Gabriel Micalizzi is the Master of Photography. After 8 full episodes of aesthetic and creative challenges, of using elite quality equipment, and sharing the world of images with some of the world’s best photographers and competitors, the reality TV challenge Master of Photography has come to an end. This experience was brought to life by the Sky Arts Production Hub for Sky Arts, Sky Arte HD and Sky Arts HD, and with Leica Camera as the exclusive technical provider. Here’s a look behind the scenes of the show.

Back before it began, competitors weren’t sure what to expect out of the show. They did not know what were they going to learn from themselves, let alone the endless knowledge they would acquire from being evaluated by exclusive judges and being pushed to the limits of creativity.

Gabriele Micalizzi, Italy, is a photojournalist who employs images as his signature for personal long term projects, editorials, features and international news. Micalizzi’s work has been published by The New York Times, Herald Tribune, New Yorker, Newsweek, and Espresso, among others. He also won the grand prize of €150,000, a show and a catalog with his photographs. We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the experience and how he worked with Leica.

Congratulations on winning Master of Photography! It must truly be exciting to be in your position after so many photography challenges and such a long competition. Did you ever see this coming?

Thank you, what can I say? when you take on a challenge like this one, the goal is to win. At the beginning I wasn’t sure about taking part in MOP. I didn’t have a clue what it would be like, it was a shot in the dark. Then, I realised that the concept was nothing different from what photographers do everyday: you get an assignment, you carry it out and then what you’ve done will be judged. This experience was tough because it was very intense, but I’ve been through worse.

Master of Photography was a highly anticipated show with some of the best amateur and professional photographers in Europe. Now that it’s over, what would you say was the best or most exciting moment for you in the show?

It was a challenge, especially because all three judges have a completely different style compared to mine.

You know, there is not a single way to take photographs. This means people with a completely different approaches will judge you, with a different perspective on things, and you must be aware of this and ready for it. A very touching moment for me was definitely to work in a studio again. It reminded me of my art classes in high school, when I used to take portraits with a model. I really enjoyed it because I had the opportunity to choose the light, the position of the model, which is totally different from what reporters usually do. We have to adapt to the situation, but having full control of what is happening is something else entirely. Being able to define all of these factors gave me the opportunity to create something authentic and personal. Having the opportunity to discuss my work with such great  photographers like Gilden, Weeb, Fontana, Bell etc was really thrilling. It was a huge emotion when Lachapelle told me that he would like to have my photo of Rome hung in his home. Hearing something like that doesn’t happen every day…and now I’ll have to send it to him!

What about the most challenging moment?

I like working under pressure. It pushes me to perform at my best. I like competition and the adrenaline that comes from it. The most difficult challenge for me was “Home Sweet Home”. My job consists in telling stories, stories of others, the lives of others. Telling my story and portraying myself wasn’t easy. Standing in front of the lens is always strange for me. You have to ask yourself, ‘who am I?’ So you begin an inner journey that lasts only 12 hours, and during this time you have also to take the photographs. There are artists who spend years on this topic, but we had 12 hours and 3 photos to choose. That’s why this was most difficult challenge of all. Instead the challenge I enjoyed most is definitely the last one on European identity, because we had to shoot only using analog cameras. It’s a completely different approach when you work with black and white film, in a European capital of the Old Continent — it’s every photojournalist’s dream. After shooting I picked the best photos from the contact sheets, printed them in the dark room, it was a blast from the past that remind me of that approach to photography and I really appreciated it. In Berlin I would have preferred to work on a Saturday night  rather than on Monday, since I assume I would have met more people and and found more interesting situations out on the streets then. The following day in Ireland I had very high fever, it was a terrible journey.

Can you share two of the images you used when you applied to be part of Master of Photography?

Sirya, Qamishlo, June 21, 2015. Headquarters of the special force and Asaiys police.

Prisoners member of ISIS. They have joined the Caliphate for a year before surrendering. From the left:

Nagi Abd Alhamit 37 years old, from the village Palestin Al Garbie, near Tal Hamis village, Qamishlo province. He was a farmer before joining ISIS.

Yasser Melham Alturba, 31 years old, from the village Palestin Al Garbie, his works as an oil trader (he convinced his brother to join ISIS).

Yammany Melham Alturba, 20 years old, from the village Palestin Al Garbie, works with his brother in the oil trade. They were blindfolded for security reasons during transport from the place of detention at the police station. They declare that the YPG gave them food and water in quantity and did not receive any type of mistreatment.

Talk a bit about the Master of Photography judges and their own input for the contestants. With whom did you relate more or identified yourself and your art with?

With Toscani for sure, an interesting relationship was born. At the beginning we didn’t know who the judges were, and when I discovered the he would have been one of them I thought I was done because he is the “anti-reporter”. He always says what he thinks, without filters, he always expresses himself. He likes things or he hates them. Of course, he expresses himself in his own way, so even when he is complimenting your work it sounds like an insult.

