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Monday, June 11, 2007

Paulo Filgueiras - Fresh Fashions

For Paulo Filgueiras, the journey from surf photographer in Rio de Janeiro to highly demanded fashion shooter in New York has been more challenging and circuitous than his path to digital technology

Filgueiras admits he was intimidated by it at first. Back in the days of Photoshop 3.0 and multi-thousand-dollar cameras (that really weren't all that great and were challenging to use), he began to explore what the gear could do for his photography. Says Filgueiras, “There weren't a lot of people who knew how to use these things and it made things difficult at first. But I taught myself Photoshop and then began to experiment with the cameras, and I started to get into it. Digital really changed my way of thinking—that was the most dramatic difference for me.”

Filgueiras began his career in his native Brazil. Living in Rio de Janeiro, he was enamored with the ocean and surfing. “I was mesmerized by the ocean, the waves, surfing the waves,” he says. “I decided I wanted to take pictures of those scenes and, because it was all so accessible to me, I thought surfing would be an easy way to start.”

Filgueiras' career as a surf photographer was born. It was the 1980s, and surfing and other “extreme sports” were beginning to draw a following. In Brazil, there weren't many people doing this kind of work, so Filgueiras was in demand. His work began to appear in high-end magazines devoted to extreme sports. The action photography eventually led to his first fashion gig with a surfwear company that was searching for a different look for their clothing line.

Instead of doing the shoot in a studio, which would have been the common approach at that time, Filgueiras did everything outside with natural light. Immediately, the photography had a freshness to it. It wasn't necessarily a strong new vision that drove this novel approach. For all of his recognition as a surf shooter, Filgueiras had almost no actual instruction and he really didn't know how to light with anything other than available light.

Taking full advantage of the break, Filgueiras enrolled in photo school and began to learn the intricacies of lighting, exposure and control. After school, he began building a client list that brought him more commercial assignments as well as work with Brazilian fashion magazines. “Learning the fundamentals allowed me to reach for new looks and new ways to do things,” he says.

Filgueiras built a multi-story studio, he was getting plenty of work and he was doing what he loved. Then everything changed when the Brazilian economy suddenly stumbled and subsequently fell into chaos. Instead of a thriving business, Filgueiras was faced with little work and limited prospects. That's when he decided to make his next dramatic move. Filgueiras left his home, his studio and the troubled Brazilian economy and moved to New York City.

Moving to America was a huge step. In essence, Filgueiras arrived with little more than a belief that he'd have greater opportunities here. He had no job, no place to live, no client list waiting to give him work. He started at the beginning, taking jobs as an assistant. Says Filgueiras, “I did lots of assisting and I eventually had the opportunity to work for a lot of big-name photographers.”

In the aggressive landscape of New York professional photographers, Filgueiras also recognized a need to hone his skills. Photo school in Brazil had given him the fundamentals that facilitated his first taste of success, but in New York, he saw that more education would be needed, so he applied and was subsequently accepted at SVA (the School for Visual Arts).


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