014 / 20 September 2014 / Features
The Existential Crisis of
Daisy St. Patience and Brandy Alexander
Photography by Su Mustecaplioglu
In Conversation with George Pitts
Su Mustecaplioglu has a way of capturing women that embodies eroticism, power, and fragility all at once. For Volume I: The Identity Issue, she portrayed two contemporary literary heroines from Chuck Palahniuk's "Invisible Monsters," turning their misadventures and personal demons into a fashion editorial of cinematic scale. Photographer and one of our very own contributors, George Pitts, used his own perspective and experience to get the rundown on Su Mustecaplioglu, from why she chooses female subjects to how she views the relationship between fashion and fine art.
George Pitts: What is it that you like about shooting a fashion story? Does the pressure to include fashion credits inhibit you, or challenge you constructively to integrate clothing labels in the narrative that you create?
Su Mustecaplioglu: I am fascinated by clothes almost as much as I am with bare skin. Clothes help create a mood and bring the concept to life. That being said, I also find clothing very distracting while I shoot; it’s almost something I need to figure out how to avoid or work around, so I have some mixed feelings towards clothes. Sometimes they create too much clutter and I much prefer creating images that are cleaner and more minimal.
GP: How do you arrive at the narratives that you explore? Are they the result of thinking over a long period? Or are they derived from personal experiences that you wish to commemorate in a fiction? Are you as passionate about creating a random series of photographs that showcase the clothes, as you are when you have a story that you wish to visualize?
SM: Inspiration can come from all things that are narrative while remaining surreal and non-linear, almost like a hazy dream where not everything makes sense, nor does it need to. I can be inspired by truly anything: I have 10-20 mood boards going on at all times. Usually they start as very specific ideas and evolve into more fluid concepts. I feel that my work is never fully mine until the moment it starts coming to life. In the process of transforming an idea into reality, it becomes less about me and more about my subject, whereas before I shoot, my idea is entirely mine and all about me--almost an extension of myself, a projection of what’s going on in my head at that moment. So I enjoy the process of making an idea happen, it's the collaboration that makes it more interesting. I aim to make images that leave the viewer with a sensation rather than an understanding. I often find myself determined to convey a feeling rather than a linear story. Truth and reality are often not what occupies my mind as much as emotions, dreams and memories.
GP: Do you prevision your scenarios before photographing them? Or do you arrive at your sequence of pictures as a result of chance, or brainstorming on set?
SM: I always bring movement and light references with me, mostly movie stills but also contemporary art and fashion images. I show my mood boards to the entire crew and models, but in the end, it all depends on the model and how we work together. I can have all the ideas I want in my head, but sometimes it simply doesn't look “right” when I try to apply it on the subject, so then I have to work with her to see what I can learn from her own way of moving and her energy.
GP: What kind of narrative stories would you ideally like to represent? Can you see yourself shooting fashion categories such as Beauty, or Still Life?
SM: I never had an interest in photographing things that don't have a person next to them. I almost never take photos that are not of people. To me people need to be captured whereas objects and scenery need to be experienced in real life. While I truly appreciate great landscape photography, I can't really ever picture myself doing landscape or still life photography. I can shoot Beauty much more easily, since I love playing with light and how it hits the model's face.
GP: Do you think about casting female subjects exclusively when you imagine the stories that are unique to your taste? What is the process like in the casting of your models for a story? Is there a recurrent form of beauty or glamour that only certain models embody, which are crucial to your creative vision? What are the physical attributes you’re looking for in your casting of models?
SM: I almost always cast female models, because I find women more pleasurable to photograph. But I would never want to limit myself this way, so this will be an ongoing effort in my career to expand my skills in every way. For some photographers the model's gender is not a problem. But for me, I've only looked at women long enough to study their movements, so it becomes easier for me to direct them. There is always a specific kind of girl I am after, but it's not necessarily a hair or skin color thing; it has much more to do with attitude.
GP: What are some of the influences that inspire the stories that you tell? Do you draw from Cinema; the narrative aesthetic of photographers you revere; or the books that you read? How crucial is it for you to exercise your imagination?
SM: I love everything by David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman. If the two of them could make a film, it would be both bizarre and gorgeous. I am often inspired by books as well. My shoot for Tabula Rasa is based of Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters, which is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about self image and identity—the thought that we are not “made,” but that instead we make ourselves. My latest big project was also based on Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis, involving self-image and madness. I find her work unbelievably inspiring and haunting. Psychology fascinates me, so a lot of my work deals with themes within that.
GP: Who are the photographers from any genre, whose work you look at and think about? Describe some of the things that you appreciate in the aesthetics of favorite photographers or artists.
SM: I have a strange collection of photographers that I never get tired of studying, for reasons I wouldn't know how and wouldn't want to explain. The list goes as (in no specific order): the compositions of Man Ray, the appreciative eye of Helmut Newton, the rich negative spaces of Ray Metzker, the colors of Philip Lorca di Corcia, the subject treatments of Katy Grannan and Tina Barney, the staged intimacy of Bettina Rheims, the drama of Alex Prager, the versatility of Steven Meisel and Mario Sorrenti, the grandeur of Gregory Crewdson, the color esthetics of Viviane Sassen, the mystery of Saul Leiter, the mastery of Nicolas Tikhomiroff, the graphic eye of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the softness of Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville, the theatricality of Claude Cahun, the passion of Weegee, the mind of Irving Penn, the emotions of Peter Hujar and Mark Morrisroe... I could keep going.
GP: Do you see the Fashion pictorial as a form of Fine Art? What distinguishes a Fashion story when you feel it reaches the level of Art?
SM: Images of fashion can be beautiful, thought-through, emotional and inspiring. They can also be boring, expected, dry and very tacky. To me, all these apply to fine-art imagery as much as they apply to fashion imagery. I've seen both awful fashion photos and awful fine-art photos. I don't think there is a sentence to describe when an image becomes artful and when it just stays "commercial," because it really depends on whoever is looking at it. I guess what I am trying to say is: if an image is inspirational, that is when it can reach the level of "Art" and makes some type of a difference in someone's mind. Maybe that is the drive, maybe we make images to change something, not a whole lot, but just a little bit. To make someone stop for just a moment and notice; to encounter that wonderful feeling when one is experiencing a work of Art. Or maybe we just make pornographic images and call it fashion, which is fine by me, because porn can be very inspirational.