The Pavillon Vendôme is located at the Place Vendôme, right in the heart of Paris. In January 2020, the imposing building hosted the Giorgio Armani Privé SS20 Haute-Couture Fashion Show. Equipped with an SL2, Italian photographer Stefano Guindani captured pictures of the models beyond the catwalk, as they put on their make-up, and during the rehearsals immediately before the event. We asked him why he sees his work in the glitzy world of fashion as social reportage, what different kinds of approaches come into play during fashion shows, and how the right equipment helps him transform his ideas into visual reality.
Is shooting fashion and behind the scenes at fashion shows your speciality? Which are your main fields?
I’ve been taking part in Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week for a very long time, nearly 20 years. I was doing journalism back then, and it was the time of Gianni Versace and the most famous top models. I was fascinated by the business and the atmosphere, because I could be creative and do what I liked creating my own work.
How would you describe your approach?
Actually I think I’ve specialized in a kind of photography that I would call “lifestyle reportage”. That includes social reportage: during my projects in Central America over the last 10 years, I documented, for example, the real difficulties of life in Haiti (the poorest place in the world even if there’s no real war going on); but I also capture the beauty of fashion and the world of extreme luxury and dream cars such as Lamborghini.
How does your visual language evolve? Does it change from project to project?
I believe that every project stimulates something different in me, but my commitment remains the same: to reproduce the image that I have in my mind, which I sometimes create on my own and sometimes together with the client. My research is always aimed at beauty, at the geometric lines… I really love geometric lines. I also love portraying people who have a sense of themselves. When I deal with portraits – which are a large part of my work – I prefer to shoot spontaneous portraits; or ones that convey something true and meaningful, even if they’re posed.
You have worked with the Leica SL2. What do you think of the camera?
First of all, because the Leica SL2 is a Leica, it has a big advantage: it has a truly significant colour rendering. In addition, it is mirror-less, so it allows me to see the image without taking my eye off the camera. This makes the subject I’m photographing aware of my absolute self-confidence and mastery of the camera, which I think is one of the basic rules of portrait photography. Another positive feature of the Leica SL2 is its weight, which is certainly lighter than other important cameras. Above all, however, there is its silence: in critical situations, such as the opening night at a theatre, I’m able to shoot without making any noise. Overall I can say that the Leica SL2 is a very high class camera.
Which lenses did you use with the SL2, and what did you like about them?
I used the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 and the Summicron-SL 75 and 90mm. I really appreciated the 75 for its lightness, as it allowed me a certain freedom of movement. In addition it’s very bright and is well balanced with the camera. The 24-90 is a heavier lens but the final result is equally important. I used the 90mm for portraits, but I found it a bit too long, so it makes the subject slightly enlarged.
In what ways do the images taken with the SL2 differ from others you’ve taken before?
Certainly the powerful colours and richness of detail.
Richness and detail are key things at fashion shows. How long have you been taking the SL2 with you?
My most recent shoots with the Leica SL2 were during the last Milan Women’s and Men’s Fashion Weeks and at the Giorgio Armani Privé Haute Couture production in Paris in January 2020. I can say that on the latter occasion I was able to test the Leica SL2 at its best, achieving excellent results, and without any kind of problem. I shot with an external flash held by one of my assistants, and sometimes I even used four flashes. The results were already great at the first glance; so there was no need for any post production.
When did you work at Paris Fashion Week? Were you assigned to do so?
I’m the photographer for several very important fashion houses, including Armani. As I said previously, during the last Armani Fashion Show in Paris I tested the camera at its best; but also during the Condé Nast events, Fendi and Scervino fashion shows, and many others …
You also photographed at the catwalk and the audience. How does it differ from being behind the scenes? Please explain why photographing behind the scenes is such a challenge.
In a fashion show there are different types of photography and that itself represents a challenge! We have the catwalk which is very technical: the photographer must be synchronized in step with the model, trying to catch the best images while avoiding the presence of the other models on the catwalk. In that situation it’s important to have the right focus and the perfect lighting. On the other hand, shooting backstage means doing so among many people: models, make-up artists, stylists, hairdressers, other photographers and video makers. It’s a difficult situation with a lot of people around you, where each one is trying to do his/her job well. The camera has to be ready and efficient in the shortest time possible – and it has to work perfectly.
How would you compare documenting a fashion show and doing reportage work?
I believe that the work of a photographer, in all its variations, should be done with the utmost commitment. From my point of view, the reportage work I did in Central America could be compared on the professional level to the work I do during fashion weeks. Obviously, the subjects and the situations differ, but a professional photographer must be versatile and able to adapt to whatever the client needs; his/her camera and flash have to be ready to perform and meet any challenge.
Stefano Guindani was born in Cremona in 1969. He studied Chemistry. He cites Herb Ritts – Notorious in particular –, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Robert Mapplethorpe as his biggest influences. He works as a celebrity and fashion photographer and calls his genre “lifestyle reportage”. “Beauty will always prevail. I refer to any type of beauty. Canons can change, but I am convinced that beauty will always win,” he says with conviction. Guindani collaborates with the main advertising and communication agencies in Italy and abroad, as well as the most important brands: from Armani to Lamborghini, Versace, Moschino, Diesel, Stella McCartney, Tod’s and many others.