FASH 2019 – Fashion Photography / 7. May 2019
The power of ideas
Franco P. Tettamanti photographed the collections of the winners of the European Fashion Award FASH from 2015 to 2017. FASH Director Joachim Schirrmacher spoke with him about the human element in fashion, concise images with an emotional impact, and how he was discovered on the street by Mario Testino.
What was different when you photographed the work of the award winners compared to the images for your clients like Dior, Louis Vuitton or Akris?
Franco P. Tettamanti: The procedure is actually the same: you develop and hope for a good communication strategy with a suitable visual language. In the case of existing brands, important research on the market, brand, consumer, product and value proposition has already been carried out or determined. The young designers usually experienced for the first time that their collection was seen with a fresh view by an entire team. That often surprised and astonished them.
What characterizes your images?
I am interested in the human element, a certain personality and emotions.
How do you transform this into an image?
Of the three phases of photo production – planning, shooting and post production – planning is the most important to me. If I start out with an incomplete or even bad concept the fate of the image is likely already set. A good idea is what allows me to concentrate on what is important while I am shooting, the human element, the personal and emotional aspects.
What are the essential elements of your concept?
The demands to reach a certain result are clear: the image must create an emotional connection with the viewer. When I shoot a portrait, I think about which facet of the personality should be in the foreground, and what emotional situations might emphasize it. When I shoot campaigns, the focus is on identifiable values. How can I visualize them? What kind of symbols will lead the viewer to identify himself with them? In the world of fashion, in particular, the focus is very often on objects. That is not enough for me, and I think that the public often agrees with me in this respect.
Can you give us examples?
For my campaign for luggage manufacturer MCM I selected an independent, modern nomad, who traveled to mysterious and striking locations. The first motif was the desert with its breathtaking star-filled skies; after all, everyone loves to see that. When dealing with brand values you have to focus on the ability to repeat them – such as James Bond’s shaken, not stirred Martini. This is the only way the desired association will work.
When I shot Christian Louboutin’s portrait I saw a Bird of Paradise in him. The image needed to be colorful, full of wit and mysticism. Whenever I know exactly what I want, it takes me less than five minutes to shoot the image.
Fashion photography is teamwork. What are the important elements of a collaboration?
The image lives or dies by the close cooperation with the stylist. If there is no precise concept and message behind the fashion, you can be the best photographer and it may end up being a good portrait, but a relatively inferior fashion photograph.
In addition to professional competency the human factor is an enormously important element. If you work with people you get along with, you can act in a free, open and concentrated way. If you do everything the right way, it will create something magical, better than if you had done it on your own. It is a great moment I very much enjoy.
Define a good fashion image.
There are simple fashion shoots in front of a white background, combining the fashion in a very expressive or strong way that makes it inevitable. I like the definition of good as inevitable. You could even consider it unattractive, but you cannot ignore it.
Everything has meaning to me, and everything should have meaning: the styling, hair, make-up, the model and her charisma, and the formal aspect of photography. Everything needs to gel together so that in the end you cannot even consider anything else – that this is the only, inevitable visual solution to the problem. That should be the goal, correct?
You were a harsh critic: “Unfortunately 90 percent of fashion photography is poorly executed”.
It misses the goal, because it is not succinct enough and the emotional message is too weak. Fashion is very self-assuming and is often based on a high level of subjectivity.
It seems that a lot of people cannot identify themselves with these images. They even consider them repugnant. They don’t like the overly skinny models, the superficial frivolity. The images are accepted only because there are no alternatives, but the message is not understood.
I quote Peter Lindberg’s statement in the Swiss Newspaper “Tagesanzeiger”: “I dare to say that in the last fifteen years not a single photographer has created something new … People look at images others have shot and simply say: Let’s do it like this one.”
I very much agree with him. We have been in a crisis for a long time. It contributed to the willingness to take risks decreasing considerably. Everyone wants to cover their own back. A lot of what is out there looks cloned. If you look at advertisements and cover the logos, everything looks the same.
How have budgets changed?
Everyone wants more images more quickly for less money. Productions that used to be huge operations in the past are now photographed in-house. And the speed continues to increase to such an extent that the significance of each individual image decreases.
We expect innovation from our award winners. Why are clients having such difficulties with creating a specific visual language?
Fashion designers are often also responsible for communication. Whether they actually understand the rules of branding is a completely different issue. Some completely change their strategy from season to season: another photographer, a change in imagery, always something new. I believe that this makes it difficult for consumers to follow along.
It means a lot if you create an image that is recognizable and applied consistently for many years. Whether it is with characteristic imagery, special mood lighting, or even a James Bond Martini.
Take, for example, Chanel, always portrayed by an emancipated, independent woman. Coco Chanel reinvented in different and new ways. That is the highest form of art. Guess also uses a very recognizable image: busty women with great hair in black and white.
Many photographers demand “carte blanche” with a promise of a specific visual language. Does that work?
Not in the sense of “you can do what you want”. The photographer was selected for certain reasons and the client has to discuss with him three or four things that need to be communicated. Then he can propose a concept. If the client likes the concept, the photographer should have free reign. The problem is that there are always ten people involved in a campaign. In the beginning the plan calls for clarity, at the end you always just get a mish-mash. There is a lot of vanity at play.
