How to Be a Photographer in a Digital Age with Jacopo Moschin
The first episode of the podcast features a NYC-based photographer Jacopo Moschin. We cover topics such as work routines, the danger of the comfort zone, main challenges of being a photographer today, understanding who you are and what photography is about, the importance of research, his advice for briefs coming from art directors, and much more.
Jacopo Moschin is a portrait and documentary photographer based in NYC. His quest is to portray real characters in the realm of fashion. He is constantly looking for the unimportant frames that reveal the moments lost in-between, filled with raw and spontaneous emotions. His warm approach to his subject is predominant over the context. Through powerful but subtle imagery he exposes strength and vulnerability, light and darkness.
"Sit down and think about who you are, and who you want to be in a few years."
His practice gives a depth and substance to the editorial and commercial image-making. His work has been featured on Kinfolk Magazine, i-D, Vogue USA, Vogue Spain, Amica, Style, Financial Times, Elle, Interview Magazine and for clients such as Bally, Levi’s, Dolce& Gabbana, Ann Taylor, Daya by Zendaya, John Hardy, Vhernier, Dior, Louis Vuitton and others.
- Episode Introduction [00:52]
- What Photography Is About [02:26]
- Advice for Photographers Who Are Just Starting Out [05:35]
- Jacopo’s Work Routines [08:27]
- Main Challenges of Being a Photographer Today [12:20]
- Making a Living as a Photographer [16:59]
- Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [22:50]
- Growing as a Creative Professional [23:40]
- The Danger of Getting Stuck in Your Comfort Zone [26:35]
- Mindsets and Tactics for Dealing with Challenges [31:00]
- Photographer’s Advice to Art Directors [34:03]
- Advice for Being a Better Photographer and Creative Professional [37:42]
- Episode Outro [41:16]
Jacopo: If you’re feeling too comfortable, it’s not a good sign. Just get out and feel not comfortable again.
This is the Creative Voyage podcast, a long form interview show with the mission of helping creative professionals to level up. I’m your host, Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself, active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting, working with companies such as Kinfolk, Menu, and SONOS.
Through Season One of this podcast, I present in-depth interviews with some of the world’s most inspiring creative professionals, revealing the stories that shaped their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: This episode is dedicated to photography, and to one of my favorite photographers working today.
Jacopo: My name is Jacopo Moschin. I’m an Italian photographer. I’m 30 years old and currently living in New York. I work between the United States and Europe most of my time. Besides being a photographer, I also have a production agency where we produce content for fashion brands and just lifestyle brands in general, where I act more as a Creative Director/Producer. I am also in charge of hiring other photographers and other creatives for the different projects.
Mario: Jacopo’s work has been featured in ID, Folk, Amica, Financial Times, Elle, and he worked for clients such as Bali, Levi, Dolce & Gabbana, Anne Taylor, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and others. I find his work authentic and poetic. His images often have a certain depth and an almost classic dimension to them. I’ve been following Jacopo’s work for a while now, and I have also had the pleasure of working with him on one of the editorial projects for Kinfolk.com in 2017. It was an amazing opportunity to connect with him in this context as well.
Mario: In this episode, we’re going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I had with Jacopo in August 2018. We cover topics such as his work routines, dangers of the comfort zone, main challenges of being a photographer today, understanding who you are and what photography is about, the importance of research, his advice for briefs coming our directors, and much more.
Jacopo has been working professionally for over nine years, but his interest in the field started much earlier when he got a small film camera, Pentax MX, from his father, which he still owns and loves today. It’s possible that that was one of the determining factors which led him to take a photography course while he was studying at the Catholic University in Milan. At the time, the photography lab was run by William Willington, one of the classic photographers who believed in the Heritage Approach, which came from the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Sebastiao Salgado, and Jacopo would call a pure approach to photography. Here, he reflects about some of the most important things he learned during that time.
Jacopo: Sometimes when you are young and you want to experiment so much, you kind of forget about what photography’s all about, really. You forget about the essence of it, because you are so excited about it that you might focus too much on technique and forget what the essence of photography really is. The fact that somebody’s in front of you, and the fact that you’re almost like you’re a moment which a true life moment, but you’re turning into something that it could also be not a real representation of what is really in front of you.
