Stefano Gardel is an accomplished photographer with a unique perspective on some of the things we take for granted. Working with landscapes and street photography, Stefano brings out the best out of an ordinary location. As with many creatives, the road to success is never smooth sailing and today Stefano shares his story to inspire you in your creative pursuits.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey with photography.
Hi, thank you for having me! I started shooting a little less than two years ago as a way to distract myself from some health problems I was experiencing and still am, even though now I’m slowly getting better.
I was getting depressed because I had to radically change my diet and limit to a great extent the food I can eat, including avoiding alcohol altogether. This inevitably changed not only my lifestyle but also my social life. So much revolves around food and alcohol, so I found myself spending much time alone after work.
One day I was staring at the white wall in my living room, depressed, thinking about all the hell that was happening to me, and a thought came: “Wouldn’t it be nice to hang some cool picture on the wall?” I thought that if I bought a camera and went out shooting, not only could I hang something on that boring wall, but I could also get my mind off of things and travel during the weekends with a purpose. Which I did, and a lot.
The more I shot, the more I understood that photography wasn’t just a distraction for me, but actually was something that really felt right, it felt like my own thing. It felt extremely liberating and satisfying.
How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time, for a living?
My life drastically changed in the last two years and I am still in that process. I made some important choices recently that felt like they were following the natural flow of things. All the changes I had to undergo due to my health (by the way it’s called Lyme Disease) did change me, and stirred me into a different direction in life, maybe a direction that’s even more attuned to my being.
Before becoming a photographer I was a chiropractor, working in my studio and seeing lots of patients everyday. It’s a profession I loved and did for the past twelve years. Being a very physically straining type of work, and me being sick, during the past year I got really tired and experienced pain all over my body. In the meanwhile I had photography going on very well for me.
Just six months after I began shooting, I signed my first big contract as a selected artist for a fine art gallery in Milan, Italy and shortly after with another fine art gallery in Sydney, Australia. On top of that, I got lots of publicity from an online platform for artists called Behance, and thanks to that magazines and journalists started asking me for interviews and writing articles about my work.
People became interested more and more in buying my work. I also started doing photography contests and winning some big ones, which also meant more exposure.
In November of last year I’ve decided that my body couldn’t go on with all the wear and tear of my job as a chiropractor, and I decided that I actually needed some time to take care of myself and heal properly, and I decided that photography was now my new profession.
How important is formal training for a photographer and how do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
Well, twelve years ago, I took a weekend class on how to use a digital DSLR, and that’s all the “formal” education I got! I don’t think is very important at all, what’s important for me is to feel inspired by something, then I’ll worry about how to shoot it later.
In the beginning, YouTube was great in helping me understand exposure and the post processing, but now my educating comes from watching all forms of art I like, not only photography. I may see a painting I like for the tonalities and colours and take a photo of it for later inspiration, or watch a movie on my laptop and see a composition I like and take a screenshot. Or maybe I’m walking around the city and see something that grabs my attention and take a picture of it with my phone. It doesn’t really matter, I think the most important thing is to allow for moments of inspiration and keep them somewhere when in need of ideas.
What’s your philosophy in regards to your work?
Whenever I go out shooting I tell myself that if I go home with at least one good picture, it’s more than enough. If it happens it happens, otherwise I’m fine anyways. Having said that, I tend to shoot a lot of pictures and when I’m reviewing them I only work with the ones that really grab my attention and that I can put together into a project. I’m very firm when I choose what to work with and out of hundreds of pictures I may come down with six maybe twelve pictures to work with. I really believe that less is more.
Among your projects, which series or a single photograph is your favourite? What’s the story behind the project or photograph?
I don’t think I have a favourite but “Inner Pace” is a project that I really like. It was shot in NYC during the summer. As the title suggests, this project tries to explore how someone’s internal state of mind has a rhythm, a pace, and that rhythm is reflected in walking and posture.
Determination, lingering, excitement – we mentally go through stuff all the time, sometimes more evidently, other times in a more subtle way, but it’s always manifested in our body language. Working as a chiropractor for many years made this connection very interesting to me. Also, the title echoes with “Inner Peace”, which after all is what we are all looking for.
What are some of the themes you explore in your works that are personally very close to you?
Initially my search is visual satisfaction – I look to create something with balance and something that is aesthetically pleasing. I need to feel drawn to what I’m framing in a very strong way. I may be doing street photography and be looking at something and wonder why I’m attracted to it, and then at the back of my mind emerges something that put what I’m seeing into perspective or gives it a particular meaning, a context. In other words, I let my past influences interpret what I’m seeing, and I let my personal experiences dictate the story. More so than themes, my work is based on impressions, moments that tend to become more symbolic.
What are some of the things you hope your audience will take away from your works?
If anything, perhaps something pleasing to the eye. Maybe something that is going to let you slow down for a moment and feel inspired for a second.
What is your favourite part about being a photographer?
I think that being a photographer pushes you to be open and receptive to your environment, sharpens your senses to find what’s behind the obvious, making life more interesting.
Who were your biggest influences, where do you seek inspiration and what are the 3 things inspiring your work right now?
The three things that inspire my projects right now are high contrasts between shadows and light, heavy snow in urban areas at night, and as always, music. Whether I’m shooting or processing my pictures, I can’t be without it.
As for my inspiration and influences, I don’t have a particular artist or photographer I like. I watch a lot of things and forget a lot too. But afterwards I find traces of it in my work. I really love street art, dark stuff in general, things from the eighties and electronic music. I would say I have a very definite taste but not sure how to describe it. I know what I like when I see it.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures economically, intellectually and emotionally?
I think it’s all about self realisation. Through photography right now I’ve found a medium that lets me explore and find myself, and ultimately express it. I also like the idea that my work resonates with other people, that my “message” can be received, that’s a big motivation.
Would you say photography is more liberating or restrictive than other artforms? Do you pursue other artforms?
Perhaps photography could be considered more restrictive than other art forms, but it should not feel that way while you do it. The way I see it is that I’m not taking a picture, I’m making a picture. What I’m photographing is simply not there, it’s created by how I frame it, the timing, and how I choose to let in the light in my camera. To me this is extremely inspiring and liberating. Plus, with digital photography, the post production process is just amazing, the possibilities are endless. I used to do electronic music for many years but I’ve stopped since I’ve started doing photography.
What do you consider your biggest success in your career so far?
Recently I’ve been contacted by Phase One for a collaboration. Knowing the brand, and knowing the caliber of photographers they work with, I was very very flattered to work with them to say the least.
What makes a memorable photograph, in your opinion?
I think that’s what you don’t see in a picture that makes it memorable – it’s the mood, the sensation it conveys.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Take lots of pictures and work only with the few that really get your attention overtime. Also, work in projects instead of taking many pictures unrelated to one another and putting them together in a gallery.
Could you share with us one of your favorite editing tools or tips?
I use many different plugins, but definitely Pro Contrast by Nik Collection is worth using and in Capture One the Advance Color Editor is just amazing.
What is one question nobody has ever asked you about your work that you wish they had?
“Would you like us to expose your work at Art Basel next year, maybe with a solo exhibition?”
Yes, that’s the kind of question I really would like to be asked one day!
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