Being born into a studio, literally, New York City-based Mark De Paola is a versatile Leica photographer, working in assignments of all sorts, but with sharp sensitivity when it comes to fine art. As the fine storyteller that he is, his work has been showcased in many parts of the world as well as magazines, print, commercials and television, a medium for which he has directed over 700 spots including Anheuser-Busch and the Superbowl, Ducati, Sephora and Donna Karan among others. His passion for photography started back when he was just 12. Equipped with a Leica M3, his creative approach consisted in getting close to people, observing their behavior, and establishing relationships that would lead him to tell a visual story. Carrying with an MP-240 and an M4M film camera from 1969, he talks now about his project “60 seconds”, the 60 seconds of exposure needed to tell the subtle story and finally “reveal his art”. This exhibition will take place at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles from June 16th through July 18th, 2016.
Your work with Leica is globally known throughout many publications, advertisements, fashion and fine art projects. What’s your perception about the evolution of your craft, using analog and digital cameras while maintaining a certain level of versatility in all of these projects?
My evolution has been constant and continuous. That is the beauty of the Leica M. In my hand and in my soul, nothing has changed. The M camera feels the same, it operates the same, and generates the same results. Choosing to shoot the M8 without the IR cut filter or the M9 full frame with a CCD sensor or the current MP-240 with the CMOS sensor… For me it’s the same as choosing film in the analog days. Each has a different rendering and result but I choose according what I’m feeling to achieve the proper translation. The same holds true for optics as different designs deliver different results. On almost every assignment I shoot both digital and film, always starting with digital and ending with film. It is so seamless and second nature, I often forget to turn on the digital camera or forget to wind the film camera to be reminded of what I am shooting. Whether testing a given film under the multitude of conditions or pushing a sensor to find it’s limits, it’s about finding the settings that allow your translation of the world around you. It’s like the translation of a classic novel in another language, no two translations are the same.
The blurred yet soothing shape of the female body present in your “60 seconds” images suggest an intimate moment, almost vulnerable. What was the inspiration and drive behind this project?
Great question. Intimacy is the nucleus of all of my work. Whether a momentary glance from someone unknown or a moment from someone closest to me, an intimacy is always present. It has been my lifelong work to provide a safe environment of non judgement wherein my subject is able to communicate freely. It must be safe. I am reminded of a story directing a commercial with a superstar actress, known to be very difficult (throughout my career I have been hired to deal with very difficult talent). The master shot was a wide of a magnificent living room in an LA home with the talent sitting on the couch delivering her first line. As I always operate my own camera while directing, “roll sound” was called, “speed”, “camera”, “speed”, “mark it”, “marker”, and “action”. This went on more than thirty takes. Each time I would come from behind the large imposing motion picture camera to go kneel before the star like royalty and discuss briefly how I would like it to be presented…even more takes. The tension rose in the room with each take. When approaching forty takes, I said “cut”, she said, “perfect”, and I said “next setup”. We never had more than three or four takes for the remainder of the day.
At the end of the shoot, I was asked to walk her to her car, of course I obliged. While walking by this beautiful pool, she said “You did a great job.” I said, “Oh thank you. You did a great job!” She said, “No, you did a great job.” I said, “It was an honor to work with you.” She said, “You’re not listening to me. I am very difficult to work with.” I said, “You weren’t today.” She said, “That’s because you knew what you wanted, and that made me feel safe.” Even the greatest and most experienced talent need to feel safe. In any work of impact and importance there must be a vulnerability on the part of subject, photographer, or both. The inspiration and drive behind the “60 Seconds” project was an exploration of my own spiritual, philosophical, and photographic intimacy and vulnerability. At first, I felt that the work was too powerful to make public as what I was reacting to was the purity of communication. Not just my communication, but creating images that, it turns out, allow the viewer their own emersion into the image. While I have always provided a safe and intimate environment for my subjects, the “60 Seconds” project was the first where it was intimate and vulnerable for me and that the intimacy and vulnerability was mine.
Why 60 seconds of exposure?
