Constantly on the move, Stefan Rappo‘s work schedule sees him travelling far and wide. Classic and timeless in his aesthetics, the Paris-based photographer creates ambient cinematic images, seeking to capture emotion with storytelling. From portraits to conceptual images and to nudes, let’s read the Swiss artist’s thoughts.
Interview by Demetrios Drystellas
Describe Stefan in three words.
I’ve asked my girlfriend Claudia 😉 So here are her three words: (sorry Wanda I’m copying you ☺ ).
Rigorous, Passionate, Altruist.
What attracted you to photography and when did you realise that it will be your occupation?
I was always attracted to images. I love that one single shot can tell so many different stories and communicate so much emotion. In essence, something that happened in the past is forever “trapped” in a picture.
When I started, I never thought that one day it would become my main occupation. I was getting deeper and deeper into photography when I realised that I left everything else behind me just for it. I comprehended that photography is really my thing.
How did your style develop? Did you attend school or are self-taught?
I guess mostly by working and shooting a lot. By doing big mistakes and taking really bad pictures. By questioning myself about my work and trying to make it better next time. If not, I would say I’m half self-taught, and half I’ve got it from school. I attended a photography school in Toulouse for 2 years, and then I started assisting in Paris. I really believe there is no rule and that’s the cool thing about. There are so many different ways to become a photographer today, but I guess assisting is a fast way and can be really fun if you work with the right people.
What bores you to see in images, whether they are portraits, fashion or nudes?
I always try to offer constructive criticism. And you never know under which circumstances a picture was taken. I mean I consider 90% of the pictures I did in the beginning, to be really boring. But I had to go through this phase, in order to get to where I am now. Though yes, when I see over and over the same pictures without any creativity, that bores me a bit.
What do you seek when making a picture?
Emotion; to capture a unique moment and if possible something that’s hard to reproduce, yet at the same time aesthetic, in essence telling a story.
What is more, I always ask myself the question “do I really want to have this picture in my book?” This pushes me further during the shoot. I also strive to create a little story, and not only one single good picture.
You have worked some quite detailed and cinematic projects, such as Mutterliebe or Modern Family. Would you like to speak about the creative process and the challenges of realising such demanding stories?
At the beginning of those stories, there is always just a little idea, a location or maybe just a model. Around this, I start to develop more and more, to build characters and scenes, to make lists for props and work on a preliminary storyboard. It’s really fun, but it demands long amounts of time. The cool thing is since it’s a personal project, I can imagine and create whatever I want, there is no story behind and no client to tell me what I have to do (or not).
For Mutterliebe, as an example, I had the story in my mind for a long time, but I was always twisting things around. Once I had the feeling that I was ready, the shoot itself was organised in about 3 weeks, and the pictures shot in 2 days.
For me, something like this is a lot more of a production problem than any technical challenge. You can learn technical things and since to find technical solutions is my main occupation I do not struggle so much with this. But organising a shoot like this was much harder for me and a real challenge. There is always something that doesn’t develop in the way you would like to, so you have to come up with solutions quickly, while at the same time staying focused on the main thing, shooting the pictures.
What do you think lies behind the desire of a woman to be portrayed in a picture?
I guess there is a multitude of reasons. One possibly being that women are maybe afraid of getting old, so they want to have their picture done while they still feel beautiful. I really think that every person can be beautiful at any age, beauty is also a question of character and aura for me, not only how you physically look.
Your thoughts on Instagram and social media?
It is really cool that social media make it so easy to show works of any kind and attempt to do so to a large audience. I use it myself, and for now, my preferred medium is Instagram.
On the other side, I think that most of the people upload too many things and thus, the “pollution” with bad images is really big today. And as people go blindly through all this, they feed themselves with low-quality standards.
I’m also sad to see something really stupid coming up and then thousands upon thousands of people following blindly. I mean for how much longer do we have to see people with dog noses and ears?
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
To climb Mount Everest.
One little-known fact about you, which would perhaps come as a surprise to people who think they know you well?
I know how to knit, and use Nunchakus
How different are the European markets compared to the American ones?
Europe and the US are getting closer and closer I guess, considering the photography markets. When you shoot pictures today, most of the time they are for worldwide use, with some exceptions of the middle east. No skin allowed.
Europe is way more open as far as nude photography is concerned. It is quite hard to find models in the US, especially in LA. But I love to work and to shoot in the US. There is something a lot more inspiring than in Europe for me. Colours, cars, buildings… I just love it. I live for 12 years in Paris now, and I have to say I like it, it’s really pretty. But I can’t find any major inspiration for my projects there.
What do you love the most about taking pictures?
The challenge of getting really good pictures out of a shoot and spend a cool day with cool people at a cool location ☺.
How would you define beauty?
I don’t think there is a general definition for this. Beauty is different to every person. For me, it’s a visual attraction that can appear in many different things, ways and people.
What do you seek when taking a person’s portrait?
