Wuales is a project by Zurich-based artist Alessandro D’Angelo. Born in 1981, the self-taught photographer has achieved commercial success, working with Vogue and Lindt, among others, but has recently taken time out to pursue his personal projects. For his latest series, #002 Nude Silhouettes, Wuales has created an innovative form of nude photography. While some works within this genre tend to present an overly sexualized male gaze and the objectification of women, Wuales’ abstract series could not be further from this out-dated approach. Reminiscent of a Victorian visual illusion or such images as Rubin’s Vase, the Swiss photographer’s images play with visual perception, leading to a reevaluation of the female form and nude photography itself. The series Nude Silhouettes takes an inspiring approach, not only to photographing female nudes, but also to the process of post-production, printing and display mechanisms, not to mention the use of the Leica M Typ 240 as a studio camera. We interviewed Wuales to find out more about this fascinating project.
How did you first get into photography? And where do you find your inspiration?
I started handling my family’s analog camera on holiday trips and travels during my childhood where I was the one who took the majority of photos. I often find inspiration in everyday life, people and things I encounter along the way, as well as the history of photography, looking through historical photos and older photography books and collections. Working in different fields and moving between different cultures and social circles helps me keep an open mind and collect a broad range of inspirations.
You’ve worked as a commercial photographer for Vogue and other big names, but you decided to take a break from 2015 – 2018 to pursue your personal projects. Why did you choose to take this step?
I enjoyed the work and environment, but with the growing number of jobs and the travel involved, my personal view of photography and output started to diminish. It is lucrative work but it does not allow me to develop my personal photography any further.
I needed to re-balance and decided to take a break in order to focus my own photography and work on personal projects. I like to think that I am still searching for my “image”, there is something that pushes me to constantly develop and reinvent my photography. I tend to be very focused when working on these projects, with little to no compromise or regard for my personal expenses and sacrifices.
Where does the name Wuales come from and what does it mean?
“Wuales” is one of many nicknames that were given to me during my time as an assistant on sets around the world, and oddly enough the one that stuck and merged into my private life. I like it.
Your series Nude Silhouettes takes an innovative approach to photographing female nudes. How did you go about creating these diptychical images?
I did the selection during the timespan of a year, it’s something I take a lot of time to do. I printed them out and plastered them across most of my studio’s walls and floor space. That is how I noticed sets of predominately black/white images that contained similar shapes and harmonizing contrasts. I made smaller prints, cut them out with scissors and started assembling them in pairs.
And how much were you aware of avoiding the clichés?
I strive to further develop my photography at all times and push beyond the things I have shot before or have seen elsewhere.
It’s something I picked up skateboarding for over half of my life and shooting a lot of it for magazines and advertisements – the industry even uses an acronym for “never been done before” or “NBD” as it’s called in the world of skateboarding, where pushing the envelope physically and visually go hand-in-hand with commercial success. It’s especially in for photographers and videographers. It takes a lot of will and creative talent on both sides of the lens to turn the imagination of something that’s never been done into reality, captured it in picture and video.
I carried this concept over to photography naturally and often find myself thinking about things that have “never been done” within the different types and approaches of whatever photography I’m currently interested in.
At first glance some viewers may struggle to recognize the female bodies you have photographed, thanks to your abstract, geometrical shots. Where does your interest in geometry, form and tonality come from?
I tried to simplify the image visually and physically without altering its appearance or taking away from its content. Judged by the time it takes, this process is like an art form in itself, but seeing an image reduced to its bare essentials – the tonality, geometry and shapes it contains – removes distractions and allows for a clearer interpretation of its meaning and visual content.
I did this until I reached the level of abstraction and tonality range I wanted in order to work with the forms and lines. I developed an interest in the geometrical and typographic aspects because of the almost solid black/white shapes, which I started to use to distinguish and navigate the countless prints and on-screen thumbnails during the selection process.
The finished artworks are almost all the combination of two images, which work together displaying a sense of cohesion but also contrast. How many different models did you work with?
The entire series is built around the concept of balances and counterparts. I shot 12 different models of all appearances and nationalities during a one year timespan with a focus on shooting a diverse range of curves, lines, skin tones and textures. I did not focus on showing the individuality or identity of the models, but instead the variety of common attributes, identical parts and their shapes.
The automated rail mechanisms, which allow your composite artworks to rotate and realign are what make this project truly unique. Where did the idea come from? And how did you go about constructing and controlling them?
While aligning the images digitally and printing the corresponding sets I realized that there are eight different combinations and ways to layout each pair of images.
Finding a way to make all these combinations accessible was a logical follow-up at that point and after a few hours of sketching and computer pre-viz, the rail mechanism was born.
