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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Steve Vaccariello: Classic Perfection

Fashion and celebrity photographer Steve Vaccariello defies digital gloss to capture the person behind the persona

This Article Features Photo Zoom

When pro New York- based photographer Steve Vaccariello is asked if there's something about photography that he finds specifically inspiring, he says that he's inspired as an artist not just by imagery, but by life and the beauty that he's able to see in the world. He says that he's always "on," engaging his life as a constant photo opportunity, and while his approach to the world and his imagery may seem fantastical, with clients including Nikon, Finlandia, MasterCard, American Express, Sprint, Kodak and others, it's obvious that he has no problem being practical, either. "The most important thing is the picture, not the technique or the trend," explains Vaccariello. "I want people to look at my photos and see the beauty in simplicity."

He readily admits that his aesthetic is a modern approach to the stripped-down, direct approach of masters like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Robert Mapplethorpe, and while his inspiration may come from the past, his attention to detail, technical craftsmanship and all-around enthusiasm for the world of photography keep him poised at the forefront of the field. Most importantly, while Vaccariello does postprocessing on his work, he considers digital processing to be a very small part of his workflow. He finds that people can rely on digital technology as a crutch and that many young photographers don't realize that they can create the same look using good old-fashioned lighting and camera techniques, and that it's often better.

"I'm a craftsman," Vaccariello says about his technical abilities. "I don't always rely on digital manipulation and postproduction to create images. I tend to do it in-camera when I'm shooting it. I think people are getting carried away with using technology to create the imagery instead of lighting, composition and a vision. Digital has made many things better in many ways. I just hope that people don't rely on that as their only tool. Many photographers are shooting mediocre pictures only to put in hours and hours of Photoshop to make them good pictures, saying, 'Oh, we can fix that later in Photoshop,' instead of moving a couch or taking a picture off the wall. I just hope the next generation of photographers takes the craftsmanship of the camera as seriously as the computer."

Vaccariello is a straight shooter with the camera, as well. His work is noted for clean compositions with precise tonality, and he has no problem bouncing back and forth between color and black-and-white. He concentrates almost entirely on portraiture and artistic explorations of the human form and, in particular, his black-and-white work is heavily influenced by the classic images of the past, with photos that are as intimate as they are minimally constructed. He describes his brand of photography as timeless, sophisticated and elegant, though he prides himself on his ability to capture images that bristle with motion.

Vaccariello doesn't look to modern photographers to keep up with current fads; instead, he says he consistently falls back on his staple favorites as a constant source of inspiration, such as the aforementioned masters, as well as Steichen, Horst and Newton. Mapplethorpe has always had the biggest impact on him, influencing not only how he approaches his subjects, but also how he sees light and composition. Vaccariello certainly has a fine-art approach to his portraiture, and it's this quality that has made him popular with advertisers, celebrities, dancers and artists looking for something beyond the standard publicity shot.

"I love the appeal of commercial work due to the challenges it presents," he explains. "Somehow you have to manage to please the client, represent the product perfectly and, most importantly, fulfill yourself as an artist. I think clients are drawn to me for the powerful, simplistic nature of my imagery, the timeless factor of the work. The client knows I can deliver a cutting-edge image and still represent the product at the same time."


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