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“My biggest achievement was believing in myself that I’m good and that I can do that. And I can do some really good work, because for me photography, it’s therapeutic, not only for the model, but also for myself.”
Have you ever wished you could just strip away all of the trappings, go back to the absolute basics, start over and just reveal your raw, vulnerable self? No Photoshop, no worries about how many likes or followers you have – just simplicity and honesty and beauty. Steve Mendes started his career as a photographer in the fashion world – big shoots, makeup and fancy cars and entire teams – and then he stopped.
He explored urban scenes – abandoned buildings, old castles, gorgeous spaces where he forged a new relationship with composition and light. He found his voice, he focused in, and shoots now with natural light, usually in his kitchen in Belgium. He gave up the quest for likes and social media accolades, and found a way to express himself as an artist, to produce extraordinary images, to forge genuine collaborations.
Art for me is expressing yourself with your soul, finding yourself inside of yourself. Finding your Self.
– Steve Mendes
Twyla Jones: So welcome, Steve. I am so happy to have you on the podcast today.
Steve Mendes: Thank you so much. I’m very happy you invited me. It was very unexpected. I, found it very overwhelming.
Twyla Jones: I think that’s the best kind of guest to have on honestly.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. Cause I heard in another podcast from you and with Francis, if I’m not mistaken.
Twyla Jones: Allyse, Yup.
Steve Mendes: Oh, sorry. My name, the names with myself. I’m very bad at names.
Twyla Jones: I called you Steven, but it’s Steve – in that podcast when we were talking about you.
Steve Mendes: That’s a capital mistake but you’re forgiven.
Twyla Jones: Thank you. So I’m also terrible with names.
Steve Mendes: I’m more of a face person,
Twyla Jones: I love your work. I think that a lot of us do and it stands out to me so much, especially just seeing you. And I know about you because you share your work in my Facebook group, but it stands out so much in there because a lot of us are really, you know, we’ve really kind of do it with our editing. Bringing out all of those colors and everything. And then when you post, it just stops me in my tracks because of just how simple and beautiful it is. So we are going to talk more about your work and why that’s standing out to me so much in a little bit, but I want to start first, just kind of hearing your story. It’s always so interesting to hear about how anybody, I think gets their start in photography.
I would love if you could share a little bit about that journey.
Steve Mendes: Yes. I started photography couple of years ago. So I started, I think in 2014, 15. I was looking for a hobby and I, yeah, photography always spoke a lot to me because, since the tender age I was for art, and photography in general, was always a very important part for me, because I was always very impressed with how photography, a photo, can express so much emotions. My father was a photographer – not the photographer was a journalist, but he took photos also. So I used to be when I was a little in a studio, with the photographer and when he was editing. And that was really, for me, like very impressive to being in the dark room and all with the chemicals and every, an old kind of stuff was always like, Whoa!
Twyla Jones: A little bit like magic and it’s so dramatic with the lights and everything.
Steve Mendes: Got that red light, and after you see the photos, and yeah, and it always spoke to me a lot. Although I never did photography when I was younger. When I was choosing my degree to go to college, photography was one of the options because in Portugal it’s, Portuguese, And in Portugal, you have another system. So it’s you will do your tops. You choose your top six, for universities and graduations. And after you from that, top six, it’s sort of a lottery where you can choose in which one. Photography was one of them, but, at the moment it was very expensive to do a photography bachelor, because yeah, you need it just to start off thousands of euros,to invest in a camera. And I didn’t have that at the moment. I didn’t pursue that then, but after some years, long years after, I really thought about an hobby and I always said, “you know what? Photography is always something that I wish to do.” So I think that wasn’t my path but it waited until the time was right.
Then I do, I did two years evening courses, just like from the adult courses. I did the basics, like Photography B and then a bit of history of photography. I did the basics, but then I stopped because yeah, it was taking a lot of time into doing every week, doing that homework, let’s say, for things that I really didn’t enjoy it.
Twyla Jones: Yeah.
Steve Mendes: Then I just decided to quit and start by myself to photograph. I started with nice….I started as, architecture, more in urban exploration. I don’t know if you know the term it’s, photographing old buildings, so like abandoned buildings, and that was amazing. I had two colleagues, which I was going on paths with them, and it was really amazing. I discovered really beautiful castles that like, from like abandoned for 40 years and some things. So you were going inside the walls was really like time machines. It was, you know, you go there and you see a newspaper from 1970 . I did that for two, three years, and that it was, I really liked it and it really helped me with composition because yeah, there you – it’s not the photo. No, you’re just going there to take specific amount of photos to try to capture that atmosphere as a beauty of decay in that.
Twyla Jones: Yeah and I think composition, I mean really kind of carries photos like that so much more so than when you have, you know, a live subject in the image that can tell a story through like expression emotion and all of that, so you really rely a lot more heavily on composition.