Jacopo: There were a lot of ethical questions, especially in advertising photography because that was what my major, in where they, the images were real images of people, but then they were manipulated and all sorts of layers they came into play, in that sense. And I think it’s great to have a very grounding education, in the sense that it really helped us think more about the great photographers’ work, like Robert Capa, you know, like war photographers. Then what does it mean to be a photographer that goes in the streets and take photos of random people in the streets, the way you could approach them ... all the questions around it like, “Are you stealing their images? Are you using their images? Is it to your advantage? Is it to their advantage? What are the limits? What are the creative limits of it?” So many really less technical questions. The technique was not really the focus of the course. It was more about, “Why do you take photos? What are you trying to say? What’s the message behind it?” Sometimes it’s so easy to just forget these type of topics when you focus too much on technique.
Mario: Yeah, and that’s often the case in university. Just to go from project to project without actually knowing why are you doing it.
Mario: Then you’re just finishing and you are lost and your are just like “What is this all about?”. So this sounds like a really good course that you had.
Jacopo: Yeah, and I think you don’t really necessarily have to study photography in order to be a photographer. You can literally learn by working in the industry by being an assistant, but I think it’s far more important to have an education in any other topic like literature, history, ethics, psychology and all of that. Even reading books ... I would say, for a photographer, it’s great advice to read books and stories and learn about storytelling and message and all of that.
For an inexperienced practitioner, it can be a daunting mission to start working professionally in the photography field. It can seem like everything has been done before and there’s an obvious abundance of visual content out there. At the same time, there are more and more people joining the profession. I was curious to hear what advice would Jacopo give to a new talent entering into this creative field.
Jacopo: I think it’s very important to think about photography in a different way than how I thought about photography 10 years ago because the industry has changed so much with social media, with things like Instagram and all of that. Then, I realize that a lot of photographers are really struggling to find their identity ’cause almost everything has been done. So it’s easy to get lost in the stream of images and it’s easy to look at ... Some photographers are producing so many images per day that it’s really easy to get lost.
Jacopo: I think for a young photographer starting out, the excitement of the first assignments would make them bad if they don’t get other assignments and bigger assignments over and over. I think that’s not a great way to start because you will feel ... there are moments where you might not get assignments and that will make you feel really bad. So you have to learn and find a balance in your work. You really have to sit down and think about who you wanna be in five years or 10 years, and what kind of photographer do you wanna be? Do you wanna be published in the New York Time Magazine or do you want to be an art photographer that works with a gallery and does exhibitions and prints? Do you wanna be a photographer that specifically works in the fashion industry? Sometimes, when you’re young, it’s really hard to know yourself.
Jacopo: When I started, I thought I wanted to be specifically a fashion photographer. Then that, kinda, changed too as I grew up. So I think it’s a work that is so connected with your personal life and who you are that the best advise I will give is to really sit down and think about who you are and who you wanna be in few years. That will help you decide if the people you want to approach, the kind of work you wanna do.
Jacopo: Everything really starts from a portfolio, and the portfolio is what you show other people and what tells who you are to other people. So if you meet a photo editor they’ll look at your portfolio and they’ll have a sense of who you are and what kind of story you wanna tell. Personal work is so important. I don’t believe that, unless you wanna be one of those really big advertising photographers that work on car advertisements and stuff like that ... I think it’s about putting together so much personal work that the people you present the work to, they will realize who you are. Then they’ll hire you for that. So I think that’s the best advice I will give.
A work of professional photographer, or any creative, takes much more than merely doing the activity which is implied by the title. I was interested in hearing what makes Jacopo’s work day, both the pleasurable and those less pleasurable parts of it.
Jacopo: Well, there’s a bunch of activities that you have to do over and over. Sometimes it’s about spending three hours sending emails, answering emails, getting the production work done which could be, maybe, spending 30 minutes on thinking what to rent for the next production or talking to your assistants and what kind of lighting setup are you gonna do for a specific client.
Jacopo: Some days, it will be more about looking at images, choosing images, and following post-production processes. Some days you will be a lot more about researching. I love researching. It’s something that I never stop doing since I started. I think it’s one of the, actually, the most enjoyable part of the entire process. You get to learn so much. You get to see so many images. You get to save them. You get to think about what you wanna do next.
