Saturday, 7 May 2016


Fashion photographer Rokas Darulis crunches his 6ft 5inch, 93KG frame into a solid crouch, crams the Canon MKIII firmly to his eye under his black Criminal Damage snapback cap, depresses the shutter and releases a rapid rattle of frames through a 50mmm lens. “Perfect, really good, just keep moving like that” is the quiet but firm advice he delivers to 25 year old Belgium born model, Yannick Abrath, as he fluidly moves in front of Darulis’s lens, moves  Abrath has honed over a six-year career working in the industry. Darulis, who wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of a fashion magazine himself, shoots fast: no gimmicks no assistant, no fuss. He has to shoot fast, this street that runs parallel to London’s Waterloo Bridge is busy; a mixed-race family with orange balloons from the Giraffe restaurant chain tied to a pushchair bobble on past. Duck Tour amphibious trucks grumble menacingly close to Darulis’s Tamrac bag plopped by the side of the pavement and a blonde-haired dwarf in a green dress wobbles quickly towards the Hayward Gallery.

I graduated from the University of Derby in 1995 with a first class honours degree in photography and moved swiftly to London; two years on the dole followed, sponging off my parents and scratching around for extra images to bolster my portfolio. Fourteen years later, Lithuanian born Darulis, graduated from Middlesex University with a first-class honours degree in photography; in his first year out of university working as a professional, commissions for magazines Pravda (in Lithuania), Monika and Tank were completed. He shot for commercial client Svyturys Beer and seven days a week for the British online fashion and beauty store ASOS. He was asked to shoot tests for Elite model management agency, a request that could have become a formulaic, factory produced series of images. They are not. Darulis’s Portraits of Girls in my Studio (the studio being a small corner of his rented apartment) are exquisite, each shot crafted with the aspirational professionalism of Irving Penn, the skill of Richard Avedon, the eye of Peter Lindbergh and the mood of Paolo Roversi. Elite were impressed enough to start paying him £30 per model, then £70 per model, then £175 per model.

It’s the Portraits of Girls in my Studio and his Seaside Stories images that convinced me, in 2012, to curate and commission his first UK solo show at White Cloth Gallery. The exhibition remains one of the most fondly remembered and talked about by those who caressed their eyes across it. 6ft prints of chisel-chinned men crying, towered down on dark, moody prints of sultry men sucking back cigarette smoke. Square formatted chaps with sculpted moustaches bristled alongside semi-naked young women folded into fur coats or stretched out across crisp cotton bed sheets wearing sheer white panties.

If you can take such spontaneously delicious shots at the seaside of your friends there has to be potential. It helps if your friends are spontaneously delicious and your girlfriend is the Lithuanian born model, Julija Steponaviciute aka Step. Represented by Storm model management (their website reliably informs) Step has a height of 5’ 10.5” (179.07cm), has green eyes, light brown hair, 32” bust, 34.5” (87.63) hips, 24” (60.96cm) waist, dress size UK 8 and wears a UK 6 shoe. She has modelled for Italian GLAMOUR, Elle France, Fashion Gone Rogue magazine and Damernas Vald Sweden among others. Darulis and Step have been together over four years and she has been successful enough in those years, to buy outright, a 98 square metre apartment in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnuis.

©Rokas Darulis

Darulis was born in the small town of Siauliai, the cyclops eye of Lithuania. He was four years old when his country officially gained independence from the Communist Soviet Union. This afforded him the opportunity to put down his wooden toys and pick up exotic imported fruits rich in colour and flavour, that the iron curtain had denied him. “Exotic fruits such as…?” I ask him. “The banana!” he exclaims triumphantly pointing into the air. In search of more exotic fruit, or perhaps, more likely, in search of better paid work across the free world, his diplomat parents took him to Dublin and Chicago before he was sent back to live on his grandparents' farm. On his arrival, his grandfather gave him an old Soviet KIEV 35mmm camera to play around with and Darulis was on his way. When recently giving a talk about his career to date, at the Lithuanian equivalent of London’s Excel centre, 800 people turned up to hear him. That probably makes him one of Lithuania’s most famous sons alongside Zydrunas Savickas (below), who has won the country’s Strongest Man competition a record 12 times.

Balanced precariously close to the edge on the third floor balcony at the National Theatre, Darulis completes another of the required ten shots for the Korean edition of Arena Homme+ magazine and retires to take a breather and a gulp of his aloe vera mango juice. Even sat down in the boot of the silver/grey Volkswagen Transporter van he dominates: a Godzilla in the East Asian team. As the Alexander McQueen, Paul Smith, Dior and Pringle designer clothes chime in the breeze dangling from coat hangers around Darulis head, he flips the lid on his Mac laptop, rams a 16GB Extreme III CompactFlash card into the card reader and reviews the morning's work. The previews are beautiful and crisp, honest and enjoyable, black & white. Darulis doesn’t trust the in-camera colours. Satisfied, he springs up onto his Nike Air Max clad feet, tucks his key chain into his long black skinny jeans, neatens his white T-shirt and bounds towards the next shoot scenario.

©Rokas Darulis

A few days later, I catch up with him on the trim terrace of an Italian eatery in north London. In April 2014, he packed up his bags and left expensive London to return to live in Lithuania. Arriving back in Lithuania, he had a call inviting him to join the east London based, Saint Luke Artist Management Agency (three years after he first approached them about representation). With no need to pack his bags, he just turned back around and retraced his journey. The Saint Luke Agency, represents photographers Nik Hartley, Dima Hohlov, Alexandra Leese and Rahel Weiss; they could have their pick of more established photographers, but picked Darulis.

Since he's been on the books at Saint Luke, Darulis has been busy. Very busy. He has three to four meetings a day when he’s not shooting and has shot on assignment in Shanghai and Tokyo. His diary may be full but that isn’t necessarily reflected in his bank account. The only person that seemed to be on a salary from the Korean Arena Homme+ shoot was the van driver Dave. Darulis explains that most young fashion photographs aren’t paid for editorial assignments as most magazines are culpable of not offering a fee, Dazed & Confused and Wanderlust among them. He knows he has come far since graduating from Middlesex University but appreciates he has a long way to go. He thinks it could take another 20-30 years to achieve what photographic legends Mario Testino, Juergen Teller and Steven Meisel have achieved and then one of them would have to stop working, or die, before an opportunity to shoot for the world’s most sought-after clients would be ‘up for grabs’.

A month into a Masters Degree Darulis quit, keen to get to work,. He says that, in retrospect, would have quit a month into his undergraduate degree too, to get to work assisting, which he thinks is “the best education”. There is no plan B for this alpha male (except perhaps, playing poker) with his swimmers frame, basketball player's height, FBI Agent cool and photographic talent but with “patience, luck, working hard and being involved in everything you can” Darulis believes he will succeed, and I for one, believe him.

A version of this feature first appeared in issue 118 of Professional Photo magazine UK