Naskademini is a Montreal-based artist who began his career in the fields of design, graphics and fine art. In recent years the camera has become his primary tool for self-expression and for showcasing his unique and incisive view of the world. He has created photos and visuals for various publications, brands and companies both on and offline. And he continues to pursue his passion for photography with work that creates a conversation around life, light and art. This is the story of how he used his Leica M to capture a remarkably witty, revealing, and authentic series of portraits at the Pitti Uomo fashion event in Florence.
Q: What camera and equipment do you use?
A: My current set-up is the Leica M, Type 240 and a 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux-M lens.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: I generally wouldn’t describe my own photography — I would have others do it. It’s something I find very hard to do. I just prefer to freeze time and places and let the work speak for itself. I have been told that my photography is honest, which I think could be a good descriptor of my body of work.
Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? And what made you decide to become a professional photographer?
A: I was always serious about my craft, work, and art. I believe in attacking everything full force, even as an amateur. If you want to be great at what you do you have to take it very seriously. I think going pro is a result of hard work and dedication and not necessarily a decision. The passion I have for photography and growth has catapulted me into a scenario where I get to do what I love full-time.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form, or as a profession?
A: I have always been fascinated about imagery, photography, and art. My father was a huge vinyl enthusiast, so I would have thousands of album covers and images to mull over. I would try my best to draw and recreate some of my favorite covers. I think those images have stuck in my subconscious. When I first got introduced to photography in high school it changed my life. I could then go out and recreate real images from my childhood.
Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught? Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
A: I had a few friends growing up who graduated from college with degrees in photography and I would get my insight, knowledge, and mentorship from them. So for the most part I would consider myself self-taught, and I am still learning every day.
As for influences, I love Gordon Parks, Francis Philip Dicorcia, Lee Jeffries, Rog Walker, and Khalik Allah.
Q: In what genre or genres, if any, would you place your photos?
A: I wouldn’t say that I have found a genre; I just document my life and experiences. So, if I had to put it in a box, I would say I am a lifestyle photographer. I have a passion for portraits though. I tend to follow my heart and shoot what catches my eye, but I also love creating in a studio setting.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: A photographer friend of mine, William Yan from NYC, always had a Leica with him. It was one of those understated looking cameras, but when you held it in your hand or witnessed the type of images he would create, it piqued my interest. I had a great opportunity to visit Cologne, Germany during the Photokina trade show and that’s when I fell in love with the brand, the company, and the mechanics.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: My approach has always been based on patience; take the time it takes to get the shot or to create the shot. You are hopefully creating an image that could potentially change the world, so treat it as such.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Pitti Uomo fashion week? What brought you there?
A: Pitti Uomo is a fashion event in Italy that includes exhibitions, collection previews, and huge networking opportunities. It takes places in Florence, Italy, twice a year. Over the years Pitti has been known for its street style of men and women who are styled from head to toe in the most dapper of getups. It’s really a scene out of a movie.
I was flown out to Italy to capture the essence and style that Pitti has to offer and record possible trends for a client of mine who has a stake in the fashion business and industry.
Q: You shot all the images in this portfolio with a Leica M and a 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux-M lens. What particular features and characteristics of this setup did you find especially useful in executing this assignment?
A: That’s correct. I used this system because I knew I would have full control over creating my image and that I could get the desired creamy backgrounds that I was looking for but with the subjects rendered with critical sharpness. The 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux lens is very intimate and revealing and its bokeh is some of the best I’ve witnessed.
Q: You said that honest is a good descriptor for your work. Is it just another word for straightforward or matter-of-fact or does it have a deeper meaning for you?
A: Usually when you pull out a camera people tend to pose and put their guard up or mask on. This makes the outcome less honest at times. People often say that I have a way in my approach of disarming my subjects, which allows them to appear as if I had shot a candid of them rather than a staged shot. This in my opinion comes across as honest in terms of the mask being off and getting the true emotion and feel out of the image.
Q: You noted that your father had a passion for vinyl records and the cover images stuck with you. How do you think these images influence your present style or approach to photography?
A: I think it had a huge impact in terms of creating images that are album cover worthy. Some musical artists only had that one album and at the time the cover and artwork had to be perfect. So I always tried to create ‘album covers’ that one day would be regarded as timeless.
Q: Can you tell us something about what it was like to visit the Photokina exposition?
A: It was surreal. We were surrounded by the best. Having that access is something that some can only dream of. Meeting Dr. Kaufmann and having conversations about photography and mobile photography, and most of all Leica, was definitely a highlight of my trip to Cologne.
Q: All of the images in this portfolio are a testament to your passion for portraits and you basically used the same approach in delineating your subjects at or near the center of a horizontal frame, capturing their personalities, and shooting at wide apertures to make them stand out against beautifully out-of-focus backgrounds. However, while you used a classic portrait technique, none of these images come across as contrived and all seem very genuine and authentic. Do you agree, and can you tell us something about the creative concept behind these captivating pictures?
