Have you ever looked at a photograph and thought about all of the factors at play that make that image so arresting? You have the setting which transports you to a new place. And then you have the subject which is the main focal point of the image. But then you have the most important factor of all, the photographer. The photographer has the power to freeze a moment in time and capture the mood and feel of the scene. It is because of photographers that we have a glimpse of the devastation of a war-torn country and front row access to the greatest musicians of our time.
Through devastatingly beautiful black and white images, we have come to know one such photographer; Stephanie Pfriender Stylander. It all started in a New Jersey theater where a 14-year-old fell in love with the art of photography. Photographers peered through these strange black boxes as they captured images of the scene that was presented before them. That girl admiring the intriguing scene before her, would go on to become one of the most celebrated photographers.
As we look through the works of Stephanie Pfriender Stylander, we see sand pouring through the fingers of a young Heath Ledger, rock star Keith Richards is in his element with a cloud of smoke billowing in his face, and the legendary Kate Moss dons giant sunglasses that lay against her porcelain face. These are the moments captured by Stephanie.
With such a robust clientele of clients like Vogue and GQ, it only made sense that I learned more about Stephanie. She shared with me reflections of her career and we discussed her recent collection featuring her photographs from her first meeting with a then 14-year-old Kate Moss. Who would have ever guessed that the relatively unknown cheeky girl would go on to become one of the most iconic supermodels of our time? All captured through the lens of Stephanie. Without further ado, here is a conversation with the incredibly talented Stephanie Pfriender Stylander.
TCL: Can you give us a little background as to when you first realized you wanted to be a photographer?
SPS: At age 14 I realized I wanted to be a photographer. I was at a rock concert in an intimate theater in New Jersey seeing THE KINKS. My high school friends and I had great seats, the older kids from school didn’t and they were shooting the concert for the yearbook, so they asked us if they could sit on our laps. We agreed and that was THE moment for me, I was transfixed by the little black machines dressed in all these numbers and I wanted to know more. The next day I followed them into the darkroom and there was the concert again so to speak, the magic of the image appearing in the dark right out of the liquid. My parents got me my first camera for Christmas and I began photographing and taking a photography class at high school.
TCL: What was it about photography that pulled you into this profession?
SPS: I was pulled into the profession because that is all I wanted. I loved photographing, watching, capturing the moment and the medium gave me access to people, places, events which I loved. There was nothing else.
TCL: When looking at your catalog of work, what would you say is signature Stephanie?
SPS: My signature no matter what I photograph has emotion, tells a story, evokes feeling.
TCL: You’ve photographed many celebrities throughout your career, what made you want to focus on celebrity portraiture?
SPS: Celebrity portraiture has been a part of my work stemming from my fashion work when I lived in Europe. In the early 90’s I photographed for a lot of the high-end international fashion magazines and my casting of models was very particular. I didn’t like the standard beauty I always looked for an interesting face and a person who knew how to speak to the camera, not just look good. An editor at French Glamour said you would be great with celebrities, actors and I always loved actors and watching the films of the great French and Italian directors from the 50’s and 60’s. I began in Europe photographing the actors which then morphed into working with a lot of actors in the states. Actors are fascinating, they like to slip into “something else”, someone else, they understand that the unspoken language is the most important aspect to the photograph so it was a natural for me to work with them.
TCL: What has been a career highlight for you thus far?
SPS: A career highlight….I loved a shoot I did with British GQ on men’s suits, we shot a fashion story in Sicily with all the local boys from the village. I came with my asst., the fashion stylist came with hers, that was the crew, we met one of the locals that she had a connection too, hopped onto their Vespas to do the casting and one by one these boys came out of the local bars, ice cream shops, etc…and everyone was ideal filled with character. They all had these amazing faces and this incredible bravado and sensitivity. It was very special.
TCL: Regarding your Kate Moss collection, what made her such a great subject?
SPS: Kate Moss was incredible in front of the camera, a complete natural, in her DNA. She was just starting, 14 and I spoke to her about a French director Godard and the way this actress moved that he always worked with. So I showed her different mannerisms and the feeling, character of the girl. She just got it, immediately. I will never forget it.
TCL: Describe the most memorable moment that happened during this shoot
SPS: The most memorable moments is when Kate is wearing these large oversized sunglasses and I wanted beauty images but a kooky type of beauty with looks that were intoxicating, playful, silly and she was doing exactly what I was thinking, it was uncanny.
TCL: What is the theme or overall message you are trying to convey with the shoot and what inspired this theme?
SPS: The theme was about a young foreign couple in love roaming the cool, iconic spots of New York City, being curious, being a bit rebellious, being young hip kids. My approach was reportage, meaning I would set up a scene and then follow them around from every angle, telling a story, a very cinematic story with a technical approach that gave a gritty effect. The magazine that we shot for was Italian Harper’s Bazaar and they wanted to see an iconic NYC for their readers. Now the locations are completely iconic since they are all gone. The French films of Godard dictated my direction for the casting, a pretty girl but a unique type of pretty, a pretty boy but with an edge, they were characters that we all could relate too. I think the story is so successful because we all know and love our memories of young love.
TCL: I noticed a lot of your images are black and white. Any reason for this particular imagery?
SPS: Black and white is my language for many of my shootings. I love the contrast of black and white, I love thinking in opposites. The focus becomes the interaction between myself and my subject.
TCL: Of all the people you have photographed, who left the most profound impression on you and describe the story behind that shoot?
SPS: Heath Ledger left a strong impact on me. He was a young actor living in NYC coming from Australia so I thought he would like to play with sand. We shot in a downtown NYC studio and we brought in all this sand. We started shooting and he just kept picking up the sand and letting it slid through his fingers like a glass timer, a capsule of time. Then in other situations he just sat on the dining table in the studio and started stretching and practicing unusual body movements. I knew he had something unique, melancholia, he was interesting.
TCL: What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
SPS: Advice is if you want it, you will get it, work hard, keep your mind open, practice.
TCL: Anyone you haven’t shot that you would like to photograph next?
SPS: I would love to photograph Javier Bardem.
TCL: What’s next for your Stephanie?
SPS: Right now I am in Venice Italy for the Venice Film Festival and the Art Biennale. My next big trip is back to Rajasthan, India where I will be working on my personal project on the women of India, titled “Veiled”. I am raising awareness through my photography on issues pertaining to women’s rights and raising funds for a human rights organization, BREAKTHROUGH in India where we are also launching a fundraiser in mid-September.
Special thanks to Stephanie for taking the time to do this interview. If you are interested in any of her works or the new Kate Moss collection it is available for sale at StephaniePfrienderStylander.com
All images were provided by Stephanie