With a world-class resume of successful, high-profile collaborations with such famed luxury brands as Jimmy Choo, Valentino, H&M, Sandro Paris and Tommy Hilfiger, director/photographer Liam Cushing is one of the most acclaimed craftsmen in his field. But his extraordinary international renown and impressive achievements came about almost as a fluke, the unlikely result of a loving mother’s thoughtful gesture to her teenaged son.
“I was going on a [student] exchange in Spain and my mother took me to a second hand camera store,” Cushing said. “She bought me a Nikon F5 with 50mm lens and I was hooked right away, but had no real technical knowledge. There was a lot of trial and error after I arrived in Spain, but it really started to shape my eye, knowledge and love for photography. I took photos of everything, anyone and everywhere and I really attribute the growth of my style to my time in Spain.”
An entirely new world opened up for the Toronto-born, London-based Cushing. “My mother had always had a love of photography and it was always a part of my life growing up, but I had never really learned how to shoot,” he said. “She thought it would be great for me to learn on my own camera as I embarked for Spain and as I learned Spanish and adapted to a new culture, my photos deeply reflected this new curiosity. I still own that Nikon F5 to this day, and every once and a while I will use it just too once again have that feeling of shooting for the first time.”
Cushing quickly parlayed that youthful enthusiasm into a dedicated career path. Having completed studies at the University of Toronto with degrees in Art History and Cinema Studies, Cushing’s romance with photography—and his readily evident aptitude—enabled him to gain a foothold in this particularly fast-paced arena.
“After graduating, I applied for an internship where I could learn from the best photographers in the world,” Cushing said. “I ended up at the prestigious fashion photo agency Art Partner’s London office, which subsequently connected me to the highest levels of the industry and propelled me to get a job working for world famous photographer Mario Testino. Mario was famous for shooting the campaigns for brands such as Burberry, Versace, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana, and who had also shot the royal family, and countless celebrities including Katy Perry, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts.”
Testino, of course, wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t an absolutely first rate talent, and Cushing really came into his own, developing the visual style which became his very formidable calling card.
“During my time working under Mario, my career really started growing,” Cushing said. “I spent countless days researching, learning about my craft, investing in my tools, pursuing personal projects, chasing clients, all of which helped me get to where I am today in my career.”
“I developed I strong affinity for directing video and while I was hesitant to stop working for Mario, I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to have creative independence if I did not take the jump—I subsequently left and pursued an independent career as director/photographer.”
On his own, Cushing was compelled to make his mark, a feat that required considerable drive and fortitude.
“Finding my own path was difficult as first,” Cushing said. “I was competing with some of the most talented creative minds in the world. In the first year it became apparent how difficult it was to find my place and stand out in a city where I had very little professional connections. Rejection started to feel familiar, but I persevered and began to pursue my interest in video work. My deep passion for video rubbed off on my photography, I felt more engaged than ever, and I really started to hit my stride.”
Cushing’s ace-in-the-hole was a deep passion for a particular type of communicative aesthetics unique unto himself. “I always thought of my work as something like a dream—the imagery can be abstract and ethereal while emotions and tone feel real and weighted,” he said. “I look at every project as a challenge, so if there is no element of discomfort then I know I am not getting better at my craft. I also really value working with creative professionals at the top of their respective crafts, as it forces me to continuously push myself to higher levels of excellence.”
This creative zeal quickly distinguished Cushing from his contemporaries and his career began to ascend.
“Around this time I was hired to do stills and some video work for a Tommy Hilfiger campaign with world famous models Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer. As my skills sets grew, I felt my confidence and client lists grow as well. I felt very fortunate to have worked with Mario as it opened doors for me and illustrated the standard of professionalism I had to live up to, but also the confidence to find my own path, which I continue to be on to this day.“
An in-demand professional with a sterling international reputation, Cushing’s peerless instinct and ability to wed technology to human emotion in a way that evokes power responses from his viewers—a gift that’s elevated him to the very pinnacle of success. Cushing’s gorgeously rendered evocative visuals have led to assignments in fashion with his highly successful Jimmy Choo/Off White and Sandro Paris campaigns but also in the entertainment industry, taking jobs with Capitol Records and a memorably spontaneous collaboration with UK indie rock band Glass Animals.
“I was introduced to the band Glass Animals when I was hired to be still photographer during a video shoot for the song ‘Black Mambo,’” Cushing said. “There was some downtime during the shoot, and their manager asked if I could take some band shots, so I obliged. The band and the label liked them so much, they commissioned me to shoot the press photos for the release of the upcoming album. The photos were then featured in all promotional materials and could be seen in the New York Times, Billboard magazine, SPIN and many others. I was really encouraged about the success of the images—then, Capitol Records contacted me to have my photo featured in their commemorative, Taschen-published 75th anniversary coffee table book, where the photo would be featured alongside some of the greatest photographers of the last 100 years. The book was distributed globally and elevated my work and name to a worldwide level that I had yet to experience.”
That type of creative serendipity is typical of Cushing’s methodology, a wide open, perceptive approach based as much on instinct as it is technical skill. As one Cushing collaborator, the famed Global Creative Strategist for Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp Dr. Jane Han, said “Having worked with many producers and directors in my lifetime, it was clear that Liam was on top of his craft with an expert sense of his work both on a technical and artistic level. In the capacity of director, he ensured the deliverables were at the highest of levels and showed a vast amount of skill in his trade.“
The key to his impressive commercial success is, uniquely, based almost entirely on his need for purely creative expression.
“I gravitate to anything that demands emotion and exists beyond the world of pure aesthetic,” Cushing said. “That is not to say I don’t continually strive to create incredibly beautiful imagery, but it has to evoke some feeling inside the viewer that goes beyond the present physical world. It is why I always have thought of my work as falling between the abstract, ethereal world of the mind and the sheer beauty of the physical world. Where imagery can be both associative and dissociative as it moves between real and abstract, thus giving the viewer’s imagination the opportunity to run free—where the imagery exists on a level beyond the confines of the superficial and reaches something more human and emotive.”