“By the time I was 12, I’d built a darkroom in the house and was processing black and white pictures in my bedroom,” says Bader. “Late nights were spent perfecting the art. Everything grew from there. It became an obsession.”
Like many young men in the 1970s, Bader harboured ambitions to be a famous rock star and found that many of the leading bands who came to play in Guildford influenced his first professional photographic work. He’d go along to gigs every week and shoot the stars. Towards the end of the 1970s he had his first big break: he began working as an assistant to Brain Ward, the iconic photographer of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory albums.
“On the first day I started working with Brian, I was just 17, and he said to me ‘photography isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.’ Those words are so true: photography went on to consume my life. Brian and I put together a book of pictures that Bowie had stashed in the studio from the early ‘70s. The great man himself came along and went through them with us. People always ask what he was like: enigmatic, but very easygoing. Looking back, it was an amazing period. At the time I was young and wide-eyed and just got on with it.”
After four years, Ward literally kicked Bader out of the studio. “He said I had my own ideas, set me up with a couple of commercial clients and told me just to get on with it,” laughs Bader. “It was nerve wracking, but he did me a great favour.”
A decade of working in fashion photography, for all the major clothing catalogues followed. Bader had to learn on his feet.
“Thinking about it now, I can’t believe we actually managed to do those shoots,” he admits. “This was in the days when everything was shot on film. We’d go away for three weeks on a shoot with models, hairdressers, stylists, the whole works and then come back and process the material. Miraculously, there were usable images on the film, but it was a crazy time. It wouldn’t happen today, of course, because with digital every shot is approved before you take another. We just had to totally trust our equipment. It really helped me learn the technical side of the business very quickly.”
Bader has always set himself new goals in his career and while the 1980s was a fascinating time to be involved in fashion, he tired of it; creatively he felt limited.
“It became just about photographing another rail of clothes,” he explains. “I fancied a complete change and began to travel for work. It was really inspiring to suddenly be out on my own, with a camera slung over my shoulder.”
This was also around the time of the birth of the celebrity portrait and Bader combined his travel with freelancing for magazines like the Mail on Sunday’s You. He was, he says, just as content photographing high profile celebrities as ordinary people he spotted on the street.
“I always try to get underneath the skin of someone, especially if that person is well known. I go in with an idea of the picture I want to achieve – but a good photographer has to be willing to adapt, because situations always change and some personalities can be difficult.”
In the 1990s photography was transformed with the advent of digital. It was a tumultuous period which, in Bader’s opinion, “sorted the men from the boys.” Bader once more rose to the challenge and embraced the new technology.
“The first digital cameras were only two mega pixels. It’s incredible to think of that now. It was a completely different way of working, with new problems: battery life and often poor quality sensors, which meant that you couldn’t do shots looking into the sun. But the new technology developed very quickly and opened up so many new opportunities.”
One new option that Bader embraced was film. His company, Westbeach, based in Brighton, specialises in creating filmed content for travel, lifestyle and corporate campaigns. Despite travelling the world, Bader maintains that some of his favourite work has been shot in Sussex.
“I’ve made everything from very emotive films about local people with prostate cancer to a piece with pupils from Hove Park School, based on a letter by Kurt Vonnegut.
“For me, the beauty of it is getting people to tell their story and filming that in a way that’s narrative-driven,” explains Bader. “Everyone has a unique tale to tell. The quest is to capture those personal portraits – and that’s what I’ve always loved doing.”
Mark’s Top Sussex photographic spots
West Beach, Littlehampton It has inspired me since I was a child. Hardly anyone goes there.
I particularly love winter here: low tide with stormy skies, walking on the wet sand. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, let alone Sussex.
The Downs When I’m home, I go up to the Downs almost every day and I’ve always got a camera with me. My favourite spots are Devil’s Dyke and Saddlescombe. Like the sea, they change every day – the mood is always completely different.
Chanctonbury Ring This is one of my top spots for a restful walk. The scenery is absolutely stunning and there’s always a beautiful image just waiting to be captured on camera.
3 Steps To Perfect Photography
1. People ask ‘what’s the best camera?’
I always say it’s the one you have in your hand. People put too much emphasis on trying to get the best kit. Whether it’s a phone or a normal little camera, it will take great pictures if you work out what you want. Don’t over fuss.
2. Think About What You Want To Achieve
Don’t just point a camera and shoot. Spend time working out what you want to capture, then carefully compose that.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
There’s no huge mystery here. The more you do it, the more instinctive it becomes. Don’t be put off by failures – learn from them.