Denis Piel is a man who has spent entire decades devoting his time to subjects of his genuine interest, as a constant explorer of the unintended, in between moments where magic happens and captivating photography is made.
CM Let’s talk about your story to start…
DP It’s about a girl being alone, and how she is when nobody is around — very natural and very real. That’s what I do best, tell stories. This particular story is around the concept of privacy and what that means. As words, it’s sort of enormous, but when you are talking about fashion, it becomes much smaller. [That is] the disparity between words and pictures — sometimes words sound a lot better than pictures, and sometimes pictures are just a lot better than the words. [laughs]
CM Absolutely. It all depends on the perspective from which you choose to show the subject in the story.
DP I think, always, when you are shooting fashion, fashion dictates, to some extent, and the time you have to do it dictates, to some extent.
The model definitely dictates the story, to some extent.
CM What was your experience, in this case, with that?
DP I’m not used to working with people who’ve worked with so many people. I almost prefer to work with people who’ve actually not worked with that many others. I tend to get better results with that. What happens otherwise is that they start to do “their number,” and I’m not looking for someone to do “their number.” I’m looking for an actress, basically. I’m looking for an actress to play a role, and I will get them to play that role. The more she relates to me, and that role, the more interesting the pictures are. It’s all about in between moments and not moments. So, if you keep on hitting the moment, you’re not getting the picture.
CM It’s so fascinating to hear that point of view, because it’s become such a different process, in the way that things are now so specific, strategic and intentional in fashion photography. What you’re saying, about vulnerability or the unintentional moments that can only be captured rather than created — it makes perfect sense.
DP I think that when you have too strong a formula, and too strong a concept, and you’re not allowing yourself the room to be vulnerable and to make mistakes, you’re not getting real creativity.
CM You have a book that was done with Rizzoli, called Moments. Is this the idea on which that project was based?
DP Yes. I published a book in 2012 called Moments. We are putting together another book right now, which I think is going to accentuate that even more. It’s going to accentuate the filmic side of my work, which is very much part of that idea of a model playing a role that I use for my photography.
CM Between now and your years at Vogue, what have been your main interests and the passions in your work?
DP I went through a lot of different things through the years. I started a film company, because I was doing a lot of film work — directing, writing commercials. I wrote several films. I produced and directed a documentary. I moved to France, where I was working on several of my own projects. I had finished my documentary, and was doing an art project called “Facescapes,” where I was using people’s faces as landscapes. It was an amazing and ambi- tious project that brought me to Australia, China, and all of these places. There are many more that I would like to do. It’s all about humanity and how people are. The commonality of man, regardless of where they are. The basic common needs of people. That’s something that has always very much interested me, and the idea of doing it in a visual way.