Angelo Pennetta, who shot, amongst other things, those nice pictures of girls with accessories and very few clothes in LOVE issue 3 that you might remember, stopped by to talk about what he’s up to at the moment as part of our ongoing ‘new talent’ series.
So your career. So far…
All three seasons of it?
This being the third or being the fourth?
Well I left Mert and Marcus, who I was assisting, in September 2008.
You left them?
Yup. Packed my things and ran away when they were out at the golf course. Not really. It’s all very amicable indeed. They’re like my two dads! I was with them for three years.
So you started when you were…
So you mean you were in your thirties?
No, I was 25, 26. They weren’t looking for a younger, and it was my first assisting job, I’d not assisted before then.
What were you doing before then?
I was at college, and I worked. And I was taking some pictures here and there. I was working at Metro In the lab, not in the studio. It was very good actually.
No it wasn’t! You were a complete misery back then.
Well… it was fine. It was part-time, and I got to use the equipment and do all my stuff for free. And you do learn quite a lot actually. That’s how I got Mert and Marcus anyways.
What were you shooting then? ‘Funky’ tests? Can you describe some of them?
No, thanks. I was actually just doing more portrait stuff, doing some portraits for i-D, like music portraits and stuff, designers, Russian Vogue funnily enough…Nothing that shocking, just stuff from before you actually get into that world. Before you learn what aesthetics are, and that what’s actually needed. Before you really have that idea.
So more innocent, really.
Yeah. But I’m more of an accidental photographer anyway. Accidental fashion photographer. It wasn’t my intention, just happened and by the time I noticed it was too late.
Like an unexpected baby…
Exactly. I realized I was a photographer when we were past the 16th week
What were you going to do then? What was the plan?
Well, I was going to go to LSE and do business studies and Italian. It would’ve been a very different life.
I did a gap year after my A levels. Gap year. To Thailand.
Ha! A journey of self-discovery…
Well I’ve always been the one who took pictures of friends and captured albums and friends from the age of like 12 till whenever. And then in Thailand…
Self-discovery and sex tourism.
Yeah, I did reportage, an expose on Patong.
Where did you go to uni. then? Did you go?
Yes. I went to… the University of the Arts.
No one says that if they went to St. Martins. Where did you go.
If I say London College of Printing, it’s a lie but it’s really very close. It was London College of Printing, Central St Martins, Camberwell College of Art… and then I went to one on Davies Street.
Oh London College of Fashion. Could have been worse.
Yeah, I did that for a couple of years. Studied fashion photography. It was actually totally useless. I didn’t go to any of the lectures, I just stayed in the studio. They had a really good equipment room, so I was just in there all the time playing with the cameras in the dark room developing stuff.
Do you wish you had just started assisting really early then?
I don’t know. It’s a difficult one because it’s good to learn, but then, you don’t really learn that much from going to college but it’s what you make of it. The equipment’s there, you don’t learn anything in terms of how to do something creative or relevant, it’s not something you can learn in college. There’s no formula to it.
Well the colleges don’t have the means to pull in people who are that exciting.
Kind of. I had some good people! I had Judy Blame! his classes were always quite fun: just him with a cigarette in the studio… “right. What the **** is this?” But I never really sort looked at someone and thought I want to do that. I was never into looking at books of other people’s work and researching and thinking that’s what I’m going to be, I just grew up taking pictures of my friends. They weren’t that interesting. I grew up in Kingston.
On film? Like now?
I just like to use film because it’s really easy and it’s non-disruptive, whereas if you have a massive lighting set-up and it turns into a stage thing it gets really destructive. It’s just like talking to someone through a camera. Instead of setting everything up, like being a newsreader and having it all set-up… haha, conversations through a camera. Maybe I’ll do a cozy book called that.
Ha! Conversations Through a Lens. The photographic answer to Nick Hornby. Do you think your work is so lo-fi because you’re trying to distinguish yourself from Mert and Marcus? Because you worked with their aesthetic for so long?
