Interview with MIC.COM

Writer Marcie Bianco from www.Mic.com interviewed me last month for their arts feature, and I was flattered to talk to her about my journey as a female photographer working in a male dominated field. 

the article can be read here . Marcie is a great writer, and such a wonderful voice for the modern day woman. 

I never really saw myself as a traditional feminist, but as i continue to work with more and more women, (especially non-celebrity), I find that i've developed a weighted sense of responsibility to show their beauty in an un-objectified light. 

Its interesting that in my career i've had 3 mentors and all of them were men...  alpha men, to be exact... 

An excerpt of the Q&A session with Marcie is below - 

How/Why did you become interested in fashion? 
I have been enthralled by fashion for as long as I can remember, almost obsessed: way more than a child should be about these things.  I used to stack towers of my mother’s Vogues in my bedroom, and as a young teen I would sketch exact copies of the photographs from the magazines and collage them on my walls. I guess i have always found the female form to be the ultimate beauty.  Until I started in my first year at St Martins Art College in London, i had always thought I would be a fashion designer, but my passion for painting and illustrating took over and the stitching and cutting part of my life was left in the dust. 

b) What's the move from creative director to photographer?
Some art directors are type-driven, graphically trained. I came through editorial routes and had no care for type, my art direction was driven purely by photography and I was unapologetic for it. For over a decade I worked both freelance for fashion magazines, and later at advertising agencies, specializing in fashion and beauty accounts. During that time I was fortunate enough to work with some incredible photographers in the industry and it was magical to see my concepts and sketches be brought to life by them. I have only ever shot with one female photographer in my entire career as an art director, but countless illustrators, editors and stylists. Many of my peers were already established photographers some of whom I collaborated and made great art with, but it wasn’t until I worked as Norman Jean Roy’s In-House Creative Director that I wanted to pursue my own photographic voice and I made the leap into shooting full-time. Annie Leibovitz had a painting background like myself, Steven Meisel was a fashion illustrator before shooting, and Fabien Baron continues to straddle both worlds, so I didn’t feel it was an impossibility for me. My experience as a Creative director enabled me to work on my own concepts, edits, and even retouch the work... It was the perfect companion to the newly-found love of shooting. 

How would you describe the importance of the photographer to fashion and in creating fashion as art? How does the photographer inform the shot/shoot? 
Watching and working with the best in the business for so many years allowed me to study how a professional shoot should be conducted. In some ways, thats what a photographer is - a conductor. He or she sets the pace of the day, the concept, the energy. It is his or her responsibility to not only meet the needs of the client, but to represent their own artistic vision and that of their team. A strong creative voice is what pushes the world of editorial photography forward by exciting art directors and photo editors. The fashion designers are the creative catalyst, but the editorial photographer is bringing that fashion to life, giving it a narrative and expression that can inspire and also sell the clothes. Fashion, by definition, should set trends and inspire… sometimes its a swing and a miss, but at least its brave and I respect that process greatly. 

How would you describe your particular photographic method? Or, is there one method or approach to each shoot, regardless of the content/advertorial? 
Every artist is different, and I am by no means a master, so I am continuing to evolve my own style. I treat fashion shoots and portrait shoots very differently. With fashion shoots the concept, and obviously the clothing, drive it forward. The models are used to the drill, and are more malleable to the process of the day. With portraits, especially ‘real people’ (I hate that term) versus celebrities, the shoot is really about them. The photographers job is to not only get what they need, but more importantly to make the subject feel comfortable and beautiful (or handsome!). I am way more interested in them feeling great rather than just looking great, as it will always show in the final product. Showing that one laugh of a person who never smiles is the most simplistic illustration of that methodology. As a woman who despises almost all photographs of herself, I find it easier to relate to women’s hangups and insecurities. I go out of my way to make sure they feel their best. Trust is key. If the subject trusts you and your confidence in leading the shoot, they will relax quicker and your product will be inevitably more honest. 

I once received two really great pieces of advice from NJR that I always try to remember- 1 - shoot women as subjects and not objects. and 2 - no matter what the situation/location/subject, there is always a great photograph to be found. Its your job to find it.

What is the atmosphere like for women in photography and specifically fashion photography? 
The industry of fashion photography is both flooded with contenders, and also fiercely cut-throat. It is not for the faint of heart for anyone. There are so few top-tier female fashion photographers out there right now, but many who are trying to break through which is great. I hope in the next decade we see much more of a balance between the genders. To many, editorial photography still has that Good-Old-Boy mentality and some might say that the male voice in fashion is more provocative or even objective. I disagree, clearly. 


Have you personally experienced sexism? 
Much like other ‘isms’  in the world today, sexism still finds its ways into all kinds of industries and photography is not exempt, unfortunately. Often with females in any role of independent leadership, if you are sweet and soft you are seen as weak, and if you are tough and outspoken then you’re a bitch. I don’t believe that the same characteristics in a male photographer would be viewed in the same way. Im working on finding a balance. 

Why are there so few women behind the camera in fashion? 
There of course have been many prolific female photographers over the years who have produced iconic work still revered in the industry, but few of them were purely fashion photographers. Two of my heroes in the field today are Annie Leibovitz and Ellen Von Unwerth. Annie is undeniably, especially to the layman, the most well-known photographer alive today. Whether her work is to your taste, you cannot deny what an inspiration she has been to others who follow, especially women. Ellen was a pioneer in fashion portraiture, sexualizing women from a woman’s perspective in a fun yet provocative way. I love a lot of photography by men too - I love the way Avedon and Helmut Newton both shot women as heroes, even when they were nude or sexualized. There are, of course, other excellent female fashion photographers working today such as Inez from I&V, Paola Kudacki, Emma Summerton, Yelena Yumchuk and Pamela Hanson and I think there are many more emerging, which is fantastic! 

What is your career highlight? 

As a creative director, it was working with Norman Jean Roy on the Vogue 120th anniversary issue. That was a really exciting time for me and we were given such freedom, being able to collaborate with amazing people and I am really proud of the final shots and video. (see below)

Vogue 120 portfolio, all photographs by Norman Jean Roy

Vogue 120 portfolio, all photographs by Norman Jean Roy

... As a photographer, the highlight so far has been the Body issue project I shot of 12 totally naked ‘real women’  together to celebrate all different kinds of body shapes, sizes and colors. There was such an intoxicating energy on set, devoid of ego, hangups or drama which is so unusual when dealing with nudity and mixing non-models together. It was a complicated shoot with a lot of set ups but its apparent to me in the shots how happy and confident the women were with themselves. That makes me happy. 

What is your career dream? 
Its just the start of this journey for me. To be successful without compromising creative integrity would be amazing. To be consistently hired in this current marketplace is hard enough for any artist, but to withstand a full career of shooting and still be relevant in fashion for years later is something very few accomplish. That is the dream for me...