20 Years of Passion Behind the Lens:
Some might say Canadian-American fashion photographer Richard Bernardin is most at ease behind the lens. After all, he’s shot celebrities like Nelly Furtado, Jessica Paré and contributed to numerous international fashion magazines. His editorial work draws heavily on modernist architecture and the cinematic panache of directors like Kubrick and Hitchcock, and has become a permanent fixture in Dress to Kill Magazine. Now, for the first time, we turn the tables on our much-adored photographer in celebration of his 20th anniversary in the biz he knows best.
—By Sylvain Blais
How do you feel about celebrating 20 years in the business? Actually it’s not something that I had marked down in my agenda and God only knows how bad I am with remembering anniversaries. I was speaking with my great friend and makeup artist Genevieve Lenneville while on a shoot last year and we just got to reminiscing about how far we’ve come and how long we’ve known each other. And after doing the math and counting the years, we realized that we’ve been working together for 19 years! Anyway, it stuck in my mind how time literally flew by, and consequently, how I was nearing my 20th anniversary. I’ve been in photography for much longer if I include my time assisting the greats in NYC or the time I spent exploring and developing what would eventually become my “style” but 20 years working in the business is certainly something.
How did you fall in love with photography? I first discovered photography when I was 15 and explored it briefly but only came back to it several years later. My first passions were architecture and film, but somehow the Universe slowly pushed me towards photography. What made me fall in love with photography was its capacity for perspective storytelling. Simply put, I the creator could have intended a very specific narrative for the photograph but without the distractions of motion or sound, the viewer can have a completely different experience and interpret the narrative through the lens of his/her own experiences. I first discovered this listening to a discussion that a couple were having while viewing an image I had exposed in one of my first exhibits and was completely enthralled by how each had a completely different interpretation of the same image. And both couldn’t be farther from the actual narrative I had intended. It was then that I discovered that unlike cinema which uses motion, sound and editing as tools to push a specific storyline, as a photographer, I could use the uniqueness of a single image to vehicle multiple ideas at once… I was hooked!
Which photographers inspire you most? How did Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton’s work influence your style? I could talk for hours about Avedon and Newton but will limit myself to saying this. What I love most about Avedon is that he did not conform to the standard technique of taking photographs, where his subjects stood emotionless and seemingly indifferent to the camera. He developed a close rapport with each and found ways to evoke reactions not typically captured by others. While just as prolific a fashion photographer, Newton’s genius came by his intentional creation of highly provocative, stylized and iconic images of elegant, powerful and sensual women. Both are giants of photography and greatly influenced my work. They are my personal measure for excellence against which all fashion photography is measured – period.
As a fashion photographer, how do you describe your style? I aim to illustrate elegance, beauty and sensuality with my subjects (and the garments, of course) in a way that is both sophisticated, escapist and singular – all while having fun!
You have an international professional career and you travel a lot for commercial work. Do you like travelling? What city do you like to work in most? I travel a great deal for my work and enjoy it immensely. I am lucky to have a great family and partner to support me and, without whom, an international career would not have been possible. When I am not travelling, I work from home and our family time is primordial. Otherwise, when I do travel, I don’t necessarily have a favourite city for work as my travels are dictated by one of the following: necessity (warmer climate during the winter), obligation (client is based elsewhere) or escapism (the need to transport the viewer out of their day-to-day context). That said, I love Africa for its diverse and raw landscapes and Los Angeles for its great weather and iconic architecture.
How do you make time to produce artwork on top of your commercial work? Actually, both are intrinsically inseparable and wholly dependent on each other for their mutual survival. I need my commercial work to live, pay the bills and feed my family. And I need my artwork to feed my soul. Now this is where it gets interesting. My commercial work needs my artwork as an ideal, something to strive towards all while walking the fine line of what is commercially viable. My artwork also needs my commercial work much like an endowment or source of income, allowing me to further explore my creativity.
You love to capture the sublime beauty of women in both your commercial and fashion photography work. Why is the female form of such interest to you? The concept of the muse can be traced back to ancient Greek mythology, where Zeus and his daughters presided artfully over different aspects of culture and were able to inspire many artists. More recently, the term has come to define those who nourish creative imagination. I think a woman’s beauty is captivating but it is the inner self that pervades her every aspect that I find truly inspiring. It is that which I aim to immortalize.
What do you think of erotism and erotic chic photography? Hmmm… This is a touchy subject as it is often misconstrued. As I have previously mentioned, Newton’s genius was to portray women in a position of power while subliming their beauty through provocative and often erotically-charged scenarios. Today however, the majority of what is considered to be “erotic chic” (which can be easily found on the web and Instagram) is created “by men for men” and does not celebrate the strength, beauty and elegance of a woman but rather degrades women into some perfunctory tool for sexual satisfaction. I find this abominable, hateful and disgusting. There is a fine line between the beauty of the female nude as an artistic endeavour celebrating their beauty and the crudeness of Insta pseudo-porn that is unfortunately all too common.
Behind the scenes of Richard’s shoot for DTK MEN featuring Maripier Morin.
People who are familiar with you and your work know that you like architecture. How does it influence your work? I don’t like architecture – I love architecture! It has been a lifelong passion. Actually I always thought I would be an architect! From the starkness of glass, steel and reinforced concrete used by Mies van der Rohe, Niemeyer and Le Corbusier to the unpredictability and controlled chaos of Hadid, Koolhaas and Gehr, I love incorporating these structures into my visual narrative. They are as integral as any other aspect in my photographs, and sometimes as important and distinct as the model, styling or the light.
Your passion for music, especially Jazz, is unconditional. Can you tell me what you love about it? I am not a musician in any way, shape or form. I can’t read a sheet of music and can’t sing to save my life. That said, music holds an extremely important place in my life. I was introduced to jazz very early by my uncle who was somewhat of a jazz prodigy. I can recall visiting my grandmother when I was very young and although I cannot remember the moments before or after, I have vivid memories of the time I spent there due to music. My uncle was a young jazz musician and was always practicing his trumpet or alto sax. I guess I somehow associated my uncle’s music with warm, joyful memories of my grandmother. And my love for jazz was born! To this day, I listen to jazz several times a day, if not more.
I see you as a very Zen person, are you into spirituality? Is this something important for you and does it influence your work? I’m not sure that I could be characterized as being Zen per se, but there is a definite spiritual aspect to my life. Aside from the fact that my spouse is also a highly-accredited meditation and yoga instructor, I try to meditate daily and have used different disciplines such as Reiki, yoga and even Gumdo (a traditional Korean martial art focused on mastery of battlefield sword techniques) to channel my energies, remain focused and expand my mindfulness. These practices are an integral part of my life and have helped me on my path, both professionally and spiritually.
With so much still to explore in his compelling photographic work, Bernardin is ready to take on new projects this year and is more driven than ever. With a retrospective art book in the works for his 20th anniversary, a short film inspired by one of his photo shoots and an upcoming architectural collaboration, photographer Richard Bernardin has proven himself prolific, determined and propelled to keep adding to his impressive canon. We can’t wait to see what the next 20 years will bring.
Check out some of Richard’s work for DTK here.