Christopher Bissell worked in a few occupations while growing up in the Canadian west, but he wanted to do something bigger. He decided to do some traveling in hopes that he could find what he was looking for. CB bought a ticket on a ship from San Francisco to Hawaii, Fiji, and onto New Zealand.
It was in Fiji when CB bartered for a camera which he practiced with while he was on the ship. He arrived in New Zealand, where he was greeted by a couple friends from Canada who were into landscape photography. He was in awe at the images his friends were projecting on the wall of their little New Zealand flat. He was so impressed, he asked why the images he was seeing were so good. That was the moment CB learned all about composition and balance.
“For me it’s all about strong composition where the imagery is well balanced.”
New Zealand was CB’s baptism into photography. Over the next couple of years he experimented and practiced with different disciplines. Soon, CB felt an urge to come back to North American and pursue fashion photography.
Returning to Victoria, BC, he began to make a name in fashion photography. At the time, the Alberta economy was booming and soon he found himself in Edmonton where he had become quite a new sensation. Celebrities, musical bands, and models alike, all wanted CB to photograph them.
“I was the new blood in town, and all of a sudden I became the flavor.”
Work started coming in from Eaton’s and The Bay and advertising agencies began to call. Soon he was shooting almost full time for The Bay. CB had to employ numerous assistants and filled his 3,000 sq. ft. studio Monday to Friday non-stop for over 5 years.
In the 1980’s CB took his work to New York, where he mixed street photography and fashion. Being born in the UK, he possessed a British passport, and CB would eventually find himself setting up his base in London.
He began shooting for corporations like: Coca Cola, Heinz, Gillette, Holiday Inn, Kellogg’s, Mobil, Proctor & Gamble, Sheraton Hotels, and Toyota. He also worked for Kicker’s shoes, Jaeger Fashion, Mark’s and Spencer’s, and shooting Vogue ads for fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.
CB began shooting album sleeves for the big record labels like: Universal Music, Sony Music, BMG, and Virgin. CB became brand ambassador and represented photography brands and corporations such as: Kodak, Pentax, Ricoh, Manfrotto, Leica, and Nikon.
Through the many years, CB has photographed many celebrities and models. He has shot Russian prima ballerina Elena Glurdjidze, and many supermodels like Lisa B. and Yasmin LeBon. He also shot many athletes and events, musicians, actors, heads of state, presidents, and even royalty.
One of his most memorable sessions was a fashion shoot with a supermodel on Tim Burton’s Batman set at Pinewood Studios. Little did CB know at the time, but many years later, it would lead to a screen-test for the producers of the TV show Britain’s Next Top Model. He quickly found himself in a multi-season recurring role as the show’s photographer and guest judge.
Today CB continues to base his operations out of his Mayfair office in London, recently completing an ad campaign for Tech21. The campaign took 5 days to shoot for the world wide recognized mobile phone case for Apple and Samsung.
Despite all his success over the years, CB still returns to his roots in Alberta and BC every year to shoot models looking to build their portfolios.
“It’s really lovely to discover a new face and a new talent. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones sitting in the corner instead of the one’s up front.”
BAHM asked photographer Christopher Bissell a few industry questions.
When you’re looking for a model for a shoot, what sort of things do you look for in a model and her portfolio?
“What I’m looking for will depend on the specific shoot. In the case of shooting the Tech21 campaign, none of the imagery included the model’s face. So I was looking for shapely legs. So it’s very specific to the campaign.”
“If I’m looking for a model to test, I usually like to meet them in person where they can show me their portfolio shots. During conversation I can get the gist if they have the personality that would fit the idea I have in mind. This way I can tell if they can act in front of the camera. I don’t like shooting typical model poses, I want to shoot the model’s personality. All the best models have an actor quality about them.“
How important is it for a model to have experience in front of the camera?
“I’ve shot girls with a lot of experience and girls with little to no experience. Some will have a natural instinct and be able to take directions so I can capture what I had in mind. I do prefer to work with experienced models so we can work together to push the imagery right to the edge.”
How important are the photos in a model’s portfolio?
“Very important. They need to show the model is dynamic. The portfolio should be around 15 to 20 strong photos, and no more than 25 or 30. But I stress strong photos. Weak images should not be included just to make up the numbers, always put your best foot forward with your best images only.”
How important are a model’s tear sheets?
“Tear sheets will add credibility to the model’s presentation. A model should strive to get those tear sheets added to their portfolio as soon as they’re available. It shows they’re actually working in the industry. So it’s very important for a model to have those tear sheets.”
How important is the photographer to a model wanting to build an up their portfolio?
“A model will have a much better shot at making it big if she has shots from an experienced or well-known photographer. If they desire to be an international model, they’ll need to include higher caliber photographs in their portfolio.”
For booking enquiries, please contact Christopher’s agent, Sara Daw.