Darren Centofanti: Keeping an Astute Eye Focused on the Fashion Scene, Part 1

He earned his stripes as a studio apprentice and now he’s a top fashion pro based in Bollywood, aka Mumbai India.

Even while taking photography classes at Blackwood High School in Adelaide, Australia, Darren Centofanti had a pretty good idea that photography would be his profession. 
In 1989 at the tender age of 15 he started working at Orange Lane Studios in Adelaide, owned by well-known Australian photographers Drew Lenman and Mike Connell whom he still considers his mentors.

In 1995 and 1997 he won the South Australian Professional Photographer of the Year award given by the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (A.I.P.P) and was later honored as a Master of Photography. During his first trip to India he met his future wife, Vidisha Pavate, on a photo shoot for Elle magazine and is now based in Mumbai. Centofanti specializes in fashion and advertising photography, which covers everything that represents fashionable to the world at large, creating images that are colorful eye-catching, creative and sexy. He recently acquired a Leica S2 oufit and it didn’t take him long to become a committed Leica shooter. Here, in his own disarmingly direct words, is his amazing story.

Q: What camera and equipment do you use?

A: About 4 months ago I switched to the Leica S2 system.

I have the 35mm and 70mm lenses and I’m about to acquire the 120mm. Prior to that I was using Mamiya RZ bodies with Leaf digital and 120 roll-film backs. My flash gear is all Bowens, with some Quantum flash that I use when traveling light.

I have Pelican cases for cameras/lenses/computer gear, etc. and Lightware bags for my flash kits and other gear.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: It’s colorful, fashionable and eye-catching.

Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? What made you decide to go pro?

A: I was always fascinated by photography as a job. Growing up in the ’80s and watching all the ground breaking music video clips was a huge influence. I think by the time I was 12 years old I knew 100% that I wanted to be a photographer. I had some hands-on experience in a professional studio (which specialized in advertising and fashion) during my work experience programs in high school year 9 and year 10 and loved it so much I kept going back there on school holidays, weekends and after school. I got to see and experience so many mind blowing things at such a young age that when the opportunity came to me at the age of 15 (at the end of year 11) to start work at the same studio, I took it with all my heart (thanks to the support of my mum and dad).

Since I’d already been around them for a couple of years, the members of the studio team were already my mentors and friends by that stage. I started in the darkroom making black and white prints and processing films (5×4, 10×8, 120 roll film, etc.). After six months I became a studio assistant and took the initiative from there, spending most of my nights, weekends etc. in the studio playing around with the quality flash and camera gear. It was great experimenting and making the concepts that I would dream up during the working week manifest. I soon started shooting small jobs for money and it took off from there. Entering professional competitions and winning awards with my creative experimental work really helped get my name circulating around town and I soon established my reputation as a good shooter.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

A: Not really, but working in a pro studio at a young age and growing up around it in my teens and 20s was a good education in itself. I I was also partly self-taught.

Most of what I learned was the result of my hands-on, experience playing with Mamiya medium format and Sinar large format cameras, color transparency films and Polaroid, tungsten and flash lighting, etc.

I don’t know too much about other photographers’ work and I don’t like to look through photography books since I’m worried about being influenced by the great works of others. I have always used the photographic medium to produce images that I have conceptualized in my head. My lighting style and techniques came from playing around with equipment and experimenting with it. It has always been a kind of personal expression for me. I want to be original, and I’m more interested in watching music clips rather than poring over images on the net or in books. However, lately been looking at landscape and lifestyle images from the ’60s and ’70s. I find their washed out colors and retro styling very romantic, but I have no interest in shooting similar images myself.

Q: What genre are your photos?

A: I think fashionable would be the best word to describe my advertising and editorial fashion work. I make my images — they are completely controlled. I conceptualize them, build the sets and input on all the details of styling etc. The other type of photography is documentary — you see something and then shoot it without too much of an attempt to manipulate the image in front of the camera. I do the opposite — I generally build my images from scratch and try to do most of it in front of the camera.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: It was drummed into me at an early age that Leica lenses are the best — by my grandfather and by the photographer/mentors I assisted. A few of the guys at the studio had Leica bodies which they would use for shooting outside rather than advertising or studio work — mainly 35mm travel images. These Leicas were kept in a special cupboard and I occasionally got to play with them if I was bold enough to ask and was behaving myself in the studio! I enjoyed the distinctive rangefinder style and the sharpness of the images was always impressive.

I had always aspired to shoot with Leica professionally, but I was waiting for the right camera system to suit my needs and I’m happy to say that the new S2 is perfect for my type of work. I’d been waiting a long time for this camera and I feel I owe it to myself to have the best — that I deserve it after all the hard years of shooting with Mamiya RZs. Now I’m looking forward to the next 20+ years with the S2. I’m having another romance.

Basically I’m a medium format guy and have never really spent much time with 35mm. I relished the joy of having big pieces of film and looking thru a big viewfinder which would give me the feeling of getting lost in the image while composing — this was the most important thing. Well the S2 viewfinder is amazing — it feels like I’m in the image that I am capturing!

Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?

A: Photography is the best and only way for me to actualize my visions. I wish I could draw or paint, but am useless at both and have no patience with these methods. However, I’m very determined to thoroughly execute my vision when it comes to the concept I have in my mind. Photography allows me to totally control my idea and work on all the important avenues when capturing, then showcasing an image. Photography is the best art and craft for me because it allows me to adapt my talent for conceptualizing — building sets, selecting the details of styling and props, then executing them both in front of the camera and in post-production work.

I work really hard in front of the camera and in interacting with talent (models) too. Expression and body language are really important and they can be the final ingredients which often makes the whole image pull together and work, so I see it as the icing on the creative cake!

Q: How do you see your photography, fashion and otherwise, evolving going forward and have you thought about embracing any other genres professionally?

A: Fashion will keep turning in circles as it has for decades. The “no rules” attitude in fashion really helps keep things fresh and alive, so I think the artistic and creative nature of shooting fashion will always be in style. I would like to bring some of what I know into shooting portraits, a genre I haven’t really ventured into all that much. I like the idea of working simply, but using the subject and spontaneity to produce eye-catching energy. This is a fashion attitude also. Finally, I would love to be involved with music videos and maybe the opportunity will present itself in the future.

Thank you Darren!

-Leica Internet Team

To see more of Darren’s work you can visit his website: http://www.centophoto.com.