Each image in the “60 Seconds” series was exposed by natural light coming through my New York studio windows in near complete darkness. Not direct light, with the exception of the rare occasion moonlight, but the ambience of New York City. As is always the case, while working with the MP-240, I set the camera at A and at F1 to see what the camera has to say. From there, I set my own parameters. On this occasion, the maximum time that the MP-240 is capable of was 60 seconds under these extremely low light conditions. The first exposure and all subsequent exposures are at F1 at 60 seconds at base ISO 200. During each 60 second exposure, I take maybe twelve to fifteen breathes and my heart beats maybe fifty to fifty-five times. This 60 seconds has a physiological and emotional component that takes into account my status on any given night as these photographs were taken over an eight month period. The 60 seconds handheld exposure was for me, charting new physiological and photographic territory.
Can you share more of the technical approach when shooting and developing the images for “60 seconds”?
Beyond the very unique exposure time, I present these images to each viewers’ individual imagination and experience beyond the description of setting and subjects.
There is a thin line between considering these images as an almost-impressionist painting and a fine art photograph. What were you trying to achieve with this specific color outcome of reds and yellows?
Each image of the “60 Seconds” series was printed after minor profiling adjustments of exposure, density, and contrast. Color was printed as expressed from the sensor. The series is reminiscent of the feeling I get in front of a Rothko painting or even some of Gerhard Richter’s photographs…bands or fields of color like strips of cinema.
How does this line of work compare to your other fashion/advertising work?
Ironically, I am even better known for my black and white work than my color work and here I am completely immersed in color. “60 Seconds” differs from my commercial fashion and beauty work in that, although afforded great freedom in my commercial work, my fine art work is 100% mine, subject to no intention, direction, discussion, or criticism.
Following up with the previous question, how does it compare to you work in film and movies?
I have been thinking a lot about this question recently and I feel that “60 Seconds” is most closely aligned with my motion work, as I feel my motion work has been highly experimental and I now feel that my still work is catching up. All of the images in the “60 Seconds” series are horizontal frames moving through a vertical world, which is film. Our minds have the ability to connect still images through our “persistence of vision” to create the appearance of motion, however, “60 Seconds” stretches time through one single image, capturing a moment suspended in between frames.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers or any projects which might be in the pipeline?
One upcoming still project is the “Art of Backstage”, an intimate portrait of the highly charged and creative backstage environment in the global world of fashion, shooting in New York, London, Paris, and Milan. On the film side, I am currently in pre production on a motion picture called “Proof Film”. The film, best described by a quote from Voltaire, “Every man is guilty for all the good he did not do.”, is inspired by the righteousness and great risk on the part of the Leitz family and company during World War II. And, I am honored and excited to have the “60 Seconds” series be exposed to greater and greater audiences.
Thank you Mark!
About Mark de Paola:
Mark de Paola is a fine art photographer and director based in New York City whose very first assignment was to photograph a cover image of actor Henry Fonda. His career then took off with countless campaigns including Gucci, Brioni, and MAC Cosmetics as well as editorials and covers for various publications, including Vogue Mexico and Vogue Spain. Eventually his storytelling translated to motion and television work going on to direct nearly seven hundred spots including Anheuser-Busch for the Superbowl, Ducati, Sephora, Donna Karan, Giorgio Perfume (exhibited in MoMA New York), Ford Motorsports, and Sony. Most recently, his fine art photographic series, “60 Seconds”, was exhibited at Leica Gallery San Francisco and will be exhibited this summer at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles June 16th through July 18th, 2016. The show will go on to travel in select cities around the world. “60 Seconds” delves into a realm of abstract figures, fluidity, and poetic forms, challenging and seducing the limits of motion contained within still image. With each photograph taken handheld with a 60 second exposure, Mark has discovered the connection between his physiological make up, the Leica camera as a tool, and time, the unflinching competitor to the timeless image. De Paola continues to work with select clients combining his artistic sensibility. One of his most recent works is the “Art of Backstage” collaboration with Aveda during New York Fashion Weeks that was featured on Leica Camera USA as well as many print publications. Producing and directing multiple upcoming feature films, including Proof Film, as well as producing his own fine art portfolios, de Paola melds the crossroads between both fine art and commercial aesthetic.