A: Thank you. For this particular series entitled “Pitti Portaits,” my goal was to capture something other than full body styles and looks. I was noticing that people had great faces, and characteristics that matched their style and aesthetic, and I wanted strongly to convey that. What’s a great suit without a great face to match? These ladies and gentlemen are trained to pose for the cameras but I did not want the typical pose. I wanted honesty. So my approach is what caught them off guard and allowed me to capture that. I believe asking them not to step back for a full body portrait as they’re used to doing, and coming right up to their faces, is what got them to be off guard and real with me.
Q: Among your stated aesthetic and operational concepts behind these images are patience and honoring the image’s potential to change the world, which I take to mean the consciousness of those who view the pictures.
A: I strongly believe in the concept that one image can change the world. I believe the Pulitzer Prize in photography is based off the concept that once you see a great image the consensus is unanimous and all would agree that a particular photo is life-changing. I keep striving for that one image but I’m not quite there yet.
Q: Virtually all the portrait subjects in this series are looking directly at the camera and certainly seem to be aware that they were being photographed. I assume that they were willing subjects, that you asked permission to photograph them, and may have given them some basic direction. Is this correct?
A: I did ask each subject in the series whether they would allow me to take their picture, but I gave them little to no direction other than to “pretend that I am not here.” I wanted it as honest a possible — no bow tie or tie adjustments, no looking into a mirror, just simply existing for me in the moment and letting me take their photo.
Q: Do you think it’s necessary to relate to a prospective subject and get to know them before you can capture an image that reveals something of who they are, or is this mainly an intuitive interaction that takes place on a more subtle level?
A: Yes I agree wholeheartedly that a rapport or connection needs to be created before you can take an honest portrait. That’s why I don’t shoot weddings. Weddings are intimate, and in order to capture a great weeding, in my opinion, I would have to know the main participants intimately. In this scenario it was a bit more challenging, especially since a lot of my subjects were foreigners who did not speak English or French. At this point it was more of a subconscious level of communication, and believe it or not, the iconic red Leica logo right above my lens helped to facilitate this cosmic connection between photographer and subject. They somehow knew that I was serious and meant business.
Q: What makes this image visually arresting are the out-of-focus orange and red objects behind him that pick up the same hues as his outlandish shades. Do you concur, and did you deliberately compose the picture with this juxtaposition in mind?
A: I often tend to observe my surroundings before I decide to create an image. I noticed a few times that background colors can play a great role when trying to create an engaging image. This particular subject’s glasses were very unique and I wanted those colors to play a part in this particular portrait. I waited patiently for someone to stroll behind him wearing a color that would complement the shades in red, orange, or green. I miraculously got two of my desired colors at the same time. I was ecstatic once I reviewed the photo and it came out exactly how I imagined.
Q: In general what aperture(s) and ISO settings did you use to shoot this series, and did you do any post-production work?
A: My general settings were f/4 and ISO 100. My shutter was set at about 1/4000 sec. The post-production was very light; I love the colors that come straight out of the Leica M. Occasionally I have a few issues with red highlights coming out brownish in low-light settings, but other than that not much post work is needed on my end. At elevated ISO settings it performs rather well on the occasions I need it to. Generally I never shoot anything above ISO 800.
Q: The image of this young man seems to be very self-possessed, serious, and to express a high level aesthetic sensibility, qualities you would expect to find in an artist. Am I reading too much into this? Do you have any idea who this guy is, or what his role in the fashion world may be?
A: I think you are spot on. He requested that I email the photo to him after I shot it, but I have yet to send it to him. However, according to his bio, he is a Fashion Blogger/Influencer, which I believe calls for a certain aesthetic and level of confidence.
Q: The handsome gray-haired man in this image conveys an irrepressibly perky, jaunty, and humorous quality. This contrasts with his casual attire that is actually quite neat and fastidious. Do you see these dual aspects in this image? Who is this man? And what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?
A: This is by far my favourite portrait of the entire Pitti Portrait series. His face is very pleasant and genuine. His style, although casual compared to most, is very classic and calculated. The attention to his hair and specs made that quite clear. I do see the duality in this image. I don’t know who he is, but I know he spoke Italian and I was very excited when he allowed me to take his portrait because I knew I was going to get something good.
Q: Do you have any other plans for these images or others in the series, such as publishing them in a print or online book, exhibiting them in gallery shows, or offering fine art prints?
A: This series was more of a personal project at Pitti so they are not going to be used by my client. They are going to be published for the first time on the Leica Blog. I do have plans on maybe printing some of them for a gallery showing at a later date. I might even offer them as prints, depending on how they are received.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years, and do you plan to explore any other genres or have any other projects in the works you can talk about here?
A: I see it becoming more focused. I shoot a lot of different things – portraits, landscapes, and architecture. But I truly want to be known for one thing in particular. Therefore I will try and regain my focus and get stronger in what drives me.
Thank you for your time, Naskademini!
– Leica Internet Team
To see more of Naskademini’s work, check out his website or follow him on Instagram.