Steve Mendes: Yes, indeed. And you must see that in these houses, there’s no electricity. There’s no, that normally, there are secrets passages, because it’s not actually legal, but if there’s a way in like this, but it’s not easy way in, but, I’ve been in, you knew old universities, castles, you name it and you, we had to shoot like always on tripod and with a shutter speed sometimes of one minute, two minutes, three minutes.
I used Nikon D 3200 with a really wide angle, so it wasn’t the biggest dynamic range. So I had to shoot the HDR, but not using HDR technique. So just shooting, exposing to the highlights, exposing to the shadows and after, normal exposure, so you could have the range of dynamic that, you could play with it after in, in, in Photoshop let’s say.
Twyla Jones: Well I love that too, just because I don’t know, where there is a will there is a way. So even if you’re limited by the tools that you have in the moment… so you don’t have a camera with the best sensor? There’s still a way to produce images like the more expensive camera you just have to… I mean its just knowing your tools. You know, their limits and then, you know, I dunno, what all they’re capable of.
Steve Mendes: Yes, indeed.
Through years of working only with that camera and only with the, with that lens, it really helped me to learn everything of the camera and capabilities of it and everything. Actually after we have the work delivering that I was able to earn a price without knowing, actually I was able with that and with some other money to buy, to upgrade my kits.
Twyla Jones: That’s so great.
Steve Mendes: Yes, indeed. It was some photo contest and 500 pics, like in 2016 or something, and I went with one of the photos, which I really like, and I can show you later.
Twyla Jones: Yeah. Send it to me so I can put it in the show notes so everybody can see it.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. Great. yeah. And after, yeah, like I said, it wasn’t really legal, so it’s just, it’s just a limitation of architecture to show your creativity was more in post-processing than in the moment itself was really beautiful as an experience to experience those places and see how nature takes over the place, you know? Like seeing the mold, seeing the green in it, seeing the broken… yeah was not without danger, of course. But after a moment, it became very mainstream and there were sometimes where we got more people on that abandoned places and then the, in the bar from my town.
So wasn’t like a feeling of it. It was lost or, yeah. And yeah, our, I had become a father then, and I just didn’t want it to have risk of being caught and such because yeah, I live in Belgium. I’m a foreigner, so I mean, so I didn’t wanted any problems and such and tried to find my way after in portraiture, I said, okay, it’s enough with inanimate objects. Let’s try a portraiture. And I did portraiture and I did the fashion modeling the fashion stuff with big teams and I started small, but it evolved very fast. In a moment. I was like shooting just with one model and the makeup artists. And after I had already team with, I remember one, one photo shoot that I really loved.
It was with two, old timers, was, Chevrolet from 67 and another from a speedster from 59, something like that, the owner of the cars will kill me if, because I didn’t get the years right, but it was a hair dresser and makeup artist. It was models. I did two years at, and I was not really my thing because I was more doing, what the others wanted, than what I wanted. Fashion and typical fashion. It was, yeah, it was nice work. Everyone enjoyed it. I would get huge amount of likes if I posted it in several groups, but at the end it was emotionless. You know? It wasn’t an emotion. It was like, yeah, I’m showing clothes. I should get paid for this actually. No. Yeah. Yeah.
Twyla Jones: I have to say, I think that happens to a lot of photographers, even when they feel like they’re on a path like to be doing this as an artist, more but they’re also, you know, they’re doing family photography in that way, but then I, it just bringing money into it and having clients you just end up feeling like you need to fulfill these very specific expectations. And even if it’s just expectations, you set by the work that you put out just before, you know?
so I don’t know I feel like we’re always kind of like fighting that battle between those constraints. We almost build for ourselves. And then just truly feeling like we’re expressing ourselves as artists, but then also needing to make money to continue living and feeding ourselves.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. I have to look at the, I say, look, I don’t know if it, everyone will see that as a look, I don’t photography is not my profession. I don’t actually earn money with it. So I have the freedom to do whatever I want.
Twyla Jones: That’s the best. Yes. That is the best.
Steve Mendes: And at that moment I was doing giving all my free time to mood boards from myself, but also from models and everything and everyone. And I liked the work I did because yeah, composition and everything I learned a lot of it, but at the end of the day I wasn’t expressing myself through that work. It was just more of a trend of that year, then what was really, yeah, it was just a stage from my search to my inner self, I think. and yeah, it was, I think it was the change from becoming a photographer to become an artist.
Twyla Jones: Absolutely.
Steve Mendes: Because I see myself as an artist because, not egocentric or anything like that because for me is art. It’s expressing yourself by emotions. Not just doing what’s hype and trendy, but just doing something that it’s a part of your soul.
