The gap between fashion and fine art is wide. It's difficult for artists to express themselves when they are creating works for hire at the behest of a client. But photographer Raphael Mazzucco, who has shot advertisements for companies such as Guess, Intimissimi and Victoria's Secret, doesn't have a problem with it.
'For me, art and fashion are married together,' Mazzucco says from his home in Montauk, New York State.
'Most of the fashion shoots I do have the same raw aesthetic as my artwork. My fashion shoots are based around the art that I do - they are not typical fashion scenes. Whenever I use a camera, I feel like I am expressing myself. I always feel like I am doing my art.'
Mazzucco will be in Hong Kong this week for the world premiere of his exhibition, 'Layered', at The Space gallery. The show is a colourful collection of photographs that are augmented by the addition of a textured resin to form collages. The pictures feature models from his shoots and landscapes from his trips to locations such as Africa.
The photographer says art, for him, is a journey and his photos are a map: 'The photos are all quite large, and I paint over them with resin to make them look multi-dimensional. I like to get a textured look, and that's what attracted me to resin. You can build up layers with it, and that makes the work into a kind of collage. I pour it on ... sometimes it comes out two inches thick.'
Photography revolves around light, and Mazzucco admits he is obsessed with it. The colours of sunset dominate the works in 'Layered'. 'I like reds and oranges. Strong colours appeal to me. If it's a blue, I like it to be a turquoise. I am attracted to iridescent colours which become a bit luminous. They seem to work well with the resin.'
Each place he visits has unique colours at sunrise and sunset, he says. 'If I go to Africa, the quality of light is different to anywhere else. I really like natural light. I always want to go to places that I've never been, to see the light and to see nature. I like the raw organic quality of working on location.'
That location is sometimes closer to home, in New York City: 'The light is fantastic in Central Park. New York is great for shooting ... There is always a kind of haze over the sun. It has a beautiful silver look to it.'
Born in Vancouver, Canada, Mazzucco started his professional life pursuing a different art: football. He was quite good, he recalls. 'When I was very young, I played for Blackpool in England. I was also at Ipswich Town when Bobby Robson was there. I played in the under-18 squad. I also played in Canada for a while, but I stopped when the North American Soccer League closed down in 1984.' (The league restarted last year.)
Mazzucco began by shooting pictures of his musician friends, and that was how his photography career started. 'From there, I just evolved into a photographer. Travelling around inspired me. I moved to Milan and stayed there four years, then I moved to New York, where I've been for 13 years.' His gregarious nature led him to pursue photography over the other arts, he says. 'I wanted to be a painter but I didn't enjoy working in the studio alone. I like being around people. I chose photography as you are working with the hairstylist, the make-up director and other people. You get an energy from that. I love that energy very much.'
Since then, Mazzucco has carved out a niche in the fashion world for shooting exotic advertising spreads. He has also shot pin-up features for America's Sports Illustrated magazine, a rag renowned for its pictures of women in bikinis. His photo-book Culo, which is Italian and Spanish for 'bottom', went a stage further: it consisted entirely of pictures of women's behinds. Famous posteriors included those of Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton. During a party for the book in Miami, British artist Damien Hirst spent about US$750,000 on 15 Mazzucco art works.
While not pornographic, the book doesn't do anything for the image of women. 'The idea was to shoot photographs which embody female sensuality,' Mazzucco says. 'A lot of the women I shot were friends of mine. They all wanted to be in it.'
The shoot, which continued off and on for two years, was something of an education, he says. 'I thought I knew everything, but that shoot showed me I didn't.'
One photographer who has successfully mixed fashion shoots with serious photography - mainly portraiture - is David Bailey. The British legend was an influence, Mazzucco says.
'I love David Bailey's work. I also like British photographer Nick Knight, and the late Richard Avedon, who also lived in Montauk. I am a big fan of famous photographers like Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz and Irving Penn. It's so beautiful to look at their styles. When you look at a picture by Bruce Weber, for instance, you instantly know that he shot it.'
Mazzucco has spent 20 years photographing fashionable women. So what does he think is the essence of beauty? 'I think that most of all, a girl that is beautiful inside is beautiful outside. If she has great energy, it looks natural,' he says. 'You never know what you are going to get with photography, that's the beauty of it. You don't pre-ordain anything, you just see what happens. You shouldn't try to manipulate the image too much, you just have to go with it,' he says.
'Combining a beautiful woman with a beautiful place is magic. I work quickly. I like the model to feel free and happy. That's true for me, too. The more freedom I have, the more likely it is that I will find where I really want to go.'
Layered, The Space, 210 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan. Inquiries: 2361 1210. Tue-Mar 25