Here is an edited interview with an inspirational photographer, Paul Barbera, originally written for Academy for Men. His generosity has connected me with some delightful people in Melbourne, the perfect Melburnian to feature on my blog.
Where They Create, he creates
Paul Barbera shoots ACNE Stockholm for Where They Create
Released on Frame this month, Where They Create is a weighty hard backed publication born out of Photographer Paul Barbera’s blog of the same name. It offers a glimpse into the international design spaces of Fantastic Man, Olaf Breuning, Julie Verhoeven, Opening Ceremony and Matali Crasset to name a few. Still very much a side project squeezed into a hectic photography schedule, this self-professed labour of love, has grown organically from an ingrained fascination with the world, to a voluminous reference of creative working environments.
Barbera maintains another blog, entitled Love Lost, a sumptuously voyeuristic peek into the bedrooms and occasional panties of smoulderingly unconventional muses. Hunger for exploration bubbles over into most probably all of his artistic endeavours, shooting editorial for high-end glossies including Vogue Living, Jalouse, View on Colour, Bloom and Elle Decoration.
Barbera is an effusive combination; disarming, dyslexic and driven, belonging to the pre Y Generation, son of migrants, he understands the value of working hard. He began shooting for Marie Clare at 24 and has lived in Rome, Warsaw, Berlin, Singapore and Amsterdam. Maneuvering his way with ease through the exchange I was surprised to discover Barbera rarely gave interviews in person or posed for photographs, the curious had become the subject of curiosity.
Martina Randles: So tell me, what was the appeal of the project, how did it come about, was it a natural evolution?
Paul Barbera: I can't just walk into a studio, it’s a way of getting into peoples faces, photography is a by product more than anything. It started 20 years ago documenting my best friend in high school, painter, Dominic Wood, the whole family are painters, it began in his fathers studio and has been evolving ever since.
Martina Randles: You’ve managed to cover a lot of ground, how do you decide on where to shoot?
Paul Barbera: Scott McCleland loves Where They Create and will pull me into jobs where I can work on my projects, recently I shot two artists in Beijing and one in the Kennedy headquarters. I don't care where it is, if a job comes up I take it, its completely random I can't wait to go to Russia. I had this job in Thailand and I took four weeks off to shoot, then I struggled to find places in Bangkok.
Martina Randles: You’ve just been working in China and have recently moved to New York, how do they compare?
Paul Barbera: New York feels like a third world city compared to China, the doors have opened and they might close again. I shot some stuff in Beijing and Shanghai, for Nike, they are trying to introduce women’s exercise to Chinese women but they're not allowed to sweat and they are all skinny anyway, it’s an uphill battle. I could make a book on New York there are so many spaces to shoot, and to dig up, it’s such an important city in the world.
Pages from the book Where They Create
Martina Randles: What original and obscure places has Where They Create taken you to?
Paul Barbera: The internet has changed everything I go to Bangkok, Shanghai - it’s not like all of sudden you enter another world, its difficult to find culturally original. I went to one of the Dutch colonies to shoot a very famous Curaçaoan artist; he was off his head totally drunk, I spent half a day with him I wasn't allowed to shoot. I get very restless when I don’t shoot anything, fortunately we ended up at a local surf beach, there was an old lady selling coke and little bits of food. She lived there with a little generator, painting her dreams and making little sculptures of aluminum foil, she couldn't understand why I was so interested in photographing her.
Martina Randles: How important in terms of ‘bigger than you’ social development is your work? Would you like to go to say, Iraq to find creative’s?
Paul Barbera: I'm a big fan of Poland and the Polish, I spent a summer in Warsaw and shot a Street Art Festival for a friend’s magazine Beast, there was no budget. The Polish went to Europe and realised that London isn't as great as they thought it would be, came home and bought there energy with them. In Amsterdam in particular you have this attitude that every Polish person is a crook and cheap laborer, because that’s what they are in Amsterdam. But actually there is so much going on there, I have out four or five spaces online and two made it into the book. I'm a fan of Poland. That’s my little bit, you change the landscape, but you’re right I’d love to go to Iraq, I’d love to go to Palestine, but I’d have to do it when stuff comes up, economically I can't afford to just take six months off.
Martina Randles: What was the biggest change you encountered when switching to digital?
Paul Barbera: My interaction socially up until digital was the camera, that was the way that I dealt with people in a social context. Now I shoot so much, my surroundings, in the blog and love lost that I don't do any private stuff. There was this supposed civilized weekend away with some Czech people that turned out to be a complete two day non-sleeping bender. One guy fell off a balcony and cracked his face open, it was pretty graphic, and I’d documented the whole sequence from the train ride until the morning. I couldn’t be bothered doing that now when I’m out with my friends, its quite a funny story.
Martina Randles: What camera do you use?
Paul Barbera: It’s a dialogue that’s not important, not relevant. You've got love your equipment, what it is that you're using, but it doesn't matter what that thing is. Years ago shooting a lot of ad work I was way too young; 25 and working on bigger than me ad campaigns. I was shooting above my weight - I spent 30 grand on camera kit and had four assistants. It was about bringing confidence to the shoot; the client was spending a lot of money. I was young creating an illusion of mirrors; I don't play that game anymore.
Where They Create, is available to buy from Frame and most good bookstores.
Paul Barbera shoots Fantastic Man, Amsterdam for Where They Create
Paul Barbera shoots Pandarosa, Berlin for Where They Create