Twyla Jones: I have to say, you know, I am starting to notice a trend with the people I am interviewing on this podcast, and it’s not even on purpose. Like I asked you to come on and I, we’ve never spoken, I don’t know anything about you at all, except that I love your work. But, you know, just, I don’t know, a lot of these conversations are going this way. Or maybe I’m just very interested in people that seem to do.. That aren’t driven by likes. They’re not creating work, driven by, you know, like a popular vote or even something like that, I think. And it’s just, I don’t know. Maybe I can like, feel a little bit of that, like soul in the work. And that’s what makes me interested in speaking with you, you know? I can feel it.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. Yes. I’ve been listening to, I think I listened to almost all of your podcasts actually. Yeah. I drive a lot and then have the Spotify on and , sometime I just don’t like a lot of mainstream radio. I liked just some radio stations, whereas like classical music and some podcasts and such. So I like to hear a lot of podcasts. So if I’m not driven by the work of the person, I’m interested by the person who is behind that, because I am the story about it. yeah. yes, indeed. It’s, best to become, an artist is not easy, But it’s very beautiful because it’s, you have always the stereotype of becoming an artist you need to be depressed and alcoholic and drug addict, you have to hate everyone. Then you have to have an ego from the size of the world.
Art for me is expressing yourself with your soul, finding yourself inside yourself. Finding yourself inside of yourself, finding your Space Self with a capital S.
Twyla Jones: I think too it just is getting so confusing with social media kind of… well, and even like lots of other podcasts telling you know, in order to be successful, you need these three tips to grow your Instagram, and these are the artists, the ones that have hundreds of thousands of followers, but I just don’t agree. You know, like I think that people that have hundreds of thousands of followers are good at marketing or writing good captions or something, but a lot of the work that I find most captivating and that I find really inspiring, they’re not playing those games cause it kind of feels like a game to me at this point. I think if I were to start over right now, like I’ve got a decent number of followers on Instagram, but I bet if I started over right now, It would take me years and years to do that again. I just got in at a good time for Instagram . When it was easier to get followers and stuff, and it is not anymore, like I’m literally losing followers.
Steve Mendes: Me too always. Everyday. But just every day I am losing a lot of followers. I started with Instagram also a bit late. I had my account for urban exploration after I left. I left it dead. And after I, yeah, I reborn in the process, I got some likes because of some exposure. I got here and there from sharing my work, but yeah, normally I get a decent amount yet from 100 to luckily 300 and that’s the margin that I go we’ll go through. I know that I’m happy with that because it’s the persons who like my work will follow me and it’s not because I paid to promote it , and if it gets it more it’s just because Instagram doesn’t show me it doesn’t show you, or, you didn’t have been found yet.
Twyla Jones: I also love that too. Just being harder to find and the people that want to make sure that they do see the things that you put out, like just people that are that much they’re that connected to your work, that they want to put the effort into, like making sure that they see you as opposed to relying on Instagram, to show you to the people it thinks would like to see it or whatever. I don’t know. It’s just all so superficial and I am, I’m very over it. And I have to say too, there is this lie that we tell ourselves that we have to be present on social media all the time, and we have to make sure we’re posting everyday and engaging for 30 minutes every day, so we can keep booking work. But I have to say, I’ve really fallen off of posting on a consistent basis and I’ve been booking more sessions than I ever have, even if I’m not posting on social media every day, or even making a single post in a whole week. I am still able to make money and book work by just having a current portfolio on my website and being find-able that way, but also just, I think it matters to engage with people that like and care about the kind of work that you make in a way that feels authentic to you. I do that in other ways, and I don’t feel like I have to post to Instagram every single day or have a hundred thousand followers there in order to justify that. And I can do that in ways, like the podcast, like getting to have great conversations with artists like you, and showing up and serving the community in other ways and teaching and things like that.
Steve Mendes: I agree. I don’t post everyday. I post when I feel that I want to post and I turn the cell phone on, I, throw the cell phone to the couch and I go cook, I don’t just don’t care.
Twyla Jones: You have to do it that way. Cause if you’re just doing it to I don’t know, feed your ego or whatever, my husband always comments, things like that, cause he’s also in the Facebook group, he never like… I don’t even know why he is… but he doesn’t comment or anything, but he sees like the comments that people will leave, you know, so obsessed.
Steve Mendes: Me? I post and I leave it. I know the kind of work I do – because it’s so specific – I don’t get huge amount of likes. I get likes from artists, but from the general population I get, and if…
Twyla Jones: You know, I noticed that too. I noticed the other people that also like your work or love it, or leave comments in the group. And they’re always people that I’m a little bit more connected with. And I don’t know, it just says something to me. I know like yours don’t get as much attention as like some other posts do, but, I don’t know, your posts are some of my favorite and I mean, obviously like you just really stand out to me. You’re one of my favorite artists and I just also love the people that take the time to love your work as well.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. I, it, thank you so much for that. It’s very funny. I know when I post on your group that I’m not going to have almost any likes.