Jacopo: I find it’s particularly amusing when you’re thinking about your personal work and then you look at some other photographer’s work and you’re like, “Well, this was such a great idea.” Then, “Why did I not think about it?” Then, “How can I improve this idea?” Sometimes it’s hard to innovate. So I don’t think people and photographers should be afraid of sort of copying other photographer’s styles in a certain way because that will lead them to learn and eventually find their own path.
Jacopo: It just really hard to just innovate from nothing, from scratch if you’re a young photographer, ’cause you might not know about a lot of things. So you still need to learn and grow. So researching is definitely one of the most time-consuming activities ’cause you might spend three, four hours and you could just go to a book shop and learn through books or you can just go on the internet and just surf the internet. What I love about just surfing online is that there are so many images and it’s so easy to research photographers in general and old works as well. You start from somewhere and you end up in a totally different place. Then, in this process, you realize so many things.
Jacopo: Then some days, obviously, it’s really like the set works. You wake up early. You get on set then you just work until seven and go home and you have a glass of wine and that’s it.
Mario: Yeah. So you said that research is probably the most fun part of it?
Mario: What’s, maybe, your least favorite part about the whole profession?
Jacopo: I have no doubt about it. For me it’s, for sure, archiving. Then, I’m really bad at doing that. Unfortunately, I think it has something to do with the fact that everything is digitalized nowadays. I think I would have a lot more fun organizing my archives if they was only film, ’cause it’s so practical that you have your hands involved. You have boxes and things like that. I find that more amusing than just scrolling through a bunch of folders and renaming files. Luckily, I have an assistant who helps me with that ’cause he knows I’m really, really bad. I find that part extremely boring.
Jacopo: Sometimes, it’s also updating the portfolio. Updating portfolios for a photographer is like a snake changing skin. In a way you’re happy you’re growing and you’re changing images, but you’ll always have so many doubts of what you’re putting in and putting out. So you’re like, “Am I showing new images ...” Sometimes you don’t really have to show new images, but it’s like, “Are these images really representing myself? What are people gonna think when they see these images?” It’s a lot of questions and sometimes it’s a struggle to just update a portfolio. Again, everything is digitalized. All these files. I wish you could still shoot film and have, maybe, 40, 50 images per set and be happy with that. Now we have 3,000 sometimes and you just don’t wanna go through all of that.
In large part, due to the nature of technology what it means to be a photographer today is rapidly changing. I’ve asked Jacopo to share what he thinks are the main challenges of being a professional photographer.
Jacopo: There’s two questions that are problematic, I think, for photographers nowadays. The first question is, the overproduction of images, and the second is the pace of the production of images. Images are produced and they’re posted on Instagram same day or the day after. So there is ... You can lose a lot of control in that process. So I think these two topics are really problematic for photographers because sometimes they feel like they’re just producing images without a reason almost.
Jacopo: So I think a lot of young photographers are starting to do that and then after two years or three years, they feel a little bit empty because they don’t know what’s next, really. They are like, “I don’t know if this is what I signed for when I decided I wanted to be a photographer. You know, you kinda like lose yourself in the process. You’re just basically creating images, but then you’re like, “Am I happy with these images? Am I not happy?” There’s no edit. It’s just so much that gets produced. It’s a bit of a struggle.
Mario: Yeah, it’s like a photography treadmill.
Jacopo: Yeah, and I think it’s not for young photographers. It’s even for the big names. Some of them who came from very different world felt a little bit lost about the pace and the environment. Everything is democratic on Instagram, in a way. You might have an amazing Peter Lindbergh image from the ’90s that took so long to be shot ... not just because of the technical environment. Maybe there was a super model involved and there was an entire set of people on the beach and it was, like, a four-day shoot where you really get to know the people around you.
Jacopo: You really get to have a personal relationship with whoever you’re taking photos of, whether she’s an actress or a musician or whatever. Then that image sits next to an image that has been shot in two seconds and it’s very hard to define the quality of it. So I think everything is very democratic which is good because it opens up so many opportunities for young people to start and produce images. At the same, it raises a question on who is in charge of defining what’s important and what’s not important or what’s valuable or what’s not.
Mario: How do you navigate those aspects? Is there a way, when you work with clients, that you position yourself to get as much control as you can? Is there a way that you try to do that, maybe, through your approach or proposals?
