From the frontlines to film stars: A photographer's journey to the BAFTAs

Updated 12th February 2016
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From the frontlines to film stars: A photographer's journey to the BAFTAs
Written by By Esra Gurkan, for CNN
You might not have heard of Greg Williams, but you will undoubtedly have seen his work.
He has photographed poster campaigns for James Bond, countless members of Hollywood's elite and in war zones in Burma and Sierra Leone. Able to turn his lens to just about anything, Williams is the photographer behind authentic, off-duty moments with A-Listers, the likes of which we don't often get to see.
Whether with Amber Heard in the backseat of her car or sandwiched between Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin on a boat at Venice International Film Festival, the British photographer is given access to stars in their most intimate moments. Named in January as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' (BAFTA) inaugural Photographer in Residence, he is about to be granted the key to this year's biggest film stars backstage, when the award ceremony comes to London in February.
Williams says the secret to his unusual level of access is simple. Unlike paparazzi who notoriously seek out photos that depict celebrities in compromised positions, Williams makes it clear that he wants to show the good in people.
"There isn't a negative agenda there. I'm not trying to expose anyone or show some dark side of something," says the British photographer, sitting in his Mayfair studio.
"I always show my pictures to talent. If I don't, I get really nervous because... I don't want them having a negative memory of me. So, I love showing people pictures and I love it being a collaboration."

Behind-the-scenes strategy for awards night

Williams has a plan for the night of 14 February, when stars including Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Redmayne arrive for the 45th edition of the awards celebrating the best in film and television. He says: "I'll probably try and arrive with someone, get in somebody's car, shoot them getting there. I'll do a little bit on the red carpet but then I want to get into the auditorium as soon as I can and shoot people just as they're waiting for it to start."
"It's the Royal Opera House, it's so glamorous. That's real old school glamor."
Williams has been working with BAFTA on and off since 2005.
There is a lot of difference between photographing the BAFTAs and Williams' usual stylized shoots, he says, but both work equally well.
"I love the balance of my working life because I do stuff like this where all I'm using is my experience, my empathy, the contacts I've made over the years, and wit. A lot of the photos come incredibly last minute and very opportunistically. You shoot them very quickly and suddenly. One thing I love about that stuff is being the guy in the room."

Instagram allows him to be candid

On Instagram, #artofbehindthescenes is a hashtag Williams uses to document the candid photographs he takes of stars backstage.
With nothing but him and a little Leica camera, Williams is able to take photographs, approve them with the talent, and upload them straight to his Instagram account, where he has more than 93,000 followers
"You have to be there to allow that 'happy accident' to happen and then you have to be good enough at your job to make sure you can capture them when they do happen. And good enough to know when to walk away from them" he says.
"I think if you're in someone's hotel room, that's obviously a real piece of trust that they've put on you.
"If someone is going to give you access, you really have to make it about them."

Film brings him back to his war zone roots

But Williams started out a long way from the gilded halls of BAFTA and the celebrity scene.
Having first picked up a camera at seven, he initially got his big break at 19:
"Me and a friend got ourselves smuggled into Burma (Myanmar). We spent a week with the Karen Guerrillas in their mountain base just on the Thai-Burmese border [when they were] fighting the Burmese government," he told CNN.
"That was, I suppose, the beginning of my professional career."
Williams photographed various war zones and continues to use his time spent out there to push himself further. He tells me, "Those experiences are a constant source of perspective."
Despite having not been in that environment for over 20 years now, it still stays with him.
The photographer and his artist brother, Olly Williams, are currently in the midst of writing and directing their first feature film about post-traumatic stress disorder, something Williams suffered with after being in Sierra Leone, Burma and Chechnya. Describing it as a cathartic experience, the film, entitled Samarkand, is going to be about a British SAS veteran trying to get his life back after a traumatic experience. Tom Hardy, who Williams has photographed on numerous occasions, is to play the lead.
For Williams, photography is "60% empathy and it's having a sense of when to walk into a room, when to walk out of a room and knowing that no photo is worth dying for," he says.
Advice that will no doubt serve him well on BAFTA night.