Twyla Jones: I know that is another thing that I love about you though. That you keep posting your work in the group. And it’s not even though it’s not like resonating with most of the people, like you’re still doing it and I’m so happy that you’re doing it because you’re sharing. Because honestly that’s where I spend more of my time when I’m on social media, so I continue to see your work. If you disappeared though, I would turn notifications on somewhere, so I would still see your stuff, but I am just so grateful that you do that. And I notice it.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. I think I got a couple of times featured in your hashtags and, like from, Ezekiel with the eyes closed, only add one, and it was from, and it got it got shared, and it got featured there, but I only got one and it was from you, but I really don’t care. I know because if I’m going to post a family yeah… that’s going to get 300 likes, but the family photograph that you don’t know who shot it because it’s all almost the same. I don’t, I’m not earning fans now. I know… I respect everyone and everyone needs to do what they want. I find a lot of a trend also in that kind of photography, is that they really are obsessed with the likes and with material and yeah…
Twyla Jones: Isn’t it funny, the more something looks like the rest of the stuff that’s being made, the more cohesive it is with the feed. The more all of this work starts looking the same, the more popular it is. Like the more likes it can get, if you can just look like everybody else, but then we have you, that is just really standing out creating this like amazing original, like raw work that just blows me away. And then I’m like, here he is just two likes, but it’s my favorite. And that’s also , when I do the features, another reason why I don’t do it based on likes, because I know that, and sometimes it’s just a person that’s more popular in the group or they just have more friends, but it doesn’t mean that. …I mean, I love everybody always, and everybody that’s getting lots of likes, but it doesn’t always mean that it’s the most like original or inspiring work. And so I would rather do it just based on the images and that’s all I look at. I don’t even see cause I just go into the photos in the group, so it doesn’t tell me who took the photo. All I can see is just the picture. And then that’s how I’m choosing, for the features. So not based on likes or a name or anything like that.
Steve Mendes: Yes. And it’s the best way. Cause you see it’s more families or boudoir that it’s like anything else in the world anymore, in the world of photography. But yeah for me it’s my way of expressing is my vision. It’s, it’s yeah, it’s a process, of expressing myself and expressing the emotions that the model expresses. It took me a quite a while to find myself, but it started like a project, but it became my style, so I it’s like when people ask me all “Oh, what do you want to shoot?” Yeah, my style. “can we do something?” Yes. Depends. But if I’m going to work with something else with someone else, you first need to do raw with me because if not , I don’t know what to expect and I, I don’t like to expect, but I need to see you off guard and to see what I can do after.
Cause I write also poetry…
Twyla Jones: Oh you do? I wish you would share that with your work.
Steve Mendes: I think I put some on your group. I don’t know. It’s just, yeah.
Twyla Jones: I’ll go back and look, but I hope that you will share more of that.
Steve Mendes: I will post more of that then.
Twyla Jones: I love that because I really feel like that would connect too with the work that you’re creating.
Well also. Okay. So we’ve been talking for 30 minutes and we haven’t even talked about this amazing stuff that you’re doing that I just adore so much. So we have to talk about raw projects, so everybody knows what we’re talking about. So in again, like this is what first caught my eye when you were sharing in the group and they’re just so captivating. They just stand out in that feed of more heavily edited images, like how I edit also. Tell me how this project came to be and just what it is.
Steve Mendes: Like I told you, I told before, I was doing fashion-ish stuff with big teams and it was just too much. It was just like, Too much, too much stress for the, for myself. And I wasn’t able to express really myself. I cut everything and I went to basics. So now I just said, yeah, I don’t want makeup. I don’t want editing. when I mean, editing is as, I don’t do, like skin retouch, dodge and burn and all that kind. I do color correction and I do vignetting and the composition because of my limited space and my, but I don’t, I don’t do – for the raw itself -I don’t do any kind of other editing. I just do also a color correction because of the type of skin that I do. The type of skin and the type of hair that the models have, because I shoot a lot. I photograph a lot red head, ginger models.
Twyla Jones: I love them.
Steve Mendes: It destroys the white balance because I shoot everything manual and with a dark backgrounds, they become like really blue and really green because we have the white balance. So I really need to change the white balance and I need to put it more, I give it more – my view always colder. My photos are always very cold.
That’s how I started, I quit all the extras and just went to the basics. And I went to two models, at the moment I wasn’t feeling very good with myself and I was going through a hard time in my life. And, I was thinking, yeah, it’s okay not to be okay, and I want to photograph real people which – they can be okay or they can not be okay. They don’t need to be, to have any emotional or mental Illness or such. I just want to shoot. Photograph people like photographers, always say shoot. This is really like serial killer talk.
I just went to the basics and I just wanted to photograph people and with always a common background. Background as in photography and photograph people would be interested interesting to photograph and to that would be emotional. I always make some questions before I shoot with some people.
Twyla Jones: Oh, good. I was wondering about that
Steve Mendes: I like always to say, I only shoot aliens and unicorns because that’s one of the biggest… how can I say it? it’s yeah, it’s I mean it in the best way possible. And people think that’s wrong or that’s offensive, then we are not going to work together because you don’t understand my way of seeing the world, but it’s just unique character. So I’m not the typical. Yeah, not to the fashion stereotype, blonde blue eyes, even though I photograph them, but they need to have more emotional baggage, emotional content, to deliver something because…
Twyla Jones: I can see that.
