Q&A: Rodrigo De Medeiros

I met Rodrigo at the Fall 2009 Nordstrom Designer Preview. He was standing alongside my sister in the photography pit, and I could hear them chatting behind me. After that, I saw him at practically every fashion show in Seattle! Seeing his face among the other press always put a smile on my face. His personality is refreshingly humble for the quality of work he produces. It's almost impossible to put into words what he can capture on camera. His images are timeless, and I wouldn't be surprised to find a collection of his works bound in a book at Borders in the next 50 years.

Some of his latest work has been produced in conjunction with a short independent film called, "The Sheets Must Be Silk." He wrote a script inspired by a true story -- the last photo session of Marilyn Monroe before her death.

Rodrigo spreads his creativity across many fields, never spreading too thin. All of his work is brilliantly sophisticated, full of life, and inspiring. He holds the photograph to a new standard, paving the way for future advertising and editorial. His fresh perspective on the fashion industry is exactly what we need in order to make this field more respectable. Feel free to see more of his work on his website. You can purchase some of his published work here. They would make great coffee table gifts for your host this holiday season!

Darrah: Why Seattle?

I met my wife in Brazil during my last year in college. It just
felt like a natural move to come here and be close to her. So I came to the Art Institute of Seattle a few months after getting my BA in advertising, and enrolled in the Commercial Photography program -- a GREAT program by the way. There's not an established fashion industry here, but that's changing gradually. There's so much potential in this market.

When did you realize that photography was going to be more than a hobby?

In college, I tried all kinds of media: film, drawing, painting,
ceramics, voice overs, animation, creative writing, theater, and even radio spots. As I approached my last year, pursuing a degree in advertising, I chose photography as the main medium for my graduation project. It was called "The Cage of Desires", and explored all the complex forms of desire and how people perceive themselves. I picked 45 random people of all ages and walks of life and asked them the following question: "If you had to choose one photograph that could best describe you, what would this photograph be?". The choices people made surprised me immensely. I realized that photography was the perfect vehicle of expression, and a great way for me to get to know fascinating people. The project turned into a gallery show with 45 over-sized black & white prints, and was a huge success. I still find it pretty ambitious since I had a simple Pentax k-1000 film camera with a couple of lenses, and only used high ISO black & white film (Kodak Tri-x and T-Max), and did all the printing myself.

What methods do you practice for drawing inspiration?

Rodrigo: I draw inspiration from life itself, and from numerous sources: magazines, galleries, web sites, movies, books, dreams, people I love or just met, happy times and somber moments, etc. Pretty much anything can be an amazing fountain of inspiration. I do not restrict myself at all. The sky is the limit. Inspiration and drive can come at any given moment, and I use all of my senses to stimulate it. All it takes is a little "click" and a whole concept sprouts. The moment you create barriers for your imagination, you're dead. I have a black book where I write all kinds of stuff that I may use later.

Darrah: What camera do you use?

Rodrigo: I use a Canon EOS 5-d digital SLR. It has a full frame sensor, and that makes all the difference in the world. I used to be a Nikon fan, and still am to a certain degree, but Canon is a slight step ahead of the game in terms of image quality and technology. I love how the new CMOS sensors just render the most amazing colors and dynamic range. Honestly, the difference is in the glass - the quality of the lenses you use. People are so focused on the amount of megapixels that they forget what's essential to create a great image: the natural eye. That has nothing to do with what camera you have.

Darrah: Your portfolio covers everything from corporate to editorial, but I'd be interested to know what your favorite subject matter is...

Rodrigo: People. Photographing people is still what makes my heart beat faster -- it's what makes me tick. I often feel like a psychologist with a passion for photography [Laughing]. I've always been fascinated by how unique everyone is, and how I always come up with a different way of capturing the subjects I photograph. It is a two way street though -- a photographer can't do it alone.

Darrah: Since I met you at the Nordstrom show, I was wondering what you think about fashion photography. I don't know if you saw The September Issue, but Grace was having a hard time fighting for the more artistic spreads. Where do you see fashion editorials heading?

I haven't seen The September issue yet, but I really want to watch it
alone and take my time doing it. I've always felt intimidated by the major fashion publications. Not because I don't think I could shoot for them, but because it is such a political game -- a constant battle of egos. Let's face it -- it's so hard to be original because it seems like everything has already been done, right? I know there is no end to human creativity, but because there are other types of restrictions, magazines like Vogue, W, or Vanity Fair face huge and endless obstacles in order to achieve a high level of creative vision every issue. It's virtually impossible. I have a lot of respect for creative directors and art buyers. They have the hardest job! A lot of photographers don't like to work with them, but I don't mind collaborating. It enhances the experience and relieves the burden of having to hit bulls-eye every single time.

With a magazine like Vogue, the
largest and most successful fashion publication in the world, it's always under the radar: people are afraid of innovation, because it may bring changes to the current status, and many people don't like that. It's scary how many close-minded people I come across in this field. I understand the pressure Grace is under all the time! Fashion is more than a seven letter word, and it has come a long way beyond clothing and aesthetics. Nowadays, it's so much about attitude, personality, lifestyle, and social politics. Fashion has become a canvas, which is excellent for someone like me. I confess that I have some serious internal conflicts regarding how ephemeral and superficial the world of Fashion is. It can be rather disturbing to be surrounded with beauty, colors, and unattainable standards when there is so much hunger, poverty, and violence in the world. Lately, it will only work for me if that canvas can be used as a platform to express my discomfort with the state of the world, and feel like I am contributing somewhat to change that.