Jacopo: It’s always trying to have a conversation with the client before the job ... always helps, you know, like, having a very clear conversation, I think. The more you grow as a photographer, the more clients will hire you because of your vision and your portfolio, again, is very essential in that because they will see something in your portfolio that’s like, “Oh, this is really telling my story. It’s very pleasing to me.” If you have a very confusing portfolio, they might just hire you because you know how to take pictures. That’s is a very big difference over there. It’s like you don’t wanna get hired just because you know how to take pictures, just because you can shoot a headshot and get the right exposure. If you start that way, then everything becomes really technical, and the clients won’t really hire you for who you are.
Jacopo: So you have to get to the point where you will tell them, “This is who I am. This is how I shoot. This is what I believe into, and if that aligns with your brand, then we can tell a story together. This is how I think your story should be told and how many images we should produce.” Obviously, with clients, there’s a commercial aspect. So they have to produce a certain number of images. They have to promote their products and all of that. At the same time, I always find the best partnerships are where the client really respect the photographer and then really listens to the photographer. So the photographer feels motivated to just give the clients more.
Jacopo: Otherwise, as a photographer, you just wanna wrap at five and go home because you’re not that excited about what you’re doing. That doesn’t help the photographer, it doesn’t help the client, it doesn’t help anybody. So I think it’s a matter of education, too, for the client, like needing to be educated from photographer before the job. They need to be told, “This is what I do and this is why I think this is great.” That’s why the message is so important when you build your portfolio because that’s the story you wanna tell to your clients as well. You wanna tell them, “I really believe in no makeup. That’s who I am. I don’t like makeup.” You’re not gonna work with every single client, of course. So you have to be selective of that. At the same time, the clients you will work with, they will wanna book you, like, six times, seven times. You will be a lasting relationship over very quick and technical exchanges.
There’s another crucial element which is often the source of struggle for professional photographers. That’s making enough money to earn yourself a living. Here Jacopo shares his thoughts on that.
Jacopo: Definitely, the whole industry has changed so much and I think for some young photographers, it’s hard to navigate because they don’t know how to position themselves and not to be taken advantage of. Obviously, having an agent does help, especially at the beginning because you don’t know the dynamics. I think, sometimes, once you learn the dynamics ... once you have enough experience, you could also work by yourself without having an agent. You might just wanna have a manager or a very good assistant or a very good accountant. Reality is, if you’re starting out ... sometimes people will take advantage of you just because you don’t know how to position yourself. That’s not always bad because if you’re a young photographer, you might not be as good and then that might be an opportunity for because you’re getting a job. That job will help you get other jobs and grow and learn the dynamic.
Jacopo: So if you’re a very young photographer, and you’re starting and you’re saying, “I’m only shooting four images because that’s what I’m getting paid for and I wanna have three years’ licensing rights,” or whatever, most of the clients will just run away and they won’t hire. It’s a combination of things. You really have to learn the dynamics. You really have to learn how to position yourself, how much is your cost. Normally, you get paid a daily fee or you get paid per image. Then there are costs that associated with the image production which are rights of usage. That depends on where your images are gonna be. If it’s an editorial for a magazine, if it’s commercial work or advertising work, it’s more.
Jacopo: Nowadays, I don’t think it’s essential to have an agent anymore. I think a lot of agencies are actually struggling because so easy for clients to just reach to photographers themself. They see their work on Instagram and then just send them private ... Like, I get DMs all the time from people or clients that want to work with me. So I think, if you have a lot of jobs, it’s obviously helpful to have a manager that helps your scheduling, the meetings, the negotiating, and gets the legal stuff out of the way, too, because you have to be protected ... wanna make sure that you have good contracts in place for the images you produce.
Jacopo: I heard stories of photographers producing images for, like, $2,000 and then seeing their images on major ads in the world, like on Times Square. That’s shady. We would like to think people wouldn’t do that, but it happens. So you have to get protected in that sense.
Mario: Yeah, yeah.
Jacopo: Obviously a good accountant, too, does help. Sometimes when you’re a young photographers you have to take on costs such as post-production, paying your assistants, paying for equipment up front... So having a good cash flow is also important. You wanna make that you are able to sustain yourself for two months until you get paid, ’cause sometimes clients won’t give advances or stuff like that.