Steve Mendes: And, yeah, and that’s how it started. I always use the same music and it, and the same environment – my house, actually. Yeah, you would be astonished where do I photograph? But yeah, that’s my kitchen. Yes.
Twyla Jones: I am so surprised. Is it natural light?
Steve Mendes: Yeah. All natural light. But I have light from four or five different sources. and then, because I only have a limited space, I know every millimeter of the light. And I studied a lot the light, like just going through, when I go to a walk, see how the shadows and how the lights on how that both affects the tone of my skin or, yeah, I become became very obsessed with the lights and I studied a lot to the natural light because I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s always a very beautiful flash light, but I don’t know how to work with it, but I put in my head that I need first to learn how to photograph natural light before I go to flash.
Twyla Jones: And I just think. So many people kind of skip over that part sometimes and assume that they can fix everything in editing. But a lot of times, if you would just start with where you’re taking the actual photo and like understanding your light better, you could do a lot less when you’re editing and have to fix a lot less when you’re editing. But I dunno, I think get to your end result a lot easier
Steve Mendes: If you want beautiful skin tones, you have to choose your light.
Twyla Jones: Yes. You cannot put people in the middle of a forest where light is filtering through green leaves and want beautiful, effortless skin tones without literally having to paint the skin tone back onto the people, you know,
I did a session,Steve Mendes: I think it was last year or two years ago and it was 40 degrees and it was really warm. It was in the middle of nowhere in a lake and it’s stinked, and it was 1/1:30. We got sunburn and it was a nude shoot and, when I shoot them and when I edited and I showed, edited, I just. When I showed the end result, people were thinking, “Oh yeah, this is what’s at the end of the day at the sunset, because this is very soft light.” No! It was 40 degrees and it was at 1:30. I had the red neck when I finished.
But yeah, that’s the thing. I learned a lot of natural light and I just wanted to use a really simple, basic stuff. I don’t choose what the model wears. It’s up to them. I always say, or I prefer just nude colors, so you can use a body or a bra, or a tank top, you need to feel comfortable because you’re going to show your most vulnerable part. So you will decide how to shoot, because if the model is comfortable to shoot topless or nude, then we will shoot nude, but it’s not my decision or my request like mandatory, no, the model.
Twyla Jones: Yeah. I was wondering about that, cause I know a lot of people, are interested in being able to photograph people in that way and especially be able to take photos like that, but then also be able to display them on their portfolio because I know what you show is like, what you can make more of basically. You can attract more people that are into that kind of thing. I was wondering what it was like for you. If you’re doing model calls or how you’re putting it out there, that people do just feel one so safe with you to just be so vulnerable in that way. But, I mean, you must be creating a really exceptional environment and you are making people feel safe enough to be able to do that with you.
Steve Mendes: Yes, I will. Yeah, like I told you, the Project Raw it’s about removing all the masks and show your vulnerable part to being who you really are. I think major inspiration, my inspiration – I don’t have mood boards – my inspirations are paintings. I love the Pre-Raphaelite movement, how the, they went against the against not really against, but, as a counter movement to the Renaissance of everything perfect. To be the imperfection itself. And yeah,
Twyla Jones: I feel like that’s happening again. Do you?
Steve Mendes: Yes.
Twyla Jones: Yeah. Yes. Like we’re connecting even just ad campaigns. We connect more with, the people that are not like heavily retouching models and showing people that we can relate to. And yeah, I think I will buy your clothes because you’re putting them on people that look like me. And now I can see that instead of idealizing, you know, just this one body size body type, whatever to put the clothes on and just embracing imperfection, which is just so amazing and refreshing, I think.
Yes, indeed. I always try that to do that in my work and it’s very confronting and we go models saying yet, now I can work with you. And now I have a zit and that, or it was there. I’m not going to take it so we can reschedule or you, or are you going to do with it?
Steve Mendes: But it’s a very hard, it’s a hard process because I am also putting myself very vulnerable to them because I show it. I say, I tried to connect. I always connect with the model, try to explain what I’m doing and what am I doing and explain that, yeah, that this, I try to just to do timeless stuff I don’t want to do – I don’t want you to look to a picture of mine and say, “Oh, this is so 2020.” No, I want you to see this and to have the same feeling that you had with painters from like van Eyck or Rubens. Yeah. That it was like from 400 or 500 years ago. Or when the Pre-Raphaelite movement, it was like 200 years ago almost. And, I always been very fond of timeless. Why are we, why are painters still so important in our society? Why is classical music still a big impact in emotions? Because even people didn’t say that I don’t like classical music. They listened to classical music when they see a Netflix series because classical music is everywhere and you don’t get the emotion of that moment of the ecstasy of that moment without that timeless moment. And I think that’s..
Twyla Jones: That was so beautiful.
Steve Mendes: I’m quite impressed myself, so
Twyla Jones: I believe you.