It went through a few iterations since, developing from a manual mechanic with magnets to rails, bearings and ultimately to the automated design and remote app control I am currently working on with engineering wizard, Heinz Studiger.
When did you first start shooting with Leica cameras?
I have shot many different Leica M cameras in my past work and shot advertisements with the Leica S, which was a pleasant experience.
When my previous camera died after 6 months of reportage work in Peru, all I had left was my medium format cameras, which I used to carry around as well. But using them is often too intrusive, intimidating or limiting in capturing magical moments or subjects without interrupting them.
I read about the newly released Leica M Typ 240 and decided to invest in a camera system that I could depend on in terms of build quality, toughness and longevity. I took the camera straight to the Philippines to document the work of the Red Cross and found myself on open sea inside a small, locally built catamaran, filled with storm relief goods. As the weather took a turn for the worse and waves rose all around, nothing was left dry on board, at that point I was holding on to my life jacket and my (wet) camera bag.
Little did the camera know this was only the first of many more extreme situations and tests it would have to endure since then, snow storms, sand storms and loads of velocity. The M240 has opened many doors for me around the world. It’s a remarkable thing. Carrying a Leica Camera opens you up to lots of spontaneous conversation but it’s discreet enough to never get in between you and the people you are interacting with. 5 years later it’s still the most reliable tool I have ever worked with and has become a constant companion. I prefer to use it across all types of photography.
You shot this series in your studio in Zürich with the Leica M240 and a 50mm lens but what kind of set up did you use?
Summed up my setup was “one of each”, camera/lens included:
- 1 white cube studio setup with either black or white background
- 1 HMI light and stand
- 1 wooden apple box
- 1 electric heater
- 1 bathing robe
- 1 potted palm plant
- 1 story board to restore focus in case I lose myself
“There is only one sun” – Michel Comte
Despite not really being known as a studio camera, what did you appreciate most about shooting with the M240 in this setting?
The M’s presence does not usually disturb or interrupt people’s behavior or flow – and the concept works in studio settings as well. It’s a really important aspect of nude photography.
The 50mm Summilux lens I own shoots amazingly rich details and the color depth of the capture allows me to develop black and white prints with statue or cast-like textures or a painted, drawn look.
Using the small but full-frame M system allowed me to move freely, adapt and stay in tune with the setting without losing contact with the model. This agility allowed me to capture the many perspectives and angles I needed within a manageable timeframe.
You rejected the use of post-processing software in creating the final images. Why did you make this decision?
People are beautiful enough without post production. Working around the use of digital brushes and compositing in my commercial work, helped me to avoid these techniques in my personal work.
My digital development and workflows are based around traditional processes and analog techniques.
Can you explain how you went about creating the prints?
Once my selection was finished, I started working on the production pipeline and finalizing the image files for printing.
This process took around 3 months. The hardest part of the production process turned out to be getting all four edges of the two prints to line up perfectly, allowing only one tenth of a millimeter as a margin of error.
Some people doubted the level of precision needed to realize the project could actually be achieved and digitally produced, even more so once I started making inquiries into the production of the rail-mounted version.
The digital development was done at the secret icm group hide-out in Zurich with Manuel, where a custom workstation with two sets of peripherals was set up to handle the entire workflow, the large amount of data and all automated tasks. We went from RAW development to 3D visualization and then all the way to the final output in this tandem configuration.
During this phase of the project I researched and studied different protective coatings, paper types and printing techniques, running tests, making calls all around Europe and going through samples.
The breakthrough came with the expertise of RecomArt in Berlin, who directed my attention towards silver gelatin based papers from Ilford and darkroom analog printing. I adopted that workflow and printed my images back to analog 4×5 negative with a film recording process, in order to use this paper and printing combination to achieve the desired level of precision and protection.
This project has been exhibited in Hamburg and Salzburg. How was the response? And do you have any plans to exhibit Nude Silhouettes elsewhere?
It’s really insane. I’m super thankful for the response and recognition that the nude series got – it set many wonderful things in motion, and led to planning further exhibitions in cities around the world.
You have named your personal projects “releases” – The first being #001 White Turf and this series being #002 Nude Silhouettes. What is your thinking behind this way of terming your work? And what do you have planned as the third Wuales release?
I have done many personal projects over the past 15 years without releasing them publicly. I decided to number and name these series in this way because that’s what they are to me, works I made on my own and then “released” publicly.
It’s difficult to say which project will become #003. There are a few in various stages of development, I hope to surprise myself.
What advice would you offer to any fellow photographers looking to start a personal project of their own?
Steadily exploring the history of photography and learning to recognize and distinguish different features and attributes of an image helped me greatly along the way.