The Digital Journalist
ca. 2003 --- Naomi Watts Falling --- Image by © Ben Watts/Corbis Outline

Ben Watts on Naomi Watts:

By Elodie Mailliet / © Corbis Outline

Life is one big circle.

In Sydney, where Naomi, my mother, my stepfather and I were living from the early Eighties to the early Nineties, I was still in college studying graphic design and photography, but Naomi and her friends were like the Australian Rat Pack. I photographed them all, from Rebecca Rigg to Simon Baker. I think it was the first big move in my career. It helped, along with the fact that I was working the door at a nightclub and would make sure all the editors got in. That was my way of getting them on my side before I walked into their office to show them my book.

Once I got into fashion photography and moved to New York in 1995, I lost my memory of that time. Now, I'm back photographing my sister and her friends. I guess I'm back to square one. (laughsÉ) The first really important shoot Naomi and I did together was for Interview to promote the release of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, her big break here. It was good that she had the confidence in me to do it. You don't want family doing you favors because you're family. You want them to work with you because you're good. Business is business.

Of course, I have a more intimate and personal approach to my sister than other photographers do. However, I love the pictures that Ellen von Unwerth took of her, and I think it would be good for her to be photographed by Mario Testino or Bruce Weber. Those photographers touch the soul, they reach in. Because I've known her for years, I'm able to push the limits a little bit. On the other hand, because I'm family, she might also be more comfortable saying no to me. I guess it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

This shoot we did for The Face was an idea based on childhood. I don't want to sound corny because it's really not that deep. It was more like: "I know that Naomi is a tomboy. I know she's good at dancing and yoga. She likes music and messing around. Let's do a shoot about that, rather than clothes and fashion." When she first got to the studio and saw the crash mattress, Naomi was like, "What's that all about?" Then, she really got into it. We did the whole session in two-and-a-half hours. That was really me shooting my sister, doing what I like to do.

I'm more about capturing reality than creating fantasy. With me, personalities will get street respect and credibility. I'm not going to make a star out of somebody. My heroes are Bruce Davidson and Danny Lyon. My main source of inspiration is street culture--teenagers pushing individuality on a budget. I like to take all the elements of fashion, reportage and portrait photography and turn them into one story.

Some of the other sessions Naomi and I did together were more about doing a job. I don't think The Face realized right away that this shoot was gold. That day was really special. Everything in life is about mood and timing. If you arrive in the right mood at the right time, it's going to happen for you. This is why so much of my photography is about making people feel comfortable with humor, music and whatever I can. Understand that this isn't anything creepy, but photography, to me, is like sex. When I get it, I get fidgety and excited. You know when the subject gets locked in. That's what makes you reach that visual climax. You're pleasing and you're being pleased. I hope the images speak for themselves.