Steve Mendes: But, yeah, as it’s, for me, it’s always capturing a moment and I always tell my models. “We, I want to capture something where you look at here and you’re proud of yourself. We are proud of a moment. I want to take a photo which could be on the, on your grave. You know, something very important. Something that means something for you.” Cause I have some experienced with also. With models that, after the shoot it’s becomes just too much for them and that I’m not, yeah, they don’t let me to post their work because it’s there, it’s too emotional for them.
And that’s also a lot of the issue of the self, but also we’ve heavily editing model photography. Because I had a lot of models saying with me, “why are people editing my face for three hours? Am I have so much issue with that?” No, not at all. And that’s what, that’s something that, I think that it really helped me get more and more models, people to want to work with me and to decide, Me having the power to decide, with who I want to work, and to scout. I take really long time to scout and to find the typical, the persons that I want to photograph to really more the show more than my vision of the world. And yeah, it’s that unique moment of showing who they really are without anything else besides me the lens and their self. So that I think it’s something that really attracts, because a lot of a lot, but I would say 30% maybe of the models who work with me, it’s the first time that they shoot without a makeup or editing. So it’s very, it’s very challenging. And my sessions, they only take like maximum 30 minutes, 20 minutes. I have sessions from 15, 20 minutes. I like that first awkwardness moment. Like when. I don’t do that, but you know, when a cat falls in the water and the really gets that reaction that I really need to get out of here, that awkwardness, I’m a dog person but I don’t do that to cats. I always look for that, for that emotion, I always like for that awkward 15, 20 minutes where I pose them in the beginning and after I let them do what they want, just, and that is just depending from model to model and from, from session to session. I have models who are really dancers and I have 700 photos, because they are just expressing themselves, because my soundtrack. You’re not getting very happy from it. My so undtrack is Max Richter, Johan Johanssen, Sigur Ros, God level.
Twyla Jones: Will you send, will you send this to me? I have to listen to this playlist.
Steve Mendes: I have my shoots playlist. And it’s really emotional. My best photos, I remember the moment that I clicked the best moment photos. I, sometimes I cry during my shoot, my photo sessions, because I’m hypersensitive and that’s something that I have to grow with it. Growing up in the Latin country, the culture is not very open for emotional men, let’s say so it’s something that I have to embrace and yeah, I cry. Not a lot. Normally you don’t really realize, but it’s just like when I see the magic happening and I really get proud of what we are creating and it’s yeah,
Twyla Jones: I love that. I mean, not everybody. I mean, I feel like a majority of people don’t feel that way at all, about many things, you know, especially that they’re creating maybe aside from like their children, you know what I mean? But not a lot of people get to have that experience often.
Steve Mendes: Yes. And with photography, my biggest success. I had an interview last year with another photographer and it was just an Instagram live thing, so it wasn’t really a big deal, but it made me think about myself. And so it was very introspective and yeah, they were saying, “What was your biggest achievement with photography?”
My biggest achievement was believing in myself that I’m good and that I can do that. And I can do some really good work, because for me photography, it’s therapeutic, not only for the model, but also for myself. Because it’s a way of giving a voice, but also giving other cathartic effect to express yourself, to having that good moment of creating art. And that you’re making something. To be a good artist, you need to feel. So at this, my work is very, it’s very much therapeutic and I really express myself through it. So I really photograph with my soul. And in the beginning it was a lot about shooting in from a dark place to exorcise my demons.
But yeah, through photography I learned a lot of people, I got to know them and they inspire me a lot. I only give once one workshop, but through that workshop, I think I gained more than I deliver. It was just to one person. And from that person, I started to photograph from love also. You gain so much from photography and I’m so thankful, therefore, and that’s why it’s photography, it’s really so important for me. When you gain so much from photography, it’s when you realize that you’re not doing photography, but you’re doing art and it’s when you become an artist.
I’m just so grateful to have such persons in my life, and that I learned so much from them and from some so humble people that they don’t realize that they are helping you. And, so yeah, but yeah…
Twyla Jones: No, that’s also very powerful. I think, and just, I don’t know. I’m so happy that you have shared everything that you shared because I think it just needs to be heard right now, especially just in an age where it’s like, “These 10 poses for a successful session” or whatever, you know what I mean?
And instead, like really digging in deep to connect with your voice as an artist to start creating truly unique work. And that is where you find your fulfillment. It’s not in a posing guide, you know? You find it, when you really start connecting with the things that make you feel those emotions, that you’re feeling, because I kind of feel like maybe that is the thing that we are chasing to feel a way, any kind of way about something that we’ve created, whether that’s like sad or happy or in love or, you know, anything just to feel.
