“I’m not great with words,” Brooklyn Beckham writes in the introduction to his new photography book, What I See, published this week by Rizzoli. Still, that hasn’t stopped the nascent photographer from getting into publishing at just 18, with a collection of his photos stretching from a family charity trip to Kenya to a Hillary Clinton rally to a Kanye West concert to the set of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur to selfie after selfie of Beckham himself.
The book is not Beckham’s first foray into photography: He actually shot a Burberry Brit campaign when he was just 16. And while it may seem like it would be his designer mother Victoria Beckham who got him into the industry, it was actually his father David who started Brooklyn on his career path, when he responded to his son’s less-than-ideal grades by giving him a Fujifilm camera that ended up changing his young life. From there, Beckham, whose top photographer inspiration is Steven Meisel, has assisted the likes of Nick Knight and Alastair McLellan—and developed his own burgeoning fanbase, as evidenced by the hundreds-strong crowds that descended on his London signings during the book’s U.K. release last month.
“I never thought I would actually be an author,” Beckham said from Los Angeles yesterday. “But it’s been really fun and a cool experience seeing how much I’ve changed—and my mum and dad are really proud of me, which is dope.”
As it turns out, though, his mum and dad have also brought him his fair share of controversy, too: “Most of it was awesome,” Beckham, who readily admits he is “always going to be known as Victoria and David Beckham’s son,” said of the online response after the book’s U.K. publication. “But some of it… ‘Oh, he got that because of his parents,’ stuff like that. I try to not read that stuff.” Indeed, there was so much online vitriol—particularly in response to Beckham’s (intentionally) out-of-focus photos, and captions like “Elephants in Kenya. So hard to photograph, but incredible to see”—that Random House actually released a statement in defense of the 18-year-old author.
Beckham, though, is charging ahead with his photography career—and, like a true celebrity scion trying to escape his family name, prepping to “disappear for a few years” by diving head-first into studying photography in New York. (Though he will be present shooting his mom’s show backstage at New York Fashion Week this fall—and angling to shoot her for her next campaign.) Here, Beckham talks photographing his “close mates” Cameron Dallas and Cody Simpson, life as an intern, going undercover as a celebrity, hanging with his siblings Romeo and Harper, and dreaming about his move to New York.
How did you end up publishing a book at just 18?
Penguin came to me two and a half years ago. I was really shocked and I couldn’t believe that they’d actually ask me to just yet, because I’d just kind of started. It took two years to really get it to its final thing, but it’s been a really cool process, and I’m really happy with it. They actually first saw my work on Instagram, which has kind of helped—it’s where I post my photos and use my following to get my work out there, which I feel like is what most people nowadays do.
Especially if you have over 10 million followers. What have you found are your most popular posts?
My artsy ones are really popular. Most of my photos are black-and-white, but I just posted this one of me and one of my mates Cameron [Dallas] that I just shot. I took some photos of him that people are really excited about, though I haven’t released them yet. We’re not really working on anything; it’s kind of just a mate thing. He’s one of my close mates and he’s always wanted me to photograph him, so it was just me and him, really. We just went to this random cave in Malibu, but people seem really excited wondering what it’s going to be.
Is that typical with you and your friends? Do they often ask you to take their photo?
I’m kind of selective of the people that I take photos of. Like, I don’t take pictures of just my friends, but I do like taking pictures of just some of my close mates, especially out in L.A. There’s one of my really close ones, Cody [Simpson], in the book.
What about your family? Are they tired of you taking photos of them at this point?
They’re kind of used to it, really. At first they were like, Why are you taking pictures? But I really enjoy taking pictures of my family, and I feel like they’re some of my strongest work—and what people like. I love taking pictures of my mum, brothers, my sisters. My dad’s pretty cool, too.
He was the first one to buy you a camera, at 14. Had you ever thought about getting into photography before that?
I’ve kind of been into it my whole life; when I was 12 or so, my dad always took photos of me, and I kind of always wanted to know how a camera worked. But I hadn’t really thought about it doing it professionally, or really been actually trying to study it—and felt the way I do about it now—until now.
