What kind of feelings do you have, when you work with topmodels like Naomi Campbell or Eva Herzigova? We asked ourself this question a few weeks ago, when we leaf through the Vogue-Magazine. And want to get the answer… so we asked somebody, who knows it and also lives in the heart of the Parisian fashion-scene: Jannis Tsipoulanis!
Let’s start with the basics – tell us a little bit about you!
My name is Jannis and I live in France, more exactIy, île de France and more exactly in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, where I have my photo studio and my apartment. Those two buildings are separated with a garden in between, which is covered only with gazon – a tribute to Jacques Tati. The street where I live is actually the prolongation of the famous Rue de Bretagne – where most of the photographer-agencies have their offices and where you can listen more english talking people than french. My profession is photographer, exactly ‘fashion photographer’.
I’ve heard somewhere, that you were born in Germany, but you have greek backgrounds?
Yes, I was born in Bremen, Germany, actually almost in the Goethe Theater, where my mother was working as a seamstress. My parents emigrated in the early 60′s from Greece, each their side – my mom comes from middle Greece, a village called ‘Petroto’ and my pa comes from northern Greece, from a village called ‘Griva’, 70 km from Thessaloniki. They met in Germany, get married at my father’s village and their first son (me) was born in Bremen.
You are known as photographer and you’ve worked with great, international models and famous magazines… how do you dive into this job? Was it a dream?
Actually, it was not a dream – at least not one, when I was a child. I never heard a child that say “when I grow up I want to be a fashion photographer”… maybe today there are children which consider to do this job one day, but at my time to become an astronaut was more exciting then to work in the fashion business. Actually I tried to finish my studies in biology, but during my student time I started to have doubts if one day I will ever swim with the dolphins. So I started to work as a barman, later organizing parties, then small fashion shows – which became bigger and bigger – then art performances. Then STERN wrote an article about my performances and suddenly I was in the year book of STERN – as one of the most remarkable performances of the year. For this they sent a photographer and we had to rebuild the whole stage – to make the pictures for the book. After I worked with the photographer on this project, I asked him if he doesn’t need an assistant – and so I started to work with him doing mostly reportage photography.
It was interesting and I just put my energy on that. Then I started to photograph my own ideas, it was again kind of a performance. I was “inszenieren” (orchestrate) my own ideas in small and not on stage – but in the studio, in front of a white wall, it was amazing to see the result. It doesn’t matter what was the subject, I was always trying to find the most elegant and clever way to tell the story.
Actually, I think, I started the wrong way around, the technical aspect never interested me especially! It was more the intellectual approach – the idea which was waiting to be realized – and till today it’s this need and the same strenght in me: the realization of the idea.
“I don’t know, why I do fashion photography – maybe cause fashion is always new and contemporary and gives you lots of ideas.”
Maybe because my mother was working with fashion, maybe it was the easiest way to express and having a subject – instead of doing ‘art’ photography.
Tell us about your first big job…
Actually my first big job was for L’oreal with Aishwarya Rai. When my agent called, I was not so impressed at that time, maybe I was too young to understand the meaning of this job… I didn’t knew Aishwarya – she is so famous, especially in india and actually also in the USA. The day of the shooting went very smooth, she was extremely nice and was looking even better then on the pictures I saw during our meeting days before, so it was easy to let her look good. The creative director was a great guy whom I still know. He said to me, after the shooting, the next will be Beyonce then! It was good to see the client happy and afterwards to have 3 shots published insteed of one, this was really exciting for me at that time – but also what is exciting, are those huge productions with all those assistants, art directors and creatives. For me, it’s always like a big party, where you entertain everybody and try to have the best time possible. I never in my life had a fight during a shoot or at least nobody saw it… *laughs*
When you start with your work, there was also the upcoming time of well-known supermodels – and a lot of photographers try to get to the top… do you ever believe, that one day you make photos of Naomi Campbell or Eva Herzigova?
Hehe, I must laugh, cause actually before I worked with Naomi, I was dreaming „One morning I was photographing Naomi, but the pictures were white – she was not to catch with the camera and I was stressed, didn’t knew what to do and the client around was getting nervous“. I told this dream to my partner, when I woke up, and he was laughing – saying to me that it’s time for me to see a doctor. 2 hours later the phone was ringing and Naomi’s manager was calling to ask for a shooting with her. It was in the early 2000 and not in the eighties by the way. But this doesn’t change the fact, that lots of photographers where trying to get to the top. It’s always the same game, since fashion and photography start to collaborate. In the early years it was easier, there where not too many photographers, but also not too many magazines. But more important – the people were not over feeded with pictures like today…
“In the early times a picture was something, which was natural growing, was almost naive – today pictures are like vegetables, which are growing in mass production greenhouses and they look bold fat perfect – but they don’t taste anymore.”
Do you have started with analog film or digital?
This question is obsolete – since I started to work actually in the late 90s. I remember my first digital camera, it was a NIKON with 5 megapixel – with this I photographed my first Japan Vogue story with Natasha V!! An iPhone camera has almost the same pixels today – I was fascinated by the digital photography and the possibilities it gave us. I realized very early the potential of the computer and digital photography. I remember, I had to fight to buy a computer and start to experiment with it – and it was the time of ‘a real photographer has to go to the dark room’ and make prints by himself and talk about ‘too long in the pot’ an so on… It was a wonderful time – a new era, which gave us the possibility to enter the fashion business – bringing a new look on stage.
Our C-Heads Magazine classical question – if you want to describe a blind person your work – what would you say?
That we are all blind and there are only few cyclops in the kingdom of fashion, who can sense and catch the style. That photography has nothing to do with seeing, but more with senses. I would explain to him, that my pictures are direct never hide something and never pretentious – like my compatriote Karl Lagerfeld use to say “c est la pute ou la nonne c est pas le deux”.
