Automotive photographer Anton Watts Enjoys the Ride on a Unpredictable Career
Travel, cars and a camera.
- Written byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed byAnton Watts
If you’re lucky enough to spend any time with Anton Watts, chances are you’ll have a great time. Though a wisecracking, playful person, he doesn’t easily fit into a mold. Just when you’ve got him pegged as the life-of-the-party world traveler, you might also be pleasantly surprised by his dedication to his craft (gorgeous photography), as well as his incredible attention to detail, his creativity and design, and most of all his generosity, thoughtfulness, and love for his family and friends.
Anton has the ability to connect quickly and deeply with people from all walks of life. This quality bleeds into his work, where he skillfully blends the production of high-end photography and pure joy. When you shoot with Anton, you’ve probably done some of your best work and also had a blast.
Listening to Anton’s story, it’s easy to understand how he fostered a love for photography and became a true citizen of the world. Anton was born in Melbourne, Australia, and by the time he was 10 he believed he was going to be a graphic artist.
Anton got his creative knack from his family; his dad drew, painted and played the piano. His grandfather had a passion for photography. When Anton turned 12, he gave him his first camera. Once his grandfather taught him the technical aspects of photography, Anton was hooked. Photography wasn’t available as a school subject, so everything he learned then was pretty much self-taught.
At 16 Anton left high school for a four-year photography course. He gained valuable work experience as an assistant at a wedding portrait studio and also worked at a one-hour mini-lab processing photos. After completing his course, he went on to work full-time as an assistant at a fashion catalog studio.
“If you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t get better.”
This was the ‘90s, and the photography in fashion magazines like Vogue or Vanity Fair fueled his inspiration. Photographers Nick Knight, Bruce Weber, Helmut Newton and Craig McDean pushed technical and creative boundaries at every opportunity. Anton wanted to shoot just like them.
The most influential fashion and advertising photographers of that time shot primarily in London, New York and Paris. Anton and his then-girlfriend, Mardi (now his wife), decided to travel, see the world and relocate to London so he could pursue his dream of becoming a fashion photographer.
They traveled through Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Scotland. After many adventures, they decided to settle in and pursue the photography dream. They found a tiny studio apartment in a newspaper ad and made London home.
Both Anton and Mardi worked together behind the bar of a local London pub until they were able to find more stable work. Mardi found a job as a legal secretary. Anton took to the streets knocking on photo-grapher’s doors—trying to get a gig—while Mardi supported them financially.
Anton at work
Eventually Anton got work as a studio assistant, paying a meager 35 pounds for a 16-hour workday. The work was difficult, but the experience opened the door for him to assist some big-time photographers. Travel would become a recurring theme in his life as he flew back and forth to Paris as an assistant for Vogue or on various music-related shoots. He even got to work with the queen of supermodels at that time, Kate Moss.
During this period Anton built his fashion portfolio doing test shoots with various people. Before the industry went digital, a printed fashion portfolio was very expensive to produce. To pay for it, he took a job at a car magazine. He loved cars, so he figured, “Why not?”
“Shooting cars from a fashion background was very different at the time,” he shares. “I had no preconceived notions of how you are supposed to shoot a car, and that’s actually what gave me my break. Before I knew it I was traveling the world shooting cars. One week I would be traveling across America as the main photographer for a travel story for a car, and then the next week I would be in Paris for French Vogue as a photographer’s assistant. Soon the car projects took over, and I became known as a car photographer.”
As the work kept rolling in, Anton realized he needed an agent. He nabbed his first advertising job with Mercedes at 27—young to be shooting a campaign of that magnitude. He laughs, “On one set the client asked the producer where the photographer was because they assumed I was the assistant.”
While in London, Anton and Mardi became parents to their son, Luca. When he was just 7 months old, they decided they were ready for a new chapter and a new environment. They loved their time in London, but Anton had to frequently travel to L.A. where the car industry had a large presence. After a while it just made sense to move to the place he was shooting most, and they found the outdoor, laid-back lifestyle of the South Bay similar to how they were raised in Australia.
Anton ventured into car photography wholeheartedly, bringing a unique sense of style and story to a part of the industry that hadn’t thought of that way before. Over the next 20 years Anton would become known as THE car photographer. His long automotive client list includes Acura, Amtrak, Arconic, BMW, Buick, Mercedes, Ford, Mazda, Hyundai, Bentley, Tesla, Renault, Aston Martin, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln, Chevrolet, Jeep, Land Rover, Jaguar, Nissan, Subaru and VW.
Although Anton’s path to shooting cars happened accidentally, he thinks that in hindsight his career path has been the right one because his love for car photography is definitely stronger than his love for fashion. “I really believe you have to love what you do in order to be really good at it.”
Anton’s most recent award was from the prestigious Tokyo International Foto Awards in 2018 for his photography in The Book, produced for Aston Martin cars. Anton felt honored to be named alongside some of the biggest photographers in the world, including the greats Nick Knight and John Rankin. Each photographer, about 10 in all, has a chapter in the book. Anton is now transitioning into doing more directing and motion work.
At the time of writing, Anton is off to Cape Town for Lexus and then to Dubai for Ferrari. He works with producers and teams from all over the world, and over the years they have become great friends. He attributes most of what he has learned to the time he spent assisting others and to trial and error on the job. Even with all the success and acclaim, he believes he is still learning and being challenged.
“If you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t get better,” he says. “I love my work, and I always want to be creative.” And without the steadfast support of his wife, Anton says he could have never done it.
Ever the designer and artist, Anton recently completed the build of his and Mardi’s stunning modern home in Hermosa Beach. The lifestyle of the Beach Cities is a welcome refuge from the hustle of traveling the world with his work.
“One day I will retire, sit on a beach and drink rosé all day,” he says. “But I will never stop taking pictures. It’s just too much fun.”
More than a pipe dream.