Mario: Besides working as a photographer, you’re also partner in a production and content agency November87. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Jacopo: It started as a production agency because of how many images are produced today. The idea came from the fact that brands today, they’re in need of so many images. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the stream of it. I really wanted to offer clients the possibility of producing images that were meaningful, that were not just beautiful, but they really sent a message somehow, and they were really aligning with the brand values of the clients.
Jacopo: I also loved the idea ... and this is, I think, because the photographer’s role has changed so much that I like the idea of the photographer being more of an image-maker than just a simple photographer. Sometimes, on set, we shoot stills, but we shoot with film as well. We produce short videos. We produce longer videos, longest features. Sometimes brands would need a look book, but they would also need images for the social media channels. They could even need boomerang or internal images. So I like the idea of a photographer who’s able to be in charge of a lot of these aspects.
Jacopo: Some photographers could feel snobbish about Instagram, and they will think a boomerang looking at images for Instagram is not really that elevating ... could be frustrating for some people. It’s not, at all, frustrating to me because I feel like Instagram is just another medium. Magazines have less importance nowadays and Instagram gets a lot of eye balls. That’s where people go for image content. So you have to embrace that if you wanna be an image-maker in general. So we can’t really avoid that part, I think. That’s why the agency helped me be in charge of more of the image production in general.
Mario: Do you have more people with you? How is it structured?
Jacopo: Yeah, there’s another two guys working with me on the company. So it’s three people, total ... freelancers, of course.
Mario: Are you all creators, like photographers and such or is more like manager-type people?
Jacopo: It’s more like manager-type. Then everything is project-based. That was part of video ... really give our clients a customized experience. So we hire other people depending on the project. That’s also really fun for me. Again, this goes back to being true to who you are as a photographer. I can’t take on projects that are not aligned with me. I’d rather work with another great talent that does things better than me in that sense ... or that’s better for that client than myself. That helps my mental stability, too ’cause if I work with a client that is really not right for me, I much prefer to hire somebody else that worked well for that client. That makes the client happy. I’m happy to give the job to another talent, help that talent grow. At the same time, I don’t feel frustrated at the end of the day because I’ve done something that’s not me. It’s a win for everybody, really.
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Growth seems to be a crucial factor of longterm courier success and personal satisfaction. I wanted to hear how Jacopo manages that part of his career.
Jacopo: I really think that’s the hardest part because it’s such a growing process and the more you learn, the more you realize you were doing it wrong. The more you learn, also, the more you get inspired. It’s like having a lot of options whee you need to decide what options you are ... who you are. That’s why I do so much research because it really helps me refocus. Sometimes I like something but I realize I just like it for a moment. Sometimes I like something because it’s great, but then even though it’s great, even though I admire it, it’s on me, then I’m like, “Okay, so this is somebody else amazing job. But it’s not really what I would love to do.” So it’s kind of a struggle, to be honest. You reposition yourself all the time. Again, I think it’s really the more you learn, the more you see, the more you read ... It’s everything culturally relevant that helps you.
Jacopo: Reading books, watching movies, watching serials, reaching about tech ... any kind of topic, even reading news, really. Some of the best Steven Meisel’s editorials for Italian Vogue that were based on news stories. So it’s really about keeping yourself aware culturally. It can even be just surf on Tumblr. I love surfing on Tumblr, then I always follow and I get so many inspirations out of that. Then I go back and I’m like, “Okay, maybe this was not something that was really me. So maybe I should work in a different way or try different medium, different tools,” and so on.
Mario: Would you say that’s a thing that you’re struggling the most or is there something else? Do you have any other challenges currently in front of you?
Jacopo: Yeah, I would say that’s one of the biggest challenge always. I think I’m doing a decent job on that, but there’s always a lot of space to improve. Another challenge that I think is giving me a little bit of stress is the fact that, sometimes, I’m producing too much. I like the idea of slowing down in the future and produce less and less and be more selective with the images that I put out there.
Jacopo: I think that’s not just a personal feeling. I think that a lot of people are feeling this way but they haven’t processed it yet. Again, I think it has to do with the fact that we’re seeing so many images. Then Susan Sontag, who’s an amazing writer and photography critic, she already said that a few years ago. She said, “There’s so much image production in the world nowadays, that no one’s gonna be able to edit that, and photographers gonna feel empty.” Why do we need to shoot more images? We do have enough. Why are we producing more?
