Interview: Laura Sciacovelli
Penny Martin: When did you first become aware of photography?
Laura Sciacovelli: When I was around 15 years old. I was not familiar with any other creative skills, but I thought of photography as something practical. Also, being nostalgic, I like the way that photography can freeze moments that will otherwise only be alive in your memories.
Penny Martin: What attracted you specifically to style and fashion photography?
Laura Sciacovelli: I have always been keen on fashion. I like clothes; I like disguise, transformation and make-believe. When I started to look at magazines in the early '90s, I realised that fashion photography was a way to realise fantasies. What I like about fashion photography is that it is completely fake and the challenge is to make it look believable, to turn that fantasy world in to something obtainable.
Penny Martin: In your project for SHOWstudio, your fashion pictures are inter-cut with those from your personal notebooks. Can you say what role they play in your image-making process?
Laura Sciacovelli: My notebook is a treasure trove. I have collected images over many years since I first started to have a specific idea about what type of images I wanted to produce. It is still a great reference and a path, too. I have learnt that one of the characteristics of my work is timelessness. This notebook is a timeless collection of exquisite moments that I have lived. Even though the work I have put together for SHOWstudio is a commission, I have seen it as a collection of special moments, with special/significant people. Therefore, I think the piece acts as mutual support and background.
Penny Martin: When approaching a commissioned shoot, what are your sources? How do you prepare?
Laura Sciacovelli: The notebook is one source itself, but I also look at images from a wide range of books. I think physical locations play a very important role in my work. I get inspired by the way light hits the walls, the furniture, nature. So I tend to find locations first of all, and then I build an imaginary set that fits in with the type of clothing or with the type of people I have to photograph. The way they move in a space is very important too, the fluidity of their movements. I am very keen on movies and short films. I love Italian cinematography from the '50s, '60s and '70s, black and white silent movies from the '20s. However, I get more inspired by people or random images or from atmospheres. At a session, I like to think in terms of a film, but it is the unexpected that is most inspiring. That is why I shoot a lot on locations: there is always that element of surprise that a studio doesn't suggest.
Penny Martin: For me, your work is characterised by a very sensitive approach to capturing nudity. In particular, your treatment of bare skin. How important are the garments themselves?
Laura Sciacovelli: Clothes to me are a reference, but not indispensable to my work because I am more interested in the details, and the model's interpretation of the vibe. If the model doesn't feel good in clothes then the shot is lost. Somehow, nudity is the same. I love the expression French people have, 'Etre pas bien dans sa peau' which translates as 'does not feel good in its own skin'. When naked, one has no option but to reveal oneself, and that is the reason why I have shot people naked: to get the 'real' them. I also love the architecture of the human body, it is fascinating the way bones stick out of the hips, off shoulders, the sensitiveness of the skin, its texture. These are amazing sources of inspiration: a naked body reveals more about a person than his/ her portrait wearing clothes or makeup. What I dislike about nudity, though, and this is why I am doing less and less, is that it can be a very seductive weapon in image-making process. It is considered still something quite powerfully shocking, despite being so overdone both in fashion and art. I tend to do it only when it is really necessary, when I can't restrain myself. I respect it a lot. I think it's precious when someone puts their vulnerability in my hands, knowing that there will be an audience who will look at the image later. It's a great sign of confidence and mutual respect.
Penny Martin: What's the difference between photographing men and women?
Laura Sciacovelli: There is none. I choose to photograph someone regardless of their age, sexuality, nationality. I don't photograph the sex, I photograph the person. I have photographed men in a very intimate way, hardly for fashion purposes. But that is only a coincidence; they were very close to me.
Penny Martin: Male photographers are often reported to construct a highly sexualised atmosphere on the set of their shoots to elicit a particular performance from models. How important is your own sexuality in terms of determining the dynamic of your shoots?
