During his go-sees, fashion photographer Thomas Sing started asking the models questions. What emerged was a very personal project for which he has created a website. And is already planning a book.
In many artistic careers there is a turning point, a moment in which the artist takes the leap and decides to explore a different path in the everlasting quest to represent reality. Photographer Thomas Sing could have been a philosopher had he wanted to. Instead, he chose to explore reality through the lens, delving into the intricate ontology of fashion. Qvest, Vogue, Madame are just few of the magazines which featured his work in the highly demanding world of fashion photography. In his personal photo-essays, Sing explored concepts like meditation, deconstruction, self-determination and mythology, winning international prizes such as the Prix de la Photographie Paris (Px3) and composing stories that went on being published on several photography magazines.
Sing’s style is characterized by a constant search for that elusive moment in which the spectator can lose himself, a metonymy of reality. His work shouldn’t be approached with a decoding spirit, though. His eye is never an imposing one, rather interested in engaging the viewer, alluding to concepts, creating the conditions for magic to happen: art at its best. It was this search that lead him to his latest project, Models in the Raw, a weekly series of model portraits taken outside the set, with no styling or additional make-up, whose briefing is simply to “come as you are”. In his 90-minute session alone with the model, talking, taking notes and shooting exclusively on film, Sing aims to catch a glimpse of the person beyond the fashion.
It all began a few years ago. Shoot after shoot, Sing started to grow a bit frustrated with the artificiality of fashion photography, even with his own work: “I couldn’t quite find the people behind those photographs anymore”. This feeling reached a critical point at the beginning of 2015, when he seriously contemplated quitting fashion photography and doing something completely different. “Then I thought quitting would be too easy. I love fashion photography, so I began to think about what was missing for me in my own photography”. What was missing, he discovered, was a “reality effect” he had always been searching for, the core of his metonymies. This realization brought him back to portrait, in his opinion the most beautiful kind of photography. In line with a strong need for reduction, he decided to get rid of set, styling, outfits and make-up, which left him with models in the raw.
He started in May by taking a week for himself, in Berlin, to realize portraits of six models. “Come as you would like to, dress as you would like to dress” was the only guideline, a chance to give them back the choice. And they did, showing themselves in the raw, in their favorite places, with their own outfits, no make-up, talking about their passions, their work, their lives. Sometimes even spontaneously inviting him to photograph them in their own homes, without him ever asking. Each shoot features an interview with the model, whose questions are loosely based on the conversations they had during the session. In order to preserve even more the objectiveness of the project, they are conducted by Sing’s business partner, post production editor and fashion stylist Chiara Padovan, who hasn’t met the models in person, before the film is even developed.
In a world where artificiality has become almost intrinsic to the concept of image, and where branding is the imperative of sharing, one could think that a model would resist the idea of being pictured in the raw, of showing her personality in an interview. Nothing further from Sing’s experience: “I think on their side there is really some urge to show themselves”, he says. “As models, they are supposed to take on a different role every day, and mostly it’s not about them as a person”, therefore the opportunity to be authentic is rather welcome. Their reactions to the final results are quite positive, too: a model, upon viewing her photos for the first time, said: “Oh, I fucking love them! Finally there´s photos that picture me like I really am!”. To Sing, it’s “the greatest compliment I could get”. Of course, photography is still a medium, and he doesn’t presume to show reality as it is: “There are many factors involved, like my eye or the camera, so the picture isn’t something real. But the picture can touch something real, and this is my own conception of photography. I always say a good photograph is like an arrow, it hits you somewhere. This is what is often missing in fashion photography, it’s just display. It’s fine, but I was missing some sort of depth. I was missing the arrow”.
Since that week in May, the project has grown to become its own website. Each week, a new feature is added, comprised of an interview and 15-25 photographs. Sing is shooting solely on film, with three cameras: a Mamiya medium format, an ancient Zeiss Ikonta and a regular Minolta, for a total of 56 shots, of which about a third to the half are published. A considerable ratio, “a pressure that I consciously exert on myself”. Then they are scanned and uploaded on the web, a fast medium for photographs which need time to be looked at. “I could have just been shooting for one year, not showing anything to anyone and then just make a book out of it, but I have decided to put everything online right from the beginning. Because you have all these analog photographs, shot with really old cameras, and then you scan them and put them on the internet, which is quite a contradiction, but I like to combine different media. And I like contradictions”. Almost an installation, an evolving work of art on the web.
The former semiotics professor is still exploring the being, the model, going to the real core of fashion beyond its ever-changing signs, and showing it to the viewers in its purest form. But exposing models in the raw is also exposing Thomas Sing, a situation many creatives are uncomfortable with. Wasn’t there fear? “I wanted to go deeper, I wanted to go in the raw myself, as a photographer”, explains Sing, “Of course these pictures are also a portrait of myself, that’s what photography is. There was no objective reason to do it, it was just the feeling that it was the right thing to do. And that’s the advice I would give to every young photographer, to every creative. If you feel it, if you really feel it, then do it – and work hard at it. It’s not easy, and it took me years to get there, to say ‘this is what I really want to do, I’ll do it at my own risk and if it won’t be a success, I’ll still have those beautiful pictures’ ”. We couldn’t agree more.