Travel fuels much of Enzo Dal Verme’s photography, as does portraiture. He has a talent for bringing out the beauty in people in a studio situation or while they’re working hard in a dirty field. One of his most interesting pieces, for me personally, is shown below – a portrait of Ölucean de Lemos in Hawaii wearing a mud covered shirt and a big grin. Enzo captured him in his element jus as he was and that’s what made the shot brilliant.
To help out fellow photographers, Enzo has written a book to share some tips on how to shoot reportage, something he does constantly which made it pretty easy for him to explain how to photograph like a pro. He tells us what to expect from his book in this interview, talks about the importance of leaving his comfort zone and discusses his upcoming photography workshop. This week he celebrated one year since he launched his blog so be sure to stop over and give him your congrats when you finish reading.
LPO: Tell us a bit about your background.
EDV: As a child, I felt that growing up it would have been nice to become a photographer (and also a few other things), but then I forgot. Later on, a number of coincidences led me to experience that fantasy.
LPO: You say on your blog that “One of the best things I have learned in life is to get to know my fears rather than fight them.” Tell us about a time when your photography has taken you out of your comfort zone.
EDV: Once I was in a semi-deserted subway car in New York at night and in front of me sat a South American woman with her daughter. The mother was dreadfully tired, I imagined her going back home after a very long and heavy working day. She couldn’t keep her eyes open and her big, depleted body was abandoned on the seat with her head hanging over sideways. Everything about her oozed exhaustion, except for her right arm that held her daughter tenderly. The girl was probably five years old and laid on her mother’s lap wearing pink overalls. She wasn’t that tired and from time to time she opened an eye and looked at me with a sweet pouting face.
The light was hitting the couple just perfectly and the entire scene was shouting to me “Shoot me, shoot me!” The camera was in my bag and it would have been really easy to point it at them, but I decided to enjoy the moment and respect their privacy. In the following days I kept thinking about that missed opportunity: was my fear of being too invasive completely founded? Maybe they would have even enjoyed finding themselves published on the pages of a magazine… Never mind, I am happy to have that wonderful memory even if I can’t share the picture.
Episodes like this actually help me to be more clear about the way I want to relate to the world. Challenging moments can also come up when I am supposed to photograph someone who becomes unavailable at the last moment, or when I am shooting outdoors expecting a sunny day and it rains, when I am discussing an assignment and I realize that I will not get what I need, when a magazine publishes one of my stories in a distorted way… In other words, when the world seems not too kind to me. But if I look well into the issue, I usually find out that it is not only the practical problem to make me feel uncomfortable, but also and above all my inner reaction to it. Facing and exploring what’s there in that particular moment (sometimes fear of… whatever) allows me to transform the problem into a great learning opportunity.
LPO: You’ve written a manual on how to shoot reportage. Give us a brief rundown of tips for beginners.
EDV: First of all, ask yourself “Why do I want to shoot this reportage?” and make sure that your answer is fully, totally, absolutely convincing. You are stepping into something very demanding. Choose a strong and interesting topic. Be extra accurate in the pre-production phase, but be ready to change all and everything you had prepared so meticulously (shit happens). While shooting, don’t be a vulture, become part of the situation you are documenting. When it comes to composition, be mindful of the needs of the media that will publish your story. Give a harmony to the general impact of your reportage. Don’t forget the details. Keep your mind empty and curious at all times. Imagine that you are an infant with no memories and no history, seeing the world for the first time. Be extremely organized and disciplined in every phase (including scrupulous post-production). Acknowledge every single person who is helping you out.
LPO: Do you remember a certain moment when you fell in love with photography?
EDV: It has been a gradual process.
LPO: Much of your work is in portraits. Tell us a story behind one of the most interesting people you’ve had the privilege to photograph.
EDV: I find most people that I photograph are extremely interesting, regardless if they are celebrities or whatever. Ölucean de Lemos lives six months in Sweden and six months in Hawaii, where I photographed him on the farm that pays for his work with nothing more than room and board. He made a radical and unconventional choice in life. He is not interested in pursuing a career or earning money but only wants to live in contact with nature. I interrupted him while he was working and he asked me if I wanted him to put on a clean shirt for the photo. I answered, “NO!”
Shooting portraiture is my way to inquire into reality and every time I photograph someone I also end up feeling I know myself better because I look at the subject as if I was looking at myself expressed in a different form. We are different, but not so different…
LPO: Do you prefer indoor or outdoor photo shoots or being out on the field reporting with no organized set-up? Why?
EDV: I have a slight preference for shooting portraits indoors, but I also enjoy being out in the field with nothing planned. Being indoors allows me to play with the light in a way that would be difficult or impossible outdoors. On the other hand, the exploration of outdoor environments often offers me interesting surprises.
LPO: Among many others, you’ve worked for Vanity Fair, Vogue, Marie Claire, Grazia, Elle and Glamour. For the beginners, talk a bit about the process that goes into generating work for yourself, following through to publication.
EDV: I could tell you that you need to be very professional, have a great body of work and be able to present it. I could recommend that you be precise, reliable, creative, enthusiastic and easygoing. All these things are true, but they are not enough to generate work. Photo-editors and editors have the power to give you work and the reasons why this happens or not are really unpredictable.
LPO: There’s a line between amateur and professional photographers that gets smaller and smaller. Do you find that as a professional you struggle because of sites like Flickr that give publications greater access to the work or amateurs?
EDV: Amateurs are sometimes willing to give their photos away for the simple satisfaction of seeing them published. Micro-stock agencies are selling pictures for 1 dollar or less. Publishers budgets are shrinking… of course photographers are having a hard time. What’s happening now is an evolutionary process and only those who are able to adapt and evolve will survive.
LPO: How do you feel about post-processing? Which programs do you use, if any?
EDV: Photoshop is my friend, but only for minor adjustments. I don’t like too much retouching. About selecting my pictures, right this morning someone told me that I am “a little dated” because I don’t use Lightroom or Photomechanic, but Bridge. Oh well…
LPO: Share something about yourself that you haven’t mentioned in the rest of the interview.
EDV: Soon I’ll be teaching a portraiture workshop that I am really happy about. Photography is often considered in terms of its aesthetic impact and aesthetic is certainly great, but it’s not what interests me the most. I like to see shapes, materials, colors and consistencies as expressions of our innermost nature. In other words, the thing that truly attracts and inspires me is not forms but life expressing itself though them. That’s probably why I love shooting portraits so much. And that’s why I enjoy teaching this photography workshop. It is not focused on technique, light schemes and similar, but on the ability to get in touch with some aspect that makes the person that we want to photograph special and unique (perhaps something the person is not even aware of) and compose our images quickly and intuitively. I will also offer a low-cost version of the workshop to be held at the Youth Hostel on beautiful Lake Como in Northern Italy. Will post an article on my blog sometime in the next weeks, stay tuned…
For more of Enzo’s work, have a look at his blog: http://www.enzodalverme.com/blog
For more interviews with photographers, have a look at the archives.