Matthew Priestly

Published by Elise Parkes on 27-Apr-2011 Interviews

How did you get into fashion photography Matthew?

I started taking photos about 5 or 6 years ago, but I started shooting models a little over a year ago. I got into it because I became obsessed with illustration actually. When I was 12, my parents bought me a book called “How to Draw the Human Head” which taught me symmetry and proportion, and at some point, I applied those same concepts to photography to make people look ideal. It's what people mean when they say “everyone has their angles” in that these angles are typically where the symmetry seems most apparent. Right now in fashion, it could also mean that an angle shows a very interesting/memorable deviation from this symmetry.

What are your favorite subject?

My favorite subjects have always been people, and I moved into fashion because I loved the idea of putting beautiful people in different contexts to tell a story. I started by shooting my friends in different contexts.

Do you feel you need to define a difference between your fine art fashion photography or the purely commercial, or do you ideally blend the two?

I don't feel a need to define a difference between the two, but I think inherently, some photos will be popular only among other artists and people in the business, while those photos could potentially alienate customers. So it seems like there will always be a difference. I do think that high fashion campaigns tend to retain some editorial edge versus commercial or lifestyle campaigns.

Who or what has been your main inspiration as a photographer?

My bigger influences tend to be Annie Liebovitz and Mert and Marcus. Both tell grand stories. They couldn't be further apart in retouching preferences, but that seems secondary to me now. I feel like story-telling is the main goal of fashion photography; selling clothes through context. These photographers are good at doing that, so hopefully I can move that direction more in the future. It's not something you can copy or use as a starting base, it's just an encouragement to find stories in history through literature and other forms of art.

What do you think of the current industry & do you think fashion photography in general has progressed, or do you believe we’ve regressed to try to emulate the works of old masters?

I was having this conversation with a stylist last week. It seems like we as artists in the fashion world are so inundated with other artists' work that we sometimes are just some weird conglomerate of their art, bringing nothing to the table. Before the internet, photographers were inspired by novels, paintings, films, whereas current photographers are inspired by trends. The top tier still finds stories in older art forms and are generally well-read (from what I've read in interviews). Who knows what will happen when the top tier retires or dies. The next wave could be more shallow in terms of number of references to pull from. I hope I can someday add something. With all of the fashion blogs and social media, it's impossible not to see all the current campaigns and editorials from the most notable photographers, so it seems impossible not to apply at least some measure of the current aesthetic to your work. Having said that, I hope I can add something new. I don't think I have shot anything iconic or new yet, although I'm not sure an artist ever feels ground-breaking.

What do you prefer shooting? Is it menswear or women’s wear?

I prefer shooting women in general. They embody more mystery than men, in my opinion, and typically are the more compelling images of my portfolio. In fact, my most current portfolio is all women.

What’s your favourite photography medium? And your preferred camera?

I would say film, but I've never shot film. I think that puts me at a disadvantage somewhat, because film guys shoot less and get the shot more quickly. So my favorite is digital by default. My preferred camera is a Nikon D700, which is what I've used for the year and a half since quitting my day job to take photos, but I think gear is so much less important than I did before.

What do you like in fashion & what do you dislike?

Besides the story-telling aspect, I like fashion because it can be fun, and it's really satisfying to get a good image from a shoot. What I'm noticing more and more in the industry is that the more your work is seen, the more negativity arises in one way or another. What keeps me going is just knowing that not everyone is going to like you or your work, and not everyone is going to agree with your methods. That, and constantly reminding myself that having more money is not going to lead to happiness.

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