Steve Mendes: Yes, indeed. You, if you don’t feel you’re not real. For me, photography it’s has been a beautiful journey and like I said, It started from a darker place, and now it really comes from a really warm place. And I’m thankful really for the person – person/persons who will help me for all my way. If you see my poses, they are not very, the most creative. My work is not that creative. I’m doing the poses that they did 500, 600 years ago. But they work in the sense where your portraying someone, so it’s not about the pose itself. It’s about their emotion and their expression. If you’re feeling…
Twyla Jones: And that’s what it is Steve. It’s by you kind of doing some of these things so consistently, it’s not about the background, so the background is the same for everybody. And it’s allowing that to come through the photo because the focus isn’t on all of those other things that can be distracting, like a beautiful background or this like perfect edit or something like that. And it just, it’s almost what happens to a photo when you turn it black and white. Like you have to focus on the emotion a lot more instead of the colors that can be distracting or the beautiful landscape or whatever, you know? And I feel like that is kind of what you do with your work as well.
Steve Mendes: Yes. Yeah. Yes. I totally agree with with that because it’s all about consistency. If you are with your camera every day, or every week, or every month, you will make a good photo, but not an amazing photo. It’s like I’ve been told once that was like you only going to make five – if you’re looking in your life, you’re going to take five great pictures and, yeah, it’s not difficult to make one good photo, but consistency to have with every model to be able to deliver good work, that’s something else. That’s something that you have to work with. I photographed for RAW in last year, not full set. Yeah. I started it in October from 2018 and I, in one year I photographed I think, 40 models. So it was really in six months I was photographing like 30 models, so it was really very intensive. And that gives me a really, a lot of insight in, in consistency. And how to delivering -deliver good work.
Like I post a lot for the platform called Photo Vogue and they’re, it’s a curated website. Now you only can send two per week and the creative director from Vogue Italia and with three or four persons said, decides which photos go in. From 12,000, there’s less than 1000 that go in every week. In the beginning I was doing the fashion stuff. I was rejected all the time, reject all the time, feeling a teenager, again, rejected all the time. And then I started this with the RAW. I have almost 200, 200 photos in it, so yeah. Which is quite the big deal for me. Thinking in Belgium, there’s not a lot on which people who has more photos in it than me, but I don’t say it in an ego way. It’s just, it’s a goal that you have that I want to be there. I want to be accepted there. This year in January, I had one of my photos being two photos of mine being finalists in, in the Gucci beauty glitch effect. So there were 13 finalists and, if you won, you would do the Gucci campaign.
So it was amazing. It’s these kinds of platforms that interests me. It’s because this is only artists. And if you don’t know it, you should go search it because it’s amazing. And it’s beautiful. All the work that you and all the artists from all over the world that you see there, it’s just mindblowing.
Like it makes you more humble and humble as the day passes. It’s astonishing. It’s just about believing in yourself. Believing in the process and doing something good. And for not only for you, but also for the model, because doing something for someone else is so much gratifying than doing something for yourself.
That does a person that’s never asked photograph to has a photo before with makeup, to have it and to really be proud of it and to post it’s it’s really nice. And if they don’t post, it is also not an issue neither, but it’s that they are happy with the result. It’s just, it’s a nice feeling.
It’s all about that. It’s about connecting and elevating yourself spiritually and trying your best every day. Trying to be the best version of yourself every day. And photography has that power of healing also, because one, one image can do really a lot to one person.
Twyla Jones: It’s true. Yeah. but it really is so powerful.
Steve Mendes: So yeah.
Twyla Jones: Wow. That was amazing. I didn’t even know what to expect when we were talking today, but I think you just touched on so many amazing things that I think, and I hope, resonate with a lot of people listening and are helpful in some way to them.
I am absolutely going to do a feature. So maybe we’ll time it around when your podcast goes live. but I would love for people to give this a try. Really learn to study their light and like the type of light that they love. But create an image out of your camera that you don’t have to touch, like without doing all of the editing and stuff.
So I, am eager to see who will participate and do that, but we’ll have to, maybe you could go live also and, share a little bit of your work since apparently only I see it. Let them know a little bit about your process and so that they feel inspired as well. But , just listening to this episode, I, suspect that they will.
I don’t know, Steve, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself and your process and all of that. And I am really excited to share this episode with everyone.
Steve Mendes: Thank you so much. if I can give a tip, it’s just, don’t focus too much in the material and just focus just in the real realness of the emotion and trust your heart. Trust your really your soul. Trust who you are and believe in yourself.
And don’t let the likes go through you. You don’t need to. I only photograph with one lens… my main tool. It’s three lenses, but I only use the lens that I loved the most. I bought it second hand for 100 euros and it’s a manual lens. So I focus manually. So that gives me also even more slowing down.
It’s just slow the slowing down. I think that this would be the biggest step maybe. Yeah. To, for this project focus manually. I know Sony is fantastic with the high autofocus. You have the button there to turn it off. And yeah, I shoot, we have a 55 millimeter macro and it’s amazing because you can go 10centimeters deep by your subject, or you can take full body and yeah, it doesn’t distort.
Twyla Jones: My favorite lens is my 45 millimeter tilt shift for Nikon. And so obviously that’s full manual focus. And I wonder if that’s like a bit why I love it so much, but I think that one has some macro capabilities too. I kind of forget sometimes and don’t even use it to its full potential, but I will definitely be using that lens for this project as well.
