Interview: Gustavo Marx
Brazilian photographer Gustavo Marx is the first interviewee to be published on the blog this year.
Gustavo is someone to be admired not only for his work and talent but also by how genuine his passion for his family, job and values are.
This could not have been a better choice as the first interview to be published on the blog in 2014.
Gustavo, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, and thank you for sharing with 917 Diaries a little bit of your professional and personal life here in NY!
Has your passion for photography always been a part of you since you were little? Tell us about your relationship with it.
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think I found myself right away. My father has always liked photography and always had cameras around, so I used to play with them. But I don’t know if this was exactly what started it all. I have always liked photography, but just like most people do, you know? When I was studying at the old FUMA [Fundação Mineira de Arte in Belo Horizonte, Brazil], a good friend offered me a job. She knew I liked photography and I was lucky her husband was just starting a car magazine and needed a photographer. They used to test the cars, and the first one was made with a car that used to be Ayton Senna’s. The test happened in Belo Horizonte, and I ended up shooting the pictures. I didn’t even have my own equipment; they had to lend me everything. I hated every photo I took, and decided I needed to study photography. That’s when, in 1995, I took a leave of absence from college and came to the US for the first time. I came here to meet a friend who lived in NY and stayed at his place for a while. I started taking classes at SVA [School of Visual Arts], focusing on things that interested me, like fashion and studio photography. I spent a year in NY and went back to Brazil.
How did things go for you after you went back to Brazil?
Right after I got back to Brazil, I had the chance to photograph a model in Belo Horizonte. I was assisting a photographer and, out of nowhere, she started talking to me. She liked me, and we quickly became friends. She said she would like me to photograph her next test. This model, Adriana Piccinini, invested a lot of money for us to travel to a beach for four days. After this shoot, I started photographing several models in Belo Horizonte, due to my friend’s recommendations. Not too long after that, I shot my first fashion campaign for a local brand – I think it was Eliana Queiroz – and everything evolved from there.
Tell me a little bit about your growth as a photographer after this job.
It can all be summed up as going after the things I liked and falling in love with what I saw great photographers had done. Also, a lot of research. I kind of started translating what top photographers had been doing at the time into something that I thought would look good. I never copied it. I know it’s a cliché to say this, but I was always getting inspiration from the works I saw and loved. At first, when I was still testing the models, the girls used to bring me books and things for me to see. This firs girl that I tested – Adriana Piccinini – she brought me two Richard Avedon books and said ‘I want something just like this’, and I said; ‘no way! This is Avedon, and I can’t do something like this.’ She still insisted that I tried to do something similar. So, this trying to make similar things, without copying them, made the way I saw things change from when I first started.
You won a few awards before coming back to NY…
I spent some time in Brazil building my career, and establishing myself in Belo Horizonte and other cities in Brazil. In 2008, I received an award in NY and in Paris with a portrait of model Bruna Velho. I always tell this story as a turning point in my career. I was in Sao Paulo photographing the finalist for the Brazilian Ford Models contest, and this girl mesmerized me with her story, and I ended up making her portrait. There is not a lot of fashion in that portrait, but when I saw the picture, it hit me; it was the first time I noticed how strong a photo could be as I edited it. I noticed how strong that picture was and I submitted it to a few contests, and I ended up winning all of them [Bruna Velho by Gustavo Marx- 2007 IPA, International Photo Awards, and Prix de La Photographie Paris]. I also sent a few other photos to these same contests. I ended up winning first place in the fashion and beauty categories here in NY. I felt very proud of myself with this award, especially when you take into consideration that Michael Thompson won 3rd place in this same competition with a photo of Gisele Bündchen. I came to NY to receive the awards and ended up meeting with a few agents and closing a deal with one of them. That’s when I thought; I have an agent, this is the time to move to NY. I had to convince my wife, and six years ago we moved here. Two years ago we had a little boy. We now have a little American in the house [LOL]. And that’s how it all happened and I ended up moving back to NY.
Bruna Velho by Gustavo Marx, 2007
How would you describe your style? I know you really enjoy working with natural light and make a pretty good job with it.
