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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

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"I love photographing artists because they think out of the box," explains Vaccariello, "and I always ask their input on the photos. They shed a unique light on themselves that I have no way of knowing, and when this happens, the photos evolve, progress, and go into some deep and often edgy places. I'm the kind of photographer who loves to collaborate. I love to create a photo that's a combination of two or even three creative persons' visions, put it all in the pot, and stir it up. A great idea is a great idea, no matter who comes up with it!"
Vaccariello says that he knew what he wanted to do starting in the ninth grade, and he has worked very hard since to achieve his goals. Like many young photographers, his father had bought him an SLR as a gift, and he accidentally shot a roll of black-and-white film with it. He had no idea how to develop it, so he stayed after school so his science teacher could help him develop the roll.

"As soon as I saw my first print emerge from the Dektol solution, I was hooked for life," he recalls. "It was magic as far as I was concerned!"

From there, Vaccariello shot as much as he could, learning from books and a few mentors along the way. He also kept a meticulous log of his efforts, noting what worked and, more importantly to him, what did not. Not long after he graduated high school, Vaccariello began his professional life as a photographer by working for a Cleveland hospital as a medical photographer under the tutelage of Jack Metcalf. He ran the darkroom there and worked his way up to become head of the department when he was only 23. This was a primary and rather macabre training ground for him, where he shot everything from product shots to portraiture, but mostly training his photographic eye on more morbid subject matter like gunshot wounds and open-heart surgery. He thinks that the harsh realities to which he was exposed at such an early age encouraged him to escape into a more imaginative world with his creative pursuits in the future.

Vaccariello considers lighting to be his forte; he has had a long journey of self-exploration in the way he lights, including his beginnings as a medical photographer. Inspired by the established masters, he also relies heavily on contemporary tools to get the look he wants—Nikon recently chose Vaccariello to illuminate the possibilities of its SB-900 AF Speedlight flashes.
At the same time that he was working at the hospital, Vaccariello also was sharing a studio with Charlie Coppins, a successful still-life photographer from the area. He learned proper lighting there, watching the still photographer work and assisting on an almost daily basis. Soon after he left the hos-pital, he met Szopo. They shared a mutual admiration for experimentation in the darkroom, and the pair was able to develop, literally, a one-of-a-kind portfolio that he says used cutting-edge darkroom techniques.

"They're easily mimicked in the Photoshop of today's world," says Vaccariello, "but at the time, it was all done with our own two hands and a lot of ingenuity and cleverness!"

It was this portfolio that brought the team instantaneous attention from the advertising agencies and editorial clients in the Cleveland market, which set his career off and running.

Though he primarily works in the digital medium, Vaccariello still shoots film, even now, and he notes that the future of photography may be uncertain, but he expects that the same basic principles always will be there. "I think the future is going to go retro at some point," Vaccariello concludes. "I think people will be gravitating toward the basic foundations of photography that made it an art in the first place. I still have to roll with the technology, and I do embrace it, but I'll always have a warm spot for traditional photography because I think learning that way made me the photographer I am today!"

To see more of Steve Vaccariello's work, visit www.vaccariello.com.


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