I like controversy. I respect
photographers like Helmut Newton, Brigitte Lacombe, Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel, Sante D'Orazio -- fearless, with a strong signature. They are a constant source of inspiration. Society is constantly changing, so naturally, print and media have to go with the flow. Fashion editorials are no different. Just look at the growing presence of celebrities in fashion editorials the last few years. Fashion will probably never have a serious social responsibility. That has never been its purpose. On the contrary, it has always been about "escaping" that sense of dread people feel when confronted by unpleasant things that represent human misery.

Then again, those
things can be used to shape that canvas. For example, I've always loved the European Benetton ads - they're still a milestone in the history of Fashion and Advertising. We've seen similar efforts in the "RED" Gap campaigns. I see the natural adaptation to emerging media in the Internet. The faster we get information, we start to re-shape the whole industry. The essence won't change much, mostly the vehicles and the speed. Trends come and go, people get more demanding, so Fashion needs to adapt to the same pace in order to survive. However, there will always be the few who call the shots, and the others who follow.

Darrah: What's your favorite magazine in regards to their editorial quality?

Rodrigo: There are many, but mostly foreign publications. I like FLAUNT, 125, NUMERO, and the Italian and German editions of VOGUE. The American Vogue, I'm afraid to say, always plays it safe. Sometimes W magazine has some really beautiful spreads. The American public still has a lot to learn from their counterparts in the Fashion industry. There can be no fear of making mistakes; that is how we learn best. Those magazines go places that we have not experienced here in the US yet. They sometimes use the ugly, the gritty, and the imperfect as inspiration to create something bold and beautiful.

Darrah: What does your ideal model look like?

Rodrigo: The looks don't matter as much as the way the person carries his/herself. I like to see drive, self confidence, fearlessness, and a natural demeanor. I'm not speaking of body shape or weight -- absolutely NOT. This is about an aura that some people have, NOT about physical beauty. I don't like stupidity, people who are too self-aware, or those who look forced. It gets in the way. Real elegance is rare -- a true gift. I admire that, and despise vulgarity. People often confuse boldness with vulgarity. It takes a certain level of sophistication to see the difference and use it. Young models frequently overdo it, but that comes with experience and maturity. The best models listen and do their homework. Frequently, models wear clothes that don't match them at all, and it's because they're trying too hard. Not every model can do both editorial and catwalk work. In rare instances you find some who can, but most don't have the natural presence that the job requires. Being a model is definitely not an easy task, and the pressure is big.

What's the strangest thing you've photographed?

Rodrigo: My favorite "strange" picture is one of a swimmer inside a clawfoot tub, goggles and all, taken for one of the assignments at the Art Institute of Seattle. I still consider that one of my best ever.

Darrah: When I first visited your website, I had no idea you were so ambitious. You're an actor, write books, and provide such a large scope of photography services. What gives you that drive?

Rodrigo: Like I said earlier, I draw inspiration from all kinds of sources. I do many things because all this motion and variety gives me a strong drive, and the drive makes me create. I don't see myself ever stopping. If I stopped, I would probably go insane. Photography, film, writing, art -- anything is a vehicle to expression. There is no point in restricting oneself.

Darrah: Do you have any role models?

Rodrigo: I don't have just one role model. I draw inspiration from people who want to make a difference, go beyond the norm, break rules, and leave their mark in the world; people who aren't afraid to be themselves, who put no limits to their expression or their potential, and who see no limits to human greatness. That applies to any field. My inspiration comes from men like Einstein, to my wife, a woman who has an amazing drive, and all the great people in between.

What does your family think of your work?

Rodrigo: They always embraced it. My wife works full-time now, so I can freelance and take care of our kids. It all got a lot better after I started getting published and making some money, of course. Thank God the family in general stopped asking me to do group portraits and weddings [Laughing]!

Darrah: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Rodrigo: I've always lived for the present until I had kids! In five years, I would like to have penetrated the advertising market more widely, and to have worked with other publications nationwide. I would like to have established myself as a solid name in the industry, someone people trust to deliver passion and creativity.

Darrah: Is there something most people don't know about you?

Rodrigo: Most people are surprised to find out that I was overweight as a kid and, therefore, extremely shy. I was bullied and teased at school. I made a huge effort around the age of 14 to lose weight and get healthy. It changed my quality of life. Most people also don't know that my first inspiration came from some pictorial spreads I saw in the Brazilian edition of Playboy magazine as a teenager (nudity is not a big deal in Brazil). Those were super productions shot by renown fashion photographers involving celebrities and amazing locations. They were like fashion spreads, only with more nudity. I can't deny I was heavily influenced by those and came to admire the photographers who pushed the envelope and used that vehicle to create something eye-catching, sophisticated, and inspiring - not something you would expect to see in a magazine like Playboy.


lydia said...

It has always been such a pleasure to run into Rodrigo at the fashion events. He is so friendly and has such a joyful energy. His work is SO incredible and makes me wonder if I will ever be able to take a picture like him. Great interview. Thanks Dollface!

Slices of Beauty... said...

Lovely interview, well done!

Donna said...

Love Rodrigo - incredible eye, great personality. This is a wonderful interview.

jaunty magpie said...

Wonderful interview -- he's such an amazing talent and is such a truly good soul. Always friendly and enthusiastic at events, and his work is just as exuberant and full of life.