When I first came to NY, in 96, I ended up studying studio lighting. I had an Italian teacher – Mario Calafeto – who always said the only way he liked to recreate the sunlight in a studio, was through a single source of light. I ended up doing the same thing when working in a studio. The studio environment, however, breaks the spontaneity that you can only be achieved when photographing in open air, in the sunlight. So, I started thinking; if I have the real thing available, why not take advantage of it? I realized my eye was quite influenced by the things that I admired in art of, for example, paintings that translated a poetical moment from a character’s daily routine. That’s how I started developing my own way of capturing these whimsical moments, but at the same time making them commercially appealing; after all, I needed to pay the bills. Wow, now I went too far.. LOL!
I absolutely love when something like this happens during an interview! I don’t want this to sound and look like a stiff conversation, something mechanical. You share your feelings in a different way, and that’s where special things can come from; things that, at first, I didn’t even expected to be mentioned. And this is definitely the best part of it all!
Anyway, I am mentioning it because this [use of sunlight] is something that used to happen a lot, but I think started changing a little. I am going through a phase where I am enjoying – even more than ever – the process of constructing and building an image. Maybe I have a better idea of what I really want now. And when you are working with the unexpected, you need to have a very sharp eye and sensibility to see and capture those special moments. I think I am going through a phase where I want to be able to develop the stories I want to tell a little bit further. I have been focusing more on it for the past year and a half. This is something very relevant to me when being part of a campaign. Everything needs to be pre-defined, and I feel like this has been happening more often in my career.
Which campaigns have left the deepest marks so far?
I can get very emotionally attached because I give all of myself to all of my projects. Everyone who works with me knows that. But I think I had some very special ones. I shot 4 campaigns for Adidas Y-3 and that meant a lot to me. The way the American market respects you once you are a part of it is something that made me very happy. Having the chance to photograph in NY really left a mark; it left a mark in my heart and left me feeling accomplished for being able of being a part of those very large campaigns. I was able to make some very large advertising campaigns in the US, outside the fashion world, and that were amazing learning experiences. Just to have an idea [of how big it was], you spent 50 days on pre-production meetings for one project, having conference calls with 5-10 people every 10 days. After those 50 pre-production days, you spent 20 days in a row photographing, where you will be directing 10-50 actors. The first project with such magnitude was a pharmaceutical campaign for one of the largest – if not the largest – pharmaceutical company in the world, located in Germany. Managing such an account, which involved 5 different advertising agencies, 5 art directors, one creative director, and 40 actors – all on set with me – was a very big achievement. Being able to make such thing happen was incredible, because you go through a lot, you talk to so many people under such an enormous pressure… I had never done anything quite like that – with such big numbers – until then. So, I think those were the big turning points for my career here in NY.
Adidas Y3 Fall 2011 by Gustavo Marx
Who are the photographers that inspire you?
To me, Guy Bordin is the greatest, all-time favorite. He used to play with photography in such a whimsical way. Sometimes I see things that, at first, I didn’t know were made by him and think; ‘wow, this is so Guy Bourdin’, thinking the photo in question was shot two days ago, because it seems so current, so strong and colorful, that I think it was inspired by his work, but it is actually one of his own photos. The only thing is, it was shot 60 years ago! I also really admire Edward Steichen, who was a mentor to Avedon. I found out about his career at ICP [International Center of Photography], at an exhibit about his work, with videos that showed how he used to direct the models, build his photos, etc. He was brilliant! The way he constructed the images in the studio with a camera that only allowed him to make one photo every 40 minutes… And, then, realize how much he influenced Avedon, whom I admire so much. He made several great magazine covers here in America in the 40’s – 50’s. This is someone really worth researching.
Is there a newcomer, a young talent that you think is worth keeping an eye on?
This is a very hard question. I think I have seen so many new photographers that ended up disappearing from the scene, that I don’t remember. From the younger generation, I admire Sebastian Kim, Serge Leblon. I also really like Guy Aroch. It’s an interesting thing; there are punctual characteristics in my work that remind me of his, so I guess this is where my admiration comes from. These are some of the people I admire and that are newer in the market.
I couldn’t possibly talk about photography and not ask about your favorite galleries here in NY. Which ones would you list as your “must-see” places for anyone who’s a photography fan?
You can’t miss Gagosian. It is a place I always visit because I always see incredible things by both well known and people I have never heard of. Honestly, I rather not mention others because I may not remember their exact names. This is awful, but after living in NY for such a long time, and having such a hectic schedule, you end up going to the ones you already like not to waste time. So, I would mention this one as my favorite. I also enjoy going to museums to see photo exhibits. I love the Whitney museum, and the classics, like the MET, Guggenheim, MoMa… But Whitney is my favorite one here in NY.
