Paolo Zerbini


1. Aesthetics – The study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty. How has aesthetic evolved over the years and how has this influenced fashion photography? How do you approach ‘aesthetics’ in your works?

The search for what is aesthetically stimulating is evolving continuously in fashion. A new kind of beauty is being repeatedly portrayed through photography and styling, experimenting with new aesthetics that are pushing boundaries forward. Once you reach a peak, it is like you go backwards, circling back, finding yourself on the opposite side and then starting again. The most classic examples are now a part of fashion history. Recent episodes show that the digital industry has reached a peak in qualitative perfection, and photo retouch has become an inevitable step in such an exasperating way, leaving room for the rise of imperfections as a strength within photography. All of a sudden, tired of models’ perfections and of  perfection through retouch, it has been noticed that new opportunities emerge where fascination in the imperfection becomes the focus. So a birthmark, strabismus or other small imperfections could become an identifying strength, detached from the norm. To me all these things evolve in an organic way. Your cultural background is normally the starting point when exploring an individual; to make them become a new, interesting character from a photographic point of view putting them at the center of an editorial project. What fascinates me is what individuals communicate to me through what they wear, how they behave and how they look at the camera. In an editorial project, the true creative work is done by identifying a specific quality and trying to understand it – by developing it and recreating it throughout the shoot. I love to shoot models of different sizes, or unconventional beauty. I like when aesthetic standards make room for the power of personality.

2. Identity – “We contain multitudes” wrote Walt Whitman, referring to the fact that we see ourselves in different ways depending on different contexts. Nowadays, gender and sexuality have been explored in many ways – art, cinema and of course fashion – and fashion photography has been perceived as a means to translate and picture actual reality. How do you reflect identity in your works? How has the perception of our own bodies changed in recent years? How has it been influenced by media and by fashion itself?

I think that free sexual identity within western society has just now reached a minimum of recognised respect. The increase in popularity of transgender models, and the direction of the fashion industry to detach itself from  gender labelling is a very important step forward that has become of general interest recently. We are talking of revolutions that started in the 70s, promoted by few at that time, while nowadays the majority of people have started paying attention and an increasing respect to different sexual orientations. I think it is extremely important to ask yourself about everyone’s freedom to express their sexuality and also to be left in peace with their own identity. I have always thought of sexuality as an extremely intimate and personal matter so it is irritating to see someone gossiping if another person is “gay or not”, for example. In a few of my editorials you can see the need to recognise the individual’s identity, and this can be expressed through other means. I choose my subjects depending on what they communicate and I think that forcing any kind of sensuality or masculinity is not interesting at all.

3. Beauty in Fashion – “The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express” said Francis Bacon. Fashion photography once depicted a perfect kind of beauty, almost false in its perfection. Nowadays fashion photography focuses on imperfection and peculiar traits. Which is your relationship with beauty? How has the language of photography mutated in the past years?

I remember the precise moment when I started showing my work to young creative directors and stylists – photos I took on the streets of London, of random strangers, were seen as more interesting when compared to fashion and initial tests I used to put together diligently. During a meeting with a senior stylist we discussed working not with models from fashion agencies but instead dressing real people we just met in the street. It happened in the recent past and I think that at that time the fashion industry was ready, and this attitude became a trend. I think that this change has been very useful for my method of photography, giving me the opportunity to work not just with unique models but also with people that have nothing to do with fashion. I remember taking pictures of promising  ballroom dancers (in Rimini, shooting high fashion brands for Hero magazine) as one of the most emotional fashion shoots I have ever done – and also one of the most fun.

4. Sociology – The study of human behavior. How is photography capable of picturing social changes? Is fashion photography a way to picture cultural changes within society? How have social and cultural changes influenced your works?

I think that fashion photography is a means to express yourself and to express changes within an individual or a society. We can see this in international magazines. On the other hand, if fashion publications are unable to do this, they lose popularity. Honestly, I won’t extend myself to say that my work can influence society culturally, but I think it is trying to be relevant in a wider context that has influenced me inevitably.

5. “This is me not being you”: an exhibition about identity, gender, change. How have your works expressed this feeling? How do you express your personal background in your work?

My personal background is very much a part of my work. I think that this is the case with most photographers who share my emotional motivation. I often go back to memories of my youth in order to develop photographic projects, memories that are able to show what I felt while growing up or what I found interesting. My best editorials always refer to a moment in my life: a particular year, a song, or just a strong feeling I remember feeling at a precise moment. Starting from this, I develop a protagonist for a shoot. Every editorial contains intimate sides of me – this exhibition allowed me to select a group of images that could best represent my personal identity through fashion photography. For this reason I am very thankful to Micaela and to all who made it possible.

by Giovanna Pisacane