Black & White Beauty

with Mark Arbeit

Some great things are born from laziness and meditation. Photography is the result of an idle and an intense meditation which end up producing a beautiful image in black and white…

Elliott Erwitt

Do you think colors have somehow damaged our ability to imagine and meditate?

Color is just one of the many tools used in creating a photograph. When I’m working on a picture for myself, I always turn to black & white. I love how black & white takes you a step away from reality. Color and black & white are like two sides of a coin, both important but very different. Blumenfeld’s early color work is amazing what he discovered and created.

In and out of focus

Out of Focus, one of the most appreciated series by Mark Arbeit, is a result of his participation in an experimental photography group called “The Cauldron”. He would narrow the depth of field until the flower was in sharp focus and the woman no more than a dreamy blur behind it, mimicking its shape and movement.

What is the secret of the female body which makes it one of the most represented subject of all time?

It is unquestionable beauty in every shape and form. Every female shape is unique, and each photo shoot with a female nude has been a new and different experience.
When I started photographing female nudes, I was criticized for always working with fashion models — long, skinny, small breast — but those were the girls I was around — being a fashion photographer. So I searched for Rubensesque — Voluptuous — models, adding another dimension to my work.


Your thought about censorship: do you think a nipple is really so harmful, or there’s a problem with the porn business?

It’s all very silly. Europeans have a more sophisticated way of looking at the female nude, in a very natural way. Americans on the other hand are very prudish or backwards about the body. Helmut Newton once said, “People who think my work is pornographic don’t know what pornography is”.

Some of the more significant differences between personal and less personal work:

My personal work is, “taking a photograph completely for myself”. If it’s good enough, one day I might show it to others. Editorial, at a high level, can also be very personal and satisfying. But you’re working for a magazine and you always have to come away with great photographs if you want to be called back next time. In Advertising, the client is paying you, so I feel they should have the final word. I’ve always believed you can be successful at both personal work and editorial/advertising photography, like changing gears on a car. Today I’m shooting for a client, tomorrow I’m doing something completely for myself. I watched Irving Penn and Helmut Newton do it quite well.

Penelope Cruz + Pierce Brosnan

Someone says celebrities are very moody people, you’ve had dealings with actors such Penelope Cruz and Pierce Brosnan: what are the difficulties you faced?

To be a celebrity photographer you have to be very perceptive and sensitive to the actor’s feelings. If you gain their trust and they like your ideas, an actor will do anything for you.
With Penelope Cruz, I was on assignment to photograph her at the Cannes film festival, so my time was limited. Luckily I was able to capture a few personal moments.
With Pierce Brosnan it was quite a different story. We were invited to his beach house in Hawaii, so it was a confortable environment for Pierce and a great location for the photo shoot! He was one of the coolest actors I’ve ever worked with, the day went smooth and we had a successful shoot.
With actors, you must have your lighting and set-up ready when they arrive in front of your camera, work quickly and keep them engaged. When you feel you have the picture, move on to the next set-up. You can’t let an actor get bored or you’ll loose them.

Do you ever feel any “analog” guilt during the transition to digital?

No. Digital is a great tool for editorial & commercial work. When I’m working on a personal project, I always go back to analog, Kodak Tri-X. Working on my Torso series, I photographed analog, scanned the negative to retouch on the computer, next I had a negative made from the digital file, lastly printing the picture in a darkroom. There is still nothing that compares to a Silver Gelatin Print!

OOF-The Dance

Do you think an artist should follow his/her own journey and visionary instinct, beyond all the difficulties, or there are always limits?

I don’t feel there are limits if you’re creating something for yourself. Yes, you have to follow your own journey, but creative ideas come from something you’ve seen in life or art in the past. Hopefully you will discover an interesting new variation that is uniquely yours.

The memory you would fix/photograph in your mind forever:

I’ve always seen myself as a photographers’ photographer. All my closest friends are photographers and I had the honor of knowing and working with Helmut Newton and Irving Penn.
It’s been a blessing discovering photography, and using it as an extension of my creative expression. I can’t paint so luckily there’s photography.


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