By Alejandra Hernandez
The Italian would-be engineer discovered her talent for photography fortuitously during her studies. Since then, her images have been published in the most important magazines around the world and she’s recognised as one of the most promising young photographers of her generation.
How you have you developed your career? Tell us your story!
I’ve always been a very creative person since I was a kid, but somehow I never thought about undertaking a path in photography until my mid 20’s.
I discovered my interest in photography during my studies in engineering. I started photographing my sisters and friends without too many expectations and without any formal education. Then the more I was doing it, the more I wanted to do it and it slowly became a big distraction from my studies.
At some point I was getting some attention, and I decided to take the risk, leave my studies and move to London. I saved enough money to stay for a couple of months without having to work and focus only on developing a portfolio. Luckily things went quite fast for me and I was soon proposed to work for a magazine and, soon after, I could manage to stay longer and settle in London working full time as a photographer.
Which photographers influence your work?
I could mention a lot of photographers and artists that influenced and keep influencing me, old and new. When I first started taking pictures a few years ago, I was not interested in fashion at all and the photographers that I admired the most were the ones who depicted what was probably their own reality with energy and personality, such as Nan Goldin, Annie Leibovitz or Vivian Maier. Most of the time I was fascinated not only by the way they were taking pictures but also by their subjects. They all seemed to have such a strong personality and they portrayed them in the most sincere and authentic way. I’ve always been very interested in the story that a picture would tell. The row and mysterious aesthetic is also something that I love, the way everything is so simple and basic but still so strong.
Would you say your work is part of any current art trends?
Although I’ve never tried to fit anywhere specifically, being a woman myself photographing mostly women positions my work in the sphere of the Female Gaze.
The female perspective in the last few years has brought a fresh point of view, one that shows the reciprocity of the female gaze. I think it’s fundamental. Nowadays, ‘feminism’, ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’ are themes abundantly debated in the photography and fashion community. The risk is that, when a topic becomes a trend, people start to see the theme with superficiality and for some people it becomes almost boring, making it lose the importance that it had at its origin. The female gaze and the representation of the woman from a different perspective is not such a new topic anymore, but I think it’s still very necessary.
There is no doubt that for many years the male gaze dominated the scene, showing women exclusively from a male perspective. I’m happy to see how women are taking back some control of their image.
How can one develop his/her personal point of view in photography?
I think that what is important is to keep trying, experimenting and keep ourselves inspired and motivated. Failing and trying new things is part of the process. Some people have a much clearer vision and others need more time to find it. I believe that we have to find what inspires us and go with that, without being too distracted by what other people are doing (which is the real challenge).
What I think is very important is to do your own research away from social media. Instagram tends to show the same images to everyone, and at the end we’d all come up with the same ideas. I think it’s important to find your inspiration also elsewhere. I’m not sure there is a specific way to develop a personal point of view. I’d rather think it’s something that we instinctively have, you just have to take your time to bring it to the surface.
Would you say your work has a touch of your personal Italian roots?
I’m generally more inspired by what I know, or what represents a kind of personal experience. I try to tell stories that mean something to me, so I’m quite sure that my background influenced my work a lot. My childhood, the people that surrounded me, my education. I think it all influenced me more than I can say. I don’t see it necessarily as a result of being Italian. For example, I felt much more inspired when I moved to London, but growing up in Italy must have had an impact in my work as for anything else.
Do you see your work as a feminist proposal?
I usually don’t want my work to be too political because that’s not the reason why I do it. But I’ve been many times associated with the Body Positive movement, which is of course a cause that I strongly support.
I don’t shoot girls with the aim of showing to the World that everybody is beautiful; I shoot girls that I personally find beautiful and that inspire me. Then I leave the conclusions to the viewer.
Today, after I’ve been photographing many young women for a while, my view is taking a more concrete direction and I can clearly see the kind of message that it brings. Apart from reportage or social photography, when the subject of a portrait is a young woman, people tend to judge only on aesthetic basis. It’s rare that someone can appreciate a portrait of a woman without expressing admiration or disdain for the subject, based only on the fact that they find her beautiful or not.
I heard the word ugly or fat way too often to be honest, and in such an inappropriate way. If my work helps to open a conversation about that, then I’m happy.
I like beauty in normality, working with girls that you’d definitely consider beautiful and healthy if seen in a street or in a bar, but that we are still not too used to seeing in a picture. I noticed how, especially women sadly, think that you still have to have a certain look to “deserve” to be in a picture.
For me it is not about spreading a message, but just about normalising things that should already be considered normal and beautiful by so many.
What is the best advice you can give to a young female photographer?
I think good advice for a photographer in general would be to keep an eye to what is happening around -after all we make art for others! And at the same time, find your very personal point of view.
It is super important to have a vision. Take your time, allow yourself to take pictures when you feel inspired and to take a break when you are not, just try to keep yourself creative in some way. Also find your balance between money jobs and personal projects, and go back to what you like every time you feel uninspired. For female photographers the advice is pretty much the same. It’s no mystery that the number of female photographers commissioned by magazines and brands is still ridiculously low compared to the male colleagues, but it should not discourage them.
There are many incredible female photographers making “history” in a time of changes and working in the industry is definitely possible. So just keep going!
Do you have a dream project you’ve always wanted to work on?
I do! But it changes all the time!
At first I thought my dream was to work with celebrities, especially musicians and actors, like the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. Lately I’ve been much more intrigued by fashion and by finding my way to include it in my work, and I have many personal projects in mind that I’d like to work on.
I’d love to be able to work for magazines such as M Le Monde or Dazed (obviously!).
What does photography and fashion have in common?
Fashion goes along with photography, and fashion photography goes along with fashion trends. I think that fashion changes direction every time that society is asking for something new and different, and photography testifies social changes. So maybe what they have in common is a strong connection with society and the times that they depict. The way we present fashion is strongly connected to an aesthetic promoted through photography.
How do you convey the inner nature of a subject in a fashion story?
I think this is not always possible. In my experience, it’s definitely possible to get an image that looks real and authentic, but when there are so many people involved in the making of an image and a schedule to follow, the reality will be manipulated in one way or another as well as the nature of the subject.
My idea of fashion photography is “the less the better”. I consider casting a crucial part of my work and I try to preserve their identity as much as I can, keeping everything very natural and avoiding any retouching. I also like to bring authentic relationships in my work, portraying real life couples or siblings, for example.
Anyway I find it much easier to do when I have a better control of the set, but when it’s about fashion it’s not always possible. It’s definitely true that today’s images seem more real but there is still a lot of conditioning coming from fashion and sometimes you can’t really avoid it.
Is there a particular picture you’ve taken that made you realise how much you love what you do?
There are many! The feeling of loving what you do and being proud of it is not only related with the picture itself, but also with the experience on set, the people that you work with and the feedback that you get.
You can find more of Guen’s work on her Instagram!