Richard Bernardin, Photographer – Director
AL: Richard, thank-you for taking time out to meet with us!
RB: Hey Amy, no problem… It’s a pleasure and it’s always great talking with you!
AL: First of all, I have to say that I not only adore your work, I also adore working with you! I can always count on you to rock it out no matter what! You are the only dude in the business I know who rolls in with a backpack and a coffee ready to shoot. What can you offer up about keeping it simple?
RB: Exactly that… Just keep it simple. You know, I was once told by one of my mentor’s that photography (like life) was pretty much like mathematics: The best way to accomplish anything is to reduce it the lowest common denominator. I didn’t realize it at the time but another person earlier on in my life told me the same thing, in other, much cruder words: My colonel in the USMC always told us to keep it @#$?# simple stupid… Hence the acronym, KISS. Anyway, it took me a while to understand these simple precepts but eventually I did and now I live by them every single day (cue the backpack and coffee!).
AL: One of my assistants once described your work as sex on a page and quite frankly she hit the nail on the head. I mean that in the best possible way, your photos are always tasteful and fiercely sexy. What is your secret?
RB: Really?! Sex on a page? Well, I had never really thought of my work in that way… I personally would not describe it like that but I guess it’s open to interpretation, right? That said, I have no real secret. I just try to sublime my subject in a way that is always… How did you say? “Tasteful yet fiercely sexy.”
AL: How do you balance that fierceness with good taste so well? To me that is what elevates and distinguishes your photography above and beyond so many others.
RB: I believe in an image of a woman that is strong, confident and in complete control of every element in her life, including her sexuality. I do NOT believe in images that degrade, marginalize or perpetrate indignant stereotypes of any kind especially in a sexual way. I believe in sexy but not sexual. There is a very fine line between sexy images and pornography and that line has been crossed many times by many photographers. I pride myself in the knowing that I do not cross that line… Ever. I am married to the most wonderful and beautiful woman I have ever known and I have the upmost respect for her and all women. I understand the power and the message conveyed by my images and it is at the forefront of my thoughts every time I shoot: Does this image convey the values of a strong, confident and sexy woman without simultaneously debasing her? It’s quite an arduous challenge but an even greater responsibility to bear. I feel that photographers should be responsible for the message communicated by their images. I know I do… Anyway, apart from the enormous respect for women which I’ve already pointed out, I have two amazing young boys who will one day be men and I don’t want them to have a negative, vilifying image of women, especially not due to the images that I create. Like I said, we have to be careful… There’s nothing wrong with nudity and sensual imagery just as long as it’s done tastefully and with respect.
AL: You have shot numerous Canadian Designers and are a regular contributor to Canadian magazines, who are some of your favorites.
RB: I’m not a fashion editor and would certainly not consider myself to be a “connaisseur” by any means but from a purely esthetic point of view, some of my favorite designers to shoot would be Barilà, Mark Fast, Greta Constantine, Erdem Moralioglu, Todd Lynn and Jeremy Laing.
AL: What projects have you got on the go right now?
RB: Too many to enumerate but I am working on an exhibit in Paris for next fall, a short film (not a fashion film!) and a ton of shoots for the upcoming FW 2011 season!
AL: In terms of style, what are your favorite kind of stories to shoot?
RB: My own.
AL: Location or studio?
RB: I prefer to shoot on location but that is completely dependant upon the needs and requests of my client, right?
AL: Color or black and white?
AL: What impresses you?
RB: Those who are unwavering, relentless and assiduous in their expression of self through their art form… Be it through the use of words, dance, photography, illustration, architecture, design or moving-images, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the intent! And when that’s there, the result is undeniably impressive.
AL: I believe people that feel beautiful, act in beautiful ways. Do you get inspired by the transformation of the subject in front of the camera, or is the experience of taking the photo more concrete for you?
RB: Hmmm… I’ve had the opportunity to photograph hundreds of subjects; some were beautiful, some were less so… But in all the images, the physical beauty of the subject was not the only determining factor of an image’s strength or poignancy. I’d have to say that it was directly proportional to the subject’s character and overall individuality, which includes but is not exclusive to their beauty. So, I don’t really believe in the transformation of the subject because I understand that the experience of taking a photograph involves a direct and conscious manipulation of the truth.
AL: You had the opportunity to intern with Avedon when you started out in the industry, how has being exposed to that level of success and talent right at the start influenced your career?
RB: I mean, I was very young and, at the time, knew very little about photographic legends. It was brief and I was one among many but it was certainly a great opportunity… I assisted quite a few successful photographers during my stay in NY and the one thing I remember that was common to all was their poise and skillful demeanor. Everything was done with confidence and an efficiency that alleviated the set and put everyone (crew, clients and talent) to ease. It was quite impressive.
AL: For young photographers starting out in the industry, would you recommend assisting or jumping in feet first?
RB: All roads lead to Rome… Which ever you choose, you just have to persevere and keep shooting!
AL: It seems like a lot of fashion photographers, including you, are making the move from still photography to motion. Do you think that there will always be a space for photography or are we witnessing the extinction of print media?
RB: Actually, I think, like with all new mediums and technology, there will be a polarization and those best suited to creating still-images will keep doing so and vice-versa for still images. Although I’ve been shooting stills for 17 years, my first passion (after architecture) was and to a certain degree still is cinematography. The problem was that 17 years ago I was dirt poor, making films even shorts was financially impossible and the digital revolution was science-fiction so I chose the path of still photography. Now everything has changed and movie-making is accessible to all! This has influenced fashion in a lot of ways but I don’t think that the film media will replace fashion photography because they are two inherently different processes.
AL: You had the chance to direct Nelly Furtado’s latest music video, what was that process like for you?
RB: Yes, that was a truly great experience and a phenomenal learning curve as it was my first music video! I had a great crew and my friend Jordan Eady, who is a truly amazing cinematographer (www.jordaneady.com), who understood my vision and helped me translate my viual esthetic from still to motion photography. And Nelly… She was so wonderful! I had shot her several occasions and we had great chemistry on set so she asked me if I was interested in directing her video… And I obviously leaped at the opportunity!
AL: What is your go-too look?
RB: I have two actually… My dark grey Kooples skinny jeans, a white Amercian Apparel v-neck t-shirt and my limited-edition Sailor Jerry All-Stars or a slim black bespoken 3-piece suit worn with a white straight-point shirt and a narrow pin-dot tie with a four-in-hand knot.
AL: Favorite fashion item?
RB: My glasses.
AL: First fashion memory?
RB: Tying my first half Windsor for the day in junior high-school in Grade 7… My dad had taught me and I had practiced for several days. I was quite proud when my English teacher, Mr. Hancock, saw me and congratulated me on my tie.
AL: Peace Out Rich! Thanks again! xo
RB: Amy you’re the best and thank you!