Laura Sciacovelli: This is very sad but fashion photographers are all men. It's a masculine job, we [women photographers] are a mere minority, who have to do the job double the time. I don't buy into the glamorised image of the male photographer flirting with the model to get a stronger performance. I guess few cases do exist. I tend to have a closer relationship with girls because I am female. I know exactly what they can perform and not perform. Men sometimes don't know so they push it further just because they only have one vision of women, sex hunters or objects of desire, wearing stilettos, the clich. It's very offensive! The idea is that if I know I can ask a model for more, it's because that person offers me a possibility to ask for more. I don't push it further just because it could eventually turn out into a stronger image. Usually the vibe that occurs on my shoots is very relaxed. I behave a bit like an older sister, quite reassuring. I play on womanhood, complicity and irony, a lot of irony. Fashion is not such a serious matter.
Penny Martin: You often work with personal friends from your home in Italy, rather than professional models. Can you describe the difference between the two and how it influences your pictures?
Laura Sciacovelli: I started taking photos of my girlfriends whilst still at high school. People you know well are more fascinating to photograph in a way. I grew up with a specific idea of beauty, because I come from a country where people have strong features and hard looks. They are not angelic Barbie-doll-types and I try to represent that when casting a model. There is a big gap between photographing a person you know and a professional model. The professionals have chosen to do it, so they know what is going on behind the camera. They are self-aware, it's their job. With ordinary people, it's challenging and adventurous because they don't know how to move, they are embarrassed, scared of the camera and surprised. At first, I have to reassure them and in the end they love it! I have done some of my best work photographing friends and especially one girlfriend who has become a bit of a muse. She is the incarnation of beauty. I've known her since I was born so there is interaction at all levels. There exists a sort of intimacy that's hard to achieve during a shoot when time is an issue, when there are other people watching or intervening, when there is more preparation and more details to control. All of this is a distraction from the one to one relationship between the photographer and the model and lessens immediacy. With a friend you can ask for more and you know you are going to get something that is the product of a relationship.
Penny Martin: For your project for SHOWstudio, we have mixed stills with moving footage. Can you describe the process of shooting film and how it differs from capturing a 'definitive' image?
Laura Sciacovelli: It was the first time that I tested myself, using a video camera, I was thrilled. I love the quality of images and the continuity that can be achieved with the digital. Still cameras can only capture frames, which are, as you said definitive, within a time and a space. They represent one specific composed moment, suspended and already remote. With the video camera, there is a true capturing of the passing of time, the changing of light and the perception of moments of an action. It's pure magic, because there is sound involved too. I have used the video in the same way I would have used a stills camera. I shot moments randomly, spontaneously, without controlling much of it. I was overtaken by the camera, it being unknown to me, it drove me to experiment rather than plan and control. So it was adventurous and I have developed a certain need to go further and do more footage in the future. I like the idea of filming because there are more options in the composition and there is in a way more freedom. Although more elements are involved it seems to flow easily. I think I have to discover a lot more before answering your question completely... The mixing of the two types of imagery was inevitable I think, because I am more familiar with still images and it would give more consistency to the whole project.
Penny Martin: In the period that you have been working, the magazine market has become so over-saturated that it has forced an even bigger divide between types of publications for sake of differentiation. How does a young photographer now choose who to work for and where do you see your own career path leading?
Laura Sciacovelli: I tend to work for people who trust my work and believe in my potential. I don't go where the winds blows. I am quite surprised by the amount of press all over the place: there is too much. There are too many photographers who have nothing to say and too many poor quality magazines disposed to publish their work. There are only few good publications that are less commercial but still it seems that creativity for its own sake is not the goal. The need to sell advertising space is higher than everything else, so it's hard to answer where I see my career path leading. Man, I don't know, I know what I don't want to do and I know that somehow I have an ambition to do work of a certain quality that will pay my rent, but advertising is money-driven and it rarely considers young photographers unless they have to underpay them. Career-wise I want to experiment, I know where I want to stand but I have to find the right collaborations, the right matches. I prefer to do few good projects than work everyday like a maniac. In this I am very southern Italian, but from my background I have also learnt to hold on, to trust time and practice endurance. You know one of my referential characters is Louise Bourgeois. She reached fame in her 70s, so there still a long, long way to go baby!