Jacopo: So my struggle is really slowing down and then do more relevant meaningful work that can tell a story that can send a message and that can lead people to think better about certain topics.
I think it’s virtually impossible to grow if we are staying in our comfort zone. In the “Icarus Deception,” which is one of my favorite books about being a creator today, Seth Godin asks, “What do you do when your comfort zone and safety zone are no longer the same? For example, remaining in a job that’s no longer challenging might be comfortable, but it’s actually not safe because you’re falling behind your peers.” Here’s Jacopo’s thoughts about that theme.
Jacopo: It’s easy to get stuck in your comfort zone once the careers of a photographer takes off a little bit. That happened to me when, before I moved to the United States, it happened to me because I was in a really good comfort zone where I had an agent who was providing good jobs for me and basically good money jobs. I wasn’t becoming rich, but I was making a good amount of money, and I could sustain myself, and I was happy of just being a photographer.
Jacopo: Then, after a few years, I to the point where I realized all these jobs that I was doing, they were not making me happy in any way and they were not helping me grow. So I was, maybe, financially stable, but I was going nowhere really. So this big investment for me was getting out of my comfort zone. That really pushes you more and pushes you to discover yourself. I split with my agent and we decided to work together anymore. I had a open conversation with him and I said, “I don’t think this is doing any good for me and it’s just bring in business, but it’s business that’s not relevant.” I definitely think that helped me a lot. So keeping an eye open outside of your comfort zone, I think really helps.
Mario: When did you move to United States and why?
Jacopo: That was six years ago. I think it was more of a life decision. It wasn’t really a career move. I got to the point where I was a little bit tire of being in Europe. I’d been traveling to the US for a long time, but I never tried to live, actually, in the US. I was 25 years old, and I thought it was a good time to try it out ... see if I liked it and see if that would help my career as well. I’m I did it because I learned a lot of new things that I might not have learned if I stayed in the same place.
Jacopo: Right now, I’m feeling the same because I got to the point where I’m growing into a comfort zone again. So I’m wondering what’s next in my life that’ll make me go out of the comfort zone again. Sometimes it’s due to being in a difficult position. Comfort doesn’t really help. Not easy to let comfort go, at the same time, because you feel comfortable.
Mario: Yeah, exactly.
Jacopo: I think one of the best advices I could give ... but this is not just for photographers ... I think it’s for everybody. If you’re feeling too comfortable, it’s not a good sign. Just get out and feel not comfortable again.
Mario: Yeah, that’s really important. That a part of the growth. Basically, in the process, you’ll feel alive and satisfied.
Jacopo: Yeah. I think you’ll have a challenge. You’ll have a challenge. You’ll have someone to be, new things to explore. Comfort really doesn’t help. It’s great to have, but I think in life, it’s always about the journey and not the end goal. I think once you get to the comfort, that’s your end goal. So you have to get out of that again and start again the journey and the process. That’s what the plan is.
Mario: Yeah, it seems like some other things, you’re self aware of that, but does that come naturally to your if your character trait or did you have to learn that?
Jacopo: I’m not sure if it’s a character trait. I had to learn that the hard way. Once I did it and I realized it was better for me, I realized it was also good life advice. It’s not easy. It’s actually opposites. It’s so easy when you’re in the comfort zone, you just be like, “Why would I wanna step out again? Why would I wanna do something different? It just feels good here at the moment.” I think that’s always when I want to push out of it because I sense that something is wrong in that environment.
Jacopo: I think after everybody just think about yourself and if you feel like you’re in too much of a comfort zone, you’re probably secretly not so happy about that and you’re looking for challenges.
Mario: Exactly. The zone is comfortable, but you do start feeling that itch, that unease. It’s always somewhere at the back of your mind.
Jacopo: Exactly. It might be good to be in the comfort zone for a little bit of time once you get there because everybody needs to rest and everybody deserves to be at peace and sometimes be like, “Okay, I’m just gonna enjoy this moment.” But then it could be as easy as traveling somewhere for two weeks by yourself. I always suggest traveling by yourself sometimes. You’ll see a lot of things and you learn about different cultures, but you really get to learn a lot about yourself as well, at the same time.