Left: Whitney Museum and one of the entries of the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea Right: MoMa Museum
How is your connection with NY? Some people can’t stand the pace and others really enjoy it…
Professionally speaking, I really like it. I think the city can be quite demanding, in a way no other place is. Maybe Sao Paulo, but in a different way. I think I was born to be challenged, I enjoy it. I believe in the speed everything happens in this city. I think NY can really destroy someone, if you don’t consider it to be something you can stand. With time, many people end up feeling that it is time to leave the city. NY makes it quite clear when the time has come, because it will really treat you bad! I am lucky because it has been treating me very well. I always say that whenever I am feeling down, I just have to go out, take a walk, look at the high buildings, to the people around me, and feel the energy that emanates from the city. The cliché in the song – that the streets will make you feel better – totally works for me. Some people assimilate it very well, others don’t. I am one of the people who do, and love it. I also know I am one of the people who love the city but that will end up leaving. I love NY, but I am 40 years old and I am sure 10 years from now my energy will not be the same. Very cliché, I know, but I am sure that I want to end up at a place, in a house, where I can just stay staring at a boundless space; no mess or confusion – this crazy city NY is and that I love so much at the moment.
Do you see yourself moving back to Brazil or moving to the suburbs?
I would love to go somewhere else in the world, neither Brazil nor Connecticut, for example. I don’t have anything against those places, but I would love to go somewhere else, different. I already achieved the dream of living here, and I have a higher priority at the moment, which is to live peaceably with my family, especially after my son was born. Everything changed. It’s one of those things everyone talks about and that I see every day how true they are; I just want to live in peace. My biggest aim at the moment is to be able to find peace, the true essence of things, and be with my family. I just don’t know where, exactly, I am going to be able to find it.
Do you think your son has been influencing your perception and sensibility toward your work?
I think so. I think that, without him even realizing it, he made me seek the true essence of things. I don’t know why, but I have been thinking a lot about it. He is this little person who is always and completely true to his spirit. It is such a crazy thing! And because this little boy was born, and is 100% honest at all times, it made me seek the real truth in the things I do and photograph. I try not to waste time with people and things that will not add anything to me, and I think this is reflecting on my work, and I think it is becoming even more honest.
What are your favorite places in NY?
I really enjoy walking around Chelsea and the High Line. I simply adore it, and that is why I asked for us to meet here [Chelsea Market], because this is a place I truly love. I also love the East Village, and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge alone, when I just wan to feel the city’s energy. I also have my favorite coffee shops. I love the espresso at Chelsea Market, and Gimme Coffee in Soho. There are several places, like Café Gitane in Soho, and this bookstore/coffee shop at Prince St – McNally Jackson – that is a great place to go and read a book or magazine while you have your coffee. Beacon Theater is a classic for shows. I love the upper part of Central Park, at the end, closer to the North. Since I live close by, it ended up knowing it well. The kids’ playgrounds, the tracks, and the parts deeper inside the park are just so pretty. The entrance at 100th Street, for example, has this very nice playground that leads you to this beautiful lake, and not everyone knows about it. I love running around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. Every time I take my son there, he feels so delighted to be there. Besides the fact that Central Park has all its lakes, that tranquility; people walking around, everyone in their own world – it brings such peace! There are also the museums that I have already mentioned.
High Line, Central Park Resevoir, Brooklyn Bridge
What about your favorite restaurants?
There is this sushi place, which is my favorite here in NY, and is located in Park Slope, Brooklyn – Jpan Sushi. It’s an exceptional place, with a great price; it’s on 5th avenue. On this same Avenue, there is a place called Bonnie’s Grill, which is one of my favorite burger places. There is also Island Burger on 9th Avenue between 51st and 52nd, I think. I loved it! It’s unbelievable how they have over 50 types of burgers; it’s simply incredible, incredible! There are also the classics like Pastis, which is always good and has a great vibe. Eataly has one of the best ice creams in the city, but nothing can measure up to L’arte del Gelato here at Chelsea Market. I love mixing the pistachio gelato with the frutti di bosce one. I love Grey Dog, which has a few locations in the city – this one was “love at first go” [LOL]. First one I visited was to the one at Union Square, at University Place. It is a place I truly recommend.
What are your weekend getaways?