But I have tough skin, I’ve been working since I was 16 and I had bosses who were harsher than him. I always tried not to be banal and to push myself over the edge and he got this, he got my impulsiveness. He is able to see over things and not stop at a superficial level. With Simon and Ruth I had good exchanges but less visceral. I’m a pragmatic person and sometimes their suggestions were very academic and not so practical. But you know, judging photography is so difficult, there are so many different aspects to keep in mind; concept, content, aesthetic, storytelling etc..

After seeing the work style from all of the different competitors, how would say you differentiate from them? How do you describe your style?

Each of the other competitors had their own style. Rupert was more classic, Marta more visionary and Yan romantic. I can’t describe my style, I just do it. For me photography is fluidness, every situation passes trough you and you must adapt to it. Obviously, when you filter those situations and translate them into photographs you leave a “personal stamp”, a fresh perspective on them, which is different from what anyone else could do. Because, as Gilden used to say, there’s nothing objective in photography. You choose the framing, the subject, the exposition etc…

I like the dynamism, the surreality, the rawness, these are elements that I find when I look at my archive. After years I realised that I’m attracted by the human condition, especially in war zones, because in this environment men manifest their real and primitive nature. I would say that it is a kind of obsession.

Leica Camera was the exclusive technical provider of the show. Did you use Leica equipment before the contest? What was your favorite camera and why?

Leica is the reporter’s camera by definition. Everyone has always wanted it. I didn’t have familiarity with these cameras because I’ve always used compact cameras or simple reflex. After having tried it and especially verified the high quality of the file I was left speechless. Lenses are awesome, with a definition and softness that reminds me of film. The file requires 1/4 of the post production that I was used to do to repair the usual digital problems. I have a special feeling with Leica Q, it’s simple and “lethal”, I didn’t miss a single photo. Honestly I can’t work without it anymore, that’s why I bought two. Going back to work with those cameras where you struggle to see into the viewfinder or with a never-ending buffering is not in my plans.

How do you rate the versatility of the Leica Camera Systems?

The possibility to use such a high performance camera gives you the opportunity to push past usual camera limits. Now that I’m working with it professionally I couldn’t be more satisfied. The execution speed! Now I can even freeze the fire blast of a tank while shooting. Something impossible with the cameras I used to work with, practically the Leica SL has a shutter speed comparable to an AK47. Before it was like using a bow and arrow. The tonal range is very good, the screen gives very good feedback, the exposure meter is always very accurate. Working often in Middle East or in desert zones it can happen that between an outdoor and indoor shot there are 8 stops of difference, I’ve tested the camera in automatic and the exposure is always perfect and fast. Another feature that hit me is the video. It has a cinematographic quality. But for me the real test is the ruggedness. Running in the front line, jumping on pick-ups or throwing myself on the ground during gunfire it fell down many times and took many hits, nothing, not even a single dent. I swear! The camera’s menu is simple to use, but you can also customize it as you prefer. I use focus in different ways, mainly manual but sometimes I use the automatic also and I’ve to admit I’ve never seen an auto-focus faster than this.

How difficult was it to channel your creativity and “keep your cool” during stressful moments and amidst the competition?

You know, being on a TV show like Master of Photography you always have cameras pointed at your face. During the first week, it was very difficult to talk, express my thoughts and feel comfortable. But after one week I just didn’t notice them anymore. I think the real difficulty was that when we were shooting we always had people following us, so finding intimacy with the subject without frightening them wasn’t easy with a TV crew on my back. Then you had to describe what’s in your mind or the idea behind a shot while you were doing it, so it wasn’t easy at all to stay focused. Many things that usually you don’t have to think about when you’re working. And the most annoying thing was to ask a disclaimer to everyone I took a photo of, otherwise the photo couldn’t be used during the TV show.

Can you share a few images you created while in the show?

Which 3 things or tips can you share with up and coming photographers that you might have learned from participating in Master of Photography?

1. You have to be ready to challenge yourself. Be humble and at the same time believe in your ideas. Confrontation is the basis of photography and art in general.

2. Try to always experience as much as possible, changing situations often, places and people. Be flexible and don’t look for excuses if you find difficulties approaching new realities.

3. Be daring.

Lastly, what do you think this prize and the recognition mean for your career?

Before taking part in Master of Photography I was in Libya. Right now, after Master of Photography, I’m still in Libya, precisely in Sirte, covering the conflict between Misurata forces and ISIS. So I would say that nothing has changed, I’m still here, on the field, in the dust. The photography world can be a very small and self-referential circle, and at exhibitions you’ll often find the same faces in the crowd. I took part in this tv program because I saw it as a big challenge by the authors, trying to bring photography to a different level and educate beginners to this way of communicating. We are surrounded by images everywhere, all day long. We are indoctrinated by advertising and we are not even aware of this. It’s subconscious. Trying to explain how this language works, getting people involved and giving them tools to understand the potential is a big challenge. Nowadays we communicate with images, I think it’s the future and written words will be completely replaced, evolving into something multi sensorial. But I’m taking it one step at a time. The biggest satisfaction of this prize doesn’t have much to do with money or being the best in Europe, but rather that finally my grandma understood what my job consist of. Because until something doesn’t appear on TV, it doesn’t exist.

Thank you Gabriele!

To know more about Gabriele Micalizzi, please visit his official website

To know more about Master of Photography, please visit this website.