Finding one's place in one of the most competitive industries in a foreign city is not an easy task, but Roberto Greco is carving his way slowly and surely through the photography scene. During my interview with Roberto, he told me that people are often surprise when they met him in person, as they imagine someone much older. Despite his youthful appearance, as our interview progress, there is a sense that I am talking to an old soul, Greco emanates something fragile but equally forceful, with a determined passion.
Words by Diana Rovanio | All images courtesy of Roberto Greco
D.R: Hi Roberto, very nice to meet you! Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and about your work?
R.G: Truthfully, I just discovered from first-hand experience over these past few years that what I do is considered totally different to my peers' work. In the beginning, I didn't have an impression that it was, I was naive and I have always thought that we all have our distinct identity and style as a photographer, and everyone follows their own route. But the more I delve into this industry, the more I realize that it's completely the opposite. In regards to my style, I don't know yet if it's a quality or a fault. For the moment it's both, I attract clients because of it and I also lose clients because of it.
You definitely have to be thick-skinned when you work in this industry. I’ve heard remarks such as : « It’s as if you are blind to what others are doing » but they say it like it's a fault, when I, on the other hand, thought that it was a positive, to be authentic in what you do. I think that’s what’s problematic here in Paris, this sort of unsaid conformity.
I think the last remark I had about my book was something like: "It's as if you have a portfolio of a bat" (laughs).
D.R: Looking through your work, what I like is that through each project, you can always tell that it's your touch, there is a red thread that makes it so distinct.
R.G : Well, I come from an artistic background and I regard each piece of my work as personal work. I try to bring my universe into the commercial work that I do. When I first arrived in Paris, I thought that this way of doing things was also a strength, but then they reproached me for being "too artistic". Nevertheless, I get a lot of work, especially with perfume.
D.R: How did you start taking pictures of perfume?
R.G: I love perfume even outside the context of photography. I started unintentionally by taking photos of perfume bottles because I had them at home. Who knows, maybe If I had been someone who collected shoes, maybe today, I would take pictures of shoes and would only do that all the time !
Anyway, I soon realized that there is a very strong universe tied to the world of perfume. Often, the creator of the perfume or the brand has a complex and very narrative "autour du jus" -around the subject. There are so many stories to be told, it has its own personality, such as whether it’s a cold perfume or a hot perfume. There are also brands who reference wine, or animals, for example. Working from one brand to another then created a sort of snowball effect for my work.
D.R: What is your working process for perfume projects?
Normally, at first, I have a discussion with the creator of the brand, they tell me the universe they would like, and I propose mine. In general, I try to push for my ideas. I am fortunate that a lot of my clients are people who came to me and who trusted my vision. Then, I start the preparation by preparing the mood board, sketches, or constructing the set.
Afterwards, I try to have some trials by experimenting with things at home. Whether it's for my own project or to prepare for upcoming ones. Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the kind of light that I use in my pictures takes a lot of time. It's a picturesque kind of light that originates from paintings. Even if I have mastered this kind of lighting, it still takes quite some time to do it; I need to watch over the intensity of light and I need to do the reflections. Adding to the difficulty is the perfume bottle which, in itself, is like a piece of jewelry where the light and the reflections react differently to the object.
Most of the time, my still-life projects are composed like an interrupted moment, it’s a discussion with the silence that appears from the darkness. The same goes with the light that I create, I come to paint and sculpt objects in the dark to reveal it little by little and to give a rhythm to the composition, some kind of hide-and-seek. The notion of rhythm, time, and stillness is very important to me, I try to give strength to calmness and create a dynamic of power between them.
D.R: Could you tell me about your still life projects and how you started to work with animals?
R.G: It might sound cliché, but I do love animals. My work around animals and still life especially began when I discovered the work of Jan Fabre and his piece « Carnival for the dead street dogs » (2006). I was also influenced by the Renaissance painters such as Caravaggio, Vermeer, Wilem Claeszoon, Zurbaran.. but these last few years I am more drawn by painters such as Chirico ou Giorgio Morandi. More graphical and metaphysical.
My first still-life series that I did in 2012 or 2011 was the Baroque style still life, the still life of the Renaissance era. The idea is to show different animals to those which you normally see in paintings in order to bring out the playful side. That’s where I discovered the universe of taxidermy. It has always fascinated me, and it made me discover a whole other side of Paris. You can find huge taxidermy shops here. Afterwards, several brands approached me to do a similar project, but it has been quite a while since I used animals in my projects, but it's true that people often still ask about it (laughs).
D.R: How was the experience of directing animals ? Do you leave them to do their thing or do you have ways to direct them ?
Well, in the video with the snake, I couldn’t do much, it was me who adapted to its rhythm. As you can see, it was in a vase, I think it was so comfortable in there that at one point it didn’t want to come out anymore! The owner then splashed some water to lure it to come out.
When I worked with mice (which I am more used to now) I have a technique to protect the set which is blocking all the places they might sneak in and hide, all while creating a flow. Otherwise, the animals are often already dead, they are either taxidermy or I buy the bodies of animals that are already dead. Though it might sound odd, sometimes it does happen.
Concerning the work of other photographers, I hardly look at any. It actually distracts me, I think. I don’t want to know what’s going on, and it’s not at all by pretentiousness, I just feel that I have enough doubts that I do not wish to be confronted by the work of others every day and to constantly question if what I do is good enough or not.
D.R: Could you tell me a little bit about your background?
R.G: Before delving into photography, I actually did horticulture, that was my profession in the beginning. And then I attended 2 schools in Switzerland : the Academy of Applied Arts Vevey (CEPV) in 2007, and then the Cantonal School of Art and Design, Lausanne (ECAL) in 2010. At ECAL they taught us how to defend our projects and to have a concept. In contrast, my first school was very technical. From the very first day, we were taught to do a 5 cm reflection, not 6 and not 4, they demanded precision. I think if I were to do my studies all over again, I would have done it in the exact same way because I arrived at ECAL with a strong technical background and it allowed me freedom to explore concepts. After I finished, I stayed in Switzerland for another two years and I arrived in Paris 4 years ago.
D.R: Do you think that your background as a horticulturist influences the way you view your photos ?
R.G: Yes, more and more so. I started a series of artistic portraits 2 years ago and I am currently in the process of finishing it. The theme involves plants and humans. I actually went back full circle to my first profession and it is very interesting because at the end, I discovered that I have a connection to plants as I do with objects. I think it should be finished in January 2017. It will be a photo exhibition in Switzerland.
D.R: Are there any other particular objects that you would like to photograph ?
People are new to me, I still have plenty to discover in that respect. It’s a completely different dynamic. When working with people, the image is constructed by you and this other person, there is this give and take. Whereas with an object… well, you can’t expect much from it, it’s all in your hands. You are the one who has to construct the image from beginning till the end.
D.R: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to enter this field ?
R.G: To change their mind (laughs)
Well, truth be told, I’m not sure I’m the right person to give advice. While it’s true that Paris is "the" place to be for photography, I still have the sentiment that I am somewhat an outlier. I think I didn’t choose the easiest way to go about it. But if this person has a certain style and he/she is brave enough to defend it, I would say good luck and dive in!
To see more of Roberto's work: Click HERE