I would love to have more getaways. I think they are becoming repetitive, so I think the answer would be Catskills. Woodstock is also great. There is also this beach that I like to go during the week, whenever I have a chance, and is located very close to Jones Beach. There is one part of the beach that is closed to the general public because of all the bird studying and observation going on there. I will never forget this one time I went there and they stopped me at the entrance saying that I couldn’t pass because it was a bird observation time, and the only way I could cross that point was if I had any observation equipment. I, then, opened my trunk and showed two suitcases filled with photography equipment, and they immediately cleared my entrance. It is a deserted place, very quiet, amazing! It is an hour away from NY. Also, whenever I get a chance, I like to go to the Dia:Beacon museum, take the Metro North and enjoy the gorgeous view on the way upstate. I feel like I am in a movie – something that makes me want to be constantly moving around the city and love it so much.
Catskills, Dia:Beacon entrance, and Jones Beach in NY
Going back to your career, which jobs left a mark this past year?
I made DTA’s Summer campaign and also a lot of things in Brazil. Mabel Magalhaes in Belo Horizonte, 18 pages for the September issue of Elle Brazil, Nana KoKaev in BH – one that I always enjoy doing. I also shot the cover of the third book of “The Selection” series. Last year I won a very important advertising award [Commarts – 2012 – Book Cover Category] here in America, with the first book cover. I just finished shooting the third one. The book is about to be turned into a TV show. They shot the pilot over a year ago, and the book, “The Selection” by Kiera Cass is a New York Times best-seller. It’s a book for young adults, and is now coming back even stronger now that a very big Studio is really going to turn it into a show. I also shot some editorials for Dossier Journal, which I absolutely love. I published a fashion one that was very nice to shoot, and took place at a stud farm in New Jersey. It was all styled by this incredible girl, Emily Jenkins.
Editorial for Dossier Journal and Photo published on Elle Brasil’s September Issue, 2013
Award winner cover and the third cover for New York Times best-seller “The Selection” by Kiera Cass
You obviously travel a lot for work. Is there a place that pleasantly surprised you during one of your work-trips?
Anguilla, where I travelled to shoot an editorial for Conde Nast Brides Magazine. But this is something that changed a lot after the American economy crisis. Budgets [for shoots] were drastically cut, and things are now being produced a lot closer to “home”. All that travelling glamour you used to see has now been reduced. Not that it doesn’t still exist, but it is no longer what it used to be. But anyway, I went to this Caribbean island, Anguilla, and it had this unbelievable natural beauty that I think I had never seen before. Besides those beautiful, clear waters, we also stayed at this great hotel – Viceroy Anguilla – and stayed at one of their villas, which are gorgeous. The place is truly amazing.
Anguilla beaches in the Caribbean
Is there a place that you haven’t been yet and that you wish you could explore as a photographer?
Japan. I don’t know if I want to photograph anything there, but I think so. I don’t know why, but I have been attracted to Japan ever since I was five years old. So this is a place I hope to visit within the next two years.
What do you recommend to the ones interested in becoming a professional photographer?
For the ones hoping to be in the fashion field, I think they need – before anything else – to develop a better sense of critical thinking. People are not being critical enough these days. I always say that it took me 10 years to say I was an actual photographer. Before that, I used to say I was an assistant. I know things have changed and are happening a lot faster; photographic processing used to be very time consuming. Developing an image, for example, used to take a lot longer. That, alone, shows how harder it was to call yourself a professional in the field. I don’t see the newcomers having the proper self-criticism that they should have. So this would be the first think I would point out: constantly work on developing a sharp self-criticism and eye. Research good things not only in the internet, but also in books and magazines. Look for the important names in photography, in the field you wish to be part of. The second thing would be: if you wish to become a fashion photographer, you really need to have the experience of assisting a fashion photographer before anything else. This is how you will learn how the business around and behind your job works. I didn’t assist much throughout my career, and I think it took me longer to get to where I wanted because I didn’t have that much experience.
How do you see all these technological developments – in both equipment and apps – influencing photography?
I love what technology can provide me on a daily basis. I like how democratic everything has become. I know photographers that only have a professional Instagram, others only have a personal one. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It is another means to an end; you have galleries, press, computers… you also have Instagram, and I don’t think it is a bad thing.
Gustavo Marx by Gustavo Romanelli
For information, please check Gustavo’s website: www.gusmarx.com
Gustavo’s Black and White Photo: Mark Tucker.