What was it that pushed you to start pursuing it seriously?
It was actually my mum’s idea to go to New York [to study photography]. And she does take some photos, but on her phone, usually. But I mean, I’ve always wanted to go to uni, because people say it’s the best years of their lives. I’m really excited to move and live as a student and really start my photography career.
Has her being a designer, and just generally in the public eye, helped you with managing your own career in fashion?
Yeah. My mum really helps me with work stuff, and it’s fun. I’m going to do backstage photography at her next show, actually. And I actually really want to photograph her for one of her campaigns, which we’re talking about. I love taking pictures of my mum.
I imagine she was helpful when you shot your first Burberry Brit campaign. How old were you then?
I was 16, or maybe beginning of 17, and it was really nerve-wracking because it was kind of like the beginning of my photography [career]. But then throughout the day, I got used to it and I developed a good relationship with the models. And I made sure I didn’t use well known models—I used models who hadn’t really done a lot yet.
Did you work on the casting with Christopher Bailey and the team, too?
Yeah, they gave me a whole list of options of different people, including some well-known ones. But I like to shoot new faces—not established ones like, you know, Kendall Jenner. But I was really lucky to get that opportunity, and Christopher was such a huge inspiration—I really do look up to him. He’s a really nice lad.
Who else has shown you the ropes when it came to taking your own photos, besides your dad?
I did an internship with Nick Knight, and he gave me a lot of pointers that I took and tried to use when I shot some of my mates or my family—like how to position [the camera] and the light in certain ways, and get comfortable with the model. Now I talk to them before I start shooting them, and while they’re talking to me, I usually take a few shots and try to get used to them, get to know them.
What about your approach to and tips for taking selfies? There are quite a few in the book.
The selfies in my book are some I just randomly took when I was younger, when I was like 14 or 15. I think I posted some on Instagram. But I always take a lot of selfies, actually, to be honest. There are also some photos in the book of random people, which I kind of do in a different way—sometimes I just approach them and don’t even ask and take their photo so I get a cool reaction, like if they’re mad at me, which is pretty cool. But sometimes I go up to them and ask. Or I do it secretly so they don’t notice me.
Has it gotten harder to be sneaky about it as you’ve gotten more and more famous yourself?
I mean, when I go out, I kind of put a hat on and glasses, so I’m kind of just like a photographer going around taking pictures, and people hopefully don’t recognize me. But sometimes they do, and then I’ll do a photo for them, too.
Have you ever felt like you’ve been underestimated because of how young you are to be so accomplished?
Yeah, especially when people knew I was shooting Burberry, everyone was kind of—some were annoyed, and I kind of got quite a bit of hate for that. But I think once the photos came out, people could really see that photography was my thing that I wanted to do. So I feel like people are starting to take me more seriously as a photographer now.
Right, the photos speak for themselves. Have you experienced similar reactions with people making assumptions because of your last name?
Yeah, I mean, people are always going to know me as Victoria and David Beckham’s son, and people thought that [I’ve gotten this] because of my parents—and part of it maybe, yeah, of course, it does help, but I’m just trying to make my own way. That’s why I’m moving to New York now—I’m trying to make a name for myself, and just really start my photography career and live as a student, which will be cool and I’m excited about. I want to really study and learn about fashion, and kind of discipline for a few years, really start to study, and then probably start my photography career. I feel like that’d be really good for me—to disappear for a few years. And I’m going to do more interning, like with Mario Sorrenti and all that, so I’m excited. That’s my favorite thing, is just interning.
Have you seen your style develop since you’ve been assisting and interning, too?
Yeah, I feel like I’ve really improved. Most of the photos in my book are my old work, not recent ones—I’ve started to do a lot more portraits and a lot more fashion photography.
And some of them, like you say yourself in the book, are quite out of focus. Was it your idea to include those?
Yeah, most of them are out of focus. There’s this one with these neon lights down this hallway that’s out of focus which some people thought I did on accident, which is why I kind of had to explain it. But, you know, it’s kind of my style.
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