Even if our career is generally satisfying, it doesn’t free us from making mistakes and countering obstacles or simply having those hard days. Still, as professionals, we have to execute on our promises. I was curious to hear how Jacopo manages those situations.
Jacopo: When I was facing the challenges, I try to step back a little sometimes and think about what am I doing wrong. Why this is happening to me and then push back harder. I think part of my character is not giving up on difficulties and trying to learn and understand why certain things are not working. Sometimes, though, you’re banging at the wrong door and I learned that the hard way because, again, I’m a stubborn person and I don’t wanna give up. I don’t see why certain things are not working. It really is because you’re banging at the wrong door. Maybe that’s not what you also wanna do.
Jacopo: Sometimes we get sidetracked by our own ambitions, especially nowadays ambitions could be fame, or could be power positions or respect positions ’cause you want other peoples’ respect. We want other people to know that we’re doing good and our currently is doing really well. Sometimes, those are not really good values.
Jacopo: The real value is stepping back and realizing what you’re doing is making you happy and then if there is any struggle in your life, whether it’s personal or professional, what is causing it and why? Kind of analyze yourself and realize that you have to ... I think this is for everybody again. You have to do things that make you happy no matter what.
Jacopo: If it’s a job, you have to do a profession that’s inspiring to you and then it’s not just giving you a paycheck. So you might love the idea of glamorous photographer world. You might wanna be there, but deep down you might not be that person that wants to do that.
Jacopo: For example, I realized I’m not interested in being a super fancy glamorous photographer that goes to all the cool parties or the cool dinners and all of that. I prefer to step back and maybe work in a more introspective way. Sometimes when you’re too close to certain struggles ... when you’re too close to problems, you don’t really get to focus on them properly. So stepping back, you see them in their entirety and then you’re more able to fix them.
Jacopo: If you’re having problems traveling for two weeks, three weeks to a different place, it might help you refocus on why you’re having these struggles. Then, again, if it’s personal, I think everybody reacts differently. I really think you can find comfort in reading other people’s stories, reading books. I feel like it’s always best not to be afraid to as for help if you need any.
Jacopo: Even sometimes reaching out to people you admire. Sometimes I feel like people are afraid of reaching to people they admire. Even sending an email to somebody asking for advice and suggestions ... Sometimes I get emails from really young photographers or students and they just want a piece of advice. It’s so easy to give it to them.
At the time of this recording, around 50 percent of my creative work revolves around art direction. However, I started my career primarily as a graphic designer and I haven’t done almost any proper art direction until I’ve worked at Kinfolk Magazine. So art direction is something I got into and still learning on the job. Since I like a traditional education on the topic, somewhat selfishly, I’ve used this chance to ask Jacopo what, for him, as a photographer constitutes a good brief from an art director.
Jacopo: I like that the art direction is clear like we know we’re going for this vibe and they’re going for my photography, but they’re not setting the shots up for me. I think it’s very frustrating for photographers when certain art directors try to tell them how to set up a shot or they send them images of like, “We would really love an image like this,” and they send a specific photo.
Jacopo: For some photographers, it’s helpful, and for some commercial work it’s also helpful because it gives them a good trace. It’s like a good starting point. I always feel like you’re really copying the thing in the shot and you’re never gonna get at the same level.
Jacopo: Normally, good art directors, they do don’t do this. Sometimes you can get a brief of images that don’t really make much sense. I got a brief with mood board of really beautiful images from the ’90s with Kate Moss and Christy Turlington. It’s a bunch of different black and white images that don’t really make any sense. For a photographer, when you receive these kind of briefs, you look at them and you be like, “Okay,” and then you move on because it’s not helping us in any way. You know what I mean?
Jacopo: Sometimes, it’s just like, “Yeah, these are beautiful timeless images.” They sent me these shots from Kate Moss from Corrine Day or Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, and then you look at it and you’re like, “Wow, this is amazing,” and it’s beautiful ... the essence of photography, really. Then you want me to replicate this shot of Naomi Campbell in a bathtub with a glass of champagne. It’s never gonna look like that. We can’t reproduce that image. We have to have our own way to produce something amazing. We can’t just like put a model in a bathtub with a glass of champagne. She just look at you and like, “What am I doing in here?”, you know?