No, not really. Film is just what I know, I don’t really like digital. It all goes back to that un-intrusive thing. I like daylight, or natural light, or camera mounted flash: whatever’s the easiest thing to use and it isn’t like intrusive or intimidating.
You’re taking a picture though. There’s always intervention.
But there are different layers of intervention. You’ve got that where you’ve stripped it down to there, on top of that, if you’ve got a digital set-up where everyone’s looking at the screen, it’s like middle men, you get pushed further and further away.
So what do you shoot on?
I’ve got my camera bag is filled with 10-15 cameras, and it’s whatever is loaded and passed to me the quickest basically. The tricky ones to load always come last. So I have a bag of everything that looks like a toy camera… I’m not one of those photographers that shoots everything on a Holga I got out of a skip or something. My cameras aren’t very interesting. Don’t you have more journalisty questions to ask?
Um.., which fictional character in general do you most identify with and why?
I really have no depth to me at all. I can’t even think of a fictional character.
Which real life character do you most identify with and why?
What the **** is this question? Stop doing journalism school!
You just asked me to. I did not go to journalism school. Between Wall Street English classes? No. I most identify you with Daria, from Daria. You look a bit like Dora the Explorer too. So you don’t actually have any good stories about how you started. It just happened. Boo George had really good stories, by the way. He ran away on a boat to Uganda or something.
No. I was very suburban. Very comfortable.
Do you remember your first camera?
It was just a 35 mil Cannon, not up to much. Sorry.
OK. It was like this vintage camera I found at a flea market, and I thought it was amazing. So I just picked it up and it felt so right in my hands, I found old used film on the floor and I took some pictures and I thought it was so inspiring… is that what you want to hear?
Actually, my mum had a great old Nikon film camera that I used to love and she was obsessed with taking pictures. She’d take pictures of anything and be sort of the annoying mother with a camera. So maybe it’s all down to her. She’s not a photographer though. She mostly does upholstery at John Lewis. My dad’s retired and does property and occasionally pretends to drive taxis.
Your dad’s a cabbie?
Yeah. Kingston cabs. He’s actually an engineer…
But now he’s a mini-cabber? Do you think people are interested in how that works? I’ve never thought about it.
No idea.. He used to have a company printing circuit boards.
I think that is even less interesting than the mini-cabbing. Don’t tell me about that.
But then there used to be a dark room there. They use the same darkening process to project onto this photosynthetic layering, so circuit boards in that way can use light, and they put it through a machine that reacts to the ink. So they design it and then project it onto it…
Would you go and use it?
Why did you tell me about it then? I expressly told you not to tell me more about the printed circuit boards. Have you ever mini-cabbed?
No, I’ve never done that. It’s only very recent. He also used to own a cafe in Battersea called Dave’s Cafe. He’s not called Dave though. He’s called Fernando.
Did you know Fran [Burn’s, Angelo’s girlfriend and regular collaborator] during the Dave’s days? Did you meet in Dave’s?
We grew up in really very close proximity and shared a couple of friends, but we never actually met nor saw each other.
You work together a lot. Do you feel like you complement each other’s work, and develop each other’s work? Do you think your aesthetics depends on each other?
Yeah. In a way, we’ve known each other a long time. We met through testing, and we’ve developed our taste together over the last few years.
Do you think your work would be different if you didn’t know her?
Probably. She is my rock.
Haha! In times of crisis…
And do you disagree when you’re working on stuff?
Who gets her way? Who wears the trousers?
Favours… I’m really am the worst subject aren’t I? Not really, there’s never really a dispute. I like active stylists and not passive ones.
I mean I hate it when you work with someone who doesn’t really have an opinion, and just sort of brings the clothes. I like people who really get into it and are really part of the process.
Do you not feel like a stylist is an intervention though? Does it not get in the way of your concept?
Depends on who they are, personality wise.Sometimes its nice to have people that back off and leave you to it.
What’s your favorite job so far?