I would ask him to describe to me, how he would like to have his picture and try to photograph it. I’m sure depending on the intellect of each blind person – there would have been different descriptions and approachs to the subject.
Influences in your work… or where do you get your inspirations?
It’s a question like who whas first – the egg or the chicken? I don’t know, if the job brings me to have the idea or the idea is before there. As soon I have a request, doesn’t matter from where and for what, I start to think about the best solution for this job – a process which in the last years is getting always faster and better and more to the point… before I could loose my mind in complex situations, be distracted by other opinions. Today I’m more abstract, simple and efficient with my ideas – maybe it’s also a matter of the time we are living now – things have to be less complicated, more placative, more on the point. We’ve seen everything in the photography, but it’s still a very young medium in compare to the language or other forms of expression. Photography is in the age of a young 16 years old man and we look at it with the same eyes. We are offended by a picture more then from a text. We immediately dislike or like a picture faster, then we would do it with words. It’s more easy for us to criticize a picture, because we think, we know how pictures have to look like.
“We want the pictures to be exact – the mirror of us – showing us the beauty and only the beauty.”
Ugliness has no place in the world of fashion photography – or when, then it’s highlighted or it’s considered as ‘art fashion’ photography or whatever the word for this is. But if you take the books and the words had been written all this thousands of years, you will find so so many different beautiful things-pictures.
If you try as photographer to escape the beauty restrictions from the fashion industry, you are either crazy or worst a revoluzer. Somebody who does not respect the rules – and has to be abandoned. It’s a very specific sickness from the last years… everything has to go conform to the beauty rules. In the 70′s, the people where trying to escape from this rules. It’s strange, but today it seems we forgot about those days. We are back in the time of the 50′s.
You are now in Paris. The town of fashion, the town of great designers and models… is this the reason, why you’ve choose to live here? Or is it independent from your work? When I left my place in Hamburg, I had two choices: London or Paris. In the airport, I decided to go to Paris. London would have been also a possibility. I don’t know, maybe living in Hamburg in the north was enough and I preferred to be in a city, which is more south. It was a very good choice and since I finally make it to speak french, it became my country, can’t imagine to live somewhere else… Actually, regarding business, I would say it’s important to be here, where fashion has a very high standard and work with people, which you see every day and live together in the same environment – so you can share ideas. It’s strange, but places influence ideas and you have to become part of the fashion mechanism to function in this fascinating machine.
A small backstage-view. When you are a ‘small’ photographer and work with normal street-models, you have to find a way to work together – but also have normally ‘time’. But you work also with top-models and I think, there is everything faster. You can’t experiment days or weeks with them… so – how do you plan and realize a shooting? Where is the difference between a topmodel and a ‘normal’ young model during a shooting?
There is a reason, why there are top models and the other models. It’s a job like any other. From the moment on, where you decide to be a model, you should do it perfect. I can’t stand models, which are bored, sleeping or if they are pseudo-cool.
“To work with a supermodel is like driving Porsche – they are beautiful, aggressive, fast, aerodynamic – they allow you to drive them during the time of a shooting… you take the wheel in your hands and press on the pedal.”
For one moment you loose a bit the control, but they are clever machines – they let you drive them softer and then it works… it’s getting better and better, while you are changing the speed and then you don’t want to stop. They are posing perfect, fast giving you the right feeling, they are not ashamed to show you, who they are and suddenly your time is over and need to give the keys back… *laughs*
Keyword topmodel – what was you ‘hardest’ shooting in your career?
Naomi. It was the shooting in Greece I think – not so much because of Naomi, she is just a lovely person and one of the most impressive characters I’ve ever meet in my whole life. It was the fact, that we were chased by the paparazzi all over Athens, the newspapers where covered with headlines “black gazelle in athens” and we had to change always our shooting locations in order to escape the mop. Even my mother has called from germany to say she saw me in the news – fighting with a paparazzi and she gave me the advice I should photograph less famous models next time, it’s more secure… *laughs*
What kind of camera do you use?
I have to ask my assistant!
There is always an impossible dream somewhere – if we take away the ‘realistic part’ in our daily life here, so that you have all possibilities in this world, what kind of photos would you realize?
Few years ago, I would have answered ‘art photography’ – abstract, shadows or people… but this doesn’t interesting me anymore. I would do the same photos like today, trying to catch the best models at their highest time and drive them for a while.
The second person inside Jannis. Let’s forget for a moment the camera and fashion… what do you do aside your photographer-life?
I don’t know. I’m always photographing or editing or planing shootings or meeting clients or agents or galerist’s or printers or assistants or computer assistants…. but when I have time, I’m writing – I already wrote together with a ‘real’ writer a book – about a photographer, who came to paris to become famous – it’s a dramatized biography. I think writing could become my second passion, but I wouldn’t consider myself as writer – I can give ideas or write something in raw version and somebody has to finished it. Now writers must hate me the same as I don’t like when designers, musicians or actors became photographers. *laughs*
The last questions – on what project or shooting you’re working at the moment?
At the very moment, I just finished a Numero Tokyo story and editing – actually finished it today. I have 3 different editorials which I already started to organize – and which is for me the most exiting part!
Finally – give us a creative tip – where’s the best place in Germany, in Paris and in Greece to go out for a lunch!?
I really don’t know, I go always to the same places, like “Cafe Charlot”, I like the hamburgers and the chips. In Germany I love to eat in the Haven but my preferred restaurant is das “Vienna” – I would say in Germany is the food much better then in Paris. In Greece I can go and eat everywhere, especially the lunch restaurants with their food in the vitrine, with a glass or two of simple white whine and feta cheese – which I LOVE!
Jannis, thanks for the interview and your time!
Interview by Emanuel Sprosec