively photographed the Queen, Prince William and Kate, Prince Harry, Prince Charles and Camilla over the past few years, both at home and abroad. The most famous occasions I've been at would have to be the engagement and wedding of William and Kate, the unveiling of their new born son and future King George and the Queen's Jubilee celebrations in 2012.
Assignments with them abroad tend to be the best, as they are more relaxed and in interesting locations. For instance I've been to the mountains of Lesotho in Africa with William and Harry when they visited a small school in the middle of nowhere. The scenery was breath taking and there were only a few of us there to witness them spending the day talking to children and playing football. Also in 2012, I travelled with William and Kate to the Solomon Islands where they danced with locals, took boat rides and visited tribes. It's in moments like these that you get unusual and rewarding photos and realise how lucky you are to be in such a profession.
You said they do not go out all the way to offer you a good angle or things like that. They are not showbiz people after all.
Royal protocol dictates that you can't get too close to them during engagements; you are required to keep a respectful distance and allow them to get on with matters as they wish to. However, witnessing them interacting at a variety of events and countries over the years means you soon gain a good understanding of their personalities. Also, when on tour with the Royals there is usually a time when they will make the effort to come and chat to the official travelling media from the UK. This is informal and off the record, so is a great opportunity to get to know them.
Prince William, as future King, has been groomed to talk to people from all walks of life and is comfortable talking to the public. He is very charming. I had a good chat to him in New Zealand where he told me amongst other things that he rarely feels tired from all the travelling and engagements due to his army training while joking I looked tired from the tour.
William doesn't like being photographed which I believe is due to what happened to his Mother, Princess Diana. He will often shy away from the camera and rarely gives you a photo by posing towards the camera. This has rubbed off on Kate too so although both are very photogenic. At times you really have to work hard to get an outstanding picture of both of them.
The Queen takes everything in her stride; she's seen it all before. Prince Harry seems to live up to his persona - he's very outgoing. I spoke to him on a trip to New York and he's not afraid to say what he thinks and is always joking.
What was the most recent assignment with the Royals?
My most recent assignment was shooting William and Kate visiting projects in Kings Cross in London. It was quite successful for me as it as one of my images from this was used on the front page of The Times newspaper and Hello! magazine.
Share your experience of shooting some Hollywood or other world famous showbiz people.
To shoot the stars you have to deal first with publicists and managers and this can be very tricky. It means you don't always get to know the stars as they have every aspect of their career handled by others.
The worst stars to deal with are often those new to fame - such as your Big Brother celebs. They've been famous for five minutes but feel like they're superstars with a complex and arrogance to match.
The most experienced world stars - such as Tom Cruise and George Clooney - are much better to deal with. They're consummate professionals who know the value of fans and the media. As such they dedicate a lot of time to them and give you what you want. At a film premiere Tom Cruise will walk around for hours signing autographs and take the time to give the photographer what he wants. He also takes an interest in the photos and what we are doing as photographers. That is rare among the celebs.
Angelina is one of the best stars you can photograph - she's a natural who knows how to look great and give classic pictures. I think being with someone just as famous as Brad Pitt has really helped who is at ease with the attention she gets. I photographed her in London the first time following the announcement of the double mastectomy; she dazzled with her confidence. She seems comfortable with her fame and status and that really comes across in her demeanour.
Do you not want to shoot Bollywood in future? What is your perception about Bollywood?
I would welcome the chance to shoot the Bollywood stars. There isn't too much opportunity in London, so I'd love to come to India with access to shoot the leading stars. They're superstars like the Hollywood 'A' listers and bring their own glamour. Looking at the magazines and advertisements in India, they get huge coverage so there's obviously a huge market for it.
--IBNS (Posted on 09-01-2014)