And I think I’ll… you know, one thing that I don’t do often, so I photograph my kids a lot, but I don’t photograph my husband just all by himself. So maybe I’ll use him as my subject for this. So I’ll be fun.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. We forget to photograph a lot of the loved ones.
Twyla Jones: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Again, thank you so much and, I’m excited to do this feature and just kind of push people in a different direction too, because like I said, I do feel like a lot of us kind of are, you know, we’re inspired by each other and creating kind of the same work and all sort of turning into one photographer . So it’ll be fun to go in a different direction and just try something new, because again, I think that’s also how you start connecting with your voice. It’s by trying new things that aren’t necessarily easy for you or, maybe even something you never imagined yourself doing and just trying new things and letting that experience infuse something new into your work so that you are just creating something unique and standing out and creating something that means something to you. You know, the more kind of new experiences you can have like that, I think makes you a better artist in general.
Steve Mendes: One of my favorite photographers, he was like, he said “I don’t pick up my camera before I connected with, with the subject.” and that’s what I try to do.
Twyla Jones: Yeah, it’s so important. I mean, I am never going to end this interview, but I just want to say that’s one thing that I have just really lately, come to realize like a lot of my sessions that I always feel are more fulfilling or just better are the ones where something has happened that I know the people that I’m photographing or got to spend some good time with them beforehand.
So one thing that I’ve started doing is inviting my clients over for dinner the night before, and especially like the families and stuff. But I invite them over the night before, and it allows me time to , just see how they interact as a family and get to know them a little bit, but also create some connections myself with them. And it really has just created a much better experience. I feel like I’m lucky to get to have the time to be able to do that and the space and all of that. But, I don’t know, it’s made my work a lot more fulfilling, and what ends up happening is that the experience is so much better. And then I just find the pictures don’t even matter as much, because we’ve made new friends. Got to know new people and just had a lot of fun experiencing the sunset together. And then the pictures are just amazing to have afterward as a memento, like for a memory that we shared together, you know?
Steve Mendes: Yeah. I totally agree because yeah, I have photographed models from, I’m very lucky from being from where I live. I live nearby Brussels, so it’s actually the center from Europe. So I photographed models from several countries already, and some models, we don’t even speak the same language, but in common and I speak five languages, but I had a Russian model and she didn’t speak any English. But we connected and I did one of the most beautiful work that I have with her. One of them was with my first nude, shoot.
Twyla Jones: I love your nudes shoots so much also. So I had never even seen any of that work until today. I was just kind of like bopping around finding out more information about you and looking at more and more of your portfolio and was just blown away. They really are so beautiful.
Steve Mendes: Thank you. It’s just inspiring in old, in ancient sculptures and in, just in the real art , because you’ll have the thousands, hundreds of thousands photographers, the hundreds of thousands of followers will follow one specific photographer they see, but that’s just until their account blows away. Right. Gone. You know, that
Twyla Jones: Instagram should just reset everybody.
Steve Mendes: Yeah. Because some guys have it’s nuts. You think that people will re will think, and remember photos we’ve shot with Christmas slides. I love Christmas and everything but I really think that in 50 years that will be in the museum? This CD. Yeah, that’s the thing it’s timelessness. Yeah.
Twyla Jones: Yeah. It’s we’re creating like as a society or whatever, more photography than ever before, but so much less of it has that quality, has that, you would want to put it on a wall, like in a museum for lots of people to be inspired by, and that would make them feel something.
Steve Mendes: Actually, I just wanted to say something, I’m working with a publisher to publish a book for my work, so I can cause I never exposed my work ever. So yeah. Looking forward to sell, to open a gallery, to have a gallery, interested in my work and everything. So yeah.
Twyla Jones: Oh my God. The thought of walking into an art gallery and seeing your work like big and just the spaces and bodies on the wall, I feel like that would be a very moving experience.
Steve Mendes: It normally, if that should happen in the near future, it’s just maybe the COVID crisis delayed it a bit. But yeah, I’m working with someone.
Twyla Jones: I mean, I would travel to come see your art gallery.
Steve Mendes: Okay. I hope that next year it will finish. We’ll be ended it. I want to,to make the book and it will be with a big exposition and yeah, it takes, it will take time because it’s someone really interesting as someone with huge experience, but with very little time. So I prefer to take that step and wait until boom.
Then, go with the first one and, yeah, have it created. Yeah. But yeah. A Go Fund Me campaign will, be in place for the preorder. So maybe the Emotional Storytelling group will be also…
Twyla Jones: Yes. Whatever I can do. Awesome. All right, I will let you go for the day, but, we’ll be connecting again and hopefully, get to do something in the group.
And just get people creating something new. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.
Steve Mendes: No problem. Thank you. I have the nights because you’re itself seven o’clock in the evenings. Oh yeah. Yeah. Awesome. good night then. All right.
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