At a time when mediocrity and “me too” seems to be the rule rather than the exception, those who possess great talent seem to shine even brighter. This does not mean that their name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue nor does it mean that their oeuvre is readily visible in the appropriate settings. What it does mean is that in today’s world, of fashion especially, we reward the less talented and applaud those with minimal talents rather than laud those who brim with it. The opportunities once available and the visionaries that were once in control have long since left this world and left us with the ill-advised, ill equipped and uneducated in their place who only see the most banal.
Robert Presutti is a brilliant portraitist, storyteller and visual diarist of our age. His work smarts of Avedon, Arrowsmith, Penn, Leibowitz, McCurry, Karsh, Curtis and many more. In other words he is part disciple and partly influenced by some of the greatest of the 20th century and yet he is his own man with his own distinct vision. He is armed with an almost painterly skillset as well as technical knowledge that far exceeds many of his colleagues.
Having been the subject of one of his sittings, it occurred to me that with the most minimal of set ups, the end result can be dazzling and exceptional rather just another snap shot photograph that’s been photo shopped beyond the subject’s recognition. In other words it is the person who clicks the shutter and what he extracts from his subjects that is the tipping point. It can be said that being chosen by an artist as subject is not only gratifying but flattering beyond words, even for this hard ass fashion veteran.
As you will learn from his interview, Robert’s story is one that reads like a fictional adventure and yet it is quite real. What will be gleaned is that this is a man with passion. His passion is offered to you via his visual artistry and acuity which deserve your attention as well as many others. He surely has captured mine!
Jeffrey Felner: Can you give us a capsule biography of how you go to where you are today?
Robert Presutti: In Italy at age 21 and fresh out of the army with just 2 years of high school and no job, a friend started showing me some photo publications and it was immediate love. I had never owned a camera nor taken a photo in my life but next thing I know I am on an airplane flying to a foreign country, not knowing the language and with no money. I went to Rochester because I had read that RIT was one of the best photo schools in the world but what I didn’t know is that it was very expensive to go to school in this country. I spent 7 months learning enough English in order to enroll at Monroe Community College, and then 2 years later I transferred to RIT where I graduated with a BFA in Commercial Photography. After a year back in Italy I came to NY and worked as an assistant/lighting director with some of the best photographers/creatives; Deborah Turbeville, Mary Ellen Mark, Brigitte Lacombe, Fabien Baron, Neil Slavin and many more. For the past 8 years I have been working as a freelance photographer in NYC traveling to some of the most remote corners of the world and working for clients like the New York Times, L’Uomo Vogue, T Magazine, Alinari, White House Black Market etc.….
JF: What or who would be your dream collaboration and why?
RP: That’s a tough one as there are/were so many I would have liked. I never did a film although my mind works much like a cinematographer, a film with Ingmar Bergman would have been dream collaboration since I’ve always loved Bergman. His films are powerful, fearless, haunting and technically perfect, especially his black and white which is my preferred medium. He also collaborated with two of the greatest cinematographers: Gunnar Fischer and Sven Nykvist
JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why?
RP: Leonardo da Vinci, Saint Francis, Proust, Bach and my elementary school teacher; Da Vinci for the genius mind and his diverse talents. Saint Francis, even though I am not religious, for the way he loved all creation, for the way he was able to forgive and his ability to give up everything for what he believed in. Then, Proust because he is my favorite writer. Bach because I love music and because I think he is the master of them all. Lastly my elementary school teacher because she is the only one that saw behind my trouble maker behavior
JF: How would you describe your “vision” and from whom or what do you draw the most inspiration and why?
RP: My vision is the sum of all that I love; film, art, literature and music but most of all it’s my interest in certain people and the way I can portray their inner being and persona. Irving Penn was my favorite photographer and inspiration and it was in his work the subjects is always strong and dignified, there is always a sense of intelligence and pride in his portraits.
JF: Let’s speak to the digital age vs. the “film” age of photography; which is your preference and why and do you think that 21st century technology has sullied/tarnished the art of photography and why?
RP: I prefer film but shoot mostly digital now. Digital if used intelligently and without abusing it can open the door to new horizons. There has been lots of talk about how technology has tarnished the art of photography and I agree with that but the technology is not to be blamed but how it’s used. When shooting film a photographer, even a mediocre one, has to have a certain understanding of lighting and technique which doesn’t just happen overnight, there is a lot of thought put in each and every frame before pushing the trigger. With the event of digital and the ability to shoot thousands of frames we got sloppier, we think less, pay less attention to details, shooting a lot more than needed in the hope of the chance to get at least one great shot out of many or that post production might enhance. All of a sudden, anyone can be a photographer or filmmaker without going through years of training. Technology has become the main focus leaving behind talent in its wake. Photo editors now have triple the amount of photographers to choose from and too often the choice has little to do with tale