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News > Careers Spotlight > Jonathan Glynn-Smith (1978-84), Photographer and Film Director

Jonathan Glynn-Smith (1978-84), Photographer and Film Director

"Kelly College toughened me up to take on the world "
Jonathan with his portrait of Victoria Pendleton
Jonathan with his portrait of Victoria Pendleton

Jonathan is an extremely successful photographer and film director, and for the past 30 years has been a fashion photographer shooting tv commercials, advertising campaigns and portraiture for some of the top global luxury brands including (to name just a few) Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hugo Boss, Mercedes, Omega, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – as well as working for the brands themselves in the area of sport. He’s worked with famous celebrities and even the Royal family (sadly, an NDO forbids him sharing any details). He has had private exhibitions (his work sells for what many would consider a lot of money), published books, and even has a piece of work in the National Portrait Gallery.

“I used to travel extensively - up to 18 flights a month - until Covid.” The climate crisis, and hitting middle age (he is married to Jo and has two teenage children) has made him re-assess this way of working and he is now looking to travel less intensively, and focus more on making long-form films. “I’ve always been slightly frustrated as a storyteller and as a photographer; I want to delve deeper into stories.” He has recently established Lot20 Films, working with producers so that he can focus purely on directing.

Although he hasn’t returned to Tavistock since leaving in 1984, Jonathan has happy memories of his time at Kelly, despite the trauma of losing his mother when he was a pupil. He was a Prefect, played rugby for the 2nd XV, played hockey and was in the athletics team. “Sport was a very big part of my life and being athletic has stood me in good stead in my career”. Jonathan’s commissions have included photographing and sailing the high seas in extreme events: over 10 years on the Americas Cup, 13 years of the Vonde Globe event (for Loius Vitton) and for some 20 years he has joined yachtsman Alex Thomson on parts of his round the world races.  “Kelly College toughened me up to take on the world - especially in terms of being athletic enough for my job. I’m not an athlete but I have to be fit enough to work with those sorts of people in their environment – you have to live with them, work hard [and become] one of the crew”.

“At school there was a camaraderie and a spirit that was borne out of amusement. We were always up to mischief.” One of his happiest memories was abseiling off the viaduct behind the College as well as kayaking on the Isle of Man with the Marines CCF. He also recalls building a fiberglass kayak and paddling it down the Tavy! As well as gaining his athleticism from his time as a pupil, time spent on Dartmoor and outdoors gave Jonathan an appreciation of nature and landscape which is reflected in much of his photographic work.

From Kelly, Jonathan went to what was the premier Art school in London at the time (St Martins’ School of Art) and in 1985 signed up for a degree at the University of Arts, London. He did not enjoy the degree course and spent more time running the university student nightclub - he then started taking pictures in the nightclubs and realised he preferred doing that to running the joint!

He decided not to complete his degree and instead joined the family business. His parents were well-known in the arts world (his mother a designer and father architect) but he didn’t want to follow in their footsteps: “I didn’t have their eye for the micro and macro details required in design and architecture. I’m into form which comes with photography”. He soon branched out independently and what ensued was a successful career that took him to every continent and almost every country in the world.

“I love doing long-term projects which have integrity and then I take out pieces from them and translate them into my own imagery. I try and understand a job or project, photograph the 360 of it, figure out what the story is and then find out what are the bits I want to tell from it.”

One such long-term project that Jonathan is especially proud of was for the 2012 London Olympics. He documented the British Olympians for two years during the lead-up to and during the London Olympic Games, capturing the beauty of the athletes in action and in their personalities in studio portraits both on and off the field. Jonathan was impressed and intrigued to hear that MK had nine athletes compete in the Tokyo 2020 games.

His first feature film under the banner of his new company, Lot20, is an inspirational story with a strong environmental message. “The Ultimate Swim” follows the story of ultra-distance swimming athlete, Neil Agius, as he attempts to break a world-record distance swim in aid of ocean plastics. The film has been well-received so far and was played in Glasgow at COP26 and is currently being considered by Netflix.

Despite his success, and spending a lot of time amidst the elite, famous and the glamorous, Jonathan remains extremely down-to-earth, friendly and approachable and exudes an infectious positivity, energy and dynamism. Throughout his career he has maintained a classic, but fresh and modern approach to his work. Alongside his extensive experience and professionalism, this new foray and path he has set himself into the world of film-making is sure-bound for success.

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