Jacopo: The thing about photography is you have to create an entire world around it. That image ... if probably everybody on set was drinking ... everybody was having fun and somebody said, like, “Oh, why don’t you go in the bath tub?” If she was drinking champagne and she was in a happy mood and the whole energy on the set was good for that shot. When you try to replicate that ... and sometimes I get these briefs, I’m like, “Guys, I get it, but this is a bit childish.” It’s not gonna look like that. You’re gonna have to give me something deeper to work with as an idea, I think.
Mario: And do you, like in those cases, push back or suggest something else? How do you manage that?
Jacopo: It depends on the client and it depends on the art director. And, again, normally very good art directors don’t do this. They know that they need to provide me with guidelines that make sense for me as a photographer.
Jacopo: They might tell me me, like, “We really want a harsh shadows and we wanna work underexposed and cannot be moody,” and they can provide me with three, four photographers’ reference names and, maybe, provide a movie reference and tell me a little bit more about this story. I think the job of a good art director is also to hire the right photographers.
Jacopo: Why would they send me a very specific brief when they can just hire somebody else that fits their image? So I think that’s also a part of it. You can’t hire very technical car photographer and pretend that he’s gonna be shooting Peter Lindbergh images. It’s just not a match. You have to respect the photographer’s identify.
We’ve come to the very end of the conversation I had with Jacopo. I aim to wrap up every episode with some form of actionable or inspirational advice from my guests. Here’s three wonderful closing insights Jacopo shared with me.
Jacopo: First advice I would give is get to know yourself in every possible way because every creative job requires a deeper understanding of yourself and what you like in life. I think the best cases of creative people whether it’s an architect or a photographer or an artist, musicians ... when they really get to know what’s their place in the world and what they stand for. That’s for sure advice number one. Creative jobs are so connected with who you are and how you express yourself that the more you learn about yourself, as a person, the better will be your outcome at work.
Jacopo: The second one would be if you’re a photographer, do not just look at photography. Go out and experience deeper and creative environments and try different things. As a photographer, you can get inspired by design. You can get inspired by architecture again, by music, by movies. All creative bills are connected. Obviously, it’s like when you’re working on a movie, you have moving images. You have photography. You have storytelling. You have sound. You have visually-appealing images. You have locations. So I think you kind of have to approach creative like that. The more you know about other creative bills, the better you’ll be at your job and the better you’ll perform in general. If you grow knowledgeable about everything, and you try to always constantly update yourself on different topics, the more you’ll be able to have a good conversation with other creative people who will ultimately enrich your life or your creative career. It’s hard to be a good photographer if you only know about photography.
Jacopo: The last advice I would give is probably do not get overly frustrated with failures and mistakes and challenges and people refusing your work because it’s a long journey and even when you’ll be 50 years old and very established, you will still experience refusal. For some people, it’s hard to overcome difficulties because they feel overwhelmed or they feel like they’re not enough. That’s not really the case. In these fields, you just have to listen and then, sometimes, you’re just not ready for those things yet.
Jacopo: You might feel frustrated. You might feel like why if you think the work is good enough. Actually, there’s always an opportunity behind that and it’s a growing opportunity. So I think, actually, you should be happy about mistakes and failures because they will grow you stronger. If you start a career and then you have all the doors open and you get to the top without having problems, something is wrong. Something’s really, really wrong.
Jacopo: I think all the problems are really big opportunities for you. If you get yourself to that mindset where you know that you’re not gonna give up and you’re not gonna say, “Yes,” to failure, that’s good mindset to have. Just don’t feel frustrated about it. This door is not opening at the moment. I’m just gonna go and try this other door. If not, I’m gonna move back and try something different. It’s really about not getting frustrated. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to mistake. That’s the best way to learn. That’s the best way to grow.
For everybody at home keeping score, I believe we touched on a lot of useful information for anybody out there interested in photography, art direction, and developing as creative professionals.
I want to thank Jacopo for coming onto the show. He’s an inspiring creative and I’ve learned a lot just by talking with him for less than two hours.
Links to Jacopo’s work, his Instagram, as well as some other things mentioned during our conversation, can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast. You can follow @creative.voyage on Instagram. You can also email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe, and until next time, my friends, take care.
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