It can be so different, it depends on the case.
A guilty pleasure?
“The Voice”, talent shows.
Years ago when you started, film was the main way to go. Whether it was 35mm or bulky large format cameras. How did you experience the transition to digital, commercially and artistically?
I have to say I’m really happy not to shoot on film anymore. I did everything from 35mm to polaroids up to 8×10. It was a cool experience, but again, I’m very happy with digital. I really found it easy to switch from one to the other, and I have the feeling that most of the photographers experienced the same.
For me, the problem is that today people want to have the pictures immediately. It’s not because it’s digital, we don’t need the process of taking time and choosing the images anymore to build a story. What is more, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to never have experienced shooting on film. For me, there are so many other more important things that make a good photographer or director.
How do you select the models you collaborate with? Do you first decide on an image and then cast the model or do you follow a different route?
It depends on the kind of shooting. For my cinematographic set, I try to find the right person for a role in my story. But sometimes, it also happens that I find an amazing model / actor and then I add a role to my story to have this person in.
For nudes, it’s a bit different, since most of the time the choice is quite limited compared to other projects. Usually, I’m looking for models first, and then I’m working on ideas and locations, but with substantially less preparation than my cinematographic stories.
I guess being a photographer also means to be able to deal with different characters etc. But yes, I just like cool people in general. I don’t need much time to adapt myself to other people. Models need sometimes more time, and the main thing at the beginning of a shoot is to win the model’ s trust. Most of the time they think too much of what is happening or how the pictures will look like when they do this and that. I love when the models are able to forget about all this, and just let themselves go; for me this is the best way to get emotional pictures.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To be able to travel with fewer bags ☺
What is your view towards nudity and its different aspects? How do you approach the subject?
For me, nudity is something completely normal. It makes me laugh when I read sometimes in the press that they’ve found nude pictures of a celebrity and project it as a big scandal. I don’t understand, what’s the problem ? What is bad about that ?
Most of the time the approach is really easy, by now my models know that I do mostly nudes and sometimes we don’t even talk about this anymore before the shoot. Sometimes, it happens when I turn around after preparing my equipment that the model is already naked.
What do you do on your free time? Any particular interests?
I don’t have a lot of free time, unfortunately, since I mostly work. But I love nature and sports. So in my holidays you can find me in the Swiss mountains on my bike, hiking or jumping in a lake. If not, a pub with cool rock music and a couple of beers is perfect too.
Name three people you really want to work with?
Pope Francis, even though I’m not religious at all, but I think he is a fantastic person.
Anthony Hopkins and Bono.
You are assisting one of the most influential visual artists of our times, who has really shaped popular culture with the rise of the supermodels. How is this relationship with Peter Lindbergh?
I guess that as far as photography is concerned, it was really the best thing that happened to me. I have been assisting him for over 5 years now and we are having a great time together. Always on the road, a lot of cool places and lots of fun. We really trust each other and that’s a nice feeling.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there favourite artists or works of art, books, films, music, that you hold dear?
For nudes, I have more or less a clear image of what I’m looking for. The biggest inspiration is the actual locations themselves, and that’s something I want to develop more in the future. When cinematography is involved, I love the Cohen brothers.
If I go through my little library, it’s more or less the classics, a lot of Peter’s books, Herb Ritts, Avedon, Roversi, Newton, Michael Kenna, Saul Leiter, Gregory Crewdson, Parke Harrison, Garry Winogrand…
How spontaneous is photography for you? Do you do spend time pre-planning, storyboarding etc or do you rather let creativity flow during the session?
Since I assist Peter Lindbergh, I don’t have so much time anymore to prepare my shoots, and sometimes it is also not so easy to find dates. So right now, I’m shooting mostly nudes, with a very small crew, and almost no preparation. It’s actually fun and offers me a lot of liberty. I love the challenge, to just have a girl, a location and nothing else. No extra light, no assistants. When I’m shooting my cinematic stories the preparation is quite lengthy and meticulous.
Is there something else you would like to try in photography?
I guess I’ve found my direction. So it’s more about making my projects “bigger and better”.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue photography in this time?
Photography is something wonderful, and really cool. The thing is that today everybody can do more or less nice pictures. I guess it’s important to really do pictures that you like and to develop your own style. And yes, to work very hard.
What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
Walk naked around 😉
Which talent or superpower would you like to have?
To be able to sleep well, whenever and wherever.
What fulfils you?
A cool shooting with cool people, a nice and simple evening with my girlfriend and friends / family, hang out in a pub with good friends, beer and good old rock music, travel to LA for shootings, a nice mountain bike tour, hiking in the mountains, a barbeque on an open fire…
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What should we expect to see in the future?
Always hard to predict the future, but one day I would like to make enough money to be able to make bigger personal projects and travel to amazing places with crews for my own shootings. Have a little studio to work, with a nice fridge and a baby foot.
I hope some wonderful and surprising stories ☺.