I really enjoyed shooting Pixie and Ashley, and Lara for LOVE. It was basically hanging out and taking pictures. That’s when it isn’t obvious that there was a camera there. That’s what I like mostly, working with someone who has a personality. Someone who I like. I’ve always insisted on working with the same girls cause I get on with them. I don’t want some 15-year-old eastern European…
What do you do in that situation? With a girl you don’t connect with?
Grind her out. You try and you try to get it to her.
Do you have any techniques?
Well I try to make them laugh. I try not to make it like they’re on a photo shoot. That’s why I don’t like studios either. Because she knows that everyone’s there to work, everyone’s there to make the pictures, to make images.
Do you think you’re good at making people laugh?
If this is followed by tell me a joke…
It wasn’t going to be…
No not really, sometimes.
Tell me a joke…
Why did the baker’s hand smell? Because he kneaded a poo.
Do you find it difficult to shoot women you’re not sexually attracted to?
Yeah, if they come up with some conceptual hair and make-up, and something that doesn’t look beautiful, and you look at them and it’s impossible.
Do you find it hard to go beyond that? Do you ever shoot men?
Do you ever shoot men that you’re not sexually attracted to?
Haha. My favourite boys to shoot are just normal boys that you can just talk to about football and girls and stuff. It is sometimes hard to find common ground because you’re talking to these kids who are like 19-23. It’s a different way of working. It’s just about making people feel at ease. And if you have to shoot someone who hasn’t got that much of a personality, it does make it a lot harder because you’re just going through the motions. You’ve got to work a lot harder at being the happy one and making them feel, to pull them out of their shell.
Oh. So it’s a bit like doing an interview with you?
Well, joking aside, it’s kind of the same. You’ve got this iPhone here recording. It’s pretty unobtrusive, but you’re still aware of it. And you can compare that to digital and film. Film is like writing it down but it’s not really going to take it away. I mean you could be sitting here writing in shorthand, which might be less intrusive.
That would be way more intrusive. Me sitting like an old fashioned journo bashing away in shorthand.
See, the perfect journalist would have the equivalent of a photographic memory. Don’t you think? So you could just remember everything then splurge it out?
That’s kind of how I work though, to be honest, I write like I’m writing stories. I have no qualms about making it up a bit.
Yeah but it makes me act different having it known that I’m being recorded than if it was off.
Well it’s the same thing we were talking about earlier, about it seeming real. Except I’m the opposite. I want to write good stories, I make no effort to make out that I’m doing some word for word factual reporting.
Well. I don’t really associate myself with fashion photography, I don’t get it. I don’t get what it is. Like you can pick up any magazine nowadays and you don’t know what magazine you’re looking at because it doesn’t have an identity.
People are so focused with the names of people shooting, the credits and the advertisers there’s no point of view.
Yeah – there are a few – Love, Interview, French Vogue, that are actually recognizable when you open them. Most things though… So much of fashion photography in a way is just drab. It’s not inspiration. And people are obsessed with format too now. I think they should focus on what they’re trying to say before they try and say it in every way possible, on the Internet, on phones etc.
What do you think about that? You’re doing a lot of moving image stuff no?
There’s a difference between moving image and film, it’s just how it’s used. I don’t understand fashion film. I really don’t get it at all. I don’t really get what it is. Little girls dancing in little dresses, trying to make a short film about fashion. Fashion should just be incidental in film.
I think short films, I think that format, like a 3-10 minute film is inevitably a desirable thing, and if you’re 15 now, you’re going to want that.
I’m not sure anyone has the patience to sit through it.
I think they do, if it’s interesting. Look at the return of the music video. Look at that 10-minute Lady Gaga video everyone freaked out over. Everyone in the western world watched it when it was first released.
The best films I’ve seen fashion wise are still the old Guy Bourdin films. Fashion was just incidental, and that’s what it is. For me it’s more of the moving portrait in a way. And I don’t understand the red camera. I don’t see why a fashion photographer should do it. I’d like to do it where you’d work in tandem with the director, where you both have a point of view and you’ve got your understanding of the fashion image, and he’s got his point of view stylistically in a way that everything moves and works. I don’t think a photographer picking up a red cam and filming what they’re doing is interesting.