Wolfgang Tillmanns wrote: “I have always used the context of fashion as an excuse to present my photography. … As long as you can list some fashion credits, you can pretty much do what you want. … A wonderful playground.”
Some have a more intellectual mandate when fashion is involved, and others consider it purely an object of lust.
I heard that many members of the fashion industry are scared of intellect. What is your experience?
Many people consider my musings interesting yet have never really had thoughts in that direction themselves. For them, fashion is a fleeting delight, because everything looks different tomorrow.
I believe they want to be free, again and again.
Let’s talk about your background. Your first career started in the medical profession, you practiced as an orthopedic surgeon in Zurich and worked as a physician in Cape Town and New York. How did this impact your perspective, your work?
It had a great impact! As a photographer you don’t just press the shutter button or light up people or objects. Your goal is to create something and tell a story. My work is influenced by all my life experiences. I learned to think on a scientific level when I was a practicing physician. This has an influence on how I prepare. I learned to quickly recognize the problems and needs of my patients, to find empathic solutions and to work efficiently. All that is of great help to me today.
What was the trigger that turned your passion for photography into a profession?
I found in photography what I could not find in medicine. Though the transition was fluent. I took a sabbatical year from medicine and went to New York as a photographer.
What did you find?
An amazing level of satisfaction: happiness, delight in my work and the art. As a freelance photographer I am independent and autonomous, and I like it a lot.
How did you gain your photography expertise?
I am self-taught. For me, photography is very closely connected to experience. Also, the year in New York showed me the way forward, as I met Mario Testino and Stephen Gan within a few months.
How did you come to Mario Testino’s attention?
I was just returning from a meeting at a model agency when he approached me on the street. He liked my images so much that he invited me to come to the office of the fashion magazine Visionaire, where I met Stephen Gan. This meeting and the resulting friendship with Mario were very important to me, but it was never about whether he could open doors for me. I didn’t want anything for free; I wanted to find out how I could do it myself.
In the end you have to have ability.
You have to have the ability, but you have to get a chance to do it first. Getting feedback on applications is getting more difficult. This is caused by the “Paradox of Choice”, as author Barry Schwarz calls it. You can be as elaborate as you want to be: a week later people don’t remember whether they received it. How can you not remember something that was beautifully and elaborately packaged, accompanied by a hand-written letter? Apparently because they get lots of them every day. Because others also put a lot of thought into their submissions. Referrals are still the best, and personal meetings above all!
What else can you do as a creative person to make an impression?
These days, young creatives, in particular, have a hard time finding their own direction. In order to reclaim your original interests, strengths and perspectives, you should immerse yourself for a certain time into all possible influences and inspirations, until you are literally oversaturated. Then you can push all that away and wait until your own ideas begin to take root again.
Which means, don’t work as an assistant to one designer for ten years. I’ll guarantee you, that person will then continue exactly the way the designer did everything. Rather work with all the really important designers. Then you can free yourself from all that excess and find exactly that which wanted to emerge from you in the first place.
Why are you engaged pro bono in the European Fashion Award FASH?
Albert Kriemler, Creative Director of Akris, drew my attention to the FASH and introduced me to it. So I came to the honour of being allowed to participate. For me, working with young people is a very exciting pleasure and I learn and see a lot when I view over 100 collections and portfolios. Among them are many good designers with remarkable work. I don’t have to like it, but it should be specific, indispensable.
What do you like about FASH?
I know the project over the last years very well, and I am impressed by the competence of the people involved. The European Fashion Award FASH by SDBI offers young students exactly what they need: a chance, an opportunity to start their career with a lot of public exposure.
What have you learned from your work for the European Fashion Award FASH so far?
These three years of meetings, shootings, workshops, creative discussions and award ceremonies have also had an influence on my career. Through my commitment, I have got to know new people and new things, from which other new things have emerged. But most of all I tried to give and to pass on the few things I already learned.
We announced a new special prize for fashion photography. When does fashion work in a photograph? What advice can you give the students?
Stay closely connected to what originally went through your head; it’s about the message, the emotion. Create an image of how you first saw it yourself; not too artificial, not too complicated. You can easily photograph it with your iPhone. The crucial factor is the idea, to express your vision as best as you can. Don’t think “it is usually done this and that way”, although you don’t really believe in it. You should be able to see the dress and the important elements of the design. And finally: don’t kill the spirit, the beauty and the emotion by retouching too much.
Franco P. Tettamanti is a multiple award-winning fashion and portrait photographer living in Paris. Prior to his career as a photographer he finished his doctorate in 2003 and worked as an assistant surgeon at an orthopedic clinic in his native Switzerland. Tettamanti studied photography in New York, Paris and Zurich; today, he lives and practices haute couture photography in Paris. In addition to his work for clients like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Akris, Vivienne Westwood, Universal Music, Madame Figaro or Prestige Magazine Hong Kong, he is known for his brilliant glimpse behind the scenes of haute couture. Tettamanti published his atmospheric images “with a bright, vigilant look” (Wolfgang Joop) in his book “Showtime”. www.francotettamanti.com