I met this perfectly lovely — and dapper (he often wears a hat) — young man about a year ago at one of our favorite galleries, Chair and the Maiden. With more than a whiff of Helmut Newton, Sebastian Smith has managed to make a career of his passion: fashion photography. I picked his brain on balancing his career with his aesthetics, and his thoughts on the fashion industry:
Tove:What drew you to commercial fashion photography, as opposed to more conceptual visual arts?
Sebastian: When I first started shooting, I shot everything under the sun. I really threw myself out there and tried to shoot whatever I could to see what appealed to me the most. In the end I found that fashion appealed to me the most because it allowed me to use my background in advertising to create conceptual fashion images that are both creative and relevant in defining our culture.
Tove: What do you find challenging about capturing clothes on film?
Sebastian: Not too much anymore, however in the beginning it took some time to learn how to shoot all the different textiles. Cotton shoots, absorbs and reflects light much different than Fur, and vice versa, so the challenge was understanding how to balance multiple textiles in each shot, while showcasing the beauty of the clothing. Now combined that with keeping a multiple shot storyline emotionally consistent..well, you have a big challenge for young photographer.
Tove: How do you view the relationship between fashion and nudity?
Sebastian: I personally feel there is a close relationship, however I think it’s primarily psychological. Sex definitely sells, and the fashion industry is in the business of making money, so I think if you’re trying to give clothing a personality of its own, or if you’re portraying a dress as “sexy”, adding nudity along with clothing helps sell the idea of “Sexy”. Psychologically it’s a visual connection for buyer.
Figure Study series
Tove: I notice the titles of your collections bring specific narratives to mind (SWF, Once Upon a Time, etc.). How does this inform your work? Do you begin with a story and shoot, or does a story emerge from your photos afterwards?
Sebastian: I’m very methodical with my work. I’ll have an inspiration or a flash of an idea and immediately sit down and storyboard out the shots. I work out the lighting, locations, cast, crew, etc. I typically know the entire story prior to shooting it. In my head, it’s roughly mapped out and just waiting for me to fill in the pieces. The titles usually come out of the story after it’s shot. I typically have a working title that usually sticks in the end.
Tove: What, aside from other photography or even fine art, do you derive inspiration from?
Sebastian: I get a lot of inspiration from my wife. She’s a very strong woman and I see a lot of her attitude and personality in my shots. Without her, I wouldn’t be as successful of a photographer or a man.
Tove: What would you be doing if not fashion photography?
Sebastian: Great question, however I am so passionate about photography, I can’t think that I would ever want to do anything else.
Le Femme Nikita series
Tove: Who are some of your favorite fashion photographers?
Sebastian: I really respect and love a lot of old skool fashion shooters. Guys who probably never picked up a digital camera. For me, the obvious photographers like Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Albert Watson, and Guy Bourdin come to mind quite easily; but I also really like some obscure and perhaps forgotten about fashion shooters. Guys like Jeanloup Sieff, Luc fournol and Scavullo, who carved their names in the history books as fathers of modern day fashion photography.
Once Upon a Time series
Tove: Who are some of your favorite style icons or designers?
Sebastian: I could list hundreds, but I want to get some sleep tonight, so I’ll just name my top 10 favorite designers. (not in any particular order.) Alexander Mcqueen. White Tent. Valentino. Gareth Pugh. Tim Hamilton. Rag and Bone. Conference of Birds. Ann Demeulemeester. Bill Blass. and Carlos Campos.
Greatest Show on Earth series
Tove: What are some fashion photography artists, blogs, or sites you’d recommend?
Tove: How has technology (digital photography, blogs/ internet) affected your work and fashion photography at large?
Sebastian: Loaded question. Technology has had a huge impact on fashion photography in both good and bad ways. Fashion photography will never be the same as it was back in the ’70s and ’80s, but I guess our industry is all about changing from one season to the next, so it only makes sense that it evolved into what we see today. So the good and bad? The good is how easy it is to go from idea to internet. I added it up last year that based on the amount of images I’ve shot, I’ve saved approximately $100k in film, processing and printing contact sheets in the last 10 years. The bad is how easy it is to go from idea to internet. There’s nothing tangible anymore. I love all the nuances that went along with shooting film. I loved processing the film; marking up the contact sheets; making out in the darkroom, etc. All that is primarily gone. I haven’t had a client ask for film in like 10 years.